Five things we learnt from Richard Branson in Boston

Yesterday saw Virgin Atlantic’s third business is an adventure event touchdown in Boston, with another panel of esteemed entrepreneurs on stage sharing their insights and stories from the frontline...

Joining Richard Branson on stage were Tyler Haney (Outdoor Voices founder), Payal Kadakia (ClassPass CEO and co-founder) and James Proud (Hello CEO and founder). You can check out a replay of the discussion below.

With the Virgin Group founder in particularly good form, we decided to break down his most interesting, and amusing, insights from the session. Here goes nothing...

1. Never build a business with the aim of selling it

Richard Branson has sold his fair share of businesses, however when asked if he thought it was better to set out with the intention of starting a business in order to grow it or sell it, he was very clear that there was only one right answer.

"You shouldn’t start a business simply so you can sell it and make a profit, that’s not the right way to approach it. The people who work for you will feel cheated, they won’t put their heart and soul into it. It’s not a clever way to do business."

2. Fix problems, but not just the ones in your industry

As those of you who saw Richard Branson at the recent Virgin Disruptors event will be aware, the Virgin Group founder has been spreading the word on purpose in business as of late. A passion point of his which has enabled countless Virgin companies to flourish, he sees no reason why every business should not have a strong purpose as its foundation.

"Entrepreneurs could sort out every single problem in the world if they made an effort to do so. More businesses are now realising this, their employees care about it and their customers do too," explains Richard. "If you have a hotel in Africa then why not, for example, draw a 50 mile radius around it and deal with all the people who are ill or need help in that area? If every business did something similar, on a global basis, then we would bring an end to so many problems."

3. Make sure your branding passes the 'Richard test'

The mark of a real entrepreneur is seeing opportunities where others see obstacles, a quality that Richard Branson demonstrated from an early age. Refusing to allow his dyslexia to hold him back in business, Richard claims that he was fortunate to have it as it meant he was quick to learn the art of delegation. Not only that, any Virgin branding or messaging needed to be simple enough to pass the 'Richard test'.

"If it wasn’t for dyslexia I wouldn‘t have started my first business - I was hopeless at school and decided to leave at 15 as a result. What it has helped me to do is to become a really good delegator, if you’re not very good at something then you find someone who can do it.

"Dyslexia has also helped me to simplify messaging. If you’re dealing with Virgin then you know there’s going to be no hidden jargon, we keep things very straightforward. If it passes the Richard test, and I can understand it, then everyone should be able to."

4. Think twice about your choice of socks

Perhaps the most entertaining point of the debate occurred when Richard Branson looked down to his socks, which were on show to the entire room, and let us all in on a little secret...

"Hmm. I’ve just looked down at my shoes and seen my socks. When I left the house this morning my wife said to me 'you’ve got the ugliest pair of socks on I’ve ever seen, go and change them'. I said to her that nobody was going to see them, now you’re all looking at them. I really should have listened. Now what were we discussing?"

5. Sue the bastards

"So Richard, have you ever had a mentor?" Asked moderator Randall Lane. Yes, was the answer. Not only that, he was able to share the very first piece of advice which he was given by his mentor.

"There was a man called Sir Freddie Laker, whose business in the airline industry had failed. He gave me some very good advice, having been put out of business by British Airways. He told me there were three pieces of advice I needed to remember - sue the bastards!

"About three or four years later we did exactly that, so we were very grateful for his advice. We ended up sharing the money between all the staff at Virgin Atlantic, it was known as the BA Christmas bonus."


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