Sir Richard Branson: Learning from your failures
Although Sir Richard Branson is known as an extremely successful entrepreneur, his rise to the top wasn’t easy.
Like other entrepreneurs, he struggled for a long time to see his vision come to life thanks to a range of issues. Find out what he learned from his failures below.
Branson was never a fan of school, so it wasn’t surprising when he dropped out in 1967 aged 16 to start his first business: Student magazine. He wanted to revolutionise the student publications of the time, and provide a new and exciting voice for the youth. Student managed to secure some big name interviews, including Mick Jagger and Peter Blake, but the magazine struggled to make money. The problem only got worse over time and it seemed like Student would go under, but thanks to his flexible approach Branson managed to turn the situation around. Knowing there was a gap in the market for more affordable music, he launched a mail-order discount record business to fund the magazine. Little did he know, that that business would grow into a billion-dollar recording empire called Virgin Records!
In 1994, Branson decided to take on one of the most recognisable brands on the planet – Coke – with the launch of Virgin Cola. Early taste tests were promising and Branson thought Virgin Cola could actually become bigger than Coke. However, after its launch it quickly became apparent that it could not – sales were low and the company folded after just a few years. But why did it fail? Branson realised it was too similar to other sodas on the market. It wasn’t unique and therefore had no identity; this point taught Branson the importance of strong branding.
Branson is known for being a daredevil. In his book, Finding My Virginity, he notes the 76 near-death experiences and close shaves he’s had in his life. He loves an adventure and pushing himself – he’s attempted numerous world records and was the first person to pilot a hot air balloon across the Atlantic. But his trip around the world nearly cost him his life. After accidentally losing fuel, his hot air balloon became out of control and he had to jump 60ft from the balloon into the sea. He was so sure he’d die, he even wrote a short note to his children telling them how much he loved them. His experience taught him to appreciate everything in his life and never give up.
Branson’s aim for Virgin Atlantic was to give passengers an unparalleled flying experience. He knew he could offer a service like no other, but he lacked knowledge of the industry. Still, he persisted and rented a Boeing 747 – Virgin’s only plane – to complete a test flight. Unfortunately, during the flight a flock of birds flew into the engine, causing extensive damage. The airline couldn’t get certified to start carrying passengers without a working plane, but Branson didn’t have the money to get it fixed. He could have given up, but instead he restructured all of his companies and pulled money from other ventures to get it fixed. Thanks to his belief, his airline got the certification it needed to make its first flight and it quickly became a huge success.
Though Virgin has succeeded with planes and trains, cars have been a different story. In 2000, Branson launched Virgin Cars, an online business that aimed to change the way cars were sold. The company was launched at an alarmingly fast pace – it went from drawing board to fully fledged company in just six months. Although the business started out strong, it soon struggled to sell cars and eventually shut down in 2005. Branson realised from his failure that he was disrupting the wrong part of the auto industry – it wasn’t the way cars were sold, it was how they were powered. He’s since invested heavily in the creation of more sustainable environmental fuels.
Sir Richard’s experiences show that failing is simply a part of life – it’s unavoidable, but thankfully it’s also extremely useful. Failing helps us grow and actually become more determined to succeed. So, the next time you fail at something, think of Sir Richard Branson, dust yourself down, and carry on!
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