Skip to main content

The Entrepreneurial Journey of Richard Branson: Full Bio

 The Entrepreneurial Journey of Richard Branson. Mr. Richard, unlike most billionaires, prefer's to stay outdoor's, enjoy the sun and go kite surfing. A simple search on the internet will tell you that Richard Branson’s wealth is now on the $5 billion marks. However, before all the fame and glory, MrBranson started somewhere, and in this video, we are going to discover how he became a billionaire. Sir Richard Branson was born in England to Edward and Eve Branson on July 18, 1950. As a child, Richard struggled with dyslexia, which affected his concentration and ability to study like other children. He often got into trouble for his inability to read and memorize formulas like other students. He was, however, a skilled sportsman who would often captain his teams. Unfortunately, he succumbed to an injury that dashed his promising sports career. 

At the age of 11, Richard and his childhood friend, Nik Powell established their 1st business. They decided to breed budgerigars and sell them to the local children. Richard’s father set up an aviary for the boys and by the time they resumed school, Richard and Nik had made a few coins. Later on, his mother was forced to release the birds after they went back to boarding school. Richard did not give up and during the Easter holidays, he and Nik decided to go at it once more. This time, they planted 400 seeds and planned to sell them during the Christmas holidays as Christmas trees. The idea was to sell every tree for £2 and make £800. Unfortunately, rabbits ate the seedlings and even after successfully hunting down several rabbits and selling them to the butchers, Richard and Nik could not regain what they had lost. 

This experience was important because you need to understand that you might not succeed in your first attempt. At the age of sixteen, Richard Branson started one of his most successful businesses. The magazine was a voice for Richard and other students against compulsory church attendance, bullying, and cadet matching. As stated earlier, Richard was never built for school and shortly afterward, he dropped his science and Latin classes to focus on the Student magazine. Richard focused on the Student and sent out a letter to advertisers willing to commit to the magazine. His efforts paid off and eventually, he received £250 and a hardcopy of the Student. By this time, Richard had dropped all but one of his classes, ancient history. After cheating on his last test, the principal wrote to Richard telling him that he would either go to prison or become a millionaire. 

I guess we all know what happened. The magazine grew and interviewed several prominent people, among them, being Peter Blake, the designer for The Beatles’ Sergeant Pepper album cover, Mick Jagger and John Lennon. The Lennon interview was a huge success for the Student, which grew in fame, but not financially. In an effort to make money, Richard had to be smart. After carefully observing his environment, he noticed the undying love for music and wondered if he could sell records at a cheaper price. Unfortunately, no one was interested in acquiring the magazine and in 1970, it died quietly as Virgin Mail Order continued to bloom. Unfortunately, in January 1971, the post office workers went on strike which paralyzed Virgin Mail Order. 

Richard and Nick decided to set up a physical shop on Oxford Street. They convinced a shoe-shop owner to give them space and got to work immediately. The shop picked up quickly and even developed a loyal customer base. Richard never ran out of ideas, and after setting up shop, he thought of setting up a recording studio for rock’n’roll bands. He wanted to create a studio outside the city because he disliked the formality and tight schedules in city studios. It was at this moment the Manor Studio was born. With the help of his family and a bank loan,he bought an old Manor outside Oxford where he created a studio. Manor studios was the first of its kind, located outside populous cities and accepting different artists. Initially, he had no plans to venture into the record business until Mike Oldfield showed him a demo of his music, and Richard was instantly hooked, and thus, Virgin Records was born. 

The business was operating from a warehouse and was still providing discounts on records. Deliveries were becoming troublesome with some customers pretending not to have received previous records to receive more. Before they knew it, Virgin Mail Order was15,000 pounds in debt. The spring of 1971 was hectic for Mr. Branson. He received a large order for records from Belgium. He never paid purchase tax for the records on his way to Belgium, the French authorities stopped him, and due to lack of certain documentation, Richard was forced back to England. On the way, he came up with a criminal plan to sell the records by mail or at the Virgin shop to make money and pay off his debt. Unfortunately for him, the authorities were aware of his activities. 

He had previously ignored a warning from an anonymous caller and he was now in more trouble than the 15,000-pound debt. The matter never got to court because Richard agreed to pay 15,000 pounds immediately, and 45,000 pounds in installments over the next three years. His mother was forced to re-mortgage the house to settle the debt. Virgin Records grew to become a giant in the recording industry. The label was renowned for producing artists such as Faust and Can and records like ‘Baa, Baa black sheep’ by Singing Sheep. The group bought a gay club and signed artists such as Peter Gabriel, Steve Winwood, and most notably, the Rolling Stones. 

Branson confessed that the most memorable part of signing the Rolling Stones was the hangover he had the following day. Richard Branson did not stop with Virgin Records. He expanded into other industries and created the Virgin empire. By 1983, Virgin Group was operating more than50 companies from film making to air-conditioning and making an estimated $17 million in sales. His interest in the airline industry started after a trip to Puerto Rico where several trips got canceled leaving hundreds of passengers stranded. Out of frustration, he hired a chartered plane and divided the costs among the passengers. The surprising success of the trip inspired Richard and his colleague to start a transatlantic airline company. 

His biggest competitor was British Airlines which Richard new would be difficult to defeat. However, he braved on and launched VirginAtlantic, which became successful because it provided good customer service and exceptional features such as hydrotherapy baths, in-flight messages, back-seat video screens in every class, and free ice-cream during movies. Unfortunately for Virgin Atlantic, BritishAirways was not going down without a fight. During the 90s economic meltdown, BritishAirways launched a secret campaign against Virgin Atlantic. Virgin Atlantic accused British Airlines of stealing passengers, hacking computer records, and also leaking stories to give the airline a bad reputation. The battle ended with Virgin Atlantic on the winning side. British Airways paid £500,000 to Richard,£110,000 to his airline, and up to £3 million in legal fees. However, it was not all roses for Richard and in 1992 he was forced to sell Virgin Records to Thorn-EMI to keep the airline flying and settle his debts with the bank. The loss hurt him and he vowed that he would never be exploited by bank lenders again. 

In 2017, Branson gave up leadership over VirginAtlantic after 33 years of control. The airline is still successful and Richard led the Virgin Group towards branded venture capital. The idea is to launch a massive amount of companies with the Virgin Brand, with minimal investment. Branson would trade the name for controlling interest-giving the partner's majority of the stock. He would manage the business while the partners financed the ventures. As a result, Richard now owns or holds an interest in more than 400 companies in 30 different countries including Virgin studios, Virginradio, Virgin Vodka, Virgin Cola, and Virgin Net, just to mention a few. 

Richard Branson has also proven that he is no ordinary billionaire. He’s famous for crossing the Atlantic and Pacific Ocean in a hot air balloon, starting his own reality show, and generally being a nice and fun-loving person. His ability to re-invent himself and continue pushing despite all the challenges he faced in his business and life is worth revering. Of course, a lot can still be said about the flamboyant English billionaire, but I hope his story will inspire you to push yourself to the limits and rise above your challenges.