Richard Branson: My Top Ten Tips for Entrepreneurs
The Virgin businessman, who is worth over €4.3bn, was in town last week for the rebranding of television, phone and broadband company UPC as Virgin Media. Branson has made a fortune in activities as diverse as music and airlines, communications and cable TV. We wondered what nuggets of key advice he had for any entrepreneurs starting out today. He spoke to Sarah McCabe
1 You know you have a good business when you are making other people's lives easier
"If somebody has an idea for a business, the only way that idea is likely to succeed is if it helps improve other peoples' lives. And if it's going to do it better than other people who are already doing it! Once you meet those two criteria, you are in with a shot."
2 The most important thing to look for when deciding whether to invest in a company is good management
"If I'm thinking about whether to fund somebody, I want to be sure that the person running the company is 100pc committed, is somebody who I think is capable of running a company well and has a good team around them."
3 Be creative when you're looking for sources of funding
"In terms of sources… obviously there are banks, but nowadays they are not such good sources. There's venture capital, there are things like Virgin Start-up Loans.
"We lobbied the government so that instead of people just getting loans to go to university, they give loans to start-up businesses. It has been fantastically successful in the UK. If the Irish government is not doing it I would urge them to do it because going to university is great but loans for start-ups are much more useful to the economy. The UK is leading the way on state-backed loans for small businesses. Virgin mentors these small companies, too, we find them and give them our own loans, too."
4 If you want to be an entrepreneur, get out into the world and start a business
"People are learning that starting a business instead of going to university, getting out into the real world, is not a bad path.
"If you want to become a doctor or a scientist or a lawyer then there is a lot to be said for going to university. If you want to become an entrepreneur, I'm not sure it is worth it.
"Most likely, you'd be better getting on and creating a business and learning that way. But the only danger is that if you don't succeed, you don't have that degree to fall back on."
5 Choose a number two who can do your job and get busy elsewhere
"What I look for in my second-in-command is somebody who is more capable than me in every way - somebody who can do all of the day-to-day running of the business, so that I am freed up to move the company forward into other areas, to firefight problems and help put the company on the map."
6 Walk away from a failing business early, do not wait too long
"I'm not very good at that. I have stayed in businesses much longer than I should. I mean, the Virgin Megastores are a case in point… I liked seeing the river from the Virgin Megastore in Dublin!
"But we should have seen the writing on the wall - obviously iTunes was changing everything and people were getting free music over the internet.
"In order to survive, you have to be tough quite early on and then switch your resources into something else."
7 Learn to survive through reinvention - sometimes it is the only option
"I think one thing that Virgin has been good at, in fact, perhaps the reason the Virgin brand has survived 50 years, is that - although we might have hung on a bit too long on some occasions - we have always been able to reinvent ourselves.
"We saw people were starting to buy mobile phones so we invested in the mobile phone business; we saw people were starting to get their music and their movies via cable so we decided to invest in the cable business."
8 There are no hard and fast rules when it comes to selling a business
"Selling is very difficult because you are selling people as well as the business. If you were a really good entrepreneur, you would have created something where you love your people as much as you love your company. So if you are going to sell, you have to sell to somebody who is going to look after your people well.
"I have never sold the top company in Virgin. We've managed to hold 100pc of that ever since the beginning. We have sold individual companies along the way. We are very good at building companies and once we have built them we cash in some of the shares and use that money to start new ventures.
"Is there a hard and fast rule? I don't know. It's okay to cash in some chips and get the financial resources to invest in other things - if you are a real entrepreneur you will want to move into new ventures - but there is no hard and fast rule on this one."
9 The technology sector is not as overvalued as we are sometimes told
"I am sure there are some companies that are overvalued but if you have got an idea, a technological idea that can go global... the opportunity for those companies is so huge. I suspect there are some technology companies that are undervalued. You need to look at it company by company."
10 Do not say yes too often - but it's not the end of the world if you do
"I'm known as Doctor Yes, I am very inquisitive, I love learning. I have definitely said yes too often and spread myself a little too thin on occasion.
"But I had a blast doing it. I really don't think I would do anything differently if I could do it again."
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