With space travel, [it's] no different. You know, in 1990 I read the name Virgin Galactic Airways. Loved the name. And set out to try to find an engineer or rocket scientist in the world who could build a safe, reusable rocket that could take people to and from space and we could start a whole new era of commercial space travel.
And ever since then [I] have set up businesses basically out of frustration. I mean, I set up Virgin Atlantic with one second-hand 747 because I hated the experience of flying on other people's airlines. And I thought, you know, I could try to create the kind of airline that I'd like to fly on. And people liked it.
Of course, a lot of businesses want to reach students, so I funded the magazine by selling advertising. I sold something like $8,000 worth of advertising for the first edition, and that was in 1966. I printed up 50,000 copies, and I didn't even have to charge for them on the newsstand because my costs were already covered.
It's all about finding and hiring people smarter than you. Getting them to join your business. And giving them good work. Then getting out of their way. And trusting them. You have to get out of the way so YOU can focus on the bigger vision. That's important. And here's the main thing....you must make them see their work as a MISSION.
I've had to create companies that I believe in 100%. These are companies I feel will make a genuine difference. Then I have to be willing to find the time myself to talk about them, promote them and market them. I don't want to spend my life doing something that I'm not proud of.
To be successful, you have to be out there, you have to hit the ground running, and if you have a good team around you and more than a fair share of luck, you might make something happen. But you certainly can't guarantee it just by following someone else's formula.
Fun is at the core of the way I like to do business and it has been key to everything I've done from the outset. More than any other element, fun is the secret of Virgin's success. I am aware that the ideas of business as being fun and creative goes right against the grain of convention, and it's certainly not how the they teach it at some of those business schools, where business means hard grind and lots of 'discounted cash flows' and net' present values'.
We went all the way down the Himalayan chain for a day and a half. That was magnificent, except the Chinese told us they were going to shoot us down if we came out the far end. So I spent a lot of my time contacting former Prime Minister Tony Blair begging him to tell the Chinese we were coming in this direction by mistake and could he please say we have no nasty motives for flying into their territory.
Entrepreneursh ip is a great leveller, since having the benefit of a wealthy background or a generous investor isn't always an advantage. The wonderful thing is that money is not the sole currency when it comes to starting a business; drive, determination, passion and hard work are all free and more valuable than a pot of cash.
When I started Virgin from a basement in west London, there was no great plan or strategy. I didn't set out to build a business empire ... For me, building a business is all about doing something to be proud of, bringing talented people together and creating something that's going to make a real difference to other people's lives
My mother always taught me never to look back in regret but to move on to the next thing. The amount of time people waste dwelling on failures rather than putting that energy into another project, always amazes me. I have fun running all the Virgin businesses-so a setback is never a bad experience, just a learning curve.
Throughout my business life I have always tried to keep on top of costs and protect the downside risk as much possible. The Virgin Group has survived only because we have always kept tight control of our cash. But, likewise, I also know that sometimes it is essential to break these rules and spend lavishly.
Having a good network can be invaluable. It opens doors for you and allows you to enter into opportunities that are beneficial to your business. In this sense, 'who you know' is undoubtedly important, but to me 'what you know' is more important because once an opportunity shows itself, it is up to you to make the most of it, and this is down to your knowledge and skill.
Look, I think that when we started Virgin Atlantic 30 years ago, we had one 747 competing with the airlines that had an average of 300 planes each. Every single one of those have gone bankrupt because they didn't have customer service. They had might, but they didn't have customer service, so customer service is everything in the end.