We were truly privileged to have the opportunity to pick the brain of undoubtedly the greatest entrepreneur of our time – Sir Richard Branson. While he was in South Africa, he shared some gems with us about digital entrepreneurship, what we can learn from UK businesses, creating a diverse brand, and the biggest mistake start-ups make.
Thank you for giving up some of your time for us, Richard. When it comes to startups and business, what similarities do you see in the UK and SA? Are there any lessons the one can learn from the other?
There are lots of similarities. Both countries need start-up businesses to help rejuvenate their economies. South African entrepreneurs can learn from the UK’s ability to turn businesses into international successes. British companies can take tips from their South African counterparts who often build their businesses up from incredibly tough circumstances through sheer hard work.
So how can an entrepreneur recognise the difference between courage and stupidity when taking risks?
If you don’t give it a go, you will never know if a business decision was smart or stupid. Simply being an entrepreneur takes enormous courage, and as you gain more experience you will hopefully make more right calls. Screw it, just do it!
Would you advise that from the start – companies build products for consumers and not for profit? Or can that business model only work later on in the process?
Absolutely. If you are only in business to make money, you may as well not bother. Companies need to focus upon purpose as well as profit, and being a force for good can actually help your business to thrive.
If you could attribute one thing to the success of having one of the most diverse brands in the world, what would it be?
People. We have wonderful people who understand what Virgin is all about working for us around the world. They are what knits together such a wide range of companies, and the reason our unique business model works so well.
In all your experience working with start-ups, what is the single biggest mistake you see entrepreneurs make?
In the early days of any business you need to focus upon survival above all else. If you aren’t around in two years time, your intricate business plan is never going to see the light of day. So entrepreneurs need to focus upon the here and now. Pay the bills, then build from there.
Are there any digital startups you currently see as inspirational?
I love to see businesses spot a gap in the market and there are lots within the digital economy. One that stands out is Codecademy. Coding is going to become increasingly important in the coming years and they are providing a great way for people to learn new skills in a simple way.
How do you feel technology has changed the opportunities now available for entrepreneurs?
Technology has given entrepreneurs a new lease of life. It provides the opportunity to market businesses to people all over the world and helps entrepreneurs get their message out there in a fast and fun fashion.
Thank you so much for sharing your pearls of wisdom with us, Sir Rich. We look forward to welcoming you back to South Africa soon!
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