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COMMENTARY | BG15
as a young entrepreneur
Q: I'm a 26-year-old woman, and I
think potential customers won't even
let me offer my services to them be-
cause of my age or, perhaps, my ac-
cent. It's daunting and demoralising.
Is it always this hard when you're
young? Any advice for me on how to
break through to potential customers?
--- Marta Redmill, UK
Thanks for getting in touch,
Marta. Sorry to hear about
the problems you're facing.
It never ceases to frustrate
me when people are hesitant
to take a chance on young en-
In my experience, young entrepreneurs are
often the most dynamic and creative people in
business, mainly because they haven't had a
chance to get stuck with bad habits or routines.
I was only 15 when I started my first venture,
Student magazine, and everyone working with
me was a teenager, too. We really believed in
our idea, but older people doubted us. So in
order to get the break that we needed, we had
to fib a bit.
Admittedly, it was nerve-wracking to stand
in a phone booth in my school yard and promise
an advertiser that a celebrity was definitely on
board for an interview, then ring the celebrity
in question to say that we had enough adver-
tisers to pay for our publishing. But it worked
out in the end!
I wouldn't necessarily recommend doing
that now, but if people doubt your abilities,
you have to be as confident as possible. There
are degrees of "fake it 'til you make it."
I've worn many hats in my business life, and
I've utilised different techniques to win over
customers at the start.
At Student, I was the advertising manager,
editor, publisher, finance manager, PR man and
journalist---it all depended on who I was talking
to. As you get your career up and running, you
need to be versatile.
(Even today, when I'm asked if I can do
something, I often say "yes" and then learn
how to do it later.)
A common tactic that some startups employ
is to set up several email addresses to imply that
the company has many different departments.
They set up, for instance, marketing@your-
business.com, firstname.lastname@example.org and so
on, even if only one or two people are running
things. This gives the impression that your
business is a bit larger and more established.
It's a bit cheeky, but sometimes you have to
be bold, especially when you're disheartened
because people don't believe in you.
Having just recently celebrated International
Women's Day across the Virgin Group---and
reading all the inspirational stories that en-
tails---it's clear that now is the time for female
entrepreneurs to take to the stage. Unfortu-
nately, as a young woman, you're still likely to
encounter bias. My advice is to seek out the
More experienced entrepreneurs can real-
ly help when you're starting out --- they can
give you insight and support to help build your
you, and who will let you bounce ideas off of
them and offer support. You can find your tribe
by searching social media groups online, or
through local networking and meet-up events.
Getting started with your career can be a
lonely business, especially when it feels like
the whole world is against you, but networking
and finding other people in similar arenas, or
at similar stages, can provide you with a real
Ultimately, though, it's necessary to devel-
op a thick skin when you're starting out. I've
heard the word "no" countless times over my
business journey, especially at the beginning.
You need to keep pestering people (unless they
tell you to stop, of course). Be creative, too.
How can you best get their attention?
Nowadays, I'm known as Dr Yes, but I didn't
always hear "yes" in reply to my many busi-
ness ideas. But a successful business ultimately
starts with one "yes," even if you have to hear
"no" a thousand times before that. I learned
that lesson in that phone booth I mentioned
earlier, pushing coin after coin into the slot,
knowing that if we just kept believing in our
idea and ourselves that we'd hear that "yes"
eventually. I was right, and I'm confident you
will be, too, given enough dedication.
(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 at www.virgin.com/richard-
branson/blog. You can follow him on Twitter
at twitter.com/richardbranson. To learn more
about the Virgin Group: www.virgin.com.)
(Questions from readers will be answered in
future columns. Please send them to Richard.
Branson@nytimes.com. Please include your
name, country, email address and the name of
the website or publication where you read the
What It Takes
If potential customers are hesitant to
take a chance on you, keep these tips
• Be as confident as possible: There
are times when you really do have to
"fake it 'til you make it."
• Be versatile: When starting out, you’ll
need to wear many hats and learn dif-
• Seek mentors: Entrepreneurs who
have been in your shoes will be a valu-
able source of support.
• Develop thick skin: You’re likely go-
ing to hear “no” many times. Believe in
your idea and be persistent, and you
will eventually get a “yes.”
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