Finding My Virginity: The New Autobiography


no title has been provided for this book
Publisher: Portfolio
Published: 7/10/2018
Twenty years after his iconic memoir Losing My Virginity, the world's ultimate entrepreneur is back with the rest of the story. Richard Branson's Losing My Virginity shared the outrageous tale of how he built Virgin from a student magazine into one of the greatest brands in history. No challenge was too daunting, no opportunity too outlandish to pursue.

Finding my Virginity by Richard Branson

Finding my Virginity is the follow up to Richard Branson’s Losing my Virginity. If you haven’t heard of Richard Branson, you’ve probably heard of at least one of the companies he owns. Why is that likely? He owns 400. He is the mastermind behind Virgin Mobile, Virgin Atlantic, and Virgin Intergalactic Airways (to name a few of them). His success is legendary.

So how can you be more like this multi-millionaire?

Take notes.

No literally, take notes.

Branson finds it astounding that any person would enter a meeting, whatever their position in the company, and not bring a notepad. Branson says that he has found in his own research that CEO’s and executives who take notes are more likely to be successful. He says that those who take notes are less likely to forget about ideas that could later turn into important plans.

Got your notepad? Good.

So how do you go about becoming a millionaire? In the words of Branson himself: “Start as a billionaire and launch a new airline”.

Branson is kidding, we think.

In fact, he is kidding a lot. One thing he advocates is keeping a sense of humor about the things you are doing. Which leads us to:

Don’t take yourself so seriously

“The average customer is usually far smarter-and more appreciative of a joke than big business give them credit for.”

So make your customers laugh, and they will appreciate you for it. Branson is no stranger to extravagant public displays to amuse and educate his customers. For instance, at the launch of Virgin Mobile, he surprised everyone by dangling high above the crowd from a crane. But this wasn’t the only surprise he had in store. Eventually, he ripped off his clothes to reveal a large mobile phone covering his privates. His aim? To make sure customers knew that Virgin Mobile was committed to transparency and simplicity. Point made, in the most memorable (and hilarious) way.

In fact, the Virgin name came from the fact that they had no idea what they were doing, they were “virgins” at the business when they started their initial company. Funny how that joke is now the name of multiple extremely successful companies. That nothing to laugh about!

Another important part of not taking yourself so seriously? Don’t get tied up in failure. Branson states: “Try ideas, see if they stick, and if they don’t, quickly move on to the next one”. Of the companies he has launched, many of them have been unsuccessful, including Virgin Clothing, Virgin Vodka, Virgin Cars, Virgin V cosmetics, and many many more. He states because of these failures, he “learned a lot of important lessons.”

Don’t be afraid to fail. If you let it, failure can teach you how to be more successful next time.

But how do you know what sort of business to start? Branson has advice on this too.

"There is no point in starting your own business unless you do it out of a sense of frustration."

Branson’s first project, entitled First Magazine, was created when he was a student as a form of protest against the Vietnam war. His businesses as a form of protest didn't stop there. When his coworker Will Whitehorn came into his office at work and told him that he had the highest phone bill in all of Britain, he wondered to himself… why are we paying these? He had been paying through the nose for his cellphone…. And he was tired of it!

The solution to his frustration was the company Virgin Mobile. He paired up with two young men from CellNet, told them to burn their suits, and they started a new company together. When they began the process of developing their phone line, Virgin was criticized for spreading the brand too thin and entering too many sectors at once. Branson wasn’t worried, he saw change as a challenge. By the time they made the deals necessary and entered the mobile phone business and before a single phone was sold, the company was worth 1.36 billion euros.

If you’re feeling a sense of frustration about something, it's likely other people are too. Where do we need innovation? In the places that frustrate us most. It's there that you might find your next big business idea.

But why did the guys have to burn their suits? Because Branson does things HIS way, bringing us to our next point:

Do it your own way (and don’t be afraid to innovate)

Innovation is essential. You can do the same thing, but make it different. And better. Branson created wellness clubs with no monthly memberships, cell phones with no contracts. He innovated! Even on his planes, he created in-flight bars, beds, and phone service. He comments on the phone service, stating “now there really was no escape for my team from phone calls at all hours”. (There’s that humor again). For Branson, innovation was key. He took frustrating circumstances and found innovative ways to eliminate the problem altogether. Instead of sticking with the tried and true model, he made up a much better one.

As far as doing things his own way, he also took a unique approach to finding staff for his airlines.

The ad read:

“If you’ve got purple hair and you’re working in a butcher’s shop and you can smile after a tough day, we want you”.

Placing an ad for top quality people from all industries landed Branson with a top team, and his humor was reflected in his staff members approach to one entitled businessman:

“Don’t you know who I am?!” A customer screamed at one of the workers for Virgin Atlantic. The worker made this announcement: “I have a young man at gate 23 who seems to be lost - he doesn’t know who he is.” Branson prides himself on his authenticity and transparency, but underneath that is a whole lot of not-giving-an-f about what other people think. Marketing wise, this can be a genius. He found his brand and people who adhered to it as well.

