The best source of business ideas

Richard Branson sitting next to a woman listening to her talking
Image by Owen Billcliffe
Virgin Galactic
Richard Branson's signature
Published on 6 January 2020

My biggest sources of inspiration for new business ideas are the things that frustrate me – I know if something is annoying me, then there is usually a problem to solve or a better way of doing something.

It was the reason I started Virgin Atlantic 36 years ago. I was due to fly to the British Virgin Islands to be reunited with my lovely girlfriend (now wonderful wife), when my flight was suddenly cancelled. 

I hadn’t seen Joan for three weeks and was really looking forward it. I was sure I wasn’t the only person who was disappointed by the cancelled flight, so I handed over my credit card (hoping it wouldn’t bounce) and hired a plane. I borrowed a whiteboard and scrawled the name Virgin Airlines on it as a joke, advertising $39 fares to the British Virgin Islands on it. I managed to fill the flight up with all the bumped passengers.

Richard Branson and Holly Branson celebrate the inaugural Virgin Atlantic flight in 1984
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When we arrived in the BVI, somebody said ‘sharpen up your service a bit and you could be in the airline business’. I realised I was fed up with airlines that didn’t care about their passengers and wanted to do something about it. The next day I picked up the phone and rang Boeing to find out if they had any 747s for sale - and the idea for Virgin Atlantic was born. We made travelling with Virgin Atlantic much more special than all the other airlines we were competing with and people have fallen in love with our airline. 

We’ve taken what we learned and applied it to multiple sectors and industries. I’m fortunate to travel all over the world to visit Virgin companies and support charitable ventures, but I am often frustrated by the hotels I stay in. That’s why we launched Virgin Hotels, to give people exactly what they want – the ability to personalise their stay, no late check-out fees, no charges for wifi or extortionate mini-bar costs, to name just a few of their wonderful offerings.

An archive picture of Richard Branson talking to customers on a Virgin Atlantic flight
Virgin Atlantic

We put customer experience at the heart of all our companies whether it is a stay at a Virgin Hotel, a workout at Virgin Active, a flight on a Virgin plane, a trip on our new cruiseline Virgin Voyages or a trip into space with Virgin Galactic.

How are you going to turn your challenges into opportunities this year? If you have an idea for a business, head over to Virgin StartUp for inspiration and advice. I’d love to hear your thoughts. Leave your comments below or reach out on social media.