Richard Branson: The importance of passion in business

A head and shoulder shot of Richard Branson.  His face is neutral, mid-conversation
Image by We Are Many
Natalie Clarkson
by Natalie Clarkson
25 March 2015

Passion is one of the most effective motivators when it comes to launching a business – and often one of the strongest predictors of whether an idea will lead to success. But what happens when you have an idea that isn’t necessarily related to your passions?

"When you have an ‘aha!’ idea, pay attention: Perhaps that idea will help you to identify a market gap, or even to disrupt an industry," Richard Branson says in a recent blog on the Daily Monitor.

But launching a business simply to make money is likely to result in failure, the Virgin Founder admits. Instead, he recommends seeing how that idea might be transferable. 

"If you have an idea that might work in an area that you’re not passionate about, instead think about ways that you could apply it to a sector that does excite you," he says "Look at your idea from a different perspective, and you might be surprised by the results."

The launch of Virgin Money in 1995 is one of Branson’s examples of doing exactly this. "Our team saw a great opportunity for revamping customer service in banking. While I wasn’t passionate about banking, customer service is something that interests me. In fact, it drives the entire Virgin ethos."

Richard Branson with eleven people in a row with their arms around each other and kicking one leg in the air
Owen Billcliffe

It was through Virgin’s passion for customer service that they set out to disrupt banking. Not aiming to make a profit, but instead instilling their "passion for customer service into an industry that was known for a lack of it."

Following the 2008-2009 financial crisis, the pressure was put on banks to help their customers thrive and better educate them on financial matters. Banks needed to deliver positive financial and social outcomes, and abide by a firm set of values. "This is the fundamental reason why we got into banking in the first place," Branson says. "We didn’t just have a passion for finance – we were passionate about making it accessible and understandable."

When you believe in something the force of your convictions will spark other people’s interest and motivate them to help you achieve your goals.

But Branson notes that passion is really important in a leader and that it’s such leaders who have been central to Virgin’s success. "You need to inspire your staff when you launch a company, and you need to help them believe in your vision for the future.

"When you believe in something the force of your convictions will spark other people’s interest and motivate them to help you achieve your goals. This is essential to success."

So what’s Branson’s advice when you have a great idea for an area that you’re not passionate about? "Go back to that ‘aha!’ moment and try to understand what motivated you to think in that direction in the first place – the passion behind your idea might lead you to the business or industry that you truly care about."

Read more advice from Richard Branson on his blog.