Richard Branson created the global mega-brand Virgin in 1970 at the age of 20. Here he offers his best business advice and insight into how he achieved his success.
Mediaplanet: What advice would you give to budding entrepreneurs wanting to start their own business?
Richard Branson: Give your business a purpose and try to make a positive di fference. Not only can this help people and the planet, it also gives customers a reason to buy from you and other businesses a reason to collaborate. When you’re launching a business today it’s not enough to just have a product with the aim of making a ton of money. You have to give back some value to your customers, and you have to have real passion about what you are doing. If you’re not excited about your business, why should anybody else be? It’s a philosophy that Virgin has carried into all of our companies.
MP: How would you begin when thinking about funding a start-up business in today’s difficult economic climate?
RB: The good news for entrepreneurs today is that this is the best time there has ever been to start a business, especially in the UK. There are more funding options available than any time in history. You can test the demand for your business before you raise money through crowdfunding, take out a government backed start-up loan from Virgin StartUp, look for VC investment or an angel investor and of course there’s still the traditional option of a bank loan. If I was starting again today I’d want to keep full control of my company from the start. Giving away equity for investment can lead to problems further down the line and means you’ll always have to please people other than yourself.
MP: For SMEs looking to expand, locally or globally, what advice would you give? What would you say would be the main considerations when expanding?
RB: Thanks to the Internet, entrepreneurs can always have global ambitions. Just because you live in a certain town doesn’t mean your business has to be focused on that small area. If you are running a local business and are thinking of expanding, then you need to make sure you have enough cash stored, or can raise enough, to support the business while the one in the new territory is taking off . Even if your business is a success in one place, that doesn’t mean it’s going to be an instant success in another. Once you’ve decided to expand globally, think locally about each individual market you are operating in. You need a wide vision, but can’t forget attention to detail.
MP: In today’s economic environment, do you still take as many risks as you once did?
RB: Risk taking is still an important part of the Virgin brand, although the type of risks we now take are probably di fferent from when we first started out. Having businesses in the banking, healthcare and travel industries might mean that we’re at times more likely to err on the side of caution than we would have been in the days of Virgin Records. However we’re continually striving to innovate across all of our companies and innovation is inherently risky. One of the greatest risks we took in the eyes of many was to create the world’s first commercial spaceline, Virgin Galactic. Our commitment to taking risks excites and enthuses our staff, as well as our customers. We’ve seen many brands stagnate in recent years; by innovating in the sectors where we are currently operating and taking the risk of entering new markets we think Virgin can avoid the same fate.
For more information on how Virgin can help you start a business, head to Virgin StartUp.