Entrepreneurs I Admire: Richard Branson

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Today I’d like to take a little time to examine one of the people that serves as motivation for me, Sir Richard Branson. I find his story particularly compelling, and frankly, am impressed with how this guy embodies the entrepreneurial spirit. You may know him as the Chairman of the Virgin Group, which handles everything from air travel to films to flowers and now even space travel with Virgin Galactic. His story is an impressive one, and I hope that some of what I tell you here will serve as inspiration for your own pursuits.

I expect that Branson’s childhood was similar to most; his father was a barrister—that’s “fancy talk” for a lawyer—in England, so he had a solid middle class home, but his lineage isn’t to cool part. At only 16 years old, he started his first business with a mail-order record service. He conducted the operation out of the crypt of a church, and advertised in The Student, a magazine that he helped run. Thus, Virgin Records was born. He operated under that name, selling popular records at discounted prices, at the suggestion of one of his employees, who reasoned that the name was apt because none of them had any business experience.

A few years later, he scraped together enough cash to make his own brick and mortar store in London. Of course, having a well-known location had some problems, and he got popped for selling records that were considered export stock. So, yes, even somebody as successful as Branson can see an inconvenient lawsuit. But with help from his family, he managed to pay the outstanding taxes and fines.

The single store proved enough of a success that only a year after opening it, he started the record label Virgin Records, signing bands like the Sex Pistols, buying a gay club, and generally diversifying and growing his operation. That is, until 1984, when he decided, “hey, I want some airplanes,” and formed Virgin Atlantic. Again in 1999, “hey, I want to sell cell phones,” with Virgin Mobile, again in 2005, “hey, I want a spaceship,” with Virgin Galactic. I could take you through the detailed history, but that would be a long read.

And now Richard Branson is the man we know him as: a billionaire, world record setter, humanitarian activist, and head of a multinational organization that he created. We can all learn a lesson from his story. For one, it pays to diversify. He wouldn’t have had all the success he did without branching out and doing new things. For you that may be adding a writing service to your existing blog development business. Another is that bad things happen to everyone, sometimes at the least opportune times. Branson’s mother mortgaged her home to help pay the outstanding taxes he had after he opened his first store, and he wound up selling Virgin Records to EMI in the 1980’s to help keep Virgin Atlantic’s head above water. Everyone has problems, and there is nothing to do but your best to solve them and keep moving forward. Finally, don’t be afraid to ask for help. Branson’s mother helped him with taxes, Nik Powell helped him buy a recording studio, and many others did a little to help along the way. So let Sir Richard serve as inspiration, and get out there and succeed!

I’ll be posting one of these on occasion, but if you know of an entrepreneur that we should know about, leave a comment!