“Conventionally, you concentrate on narrow boundaries when running a company. Not only do I find that restrictive I also think that it’s dangerous.”
Losing My Virginity, page 409
I was astonished to discover that this 600-page book could be boiled down to a handful of business principles. A separate lesson all its own, you’ll realize as you read Losing My Virginity that Richard Branson, rebel that he is, rebels in a consistent and predictable manner.
Raised by parents who constantly challenged him, beaten down by teachers who were clueless about his learning disabilities, Branson’s youth gave him a balance of determination and joy. His businesses have all been an extension of his personality. While it’s easy to dismiss advice like “have fun, be creative, follow your dreams” as new-age nonsense, it’s hard to argue with the success of the man who has launched more billion-dollar businesses than anyone in history.
Because his success is, not just well-known, but the stuff of legend, I’ll include more extensive quotes than usual, and keep my comments to a minimum. He can speak for himself.
Money First . . . Not!
“I have never gone into any business purely to make money. If that is the sole motive then I believe you are better off not doing it. A business has to be involving; it has to be fun, and it has to exercise your creative instincts.”
Losing My Virginity, page 58
Make no mistake: Branson likes money, and knows that a business which doesn’t make money is a hobby. But read the accounts of how every business from Virgin Records to Virgin Rail was conceived, and you see a trail, not of money but of passion. Passion balanced by a deep understanding of the principles of good business, as GEM #1 shows.
“It is Only by Being Bold That You Get Anywhere”
“I know that it is only by being bold that you get anywhere. If you are a risk-taker, then the art is to protect the downside. It seemed to us that Tubular Bells was so good that we could promote it ourselves. I felt sure that it would sell enough copies to pay back our investment.”
Losing My Virginity, page 127
Virgin Records was founded on a riskier but more profitable model. The reasoning was that if they produced great music with wide appeal, everyone would win. Their confidence in artists like Mike Oldfield, Sting, The Sex Pistols, and others reflected, not just good business sense, but Branson’s ongoing ability to share the glory with others. This first successful Virgin company, Branson repeats throughout the book, would have been impossible without the incisive musical sense of co-founder Simon Draper. And of course, selling millions and millions of copies of Oldfield’s Tubular Bells over the years protected the downside when signing groups like The Sex Pistols.
Know the risks, certainly, but don’t let them deter you. Instead, recognize the slippery spots, the gaps. Put sensible precautions in place to mitigate the downside and to reduce the worst-case scenario to manageable proportions. Once you’ve done that, monitor those systems, but dive in with all your heart because “it is only by being bold that you get anywhere.”
There is No Formula
“I don’t believe it can be taught as if it were a recipe. There aren’t ingredients and techniques that will guarantee success. Parameters exist that, if followed, will ensure a business can continue, but you cannot clearly define our business success and then bottle it as you would a perfume. It’s not that simple: to be successful, you have to be out there, you have to hit the ground running; and, if you have a good team round you and more than your fair share of luck, you might make something happen. But you certainly can’t guarantee it just by following someone else’s formula. Business is a fluid, changing substance.”
Losing My Virginity, page 397
Rules are crutches for the lazy and ignorant. Educate yourself. Commit to hard work. Build a team instead of going it alone. Keep your eyes and mind open.
Richard Branson didn’t come from wealth, he made it for himself. He made his success by following the simple principles he shares in a single paragraph.
If you’re not as successful as you’d like to be, look at your implementation of those simple principles and see where you’re lacking. Find team members who excel where you’re weak and invest them with trust.
Rules have exceptions. Principles, properly applied, are universal.
It seems too good to be true: follow your passions and become a billionaire. Of course, that’s not really what Branson did.
But it’s part of what he did.
What Branson’s life proves is that wildly successful businesses can be built from passion, if it’s supported by common sense, hard work, a great team, and a little serendipity.
Of course, the same could be said for building a business doing something you hate. Common sense, hard work, a great team, a little serendipity – you could still succeed.
Would you be as happy? Richard Branson and I don’t think so.