Discussing optimism with Dad, Simon Sinek and over 800 entrepreneurs

Virgin StartUp - Digital MeetUp poster
Image from Virgin StartUp
Holly Branson
Holly Branson's writing
Published on 1 October 2020

Virgin StartUp’s digital MeetUp with Simon Sinek was so inspiring – I've still got goosebumps just thinking about it! Dad and I couldn’t resist joining the intimate conversation with Simon and a wonderful group of founders. Over 800 entrepreneurs also tuned in to the talk, and though we were based all around the world, there was still an electric energy in the room!  

Ben and Andy from Virgin StartUp invited me ‘on stage’ at the start of the event and we had a really interesting discussion about entrepreneurship right now and how businesses big and small can ‘build back better‘ and focus more intently on people and the planet, in the post COVID-19 future. 

It can be tough as a small business owner with minimal resources, long hours, sleepless nights, stripped back budgets and increasingly uncharted waters ahead. This is particularly true for 2020. However, as we discussed and as I have witnessed, entrepreneurs are still rising to the occasion. Small business owners are incredible at adaptable, the fact that they are lean in nature, means they can pivot in a crisis at far greater speed than large traditional businesses, are often able. Small businesses are using creative re-invention and innovation to solve problems and help the world respond and recover to the current crisis.

This incredible response to the global pandemic from start-ups and small businesses all around the world has proven that it’s possible for businesses models to be driven by people and purpose. Indeed, it may be essential to long-term success.  If this crisis has shown us anything, it's that we are all part of one big community and the health of that community impacts us all. This sense of community spirit, alongside a healthy dose of resilience and optimism, has felt more tangible than ever in 2020.

As I mentioned during the talk, the way we work post COVID-19 will be radically different than it was before, and it is so important that all businesses look ahead to solve the challenges of the future. A truly responsible, visionary and purpose-driven business will help its employees navigate the changes and hurdles coming our way by investing in training, development and future work skills. A company that invests in its people is a company where people will want to work and want to stay. It’s crucial that businesses look beyond their own individual company when it comes to investing in the training needed to Build Back Better. ‘Upscaling’ your people will ensure that as a nation, we’ll have a workforce with the necessary skills to support our whole economy, for the long term.  

 Simon also made an interesting point by saying: “The businesses who have had a hard time pivoting are putting themselves at the centre of the equation, not their people and their customers.” Being driven by people and purpose is evidently good for business.

Virgin StartUp digital MeetUp - Holly Branson, Andy Fishburn and Ben Keene share a screen to discuss entrepreneurship
Image from Virgin StartUp

While now might be the time to “Marie Kondo your budgets” (according to Ben from Virgin StartUp), the overarching consensus was to stay optimistic, remind yourself of your purpose and don’t be afraid to ask for help.

 It was such an inspiring event and I was brought to tears on more than one occasion, particularly when Simon spoke about the time, he once asked Dad: “What moments in Virgin’s history do you think will define you the most?”  

 In response, Dad said: “If you want to judge me on my life, don't look at what I've done in business. Judge me on the quality of my children.” If that doesn’t tell you how important it is to remain people-focused, I’m not sure what will.

A young Richard Branson with Sam and Holly Branson as children on his back
Image from Branson family

Thank you, Dad, thank you Simon, thank you Virgin StartUp and thank you to the 800+ entrepreneurs who tuned in and filled me with hope for the future.