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12.06.17

12 Lessons for Entrepreneurs from Richard Branson

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ICHARD BRANSON titled his autobiography Finding My Virginity because “You can only lose your virginity once. But in every aspect of my life—building businesses, raising a family, embarking upon adventures—I try to do things for the first time every day.” His child-like, curious approach to life has served him well.

In Finding My Virginity, Branson shares his ups and downs in his entertaining, candid style. “If your life is one long success story it won’t make for a good read. What's more, you’re most likely a liar. We all have ups and downs, trials and tribulations, failures and triumphs: we just hope to come out stronger on the other side.”

What follows is some sound advice Branson shares about what it means to be an entrepreneur.

Work Fast

Generally, we like to work fast: try ideas, see if they stick, and, if they don’t, quickly move on to the next one. I work best when my mind is able to jump from one topic to the next in quick succession. It keeps things lively, and it’s amazing how often good ideas for one company come out of another completely unrelated business.

Listen

Too many people presume they are right and don’t listen to other points of view. They speak categorically and then close their ears. I consider myself a good listener and apportion a good deal of my success—not to mention my marriage—to this. Some entrepreneurs surround themselves with brilliant people and then ignore them. Most people who behave in this autocratic way get their comeuppance. I know I am not better than anyone else, so I take a different road.

Value of Entrepreneurs

It may be controversial to say it, but there is no job more important than being an entrepreneur. When you analyze everything about the world and all the improvements that get made, almost without exception, it is an entrepreneur that has made them. It might be an entrepreneurial doctor, or architect, or artist—anything.

While business may have changed from when I started out, the principles are the same and still fit what I am good at: finding markets that need shaking up, coming up with ways to make people’s lives better, then finding brilliant people to bring it to life. Once an entrepreneur, always an entrepreneur.

Invest in People

What I am good at is coming up with interesting ideas and then finding amazing people to turn them into reality. I see investing in start-ups in the same way. I’m not always caught up in the details of what a particular app will or won’t do; I’m more interested in the personalities behind the companies, and the purpose within their visions. I’d happily invest in a company that ends up failing in order to find a young entrepreneur who will go on to change the world.

Youthful Spirit

I have seen so many companies come and go, largely because they didn’t reinvent themselves. They stayed in a sector that had died, whereas Virgin was always one step ahead of the game. Most people think: know your onions, then stick to them. My worry is that people will get bored of onions and move on to carrots instead, putting your onion out of business.

No matter what is happening in my business life, regardless of what situation my companies are in, somewhere in the back of my mind I will be mulling over a new idea. I like to think it is my curiosity and thirst for fresh inspiration.

I think entrepreneurship is our natural state—a big adult word that probably boils down to something much more obvious like playfulness. When we are young, before we have our childlike wonder beaten out of us by adult life, we are at our most inventive and ambitious in our actions. I’ve always tried to keep that youthful spirit.

Now, it’s absolutely critical to keep that early hunger I had. I mustn’t get complacent; I’ve still got to be fleet of foot and quick to jump upon opportunities.

Tell Stories

Having the facts on your side is one thing, but telling a great story with just enough charm and chutzpah can make all the difference.

Get Help

Asking for support is a strength, not a weakness. If you try to do everything yourself, you won’t succeed and will make yourself miserable along the way.

Note-Taking

Virgin has a note-taking culture and I’m certain it wouldn’t be the success it is today without it.

I jot down ideas, thoughts, requests, reminders and doodles every single day; if I didn’t I would forget them before I could ever put them into action. Making lists is both a way of remembering things and of ticking off achievements to make progress. Without notes and follow-ups, chances are nothing would get done. If somebody works for me and doesn’t take notes, I ask them: “Are you too important? Note taking isn’t beneath anyone.” I take notes in every meeting, to keep the frame of mind to learn. I edit as I go along, and follow up with dates and tasks in order of importance.

Encourage Ideas

Any manager who punishes their staff for expressing an opinion hasn’t got the faintest idea about leadership. People in charge should empower their employees, not scare them into silence.

Value People

I have always thought it refreshing, and sensible, for leaders to get right among their people. That way you get to know them, hear their ideas, build stronger ties and create relationships in a way you never can sealed off behind a closed door.

The word “family” gets used too often by companies who treat their staff as anything but. I wish more businesses really did run like families. When things are going well, everyone has an even better time celebrating together. When things are tough, you can rally around and help each other get through it.

Making It Work

Sometimes it is necessary to pivot a business into a new idea, and wait for another opportunity.

Leadership

The way to become a great leader is to look for the best in people—seldom criticize—always praise.

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Posted by Michael McKinney at 08:09 AM
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