15 Lessons from Richard Branson

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Richard Branson isn’t your average billionaire.

He’s a worldwide celebrity, an ardent humanitarian, and the he once tried to circumnavigate the world in a hot air balloon.

Branson knows a lot about business (as evidenced $4.2 billion net worth), but he also has a knack for adventure and living life to the fullest. Enjoy the lessons on life and business below.

#1 Your Age Doesn’t Matter

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Richard was just 16 years old when he had his first business success, a magazine called Student. By 22, he had founded Virgin Records.

Branson is proof that it’s never too early to start.

But at 61, he’s also proof that being old is just a state of mind: Branson regularly kite surfs and attempts to break world records (e.g. a 2008 attempt to break the world record for sailing across the Atlantic).

#2 Think Laterally

The sky is the limit for your business, but that doesn’t mean that the only direction to grow is up.

Branson’s magazine led him to sell records. His record store led him to start a label, which led him to buy a recording studio and a night club.

By starting ventures in complementary industries, Branson created a network of businesses that reinforce one another. It’s much easier to promote a new musical artist when you own a night club, a magazine, and a record shop.

#3 Work for Free

How does a no-name record label sign its first artist?

Virgin Records did it by offering to let multi-instrumentalism Mike Oldfield use their recording studio for free. The recording sessions led to Tubular Bells (1973), Virgin’s first release and a best-seller.

When you’re trying to get your foot in the door in a new industry, sometimes the quickest way to make money is by doing something for free.

#4 Be Controversial

Branson signed the Sex Pistols to his label after other major labels (EMI and A&M) had dropped them for their penchant for creating controversy and mayhem.

The Sex Pistols lived up to their reputation and broke up not long after signing with Virgin Records. But their acquisition broadened Virgin’s profile and gave them an upper hand in the booming punk rock scene.

It’s natural to steer away from controversy, but if you’re willing to seek it out, you can draw attention to your business while cashing in on opportunities that others were too timid to take.

#5 Diversify

After finding success in the record business, Branson dove into the transportation industry, founding Virgin Atlantic Airways in 1984. He’s since expanded his business ventures to include mobile phones, cosmetics, movies, and even his own cola.

Diversifying across industries doesn’t just keep things interesting for Branson, it also provides safety from the unpredictable ups and downs of any given industry.

Branson’s glad he didn’t stick to the just the record business: it has been in steady decline since Napster launched in 1999.

#6 Love Your Business

When Branson sold the Virgin record label to EMI in 1992, for £500 million, he was brought to tears.

A lot of people would probably cry tears of joy if they just made that kind of cash (myself included), but Branson was crying because he was emotionally invested into his record label.

If you don’t want to put your heart and soul into your business, you shouldn’t start it in the first place.

#7 Opportunity is Constant

“Business opportunities are like buses, there’s always another one coming.”

Don’t be discouraged if a business venture doesn’t turn out like you hoped.

Instead, keep an eye out for the next big opportunity.

#8 Be a (Benevolent) Dictator

“I believe in benevolent dictatorship provided I am the dictator.”

Nobody can accuse Branson of being cold to his employees (he makes a habit of writing them personal letters), but he also embraces his role as a dictator.

If you want to be a leader in business, you can’t worry about what other people think. Exercise your power and act decisively.

#9 Success in School is Different than Success in Life

Richard Branson is dyslexic and he struggled in school before dropping out at the age of 16.

School is great at testing and rewarding certain skillsets, like the ability to memorize information and follow instructions. But those skills aren’t the only skills necessary for real life success.

#10 Learn by Doing

“You don’t learn to walk by following rules. You learn by doing, and by falling over.”

Branson started a magazine without ever having taken a journalism class and he became one of the world’s most successful businessmen without ever having taken a business class.

Don’t wait until you’re qualified to start doing what you want with your life. Just do it. You’ll make a ton of mistakes, but that’s the fastest way to learn.

#11 Be a Pioneer

In 2004, Branson founded Virgin Galactic – a space tourism company that will soon be taking sub-orbital vacations. So far, over 430 brave people have signed up to become Virgin Galactic astronauts.

The ticket price: $200,000.

Virgin Galactic is a great example of Branson’s willingness to explore new frontiers with his business ventures. Being a pioneer is risky, but it has a distinct advantage: when you pioneer an entirely new industry, beating the competition is a piece of cake.

#12 Look into the Future

Virgin Galactic is one of many instances in which Branson has anticipated an emerging market.

When Branson observed gasoline prices on the rise, he saw an opportunity to enter the fuel industry. The Virgin Green Fund invests worldwide in research and development of renewable fuel.

Given the global scarcity of gasoline, coupled with mounting consumption, it’s a good bet that Branson’s bet on alternative energy will pay off in the long run.

When you see current trends and project them into the future, you give your business a huge advantage for years to come.

#13 Screw Business as Usual

“Never has there been a more exciting time for all of us to explore this next great frontier where the boundaries between work and higher purpose are merging into one, where doing good really is good for business.”

The above is an excerpt from Branson’s brand new book, Screw Business as Usual, about how businesses can succeed by striving to make a positive impact on the planet (and not just make boatloads of money).

Branson argues that companies that treat their employees, their communities, and the environment better tend to have better long-term financial growth and a healthier brand.

When you make a positive impact with your business, you’re not just making the world a better place. You’re also contributing to the long-term success of your company.

#14 Give Back

“If I get frustrated by something, then I like to try to put it right.”

Branson’s businesses may make the world a better place, but that hasn’t stopped him from entering into the realm of non-profit humanitarian efforts.

He’s taken on AIDS (Virgin Healthcare Foundation), nuclear weapons (Global Zero), and even war itself (The Elders).

After a chat with Al Gore over breakfast about climate change, Branson decided that global warming was a legitimate crisis. He subsequently pledged an enormous $3 billion to help solve it.

Obviously, giving back doesn’t help Richard’s bottom line. But my guess is that it brings him satisfaction beyond words.

#15 Enjoy the Simple Things

“Right now I’m just delighted to be alive and to have had a nice long bath.”

Richard Branson lives a life that’s easy to envy. His wealth allows him to travel the world, meet influential people, and do it all in style.

But while yachts and jewelry are nice, they won’t give you real satisfaction. That’s something that can only grow out of an appreciation for the simple things, like your health, your loved ones, and a nice long bath.

Don’t wait until you’re “successful” to enjoy yourself. Start now and enjoy the way up.

 

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