Richard Branson's advice for taking on big businesses

When you’re just starting out in business, it can feel like you’re fighting an impossible fight against established businesses. But, Richard Branson says not to be too disheartened.

In a recent blog post he notes the impressive achievement of Leicester City Football Club in the English Premier League this year. At the beginning of the season, the team were given odds of 5,000 to 1 of ending up champions. And yet, that is exactly what happened just a few weeks ago.

“Leicester’s success is a testament to the amazing accomplishments that can be realised when a group of like-minded individuals get together and decide their aspirations are not going to be impeded by conventional wisdom,” Richard says. “Successful teams take chances; they jointly determine that if an idea doesn’t necessarily work in theory, it might just work in practice. And when these underdogs work together and have fun, they can run rings around the 800lb gorillas that dominate industries.”

Richard has his own David vs Goliath story from 1984 when he decided to start Virgin Atlantic. “The pundits all thought we were insane - and perhaps we were,” he admits. “I don’t think any bookie ever laid odds on our chances of survival, but 5,000 to 1 would have sounded about right.”

But he asks, what odds would you have gotten against Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak turning a garage computer project into the world’s most valuable company? Or Larry Page and Sergey Brin, two students with an idea for a search engine? Or Sara Blakely who turned her idea of cutting the legs off a pair of pantyhose into a multibillion-dollar company?

These may be exceptional examples, but at thousands of smaller start-ups, the formula is similar: With little or no funding, every one of these entrepreneurs built their teams by finding and engaging other dreamers who brought energy and value to the group.”

But what’s the real secret to Leicester City’s success? They treat their players like people, not expensive commodities, Richard says. 

“We give our time to the staff, the players and to the manager,” Aiyawatt Srivaddhanaprabha, the team’s vice chairman, told The Telegraph newspaper recently. “We try to manage it like a family, to listen to the problems of every single member of staff.”

Richard adds: “In a sport that has become big business and tends to be dominated by brilliant, multimillionaire prima donnas and a compulsion to win no matter the cost, Leicester City’s ‘one for all, all for one’ spirit has been a refreshing change.I have always believed that turning the traditional corporate pyramid on its head is the best path to success.

“Rather than focusing solely on shareholder value, look after your people’s interests, and keep them engaged and feeling appreciated. In turn, they will do a better job of taking care of your customers, and your shareholders, at the tip of the inverted triangle, will also be happy.”

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