Bold Risks Breed Great Entrepreneurs
One of the most recognizable (aside from wildly successful) entrepreneurs of the past century probably needs no introduction, as his larger-than-life personality has led him to multiple feature articles and television interviews over his ambitious rise to fame and entrepreneurial triumph since the 1970s. But Richard Branson, born in London in 1950 and today the fourth richest citizen of the United Kingdom, has blazed a trail of bold leadership, innovative ideas, and business model adaptation to the top of the entrepreneurial pyramid during his time at the head of the Virgin empire. From the music industry, to the airplane industry, and now with his new venture into commercial space travel and exploration, Branson has remained a man of the future.
But before jumping ahead to Branson’s current standing at the forefront of entrepreneurial ingenuity and proven success, it is worth taking a closer look at how Branson grew himself from a young man at the head of a fledgling record company in the basement of a church, into the international investor and mogul he is known around the world as today. Indeed, Branson’s humble beginnings at The Student, his record company/music media outlet he started as a young man with his own money and legwork, tell a lot about how Branson has risen to the prominence he is recognized for in present times.
Sticking to the Big Picture
Richard Branson has shown an ability to think proactively and remained focused on the big picture since his inauspicious beginnings as the head of The Student, based in London. The only quality that has been as consistent in Branson’s entrepreneurial trajectory has been his desire to shoot for the headline, no matter what the backlash. This trait is captured especially in the irony of Branson’s original moniker for his record selling company, “Virgin”, adopted because Branson and his associates recognized how new they were to a crowded and popular business at the time.
By using money from the record store he started after his beginnings at The Student, Branson went on to launch Virgin Records, the fledgling beginning of what would become an international sensation with flagship stores in cities all over the world during the height of the physical music (aka cassettes, records, and CDs) heyday. Branson defined his label by signing controversial and exotic acts of the time, most notably the Sex Pistols, who’s off-stage antics and vivid personalities combined to make them an outlaw band in the eyes of many bigger labels. Branson, as mentioned earlier no stranger to taking risks at the cost of raising some eyebrows, recognized the band’s talent and used them as a springboard with which to grow his own label as a player in a crowded industry.
This tactic marks the first great entrepreneurial insight we can glean from Branson’s methods and apply to our own. By actively pursuing risk and controversy, not only did Branson open his operation to capitalizing on potentially lucrative acts who were being ostracized by mainstream countries; he also utilized this controversy as a marketing and branding boon, grabbing headlines for his lesser-known and babe-in-the-woods (when compared to established heavyweights like EMI or Universal Music Group) record company and ensuring it would be mentioned in the same breath as industry titans. Hence, Branson saved himself considerable angst and money trying to buy publicity for his company, and instead generated it organically through the controversy he created by signing the Sex Pistols and other “outlaw acts”.
Why Mess With a Good Idea?
The beauty in this approach by Branson is inherent in how applicable it has been to the other ventures Branson has diversified into with the money and resources he generated from the meteoric rise of Virgin Records. In 1984, recognizing the ever-expanding numbers of commercial airline passengers and international travelers, Branson took a major turn in his investing, creating Virgin Airways as an alternative to the established (and in Branson’s opinion, abortively expensive) airline industry leaders like American Airlines, British Airways, and United.
Virgin was designed to offer budget fares and deals to casual travelers and budget-conscious consumers, thereby capitalizing on a demand that has shown no signs of ceasing in an industry plagued by extreme overhead and regulatory costs. Branson continued to demonstrate his uncanny understanding of the value of organic marketing and news to a new venture as well, designing garish branding and color schemes for his planes and associates guaranteed to catch the eye of weary and broke travelers looking for a new option.
Taking Good Ideas…to Space
Branson has shown no signs of slowing down or losing steam with this approach as we move further into the 21st century. With the announcement of the launch of his commercial space flight firm, Virgin Galatic, Branson has again shown his propensity to anticipate an emerging demand before it even exists. While commercial space travel remains a dream to many of us with more reasonable bank accounts, given Branson’s previous approach to affordable travel with Virgin Airways, we can assume he will be looking for ways to do the same with his new venture, including its flagship vessel, Spaceship One.
Branson has also announced more recently another new initiative, Virgin Fuels, which Branson has stated is a research-based venture to help develop and identify potential new sources of energy and less-harmful resources. Whether you agree with global warming theorists or not, given the recent expansion of alternative energy sources through new processes like fracking, and the resulting economic booms we’ve seen as a result of investment into fracking, Virgin Fuels also appears to be another proactive venture by a man known for thinking ahead of the competition.
So while we may not enjoy as glamorous of a rise to entrepreneurial success as Richard Branson, as with many other great figures we can learn a lot from how he got there. Designing branding and marketing guaranteed to raise eyebrows and draw attention without directly courting it is perhaps the most lasting legacy of Branson’s continued success in multiple arenas. But the focus on identifying new markets and bringing successful business practices to them is another hallmark of the success of the Virgin Empire. Whether it be a small record store or the next Facebook, we can utilize Richard Branson’s successes and approaches to grow our own businesses and capture organic attention in the same way.
Go cash in on today,
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