I’m often asked about the best place to begin when you want to start your own business. From dull and expensive airlines to sluggish banks, every Virgin business has been built out of a desire to do things differently. We’ve looked beyond the standard ways of thinking and pushed the boundaries of expectations. Challenges can lead to great opportunities!
It all began in the early seventies when we were running our first record shop. At the time, Mike Oldfield was trying to secure a record deal to produce an instrumental album made up of two 20 minute long tracks with 10 different instruments and no vocals. It didn’t exactly tick the ‘commercially viable’ boxes and he was turned down by label after label. It was frustrating because Mike was so talented and the music was hauntingly mesmerising… so we decided to launch Virgin Records and sign Mike as our first artist. We knew it was time to disrupt the industry and shake up the perception of what popular music can sound like. Tubular Bells launched in 1973 as Virgin Records debut album and went on to top the UK charts and kick start the Virgin brand.
We’ve been applying this frustration-to-disruption strategy for 50 years now, putting customer experience at the heart of everything we do.
It's been great to see Virgin Hotels shaking up the hotel industry and doing things differently for the benefit of our customers. I’m fortunate to travel to many different places for business and am very used to living out of hotel rooms and suitcases for periods of time. I know what I want wherever I am in the world – free wifi, no cancellation fees, and early check-in or late check-out without penalties. I want a comfy bed, the right temperature, space to work, a social space to relax, and superior service. This is why we decided to launch Virgin Hotels. These desires (and frustrations when hotels fall short) are shared by many travellers and it seemed like there was a great opportunity to create a new, wonderful hotel experience where people leave happier than when they arrived. It’s been exciting to see our vision come to life with Virgin Hotels Chicago, Virgin Hotels San Francisco and Virgin Hotels Dallas.
Shaking up entrenched industries goes hand in hand with innovation. Alongside improving the people experience, business disruption should also try to improve the planet. From investing in renewable energy through to electric cars, biofuels, hyperloop transport systems and beyond – innovation and disruption can do the world a lot of good.
One sector I’m excited about shaking up is travel. Virgin Voyages is redefining the cruise industry, offering an experience like no other on the market and bringing the romance back to sea travel. I also can’t wait to see Virgin Hyperloop connecting cities and making travelling quicker and easier than ever.
If there’s one piece of advice I could give to budding entrepreneurs - it’s to take your challenges and turn them into opportunities. What industry do you think needs to be shaken up next?