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I am 25 and studying entrepreneurship in the Netherlands. A few colleagues and I have launched two innovative, demanding start-ups:

1) A solution for preventing consumer returns, designed for manufacturers and retailers. 2) Light-therapy glasses controlled by a smartphone app, for alleviating jet lag and sleep problems.

We are working over 100 hours a week each, in addition to our coursework, and still finding it difficult to keep up. Do you have any advice for us?

—Aleksandar Dimitrov

Bakers bake bread, accountants manage accounts and entrepreneurs turn ideas into reality. Our ability to come up with new ideas is a blessing and a curse. It’s great that we’re constantly inspired and optimistic, but it can sometimes be hard to focus on one idea for long enough to turn it into a successful business.

Both of your ideas sound intriguing, especially the light-therapy glasses: as a frequent flier and an airline owner, I’m sure there’s a market for them.

Are you passionate about both these businesses? If you’re enjoying working on both of them, then carry on and keep your spirits up—what you’re attempting is possible. Running a business comes down to a few things: engaging your target audience, showcasing your unique selling point, keeping your eye on cash flow and looking after your team so they’ll look after your customers. Once you have mastered these skills at one of your businesses, you’ll have an easier time applying them at the other.

When my friends and I were running Student magazine, which we had launched when I left school at 16, we noticed that our readers were interested in music, just like us. So we started a mail-order record business and ran ads in the magazine to promote it. It worked perfectly—the two businesses complemented each other. Eventually Virgin Records became so popular that we decided to stop producing the magazine and put all our efforts into the record business.

For a while, just like you, we were running those two start-ups simultaneously. In fact, we also ran the non-profit Student Advisory Centre, so we actually had three projects going. Fast-forward five decades, and we’re operating hundreds of companies in a range of industries while always looking to launch the next one. From festivals to telecommunications to hotels, we’ve strategically placed the Virgin brand in many sectors.

This may be the path that you and your friends take too. But if your heart isn’t in one of the businesses or you don’t think one is likely to take off as quickly, you might consider taking a more strategic approach: you could work on one business in the short term and keep the other up your sleeve. When you look at the two businesses, is there one that could become a success faster? Or could you use the success of one to launch the other?

One of the fastest growing start-ups of the last few years, Airbnb Inc., managed to get off the ground that way. When their sharing accommodation business didn’t take off immediately, the three founders, Brian Chesky, Joe Gebbia and Nathan Blecharczyk, created a side business to raise funds for their passion project. They launched a cereal mocking the US general election, which was taking place at the time, selling 800 limited-edition boxes. They banked $30,000 from that project, and put it into their original idea, Airbnb.

Why did they go back to Airbnb rather than release another cereal, since that idea had already been successful? Because they believed in Airbnb’s long-term scalability and loved the concept.

If you do decide to continue pursuing both ideas at once, you should test a sample of each product in its respective market, and record the results. That way, if money does become tight and you can only continue with one project, you’ll know which one is likely to be more successful. The key is to make sure that one business isn’t dependent on the other. When we were preparing to launch Virgin Atlantic, we cut a deal with Boeing that would allow us to return the plane we’d leased after a year if the business didn’t work. We did this to protect Virgin Records—we could see that it would have been in jeopardy if Virgin Atlantic failed and we still needed to make payments on the plane. Fortunately, we never had to return the aircraft and today Virgin Atlantic is a successful, stable company.

For entrepreneurs who have many interests, following your passions can mean that you end up working on a few business ideas simultaneously. The work may seem overwhelming at times, but the rewards are scaled-up too.

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 You can follow him on Twitter at

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