Branson prides himself on authenticity and, well, realness. It is that realness and authenticity that builds trust with customers. His companies truly are an extension of himself. Even the informality - Branson recounts the two times he wore a suit in his book. Once to meet the queen, and once for a court case.

Maybe informality is not your brand - and it's is ok if it's not. Finding a brand that speaks to you authentically is what matters, and what resonates strongly with the public.

Now, Branson clearly stresses finding great staff but doing it YOUR way. Create a company, work with people you want to work with. Which brings us to:

“You’re only as good as the people you surround yourself with”

Throughout this book, it is surprising to learn all of the people Branson is connected to, from George Bush to Nelson Mandela. Even more surprising is that for whatever reason, Branson tends to be in the bathtub whenever they call.

In this book, Branson emphasizes that one of the most important steps in everything he does is assembling a badass team, and he credits that ability to all of his success.

In fact, his two steps to starting a business are:

 

  • Have an idea
  • Assemble a team

 

It seems pretty simple, right?

But what if you don’t feel like you know where you’re going? Well, according to Branson...

“It's ok if you don’t really know what you’re doing, as long as you have a really good name”

Ok, so this is another case where we aren’t going to be completely literal.

There’s more to starting a successful company than having a good name. However, one aspect of this idea that shines true for Branson is that he is not one to shy away from risk. Starting Virgin Atlantic was a massive risk. No one in the company had started an airline before, and Branson recounts that they had no idea what they were doing. This was a massive risk. And the risk only got bigger. They launched the company seriously over budget. Branson trusted his instincts anyway, and he was right to the airline was a huge success. Eventually, they were offered 70 million dollars to sell the airline. The board wanted to take it because it would mean a quick return on their investment… but Branson refused. Then they were offered $250 million. And in typical Branson humor, he went on the news saying he was going to take the check to buy the airlines, then ripped it up on television.

Even though there were many points at which Branson could have given up, he refused to. Over budget? Keep going. Offer to sell? Refused. His willingness to take risks and stick with them is an essential element in his success.

Don’t give up on the risk you took at the first sign of trouble.

Oh, and make sure to come up with a really cool name like “Virgin Atlantic”.

Interestingly enough, Branson was eventually sued by British Airways, and Virgin Atlantic won. He disbursed the settlement to his employees. Which brings us to our next point:

Stand on principle

Virgin mobile partnered with T-mobile in an exchange that made sense financially for both companies. As a result, Virgin Mobile was dependent on T-mobile to provide service. T-mobile eventually got a new CEO, and the CEO wanted to change the contracts in a way that would seriously negatively impact Virgin Mobile. Branson felt as though the new CEO was taking advantage of what he perceived to be Virgin Mobile’s lack of business savvy.

Branson did not respond well to that. He refused to be bullied by T-mobile, and they eventually went to court where Virgin mobile won - the judge was appalled by T-mobile’s behavior. T-mobile had to surrender all of their shares, and pay for all of the costs of both sides, and the damages.

Branson states in the book that he refused to be bullied by the larger company, and he stuck to his guns about what he knew was right - even though going to court with T-mobile meant a huge financial risk if Virgin mobile was found to be at fault. Which was more than a possibility - they were dealing with some well respected expensive lawyers (in suits!).

Standing on principle in business is a difficult concept to grapple with because sometimes the good guy doesn’t win, especially when the good guy goes up against massive companies like T-mobile. The lesson here is that success doesn’t have to mean compromise. And that the most meaningful kind of success is the sort where you can be proud of who you are and what you are doing. If all of your values are compromised by what you’re doing, maybe you should be doing something else. More significantly, lasting happiness might not come in that direction, even if lasting financial gain does. It often feels better to be the good guy.

Which brings us to:

Give Back

Branson always worked with different charities but wanted to do something more specific, so he started Virgin Unite, which he runs and uses to give back to various groups, such as LGBTQ rights, drug policy reform, and fighting climate change.

Giving back is essential because it helps other people, and because it adds a dimension to the meaning behind what you’re doing. Getting to help others and getting to own your own business? That’s pretty cool stuff.

The biggest takeaway from this story is that a satisfying life is one that reflects you. Branson doesn’t ignore his principles or his identity, instead, he melds his beliefs into a fundamental aspect of his business practices. His antics create memorable, meaningful advertising, and life and company that reflects who he is.

Don’t worry, you don’t have to hang mostly naked from a crane in public to find success (unless you want to). A key element to your success is making it about YOU. Who do you want to do? How can you and your team innovate? What problems bother you? How can you give back?

Alright, note-taking time is over. Get out there and get to work!

To sum up:

Iconic Businessman Richard Branson is well known for owning a multitude of companies, his devil-may-care attitude, and his legendary sense of humor. Here’s his guide for how to hold on to your principles while keeping your customers entertained, turning your ideas into a business (or businesses!) and building a brand that reflects what matters most to you.

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