Startup Advice

Richard Branson’s six “universally true” tips for building a successful startup

Dominic Powell /

Richard Branson

Richard Branson threw water at fellow entrepreneur Mark Cuban after a misunderstanding.

Catapulting your budding startup to success can be a daunting journey for many entrepreneurs, with constant hitches and problems along the way threatening failure.

Having launched “hundreds” of businesses, Virgin Airlines founder and entrepreneur Richard Branson outlined in a recent blog post why he believes the hurdles and opportunities startup founders face are the same across any sector.

Read more: Why Richard Branson named Australian entrepreneur Holly Ransom as a star of the future

Here are six tips for startup success that Branson believes are “universally true”.

1. Believe in what you build

“Buy into your own vision and don’t waiver it just for a pay check,” Branson wrote in the blog post.

“You know your vision better than anyone else, and if you lose sight of it, the world will too.”

2. Make something useful

Heading up a startup with the intention of just making money won’t get you far says Branson; products must have “long-term value” in order to be successful.

“Build the best product you can, and make sure it has long-term value,” Branson says.

“If you get into business solely to make money, you won’t. If you try to make a real difference, you’ll find true success.”

It’s perhaps a lesson that Branson learned first-hand, after trying to take on Coca-Cola in the early 1990s with “Virgin Cola”. Branson has previously described the venture as one of his biggest business failures; it was unsuccessful, he said, because it did not offer customers anything new.

“The main reason Virgin Cola failed was we didn’t follow our own rules: at Virgin, we only enter industries when we think we can offer consumers something strikingly different, but there wasn’t really an opportunity to do that in the soft drinks sector,” he said.

“Virgin Atlantic was able to preserve and flourish, despite immense competition, because the airline filled a gap in the market by providing customers with something of great use that made a real different to their lives.”

3. Invest in what scales

“Identify exactly what you need to grow your company. Is it technology, engineering, infrastructure? Don’t just hire people for the sake of ‘growing’,” says Branson.

“Know your priorities, do your research, start small, and think big.”

4. Hire right and empower employees

A common struggle for growing startups is finding stellar talent to help push the business forward towards more growth. Getting this right is “crucial”, says Branson.

“At Virgin, our people are at the heart of everything we do, and are crucial to our success,” he says.

“And we believe that shared stewardship leads to collective responsibly and increased passion. If you empower your employees to believe in the company like it’s their own, it’s hard to fail.”

5. Think big

“Ensure your product is world-class and can compete with any competition, anywhere. To be successful in different markets your company needs to understand local geography and culture, and attract the best local talent,” Branson advises.

6. Don’t wait

Branson rounds out his list with some simple, yet encouraging advice for risk-taking entrepreneurs.

“Just go for it, or as I’ve always preferred to say: ‘Screw it, let’s do it!'”

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Dominic Powell

Dominic is the features and profiles editor at SmartCompany.

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