How far we’ve come in 50 years

I’ve learned lots of fascinating things from doing business for nearly 50 years, but none more interesting – or surprising and dramatic – than the changes we’ve seen in technology.

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When we first launched Virgin the CD wasn’t invented. Virgin Mail Order sold cut-price records via magazine advertisements, and mailed them out to customers through the postal system. From there we took our product to the UK’s high streets with Virgin Records; filling our shops with vinyl – from the likes of Mike Oldfield and Tangerine Dream – to be enjoyed by music lovers lazing around on beanbags.

When cassettes and CDs grew in popularity, our business boomed, so we opened Virgin Megastores in hotspots like Times Square in New York, Darling Harbour in Sydney and the Champs-Élysées in Paris. But then, in a stroke of irony, the iPod came along and nearly ended the Virgin brand. Lucky, we sold our music operations, to allow our dreams of creating the world’s best airline to take off, before Apple’s nifty little device could put us out of business! We persevered with our Megastores in some parts of the world, shifting the focus from purely music to lifestyle, and have successfully reinvented them everywhere from Dubai to Lebanon.

Richard Branson Virgin Mobile flip phone

Before Virgin was conceived, I started life as an entrepreneur by calling companies from a red phone box outside my school to secure advertising so that we could launch Student magazine. Fast-forward five decades and we now have Virgin Mobile companies in countries worldwide.

In Virgin Mobile’s 17 year history so much has changed too. I remember when this little flip phone, which we used as the poster child for our advertising in the 2000s, was considered innovative and cool. I can’t imagine that today’s teenagers – who use their smart phones to organise their lives – would pick those exact words to describe the technology.

Richard Branson takes a phone call before going kitesurfing

Across 50 years in business the biggest changes in technology I’ve noticed have been spurred by the invention of the internet. When I started out in business, computers were for scientists, not for people conducting business; and like the word entrepreneur, social media wasn’t a term anybody used. Now we have thousands of people working around the globe responding to your feedback, in real time, every day. When I think about how far we’ve come I’m truly amazed.

We love keeping up with advancements in technology and making sure we innovate to bring our customers the very best Virgin experience possible. Do you have an idea about what the next big thing in technology will be? I’d like to hear your thoughts in the comments below.

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