The amazing life of Richard Branson

Sir Richard Branson is a serial entrepreneur. He has achieved success in various niches across multiple industries. He has lived one motivational life.

As a child, Branson suffered from dyslexia. Dyslexia is a learning disorder that involves difficulty reading due to problems identifying speech sounds and learning how they relate to letters and words (decoding). Also called reading disability, dyslexia affects areas of the brain that process language. Source: Mayoclinic

His performance in school was terrible. His desire to perform extraordinarily, and his struggle in school because of dyslexia, paved the way to his dropping out of theschool.

He actually later credited quitting school for his success! He said if he had actually pursued formal education long enough, he would be so trained with the conventional way of thinking that his life and career would have never taken off.

But at the time, when he dropped out, he wondered what else he could do.  He decided at the age of 16 that he would start a magazine.  But because it was a new magazine it was extremely hard to give it a successful launch. So, he came up with an idea. He decided that he would distribute the first 50,000 copies for free so that it would gain popularity and traction.

That seemed like a good idea, right? But then how would the costs be covered? He didn’t have any money to fund his business so implementing this strategy seemed impossible without taking a loan.

But he didn’t want to do that. He came up with another idea. He approached several businesses in the area and convinced them to become ADVERTISERS! This helped him raise 8000 pounds which allowed him to distribute 50000 copies for free and give his magazine a huge start.

He then took this to the next level. Soon he came up with the idea of distributing music discs with his magazines. The idea was well received and grew the business further.

But soon, because the record discs were being exported to other countries, and it was not reported as such, the government claimed he had a lot of unpaid taxes and had to pay a hefty fine on top of those. At that time his mother had to mortgage her house in order to help her son settle his dues with the government.

This would have made others slow down, but Branson actually speeded up his growth further! He turned his business into a record label company that soon experienced success as high-profile performers such as The Rolling Stones, Paula Abdul and many others signed up under them.

Eventually, Virgin Records became so successful that it became one of the top 6 record labels in the world.

But Branson’s success was not going to be limited to a Music Record company. He was soon going to start an Airline!

Here is how it started. He was once going to a destination to meet his girlfriend. Unfortunately, the flight he was going on was canceled at the last moment and no other commercial flight was going to that destination that day.

The only way he would get there was if he chartered a private airplane. But he didn’t have much cash with him at that time, and because this was before debit/credit cards were widely accepted, he could not pay for it himself.

Then an idea struck his mind. He went to the Chartered Flight office and asked how much a one-way trip would be. He then made some calculations, went outside, put up a small blackboard, and wrote on it “Charter to BVI For $39 Only!”

Turns out there were many people who had missed the flight or wanted to go to the destination. He collected money from all of them, and then used it to pay for the Chartered Plane, and made a small profit too! Branson later called this Virgin Atlantic’s first flight!

Upon his return he decided he would turn it into a real business and officially founded the company!

Even though the story of starting of Virgin Atlantic sounds funny and he also made a small profit off that, the truth is that the airline business is one of the toughest businesses out there.

There is a joke, told by Branson himself, that in order to become a millionaire, one should start out as a billionaire and then begin an airline business.

By 1992, Virgin Atlantic was finding it extremely difficult to continue its operations because of immense competition and rising fuel costs.

Branson was determined to make it work but was finding it extremely hard to raise any capital. Finally, left with no other choice, he made a decision that was heart-breaking for him. He sold his record label, Virgin Records to another company for 500 Million Pounds. He was extremely upset and even crying after he signed the contract to sell his first successful company.  

But this infusion of cash paid off. After several years of struggle, Branson was able to save Virgin Atlantic and it became a super successful global Airline company.

You may think that this would be enough for anyone. But he still wasn’t done. His eyes were set on creating a Space Tourism Company.

But when he wanted to launch one, no private vehicle had even launched into space. Finally in 2004, as a part of a competition called the X Prize, a company named SpaceshipOne became the first private enterprise to reach space.

Branson bought the company and set into motion the process of making it suitable for commercial spaceflights. He titled it Virgin Galactic. At first, he envisioned the flights to begin operating by 2009. But various test failures and other issues kept delaying things.

In fact, things got so bad that in one of the test flights, the space plane crashed, killing one of the pilots and severely injuring the other. The incident received a lot of negative media coverage and cast severe doubts on the safety of such commercial spaceflights.

Yet Branson persevered and in a few years his test flights became so safe that he himself accomplished his lifelong dream of visiting space in a Virgin Galactic flight, 17 years after he first started the company!! Today, Virgin Galactic is a publicly traded company and one of the strongest bets in the emerging Space Tourism Industry.

If the word AWESOME could be used to describe someone’s life, it would be that of Richard Branson!

The main lesson we can learn from his life is that Lack of resources is not the problem, the lack of creative thinking is.

Branson could have decided to not start his magazine thinking it was impossible to get it off the ground. He could have also thought of giving up, finding no viable way to distribute 50000 copies for free, but instead he found the solution in raising the money from advertisers and launched what would become a highly profitable business.

He did the same when figuring out a way to charter an Airline by selling tickets to others, an idea that eventually gave birth to Virgin Atlantic!

What we can also learn from him is that some times you have to let go of the good to go for the great. Virgin Records was Branson’s first successful business and Branson treated it like his own baby. However, when he started Virgin Atlantic, he experienced terrible failure in the beginning and the company was going to shut down.

He was determined to make it work, but in order to do that he would have to let go of the good – “Virgin Records” in order to make the great – “Virgin Atlantic” possible. Doing so was emotionally heavy, but he did it and saved Virgin Atlantic, which went on to become a huge brand worldwide!

Today Virgin Group operates in over 35 countries and has over 70,000 Employees across the world. Branson is the only businessman to build billion-dollar companies in 8 different industries.

His vision, courage, creative thinking and perseverance are role model qualities for high performance people across the world and some of the biggest revolutionary names, including Elon Musk cite him as their inspiration.

 Now that, is a life well lived!!

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