The difference between having an idea and being an entrepreneur

Richard Branson holds a kite surf behind him on Necker Island
Image from Owen Buggy
Virgin Galactic
Richard Branson's signature
Published on 4 July 2019

Many people have good ideas, but not everyone becomes an entrepreneur.

I’m often asked if there is a good way to work out whether your idea is a good one, so I’ve put together a quick guide for those wondering whether to make the plunge.

1. Evaluate your idea

OK, you have an idea. Now what? Good business ideas are a dime a dozen, and they are not all are worth pursuing.

Ask yourself: Have I done the due diligence necessary to take my idea to the next level? Does my idea solve a problem? Meet a need? Touch a nerve? Is it unique? Has it been done before?

Write down your answers, then critique them as thoroughly as you can. The best ideas are those that can withstand heavy critical analysis. If you can’t do this alone — which is almost always the case — then take your idea to someone you trust and ask for their perspective.

Still standing? Good. Let’s move on.

A young Richard Branson sitting down with paper in his hand
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2. Plan for the future

Let’s assume that you have come up with an amazing new product or service that meets all the criteria outlined above. Good for you. Now it’s time to plan.

Ask yourself: What do I need to do to make this idea a reality? Have I developed a business plan? What are my capital needs? How far away am I from having a working prototype? Have I looked for potential partners and investors? What’s my distribution strategy?

At this point, you may want to look for a mentor if you don’t have one already - a seasoned business veteran who can push you in the right direction, point out potential pitfalls and help you to navigate around them. I still rely heavily on others’ advice, though I’ve been an entrepreneur for more than five decades. After all, without the advice I received from some great mentors, Virgin might still just be a little record store somewhere in London.

Black and white photo of the storefront of Virgin Records, with graffiti in the window
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3. Weigh the risks 

You had an idea, and now you have a plan. Great. Let’s talk about you now.

If you are feeling stuck and uncertain on your next steps, ask yourself: Would I rather keep paying my bills or am I ready to live on my savings for a while? Is maintaining my current lifestyle more important than having a fresh start in life?

You see, entrepreneurship is all about taking risks — potentially disruptive and frightening life risks. If your family depends on your income, it is your responsibility to think things through very carefully.

If your answer is still a resounding and emphatic “Yes” after you have weighed all the risks, then you are ready to leap.

Richard Branson looking pensive
Image from Molly Choma

4. Take the plunge

If you’re still with me at this point, the next stage should be a simple one: Take the plunge and give it a go. You can start small — but make sure you think big. Many businesses start off in people’s spare time as a side project while they are being developed. 

Richard Branson sitting on a yellow wall with the sea in the background
Image from Owen Buggy

5. Don’t stop believing

The key to success is unwavering commitment and focus. You will make mistakes as you launch your product or service - a ton of them. But keep your eye on the prize and never blink. If you stop believing, your entire enterprise will be called into question.

In my case, when our team started Virgin Atlantic with just one plane and little knowledge of the airline business, we stood alone against established players who were ready to bury us. No one would have faulted us for throwing in the towel and going back to the music business. Yet we saw the enormous potential in disrupting and reinventing airline travel through superior service and innovation. So we kept going, and we are still going strong after three decades. It’s all about drive.

I hope these thoughts help you along your own journey. If you’re in the UK, for more support and advice to start your business take a look at Virgin StartUp too.