I’m often asked how I find the drive to continue starting new entrepreneurial ventures, after more than five decades in business. There are the daily challenges of keeping the new business going; the big picture projects; and the need to innovate and improve constantly, changing your offering as the market does.
Part of the answer lies in some lifestyle choices - I recharge by getting plenty of exercise and by spending as much time with friends and family as I can.
I have always been driven by the desire to change things for the better. That was what motivated my friends and me to launch our first business, Student magazine, in the 1960s: we wanted to give young people a voice on issues such as the Vietnam War. That spirit of hopefulness and commitment to concrete change continued through every business we launched afterward, and it’s still true for our newer businesses like Virgin Galactic, the world’s first commercial space company.
Over time, as we learned more about business and entrepreneurship, our mission began to come into focus; we wanted to create a better world, where businesses are driven by a strong sense of purpose that balances their needs with those of people and the planet. Once we had articulated that vision (lots of businesses struggle with this exercise, and it as an ever-evolving process) we were able to break it down into the common goal the Virgin businesses all rally behind: to use our entrepreneurial spirit and resources to disrupt and reinvent every sector we’re in, helping to transform the way everyone does business along the way.
One of the challenges the airline industry faces is its voracious appetite for fossil fuel and its resulting carbon footprint. Virgin Atlantic is tackling the carbon footprint issue in a number of ways, including modernising the fleet with more efficient planes, which has helped cut emissions by 21 per cent since 2007. We have also turned our attention to the fuel itself. Would it be possible to develop a commercially viable jet fuel made from renewable sources? In partnership with the biotechnology firm LanzaTech, we have made strong progress on this goal, andrenewable fuels now have the potential to revolutionise the industry. Our sense of purpose helps to unite the teams working on the different aspects of this problem.
There are plenty of stories like this one across the Virgin Group. The point is that as an entrepreneur, your journey is never over, and your mission should be broad enough to encompass other industries and sectors, if that’s what’s required to bring about change. No matter if you make butter or ball bearings, you can still make a difference, as long as you have a great idea and a vision your team believes in.
When you’re planning out your first entrepreneurial venture, you may not be able to define your mission or vision perfectly at first. You can clarify matters quickly by designing your offering according to your values – if you hope to sell butter, for example, you will have to tackle issues like animal welfare and sustainable farming. As your plan for your business begins to take shape and you pursue the innovations that your values require, your sense of mission may emerge. This will help you to instil a culture at your company where your team never sees its journey as completed, and quickly moves to the next challenge.
As your business expands, you’ll find that however successful a quarter has been, you can always do better next time. Rather than being discouraged, view this as an opportunity – another go at making a lasting, positive contribution to the world.