Yaneek Page | Lessons for C'bean entrepreneurs from Virgin's Richard Branson
Never underestimate the power of a single conversation to ignite the human spirit to pursue its phenomenal potential.
That's what Richard Branson accomplished at the Young Leaders of the Americas (YLAI) entrepreneurship event in Kingston last week when he sat with nearly 100 entrepreneurs from over 15 countries across the Caribbean.
He set the stage for marvel by sharing that he was with former US president Barack Obama the day before and tried persuading him to return to Jamaica for this inaugural staging of Obama's very own regional entrepreneurial legacy initiative, YLAI conference and workshop on entrepreneurship in the Caribbean.
It was a timely reminder that had it not been for the former US president's vision for youth of the Americas to take the lead in transforming their region via enterprise we would not have been meeting as we were.
One of the most profound lessons Branson imparted was that the greatness of the Caribbean must not be underestimated as it was the driving force for his own global entrepreneurial fame, birthing the renowned Virgin Atlantic.
Branson never planned on starting an airline in the 1980s. Instead, he was determined to travel to see "a very beautiful woman", who was waiting for him in the British Virgin Islands when American Airlines bumped him and several other passengers from a flight because they did not have enough passengers to fill the plane.
He went to the back of the airport, chartered a plane, borrowed a writing board and scribbled the sign "Virgin Air - one way $39", then walked around to the other stranded passengers and extended the offer. That, he said, was how he filled his first flight.
The next day, he called Boeing and asked whether they had any second-hand 747 aeroplanes for sale, and the rest is history. Over 30 years later, Virgin Atlantic remains an innovator in the airline industry.
Branson's top tip for business success, for which he said even some critics have eventually thanked him, left many young entrepreneurs at a loss for words. He suggested that entrepreneurs walk away very early from running the business and hire someone smarter than themselves to do so.
"The best advice I can give is to find the time to find someone better than you to run the business on a day-to-day basis," he said.
In some cases, he insisted, the business is limited by the entrepreneur's lack of people skills and ability to motivate people. It's a recommendation I've made in this column several times, and I was appreciative of his affirmation.
Delegating the everyday tasks frees the entrepreneur to think about the bigger picture, diversify to other areas, problem shoot the critical challenges and make big deals that the company needs to expand, and so on. While he conceded that surrendering power over a business you started is no easy feat, it may be the best choice for many entrepreneurs once the right leader has been recruited.
Don't be motivated by money but by achieving something great, is another entrepreneurial philosophy Branson encouraged the Caribbean entrepreneurs in attendance to live by. He believes that the only way to build a successful business is to deliver something of great value to your customers rather than packaging mere fluff.
Branson strongly encouraged regional entrepreneurs to focus on climate change, considering the fragility of environment and the severe implications continued degradation is likely to have on the ecosystem and environs in the region. He reminded the entrepreneurs that their fortunes and the future for them and their children were inextricably tied to our efforts to safeguard our environment.
Finally, when it comes to starting and operating a business, Richard Branson stressed that simple is always best. It is, perhaps, the most unassuming strategic advice. However, the possibilities and rewards of practically application are limitless. He shared that Virgin Money was started out of his own experience with financial experts who were overly complex in their explanation of money matters, and who used technical jargon to mask exorbitant fees and confuse customers.
In his view, complications don't turn most people on; in fact, it does the opposite, especially when it comes to prospective partners and customers. Keep the solution simple, the process easy, communicate in simple terms, and you may not only find the impetus to start a business, but the formula for growth and long-term success.