Home' Trinidad and Tobago Guardian : March 27th 2014 Contents Successful entrepreneurs tend
to be insatiably curious about
almost everything, and often
they are good at learning by
doing. Their open-minded,
can-do attitude is among
their best assets. Hernan, if this describes
you and you re thinking about starting up
a business, you re already on your way!
Please don t get hung up on this question
of whether you need to have experience in
an industry before you launch your startup.
Instead, think about changes you d like to
see as a customer; even if you ve just noticed
little details that need tweaking. An amalgam
of those changes may add up to a big idea
that leads to a new and truly disruptive
product or service.
This is essentially how we at Virgin
launched our first successful businesses. We
were very sensible when we started out, set-
ting up connected enterprises like most other
companies do. We went from running a
small record shop to starting up a record
label with recording studios and then added
our large music megastores to our portfo-
lio.Though we were music fans, we knew
little or nothing about any of those busi-
nesses, but we learned that this wasn t nec-
essarily a drawback. We were young and
stubborn, and we liked to do things our own
way; paradoxically, our enterprises thrived
as a result.
It turned out that our customers welcomed
the changes that we were making, like invit-
ing music lovers to spend hours in our record
shops, hanging out and talking about music,
rather than pushing them to make their pur-
chases and get out.
The big leap came when I decided that it
was time to start a new trans-Atlantic airline.
I took the same approach: I knew nothing
about air travel, but as I d flown back and
forth from Britain to the United States on
business for Virgin Records, I d become con-
vinced that there had to be a better way.
The prices were high and the service was
When I showed my partners in the record
company the proposal for a new airline, they
thought I d gone mad. So did our bankers,
who dumped us. As we went ahead with
the launch, the experts and our rivals said
it was the wrong idea at the wrong time,
and that Virgin Atlantic Airways was doomed
We proved them all wrong. We succeeded
because we didn t just create another "me
too" airline, but took the same creative, cus-
tomer-focused approach we had with our
We added all kinds of little service extras,
the greatest of which was hiring cabin crew
members who were actually nice to passen-
gers; a detail that our competitors had over-
looked! Thirty years later that company is
still setting the standard in terms of the
value and service excellence we offer.
By the time we started up businesses like
Virgin Mobile in Britain, that approach was
in our company s DNA. We believed that
we could improve the service and the value
offered to mobile customers in Britain, so
we did. One change we made was to let our
customers buy a SIM card without a phone;
this was very different from other companies,
many of which required that their customers
buy expensive phones.
Since we created the Virgin brand in 1970,
we ve launched something like 400 busi-
nesses. Though not all of them did well, we
learned a lot from our failures. The common
thread to our successes is our desire to do
something better: Our teams of engaged,
passionate people always have highly col-
laborative fun together as we upset our com-
petitors ideas of what customers want.
These days, when we sail into uncharted
waters, we try to hire CEOs and management
team members who have worked in the
industry and who know what to avoid.
Such people frequently join us from a
dominant player in the sector, where their
ideas and ambitions were stifled by practices
that are hierarchical, blinkered and focused
on the bottom line. We look for people who
want to bring radical change to an industry,
give them the freedom to get creative and
the backing of our brand, and then we step
back and watch them fly.
People often remark to me that it s great
how Virgin thinks outside the box. They are
genuinely surprised when I tell them, "Actu-
ally we don t! We just never let the box get
built in the first place." It s a great approach,
and no matter where your business is based
or which industry you re tackling, it s likely
to work for you too.
(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
can follow him on Twitter at
twitter.com/richardbranson. To learn more
about the Virgin Group:
(Questions from readers will be
answered in future columns. Please send
them to RichardBranson@nytimes.com.
Please include your name, country, e-mail
address and the name of the Web site
or publication where you read the col-
@2014 Richard Branson. Distributed by
the New York Times Syndicate
MARCH 2014 • WEEK FOUR www.guardian.co.tt BUSINESS GUARDIAN
COMMENTARY | BG17
No experience? No problem
Virgin works in a variety of industries---you jumped from magazines to
records to air travel, and from there to soft drinks, space flights and so on.
Do you need to have prior knowledge of the industry you want to start a
business in? How have you started up one business after another and
succeeded again and again?
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