How I started seven different businesses as a teenager

A young Richard Branson sitting down with paper in his hand
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Virgin Galactic
Richard Branson's signature
Published on 9 February 2017

Having started more than 400 businesses, it should come as no surprise that I was always trying to get new ventures off the ground, even as a teenager. But these couple of pages from the second issue of Student magazine really highlight how early I was thinking bigger than just one business. After just one edition of our magazine, I decided to spin it off into seven – SEVEN! – different companies. They were all linked to the magazine, but had their own separate identities. Here they are:

A page taken out of Student Magazine by Richard Branson
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Student Educational Committee

With so many ideas being sent in to us after our first issue concentrating on reforming education, we decided to put together a committee to research further and put together a conference. Correspondence for this committee was to be sent to The Secretary, The Educational Committee, Department 11, 44 Albion Street.

Student Art Exhibition and Art Interviews

This was a 500-piece strong art exhibition organised with the Round House Trust, celebrating new art from young people. Art masters of schools were able to nominate their pupils’ work, which included painting and sculpture. Art was always a mainstay of Student, with the likes of David Hockney and Peter Blake contributing. Art Interviews became a separate department itself, with readers paying five shillings to receive full interviews with the likes of Gerald Scarfe, Henry Moore, Kenneth Armitage and Michael Ayrton. Student Art Exhibition and Art Interviews could be found in Department 6 and Department 7 respectively.

Student Literary Agency

With so much great writing from students being submitted, we wanted to showcase this in other forms, and opened a department to promote books, biographies, novels, film scripts, short stories, poems, plays, music and songs. The Student Literacy Agency was born, reachable at Department 10, Connaught Publications Ltd.

Student Graphic and Photographic Agency

With so many budding creatives, it was no surprise we began receiving portfolios from photographers. We began publishing many in Student, and helping to find other publications to commission their work. This led to another independent business solely helping photographers and illustrators. Department 9 was where this team could be found.

Student Advisory Centre

This was the most meaningful and long-lasting of our new ventures, as we discovered a huge demand for young people to get advice on topics ranging from sexuality to health, exams to relationships. The Student Advisory Centre ran for many years, and in many ways was a precursor to our foundation, Virgin Unite.

Student Fashion Agency

A rather leftfield one, we began offering opportunities for young people to start their careers as models or dress designers, as Student began to include fashion as a major editorial thread. We later went on to help found Storm modelling agency, which launched the careers of Kate Moss, amongst many others. Dedicated followers of fashion needed to call the Student Fashion Agency at Department 8, 44 Albion Street.

Black and white image of Richard Branson as a student standing next to a female student

You have probably noticed that all of these companies have something in common: they all share the same address, 44 Albion Street. They also share the same number – “telephone Ambassador 2766”. This is a bit of a giveaway to the truth: there was really only one team, and we wore a huge number of hats. On any given day, depending on who I was talking to, I would hold all sorts of different positions. Publisher, editor, reporter, photographer, CEO, accountant, cleaner – you name it, I did it. We all chipped in and got a huge amount done.

While not all of the business strands lasted, this diversifying certainly sowed the seeds for the global brand Virgin has grown into today. Who says you should only concentrate on one thing at a time?