Losing My Virginity is the story of Richard Branson’s early years in business. When Richard Branson started his first business, he and his friends decided that “since we’re complete virgins at business, let’s call it just that: Virgin.” Branson lost his business virginity at the young age of 15 and would continue to move into several business ventures throughout his life. From bridal wear to cola and space travel to record labels, Branson has tried and succeeded in almost every business sector. The secret is that Branson accepts every business opportunity that comes his way and then learns what to do later.
About Richard Branson
Richard Branson is the founder of the Virgin Group. There are now more than 40 Virgin companies worldwide, employing approximately 71,000 people in over 35 countries. Richard has challenged himself with many record-breaking adventures. For example, the fastest ever Atlantic Ocean crossing, a series of oceanic balloon journeys, and kite surfing across the Channel. Richard has nearly 40 million followers on social media and a net worth of over four billion dollars.
Branson Was Pushed Hard From a Young Age
“Courage is what it takes to stand up and speak; courage is also what it takes to sit down and listen.”– Richard Branson
Branson was born in 1950 to parents with an independent spirit. Hence, from a young age, he was pushed to imagine greater possibilities than the average child. Subsequently, Branson developed a strong sense of adventure and was always up for a challenge. For example, his mother once sent him on his bike to visit relatives who lived more than fifty miles away. He was given no directions and got lost. Although his mother wanted him to learn stamina and orientation, he returned the following day to no admiration. Instead, his mother just sent him to the vicar’s house to chop logs.
Another example of Branson’s parents pushing him too far happened when he and his family went on a fortnight-long holiday in Devon. Branson was just four years old. His aunt had bet him ten shillings that he couldn’t learn to swim by the end of their holiday. Branson spent hours of that holiday in the sea but could not keep on top of the waves by the end of the holiday.
However, he displayed his work ethic by telling his dad to stop the car when driving past a river. He seized this opportunity on the way home and jumped straight into the river. However, he still couldn’t swim and immediately sank. Branson persevered by kicking slowly and regularly.
Eventually, he made his way to the middle of the current and was able to keep himself afloat. He could now see his family clapping and cheering, as well as his aunt waving a ten-shilling coin. This was the extent to which his family pushed him to the next level.
Branson Struggled Academically
“If somebody offers you an amazing opportunity but you are not sure you can do it, say yes – then learn how to do it later!”– Richard Branson
Branson was an intelligent child. Subsequently, he was able to attend university. Despite this, he struggled at university and failed to achieve any academic recognition. Branson attributes these failures to his independent attitude and his dyslexia. Hence, he started considering alternative professional career routes. Alongside one of his fellow students, Branson started a magazine called Student. This magazine was initially an outlet for students to complain about schools. However, the magazine became a celebration of pop student culture.
The Student magazine was an example of Branson’s exceptional business skills. The magazine required funding but obtaining advertisers was particularly challenging as the magazine didn’t even exist yet. As expected, most of the companies that Branson approached were reluctant. Hence, he identified an effective way to hook them in. Essentially, Branson lied his way into obtaining advertisers. Specifically, he told the National Westminster Bank that Lloyds Bank had just taken out an advertisement with them. Branson would pitch this as an opportunity for National Westminster Bank to be advertised alongside a huge bank. This strategy was successful, and soon they received their first cheque for £250.
Moving to London
After this initial success, Branson and his friend decided to leave university and move into a London basement. Here they edited and distributed their magazine. As the magazine continued to grow, they kept cramming more and more fellow students into that one tiny room to work on the magazine. Branson and Jonny decided to scale up very quickly. They now wanted to report on international events, like the wars in Biafra and Vietnam. Hence, they asked the Daily Mirror whether they would be interested in the story of a young reporter going to Vietnam. The Mirror bought the story, and the Student sent one of their staff off to Vietnam and another to Biafra. Additionally, the Student had started making a significant difference in the music scene. For example, it ended up having interviews with acts as big as John Lennon and Keith Richards.
Selling Music Records was the Start of Virgin
Branson’s experiences with the Student meant he understood that people were getting excited about records. At this point, there was no alternative to record shops. Therefore, Branson decided to invent an alternative. This was a mail-order system where records were sent in the post at a lower price than stores like WHSmiths. After deliberation, he and his friends decided on the name Virgin because they were all complete virgins at business.
Branson had created a venture that didn’t require any overhead as the company received the money for orders in advance of sending the records. Hence, they were able to build up a large balance rather than having to wait for the money to come in.
Virgin Opens its First Record Store
In 1971, the record departments of large retail stores were dominated by a bland interior and no understanding of Rock. The postal strike in 1971 pushed Virgin Mail to move into opening their own record store. Branson and his friends noticed a shoe store on Oxford Street had a staircase leading to an empty first floor. They were unable to pay the rent suggested by the shoe store. However, Branson was able to use his charm to strike a different kind of deal with the owner. Specifically, he convinced the owner that their record shop would mean their customers would also become potential customers for the shoe store. Their customers would have to walk through the shoe store to get to Virgin Records. Branson was able to convince the owner to rent the space for free.
