Kaspars Purmalis of Latvia asked several questions, all about motivation. This column is for him and others who share his interest.
What was your childhood dream profession?
When I was young, I excelled at sports and always dreamed of becoming a professional sportsman. Unfortunately, at the age of 11, I damaged my knee so badly that the doctor said I would not be able to play for a very long time. I was devastated!
Sidelined from sports, I spent a lot of time following news of the world’s issues and hoped to go into journalism. I didn’t quite make it into the world of journalism, although I did start running my very own student magazine at the age of 15. I funded it by selling advertising upfront, from the school phone booth.
As a boy I also had an interest in space exploration. The Apollo 11 landing on the moon in 1969 really sparked a desire to become a spaceman. Thanks to the genius of Burt Rutan, the extraordinary aircraft designer who has worked with me on a vehicle to take civilians into space, I will get the chance to be a spaceman after all!
At what age did you realize you made a success of your first business?
When the student magazine started to get cheques from companies for advertising. That was a sign that we had a real magazine. It was tough going, but we had a good run for a number of years.
When I was 20, some friends and I started Virgin as a small mail-order company. Then we opened record shops and a recording studio. We discovered Mike Oldfield and released Tubular Bells. The rest is history!
When did you realize that you had an interest in business?
In the 1960s people assumed that if you were not doing well in school, you were doomed to failure. I wanted to prove them wrong. From an early age, I developed an appetite for creating things as a way to compensate for lack of traditional academic success.
At 15, I began to think about all the things I was not happy with at school—and in the world. After a discussion, the headmaster at Stowe School suggested I air my views through the school magazine. I was never fond of the magazine that existed. Together with a friend, Jonny, who was far more worldly and knowledgeable than I, I decided to start our own national student magazine and make a splash. The idea was to promote our views and those of other young people. In truth, the business side came second.
Before Virgin and the student magazine, were there other businesses that you attempted to start?
The first company I attempted was a Christmas tree company. My friend and I planted 400 seeds. We planned to sell trees for £2 (Rs135 today) a tree and make £800; unfortunately, rabbits got to the seedlings before they had grown even an inch. We were wiped out!
After that I tried a budgerigar farm. To be honest, my plan to sell the small Australian parrots didn’t make any money either. But the two failed attempts gave me experience and a hunger to carry on and try to succeed in business. Afterwards my friend and I began the student magazine, believing, at 15, that we could change the world!
What criteria do you use to evaluate your budding business partners? What qualities do you look for in them?
I look for people who have a passion for life and a passion for what they do. I enjoy working with like-minded people who aren’t afraid of risks and will always take on the established “big boys”. Within the organization, we have a great mix of entrepreneurs and managers. In business the picture is constantly changing, so I prefer people who enjoy thinking imaginatively and who are constantly creative and inspiring.
BY NYT SYNDICATE
©2010 / RICHARD BRANSON
Richard Branson is the founder of the Virgin Group and companies such as Virgin Atlantic, Virgin America, Virgin Mobile and Virgin Active. He maintains a blog at www.virgin.com/richard-branson/blog . You can follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/richardbranson . Your comments and queries on this column, which will run every week, are welcome at email@example.com