Home' Trinidad and Tobago Guardian : December 8th 2016 Contents DECEMBER 8 • 2016 guardian.co.tt BUSINESS GUARDIAN
COMMENTARY | BG13
Start local and start strong
Q: What are the biggest
differences you encounter
when doing business in
varied markets---like the
UK and the US, or Japan
and needs of a community is
one of the most important
prerequisites for expanding
any business abroad.
Yet companies often try to
export their way of doing things to countries
overseas, and wind up getting into trouble.
They introduce their services or products
without researching how their business might
be received, or whether there is a gap in local
In the 1970s, when our team at Virgin be-
gan thinking about taking our record business
abroad, I looked for people in the different mar-
kets who could lead our efforts on the ground
and help to ensure that we were balancing local
interests with Virgin's strong culture. If you
want to succeed in different markets, you must
be sure that your international know-how
aligns with the core common purpose that
distinguishes your company from the rest.
A good example of this is Virgin's expansion
in the US. We've been doing business in Amer-
ica for more than 40 years and have relished
the country's open attitude toward businesses
that challenge the status quo.
In fact, in Virgin's early days, it was almost
easier to gain momentum for some of our pro-
jects in the US than in other countries because
Americans tend to favor entrepreneurs who are
willing to take chances. From the beginning
they welcomed us, an upstart from across the
pond with a sense of adventure.
In the US., we could sometimes choose to
play up our Britishness and style in order to
more effectively take on larger domestic com-
panies. That was the case with Virgin Records
and Virgin Megastores, enterprises in which
our distinctive look, feel and brand of music
made us stand apart from the local compe-
American customers took to our different
approach, and the news media warmed to our
adventurous (and sometimes cheeky) approach
to marketing and publicising our businesses.
Over the years, we expanded our music and
retail operations into the aviation, hotel, and
mobile phone industries in the US--- and now
we're pioneering commercial space travel. In
each case, we studied gaps in the markets and
worked out how we could meet those needs.
For the most part, we've struck the right the
But entrepreneurs have to be prepared for
occasional failures. Our reliance on fostering
a sense of fun and on entering markets as the
plucky new outsider was not always enough.
For instance, Virgin Cola's efforts to take on
the might of the two global soft drinks giants,
Coca-Cola and Pepsi, both strong US insti-
tutions, did not go as planned.
With our ventures in peer-to-peer lending,
the comics market and private jets charters, we
either did not have the right business model
or the scale to succeed in a marketplace as big
as the US, so we did the right thing and after
giving our ideas a try, closed the businesses
However, we found that there are more stig-
mas around business failure in the UK, whereas
in the US, failure is considered a rite of pas-
sage. American investors often have no second
thoughts about backing an entrepreneur who
has gone through a tough time.
Our experience with Virgin America, based
in San Francisco, is a good example of engaging
the right strategy.
At the beginning, we thought that if we
focused on gaining local support in Califor-
nia, and built a broader base and awareness,
consumers would consider Virgin America
to be the state's airline. So we brought Virgin
to California and blended our long history in
aviation with know-how from local executives
to create an airline that has won Conde Nast's
"best US airline" award for nine years running.
If you know the local market well, you can fill
the gaps local companies have left open. Vir-
gin America's on-board experience---from the
lighting to the entertainment---was designed to
shake up the domestic aviation market, which
was failing its passengers.
It appealed to the aspirational, mobile and
tech-savvy market in and around San Fran-
cisco and Los Angeles. The excellent cus-
tomer service we provided and cheeky tone
of our advertising and social media content
has helped to shape the airline and its culture,
which is spreading beyond our San Francisco
headquarters to other cities in the US.
Above all, you have to keep on innovating
and experimenting, even in those new mar-
kets. We have just one of
our Virgin Hotels open
in Chicago right now, so
we're at the start of the
journey. But we know that
winning a core loyal fol-
lowing in a country as big
as America will give us a
strong base with which to
grow and expand.
THE KEY IS ALWAYS
TO START LOCAL, AND
(Richard Branson is the
founder of the Virgin
Group and companies
such as Virgin Atlantic,
Virgin America, Virgin
Mobile and Virgin Active.
He maintains a blog
You can follow him on
Twitter at twitter.com/
To learn more about the
Virgin Group: www.virgin.
(Questions from readers
will be answered in
future columns. Please
send them to Richard.
Please include your name,
country, e-mail address
and the name of the
website or publication
where you read the
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