Video Transcript

00:12 Eric Schurenberg: You had a few failures yourself. You talked about Virgin Cola as one. What did you learn from that?

00:18 Richard Branson: Well, I just finished that story 'cause it was before 9/11 and therefore, you could get away with things which certainly would be unwise to try today. So, the night that we... You know, we had launched Virgin Cola. It was taking Britain by storm. And we were outselling Coca Cola, we were outselling Pepsi Cola. People loved it. We're getting front-page headline stories. And so we thought, let's... Now is the time to take Coke on in their home base of America. So, we arrive in America with a Sherman Tank. We drive into Times Square. We had these Coca Cola, tons... About three tons of Coke stacked up in the middle of the Square. The night before, we had actually had pyrotechnics sneak up on to the Coca Cola sign, up, which was hanging over and above Times Square. So, it was all wired to look like it exploded. And so, we turned the turret of the tank on to it. The police just thought we were just going to pretend to fire at this thing. As we went over and crushed all these Coca Cola cans and the Coke was spurting everywhere, I fired the barrel of the gun. The whole Coke sign looked like it had exploded in front of us. It was wonderful looking at these policeman's faces.


01:51 Branson: Anyway, good laugh had by all, no damage done. The Coke sign didn't really go up. But what it did do is awake a giant. And a few years later, my new bank manager took me out to lunch... No, out to dinner, and she said, "I was working for Coke at that time." I was English. I went in and saw the President of Coke, and I said "Look, if we don't stamp out Virgin quickly, they're the one brand in the world that could actually topple Coke." And initially, he didn't take it seriously. A week later, he called her in and said, "I want you to get a full 747. We're gonna fill it up with SWAT teams. You can have as much money as you like." They flew it to the UK. And everywhere that Virgin was on display, suddenly, our products started disappearing off the shelves. And then... A very, very big Goliath decided to squash us, and I think they did it pretty effectively, actually.

03:00 Schurenberg: Your lesson from that?

03:02 Branson: The lesson from that is very simple, and that is, that if you are gonna be a minnow taking on a Goliath, you've got to have something radically different to offer. So, when Virgin Atlantic took on British Airways, and British Airways decided to launch a similar dirty tricks campaign against us to put us out of business, because our quality was so much better than British Airways, the public stayed with us. When we... Where a Coke can, the Virgin Cola can against a Coke can, our quality could not be supremely better or different from Coke and, therefore, we didn't have a real edge on them. And so, ever since then, we really haven't launched new businesses against the bigger competitors unless we've got a product that is supremely better.