The first Virgin store was a huge success. Therefore, Branson and his team decided to open even more stores while also keeping Virgin Mail going once the mail strikes had ended. By the Christmas of 1972, Virgin already had fourteen record stores. Although the record stores were successful, they had made them so attractive that people went there to relax and didn’t buy anything. To solve this problem, Branson and his team installed brighter lights and moved the counters closer to the entrance. This small change helped remind the customers they were in a shop rather than a club.
Virgin Expanded into a Studio and Record Label
“Business opportunities are like buses; there’s always another one coming.”– Richard Branson
In 1971, Branson also started looking to buy a country house to convert into a recording studio. He was only 21 years old at this point. He had identified that music studios were too formal for the wild and spirited pop and rock culture of the 1960s. After searching for weeks, he eventually found a beautiful seventeenth-century manor, complete with iron gates, and set in the fairy-tale countryside. However, this property was far more expensive than how much he had. It was on the market for £30,000, which is about half a million in today’s money. Despite this, the British bank Coutts made the astounding offer of a £20,000 mortgage to Branson’s company. His aunt re-mortgaged her house to lend him £7,500. Subsequently, he was able to transfer the full amount to the estate agent to secure the sale.
This studio accompanied the music label Virgin Records. Hence, they could sign their own artists and then offer them a beautiful place to record. They were making a profit off their studio and through their artists’ sales. Plus, they could also promote and sell their records through their own chain of music shops and mail-ordering services. They had a monetary loop.
Branson Bought a Tropical Island for £180,000
In 1978, Branson was asked whether he had named his company after the Virgin Islands. This was not the case, but it did raise an interesting idea. Branson noticed that these islands were a perfect match for the brand he had been creating. Branson had heard that showing genuine interest in buying one of the Virgin Islands was accompanied by a lavish experience. The local estate agent would put you up in a villa and provide a helicopter to fly around the islands. Branson decided to take the Necker Island estate agents up on this offer.
Branson and his wife Joan were put up by the local estate agents and explored this beautiful island. Branson did not have any intention of buying the island as it was worth £3 million. With nothing to lose, though, he made a silly offer of £150,000. They were thrown out of the villa for this arrogance. Despite this, Branson met the owner of Necker Island, a British lord, when back in London. The lord wanted a quick sale of the island, so he could finance another building. Hence, Branson contacted the lord and offered him £180,000. Incredibly, the lord accepted.
This is just another example of Branson’s incredible knack for getting a fantastic deal. He had just bought an island worth £3 million for £180,000.
This trip to the Virgin Islands was also the start of Virgin Airways. When his flight back to Puerto Rico was canceled, he chartered a plane for $2000 and, on a blackboard, wrote: “Virgin Airways: $39 Single Flight To Puerto Rico.”
Virgin Airways Almost Bankrupted Virgin
“I can honestly say that I have never gone into any business purely to make money. If that is the sole motive then I believe you are better off not doing it. A business has to be involving, it has to be fun, and it has to exercise your creative instincts.”– Richard Branson
Branson’s senior management was highly opposed to his idea of starting an international airline company. However, Brandon was adamant. He argued that they should trial the airline by leasing just one airplane for a year to limit their potential losses. After two months of tough negotiations, Boeing finally agreed to lease Branson a Jumbo for one year. However, before properly starting the business, Virgin had to obtain flight permits. These permits required a test flight with an official onboard. The test flight went completely wrong. They had not insured the plane and it flew into a flock of birds. This flock of birds led to one of the engines exploding and the test flight being aborted.
Branson was in deep trouble. His first commercial flight was booked for two days’ time. However, he still needed a license and a new engine. In total, these two things cost him £600,000. After installing the new engine, acquiring the license, and going on Virgin’s maiden voyage, Branson realized that the £600,000 had exceeded Virgin’s £3 million overdraft.
Virgin was teetering on the brink of insolvency after this. Branson had to collect as much money as he could from his overseas savings to save the business. He was just about able to keep Virgin afloat. After committing to Virgin Airways, he was able to make the company a success. He had already experienced all of these successes within multiple fields by the age of 33.
Branson Battled Through Travel Adversities
As well as overcoming business adversities, Branson has also had several life-threatening travel experiences. Firstly, in 1984 he sponsored Ted Toleman in crossing the Atlantic Ocean at a new record speed. The goal of this trip was to obtain the Blue Riband Trophy for Britain. Toleman and Branson started in New York and set off for England to beat the current record, which had been set at three days, 10 hours, and 40 minutes. However, after three days at sea and with just 60 miles left to go, they were hit by a storm. This storm split open the hull of the catamaran, causing the Virgin Challenger to sink.
The crew was eventually rescued by a cruise ship after having to retreat to a lifeboat. However, Branson was determined to win the Blue Riband. Hence, he had a second attempt two years later. On this attempt, the filters for the fuel pump became clogged, choking the engine. Moreover, they would need to be replaced every couple of hours. There was no chance they could beat the record. However, Branson used his problem-solving skills by contacting Downing Street and talking to the right people. They were able to obtain an RAF plane to pick up new filters and drop them onboard. With new filters, they were able to keep the engines running, finishing their journey in three days, 8 hours, and 31 minutes. They had set a new world record for the 3000-mile voyage.
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