As some of you who follow my blog and social media accounts (via Facebook and Twitter) would realise, I am a big admirer of Sir Richard Branson. I’ve been a loyal reader of his blogs on the Virgin.com website, tweets, YouTube videos, and magazine contributions through Entrepreneur Magazine. I have learned, like many others in the world, a great deal of valuable business lessons that have helped me to grow my own start-up, Phresh Ideas and Designs established in October 2010.

The updated autobiography is available on Amazon
The updated edition is available on Amazon

I have never been so big on receiving gifts as much as giving them, however, this year I was willing to be the receiver after catching sight of what was to come my way. This was the first time that I had read one of his books and my wife was gracious enough to get it for me as a Christmas gift. Add ‘Losing My Virginity’ (The Autobiography) by Richard Branson on your list of books to read. It’s an incredible combination of life and business lessons. Having spent the past three days leafing through 573 pages of text and private collection of photographs and a few cartoons, I completed the book. I can happily say without reservation that it was time well invested. There’s nothing quite like acquiring knowledge from those more experienced in a specific industry or space than you are.

“What goes up must come down” was said by Isaac Newton and has since become easily one of the most popular quotes to date. This quote can be applied to everything that happened to Richard Branson through the highs and lows of his entrepreneurial career. From the day he started his first magazine, Student as a teenager in 1968 to creating a very “hip” (cool) record label, Virgin Records in his twenties was all very impressive. Consider too how he started Virgin Atlantic by leasing a single Boeing 747-200 for a year within two decades became one of the world’s favourite airlines. Virgin even successfully challenged “monopolies” like British Airways (10 years their senior) while they were at it.

Richard Branson in a take-off pose with one of his Virgin Airlines plane in the background
Richard Branson set for take-off with Virgin Atlantic in the background

It seems following your instincts has tremendous value and being extremely decisive on what looks like a worthwhile project or business opportunity is the characteristic for success or failure.

These days he spends his time exploring the limits or lack thereof in the future of space travel and space through his company Virgin Galactic. While pursuing “the final frontier”, Branson manages to focus on global warming and climate change issues exploring new sustainable fuels for aviation and cleaner energy through Virgin Green Fund. Through his interest in using his influence to solve social, economic and political challenges on a global scale, he was able to gather some of the world’s most influential leaders, The Elders. Former South African President Nelson Mandela was an original supporter in this initiative up until the time of his death.

The future of space tourism travel unveiled
The future of space tourism travel unveiled

To most, the model of the Virgin Group almost seems to be as unorthodox as any Fortune 500 company that has ever existed. It’s an ecosystem of companies in there hundreds as opposed to one gigantic entity. In hindsight, a combination of destiny and design makes Branson’s empire perhaps one of the best approaches to growing a start-up.

I sometimes look at my own life and wonder if I will ever learn to take more risks and go against the status quo, all while following my interests. So far I have accomplished a great deal as an entrepreneur through freelancing as a graphic designer. I can see where maybe I should pivot from being primarily a service-oriented business to one that is largely product-oriented. That way I can pull off earning more revenue even when I am asleep.

virgin-records
Branson sits in the window of one of the earlier Virgin Records store, London

Sir Branson started off the first Virgin business in 1970 (Virgin Mail Order) selling discounted vinyl records with a small team of two and grew his business pursuits into a team of 50,000 people strong in just 40 years. Here are 12 lessons I learned from Richard’s autobiography:

  1. Lead by example in everything you do.
  2. Learn to negotiate good deals.
  3. Welcome competition, but never let them walk all over you.
  4. Follow your interests and make them a reality.
  5. If there is a market with two dominant players, it can use a third “to stir up the pot”.
  6. Understand the value of your influence as a person and use it for good causes.
  7. Some of the best business deals are done outside of the business environment, like over lunch.
  8. Keep reinventing yourself.
  9. Trust your instincts; that gut feeling you get will steer you in the right direction.
  10. Life is better with family and great friends.
  11. You must take a lot of risks to get to where you want to be.
  12. Always keep a notebook and pen handy to take notes;

Bonus lesson – always protect the downside (risks) of a startup venture.

We should all make a go at growing our businesses. We have nothing to lose, but opportunities. The Christmas holiday was here and then it disappeared without a trace. Here’s to hoping you all enjoyed yourself with family and friends and got the gifts you wanted. The New Year is just a few days away, so here’s to wishing you the very best for 2015.

12 Entrepreneurial Lessons from Richard Branson’s Autobiography, Losing My Virginity

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