Curiosity and frustration build the best businesses

Richard Branson launching Virgin Blue
Virgin Australia
Virgin Galactic
Richard Branson's signature
Published on 15 May 2024

Curiosity and frustration are two of your best friends as an entrepreneur. It’s how you go where no one else has thought to go before, and it’s the best way to disrupt a stagnant market.

If you’re keen to launch a business, but are not sure where to start, here’s a few tips. Grab a pen and paper (always have your notebook handy - you never know when the next great idea will come to you), then answer these two questions:

1. What do you love?

Make a list of all the things you are passionate about or interested in. It doesn't matter how random the list is; one item on it could spark an idea that turns into a business. Now look at your list, and think about the industries it touches on. Are any of them ripe for innovation?

Think about the companies in those areas whose products and services you like. Most established businesses have shortcomings and their customers are waiting for a better alternative to arrive. Whether the businesses are small local operations or global corporate giants - if they’ve stopped innovating, you have an opportunity. Sectors which are dominated by companies that have gotten too comfortable and have stopped putting customers first are particularly ripe for disruption.

Also look into starting up a related business. Many successful start-ups spawn from other enterprising ventures by making the initial creation even better.

Richard Branson at Virgin Hotels Las Vegas, looking at the view
Tony Tran

So, rather than being discouraged when you find that someone is already acting on an idea similar to yours, welcome the competition. Pick specific examples of what you think their enterprise is doing brilliantly and try to learn why it works so well. Crucially, look for areas where they are falling short, and work out how your start-up could improve things. Get in contact with the businesses and ask plenty of questions. You'll be surprised to find how many successful businesspeople are willing to give advice and guidance - they were all budding entrepreneurs once! In fact, networking and mentoring are some of the most powerful things you can do in the early days. Check out the soon-to-launch Virgin StartUp Digital Community if you’re in the UK, as it will be the perfect platform for peer-to-peer networking, mentoring, and rubbing shoulders with experts.

2. What do you dislike?

Next, think about things that annoy, confuse of frustrate you. How would you change these things? Again, do not censor your thoughts: just write! All good businesses are built from frustration.

Whenever I see something that doesn't make sense, like shoddy service on an airline or bad food on a cruise ship, I start to think about how it could be improved upon. Many Virgin Group businesses have been sparked by an employee’s exasperation that another company was missing the mark, in one way or another. In fact, Virgin Voyages was built from a group of us sitting around a giant piece of paper writing down everything we didn’t like about cruises, and what an ideal cruise would involve.

Richard Branson in Sydney on a speedboat
Virgin Voyages

As a customer, you know when a business doesn’t deliver. Now, as an entrepreneur, you are in a position to build a business that fixes those problems. The company that is built from this is likely to make people’s lives better, and cut through the market.

Next steps:

Now, look at your lists. If an idea doesn’t immediately come to mind, take some time. You’re now thinking in a curious way, and you’ll be more aware of frictions and frustrations in future business encounters.

When the idea comes to you, it’s time to start testing it. You need to be brave and find an appetite for risk. Even the most carefully laid out plans don’t lead to success, so it’s often better to put your product or service out there so that people can try it out. Virgin StartUp tell me this is called ‘Bootstrapping’! While you’re in the testing and planning phase, go back to all those people who suggested that you become an entrepreneur and ask them for specifics about what they see as your strengths. Tell them about your ideas and ask for honest, raw feedback. I’ve always discussed new business ideas with my friends and family before turning them over to lawyers and investment experts.

Richard Branson at the Ultramarine ocean conservation gathering on Necker Island
Stacie Hass

Finally, don't be afraid to ask your loved ones and experts like Virgin StartUp for support. With their help, I'm sure you’ll be able to call yourself an entrepreneur very soon.