My biggest light-bulb moment

My first business was Student magazine, which we launched in 1968 to give young people a voice – covering everything from pop culture and music to the Vietnam and Biafra wars. 

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We worked around the clock, late nights and weekends, determined to make it a success. However, while it made a big impact and challenged perceptions of youth culture, it wasn’t a profitable venture. 

I’ve never gone into business with an agenda to solely make money; I’ve always sought to shake things up and make a positive difference to people’s lives. But breaking even isn’t a sustainable business model, and with more profits you can do more good.

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We tried a number of different approaches to turn a profit – I can’t tell you how many businesses I cold-called, pretending to sound much older and wiser, in order to sell advertising. We actually started working on the magazine in 1965, but it took three years to get enough ads to cover cost first edition! However, our biggest breakthrough came when we started selling cut-price music records through the magazine.  

What started out as a simple way to fund Student, became a big operation. We were soon run off our feet processing and packing orders. Then came the light-bulb moment… this should be our primary business focus. And so began Virgin.

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I’m proud to say that Virgin has now been in business for more than 40 years. It certainly hasn’t always been smooth sailing. But we’ve embraced risk, taken crash courses to understand each new industry we’ve entered, and made our key breakthroughs by learning from our failures.

Even though we were destined for bigger and better things, we were sad to stop producing the magazine – just like we were when we sold Virgin Records to keep Virgin Atlantic afloat. But both these moments in time have been the biggest turning points in my life and career.

Richard Branson Virgin Atlantic plane

Life is all about turning points. Some people don’t embrace them, because they fear change – but over half a century in business, I’ve learned to see shifts in success and forks in the road as huge opportunities. Turning points, while they often come from moments of darkness, can steer us in the direction of great light… or light-bulb moment.

All this month on Virgin.com we’re discussing turning points, with a variety of blogs from entrepreneurs and thought-leaders on the subject. Have you had a light-bulb moment that created a turning point in your life? I’d like to hear about it in the comments below.

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