Until recently Daniel Richards was the Virgin Group’s Digital Director. Having left to start his own business, Garden Tags, he explains how the brand’s intrapreneurial spirit prepared him for life inside a start-up.
It’s been a full month since I disembarked from the Virgin mother ship to go full time on my start-up, GardenTags. In fact, it was the intrapreneurial culture at Virgin that inspired my entrepreneurial endeavour. Virgin taught me how to think and act like an entrepreneur which ultimately set me on my new trajectory. This got me wondering… What is it about Virgin’s culture that makes it so intensely intrapreneurial?
1. A start-up within a start-up. A bit like a matryoshka doll, Virgin’s start-up culture permeates into each and every team. Teams act like mini start-ups and are positively encouraged to bring forward ideas that can step change the business. The Virgin Disruptors programme is just one example of a start up project incubated within the digital team which grew beyond all our expectations.
2. No fear of failure. I can’t stress the importance of lifting away the stigma of failure within an organisation. This stigma can kill a game changing idea even before it’s been written down by it’s originator. Virgin gives people the freedom and the guard rails to fail gracefully and learn from it.
I’m not saying Virgin pops a champagne cork when an idea fails but it does give people another crack at the whip as long you’ve learned from the experience.
3. Practice what you preach. If you walk around the Virgin HQ and randomly ask a few people about themselves, I bet at least one of them will be either incubating a big business idea or already have a business interest on the side. They certainly don’t closet it away, in fact its celebrated. What better way to bring fresh thinking into an organisation through your own practical experience? A lot of the agile thinking in the Virgin digital strategy was brought in from my experiences bootstrapping my own start-up GardenTags.
4. Vive la difference! Virgin is an ideas machine because it encourages diversity in the workplace. If everyone is the same you’re going to come up with the same ideas and that’s highly limiting. The more diverse an organisation is the better in my book!
5. Make it purposeful. Allegedly money makes the world go round but that isn’t going to be the sole motivation of your intrapreneur. If your starting point is making a positive difference to people’s lives, that’s hugely motivational. As Richard says: "Companies that survive and thrive over the long term" have a strong sense of purpose. We’ve started off on this course at GardenTags with our "How to spark a growing revolution" debate.