Starting a business while working full-time for Virgin StartUp

Virgin has, for a long time, had a reputation for hiring entrepreneurial employees. But sometimes that can lead to unexpected side effects...

Hi, I’m Mike, I work for Virgin and I want to quit my job.

There, I said it on the official company blog, which is undoubtedly a risky move. My boss will most probably read this, as will my colleagues and maybe even Richard Branson himself. You may think with that attitude and on this public platform that Richard ought to get my P45 and a box for my belongings now.

Well, he won’t. In fact when I interviewed for the job I was asked where I saw myself in five years. “Hopefully not working here” was my reply. Yet here I am and everyone’s cool with it.

You see my ultimate ambition is to be my own boss and make my own difference to the world and I know it’s a goal of many of my colleagues too. It’s the reason most of us have ended up working here and it is also why I wasn’t thrown out of the interview when I said I’d like to be running my own business in the future, rather than working for Virgin.

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That ambition has been my New Year’s resolution for as long as I can remember. This is the first year it isn’t. In September last year I took the first step towards realising my goal of quitting, as myself and two friends launched Beardpoo – a beard brand selling shampoo and moisturiser custom built for beards. We donate 25 per cent of profits to CALM, a charity that’s fighting to end male suicide – the single biggest killer of men under the age of 45.

Our products are enriched with natural ingredients to keep your beard healthy and nourished. The shampoo aids beard thickness, softens bristles and soothes itchiness.

While the moisturiser hydrates your beard, prevents beardruff (That’s like dandruff on your beard.) and stops any dry skin. It’s been going well so far, we’ve sold thousands of bottles and have been featured on national radio, in the Independent and have raised awareness for CALM in the process. This bit I’m especially proud of. CALM is tackling a problem that society has ignored for too long and is genuinely making a difference.

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That said currently we’re not at the stage where I can afford or would want to quit my day job.

To be honest it’s hard not to want to be running your own business when working here. Entrepreneurship is in Virgin’s DNA and the business is led by the original entrepreneur, Richard Branson himself. I work directly on Virgin StartUp, the not-for-profit arm of the Virgin Group that helps people to launch or grow businesses (over 2,000 in the last few years, distributing more than £30m in the process). It kind of feels like the whole company is willing me to quit.

Since launching, I’ve packaged up products in the office, taken time away from my desk to queue at the post office while sending orders out and at Christmas was even allowed to set up a stall in the reception area to sell to fellow staff members.

I’ve been given a mentor too by the People team here, a senior member of staff who has way more experience and knowledge than I have, who’s been on hand with valuable advice and tips.

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Why on earth would Virgin encourage me to start my own business? Well, the experience of launching and running my own side project has taught me shedloads more than any course I’ve ever attended and it’s having a positive impact on my day job. Plus, Virgin is a brand that’s started more than 400 companies. It has a reputation to disrupt the status quo and change the world of business for good. It’s a philosophy that’s served the company well so far and in order for that to continue they actively search for entrepreneurs. The brand like having members of staff who take an entrepreneurial approach to their day job, it encourages people to find different ways to approach business which helps the Virgin brand stay relevant and perceivably young – even though it’s over 40 years old.

Don’t be fooled though, my day job is still 100 per cent my number one focus and Beardpoo is worked on during my own time. It’s not like I’m slacking on my work in order to grow my side project. But having the flexibility to run to the post office while on my lunch break and being able to openly talk about what I’m up to with colleagues makes the whole experience of running a business more enjoyable. If Virgin wasn’t supportive of me doing this, then I don’t think I could’ve done it. As simple as that, it would be impossible and way less fun if this whole project was in secret.

The best part of doing this while working full-time is that if the worst case scenario happens and the business fails, I’d still have gained experience which has helped me do my day job better and know that my boss will respect me for giving it a go. 

If it succeeds, then that same boss will be more than happy when I hand in my notice and will – in all honesty – probably hand over a list of contacts who can help me take it to the next level.

If you want to help me quit, still think Virgin should give me the boot or want to find out more about CALM and the great work they are doing to fight male suicide in the UK, then head over to www.beardpoo.com.

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