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The Lessons Richard Branson Learned From His Business Misses

Mar 24, 2022 (0) comment , , ,

As an entrepreneur, you’ll encounter failure. Here’s how to maintain a healthy perspective

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While discussing inventions, Thomas Edison’s associate, Walter S. Mallory, once said to him, “Isn’t it a shame that with the tremendous amount of work you have done you haven’t been able to get any results?”

Edison responded, with a smile, “Results! Why, man, I have gotten a lot of results! I know several thousand things that won’t work.”

People see success as positive and failure as a negative. Edison’s quote shows that failure isn’t a bad thing. You can learn, grow and evolve from your past mistakes. As you go through life and encounter failures, you’ll learn valuable life lessons from those mistakes.

Here, one of the world’s most successful entrepreneurs, Virgin Group founder Richard Branson, whose brand has produced a string of business hits across multiple sectors, including travel, music, telecoms, financial services and health and fitness, and as he candidly recalls, a few misses.

 Richard Branson/Photot credit Owen Billcliffe
Richard Branson, ‘failure a necessary part of  business’ /Photo credit: Owen Billcliffe

“We’ve never been 100% sure that any of the businesses we’ve started at Virgin were going to be successful,” he says. “But over 45 years, we’ve always stood by our motto: ‘Screw it, let’s do it’. While this attitude has helped us build hundreds of companies, it hasn’t always resulted in success.”

One of the biggest mistakes they made, he says, was their assault on the soft drinks market and the launch of Virgin Cola.

“We felt confident that we could beat the competition, but it turned out that we hadn’t thought things through,” Branson admits. “We weren’t prepared for the size or ferocity of Coca-Cola’s response, which included a steep increase in their marketing budget and pressure on distributors not to work with us.”

But the main reason the new business failed was because they didn’t follow their own rules, he says.

“Virgin only enters an industry when we think we can offer consumers something strikingly different that will disrupt the market, but there wasn’t really an opportunity to do that in the soft drinks market. People were already getting a product that they liked, at a price they were happy to pay. Virgin Cola just wasn’t different enough.”

Learning from their mistakes, Virgin set out to shake things up in the auto retail sector with the launch of Virgin Cars, thinking that they’d identified a gap in the market, which would revolutionise the way that cars were sold.

“That turned out to be the wrong angle,” says Branson. “We neglected to realise that the biggest potential for disruption in the automotive industry had nothing to do with the process of selling cars, but rather with how cars were powered. Back then we didn’t see that the future would be about sustainability, and that the best opportunities would be found in the development of electric cars and clean fuels.”

And then there was Virgin Brides…

“Well, I think the name says a lot about why that venture wasn’t a success,” he says. “Owing to the fact that there aren’t too many virgin brides left out there, there really wasn’t much of a gap to fill.”

More seriously, the real error lay in the company taking on too expensive premises in the centre of town and failing to really scope out what its real difference would be.

“All new ideas and businesses should aim to identify a gap in the market and fill it with something of great practical use,” says Branson. “You’ll soon find out whether or not your product or service is doing this; it will be apparent in the way your business is perceived, and ultimately whether or not you turn a profit.”

And to other entrepreneur facing the prospect of a business idea that looks doomed to fail, he says: “Failure is a necessary part of business, so it’s incredibly important for all entrepreneurs and business leaders to know when to call it a day, learn from their mistakes, and move on, fast.”


This article was originally written by Alison Coleman and appeared here.

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