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5 valuable lessons from Richard Branson

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“You’re not pushing the limits if everything you do turns to gold.”

Richard Branson says if the word “entrepreneur” existed back in the 1960s, he probably wouldn’t have been interested in being one. He just wanted to make a magazine to campaign against the Vietnamese war. 50 years and countless businesses later, Richard Branson is seen by some as a legend. And, as always, there were many failures and learning lessons along the way. Here are 5 things we can learn from his journey to building the multinational corporation we know as Virgin Group today.

1. Throw yourself in the deep end

Richard dropped out of school and jumped into learning everything he could. He listened, listened, listened and asked a lot of questions, helping him pick things up fast and early.

2. Don’t do shady things

Even Richard Branson isn't perfect. As he puts it, he accidentally stumbled into some shady business practices at the start of Virgin Records. When returning to England from a trip to Belgium, border patrol mistakenly thought their records were exports. When they waived the 35% tax on the "exports", Branson & company didn't exactly speak up. They eventually got caught and spent a night in jail. Branson learned it's better to sleep well at night than to save a few extra bucks.

3. Test out the waters with competition

Shop around a little before getting comfortable with the first doctor you know, the first bank you know, the first businesses you start working with, etcetera. Branson had a fallout with his bank manager when he had to overdraft for unforeseen circumstances. Branson was fuming when he closed all of Virgin Group's accounts. By next Friday, Branson partnered up with a new bank. Turns out that bank gave him an offer 10 times better than the first one.  

4. Only go into businesses where you’re palpably better than competitors

When Virgin got into the soda business, they did it almost just for fun, just to prove they could compete with Coke and Pepsi. After big success in the UK and other markets, it didn’t last long. Bigger brands came in and wiped them out in the blink of an eye. Branson notes, it’s not worth it if you’re only slightly better or slightly different than competition. Go into the businesses that you’ll be a game-changer in.

5. Try new things

Just try. If you’re sitting comfortably, you’re not doing things right.

Hear more about how Branson built the multinational conglomerate on NPR’s "How I Built This" podcast with Guy Raz.

Photo Credit: 99u

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