Sir Richard Branson founded Virgin as a mail order record retailer in 1970 — then a record store, then built a music studio, and then started signing up recording artists. In 1999, he was knighted for his services to entrepreneurship. In 2006, Sir. Richard pledged 100% of Virgin transportation companies to renewable fuels and resource efficiency businesses. He now works with VirginUnite, a philanthropic foundation he created. But he is also working on going into space, as Virgin Galactic is a major player in sub-orbital space travel. He is also starting his own Virgin Hotel chain – the motto being, Would You Like To Get In Bed With A Virgin? The first Virgin Hotel will open in Chicago next year.
He spoke recently at the American Express Publishing Luxury Summit, and was also interviewed by Jane Wells, CNBC reporter. His topic was Building A Consumer Experience: From Social Good To Outer Space. In his interview and presentation, he stressed the importance, if at all possible of being first to do something, anything. His most recent experience was of being first with a Virgin America Dating application, allowing Virgin America passengers the possibility of meeting while on the plane. Another is his deep involvement in creating the first true consumer space travel experience with Virgin Galactic.
He said that the initial price for this type of sub-orbital travel would be $200,000 and his wife and children will be the first people on the flight. These sub-orbital flights are the first step, he said, in making up for one of the things airline travel cant’ do right now – go from one place to another quickly. He believes that Virgin Galactic can allow 500 people to do sub-orbital travel the first year, 1000 the second year and so on.
Audience members asked some very good questions: here are a few.
How do you choose your projects? What do you choose to do and not to do these days? Sir Richard answered that he wants to choose projects that keeps the earth in good stead he wants to create cleaner fuels for air travel and wants air travel to go more quickly.
Another audience member asked if there had been a moment in his life that was involved with luxury and that didn’t cost him anything. He took a second to ponder and then said that many years ago, he saw what was to become Necker Island, the island he owns in the Caribbean. It cost 6M; he gathered up $100,000 and offered it to the seller. It turned out the sellers received no other offers and Necker Island became Sir Richard’s. So, in answer to the question, Sir Richard mused that the moment…” didn’t exactly cost nothing, but it cost next to nothing. It was a light investment that because a priceless experience.”
As a further explanation as to why he does what he does, and how he has become very successful in doing multiple, divergent things, he said that you only live once, he loves creating, he loves to begin, and loves to learn about things he does not know about. When asked if he had any regrets or failures, he said, as many entrepreneurs have, that failure is a great lesson, and not everything Virgin has done has been a success. “The soft-drink idea was not one of our better moments, but it was a favorite failure. Virgin Cola vs. Coke? We lost that battle.”
And one more thing about failure…
“ One thing I think America should change is Chapter 11,” declared Branson. He went on to say that the reason why most airlines in the U.S are outmoded and terrible is that most airlines can restructure and not pass away on their own. “ Trees die, people die… so why can’t a business die to make way for younger, healthier replacements?”
Finally, he had two pieces of advice to everyone in the room, and probably beyond: always carry a notebook in your pocket and never get stuck behind a desk.