Ever wondered what it would be like to spend a few days with Richard Branson on Necker Island, Richard's private getaway in the Virgin Islands? 

I know I have... but unfortunately Richard hasn't invited me.

But he did invite Ashish Toshniwal, the Founder of Y Media Labs, a leading product innovation company, and Ashish was kind enough to share his experience.

Here's Ashish:

I didn't know what to expect, to be honest. One day I was on a business trip to New York City. The next week I was on a flight to Richard Branson's private island, Necker Island, to spend time with Richard Branson and other small business owners and entrepreneurs at an exclusive invite-only event.

And all because of one coffee meeting.

I would be lying if I told you that my dream was spend four days on the island with Richard. I didn't even know that was possible. I would have been happy with a handshake. Or a selfie if I decided to push it.

Instead, I got the chance to spend time with one of the top 5 people in the world I want to meet.

So I did all the Googling one person can do before going to Necker Island... but nothing prepared me for what I learned over the next four days.

As an entrepreneur, I couldn't have asked for time packed with more juicy and actionable takeaways about how to run my business more efficiently.

Here's what I learned:

1. Employees come first. Then customers. Then shareholders.

I didn't meet a single unhappy person on the island. Everyone, and I mean everyone, had a smile on their face. It wasn't one of those "let me force a smile because I'm interacting with a guest" smile, either.

It looked and felt genuine. Whether it was 2 pm or 3 am, they were ready to serve pancakes or drop you from one part of the island to another.

It was clear that Richard truly believes that employees come first and that was reflected in the staff's behavior on the island.

As an entrepreneur who bootstrapped a leading mobile and digital agency from 0 to 200 employees, I had to trust my employees quite a bit. Still, I now better understand that gaining the long-term trust of employees is crucial to the continued growth of my company. Without trusting my employees -- and without my employees trusting me -- I don't have a real company.

I don't care if you have 2 employees or 200 employees: trust can never be lost.

2. Embrace the three Gs: Growth, Gratitude, and Giving.

This formula is from Anil Gupta, an inspirational coach who spoke to us us on the island:

  • Gratitude -- Focus on what you have, not what you don't have.
  • Giving --  Always give first. Those who give first, always receive more.
  • Growth -- Growth is key to happiness.

You can feel the energy and positivity around Richard. He is truly inspirational. Even at the age of 65, he is determined to do the Strive Challenge, an ambitious physical challenge sponsored by Virgin.

The Challenge includes hiking to the base of the Matterhorn, cycling the entire length of the country, swimming from Italy to Sicily, mountain biking to the foothills of Mt Etna, and then running a half marathon to the summit of the active volcano.

3. Be humble and approachable, no matter how successful you are.

I had an idea of what interacting with Richard Branson would be like. He definitely seemed approachable, but this was my observation from seeing him on television and articles on the internet.

I'm happy to say that he was more humble than I originally thought. It made me re-think how I interact with others going forward.

In one instance, he lost his tooth and was bleeding. He still had lunch with us and spent the time to discuss how the entrepreneurs are changing the world.

The key reason he has been able to scale his organization to unprecedented heights is by setting a strong purpose, delegating wisely, and motivating the right team to do it.

4. If you're going to buy your own island, do it right.

Although it's very well known that Richard got a "deal" on the island, that definitely didn't translate into his investment in the island.

Flamingos and Burmese Turtles hung out with us like we were best friends. I also got to interact with the Panda Lemur, an endangered species with less than 250 left in the world.

On Necker Island, everything is designed with taste and is a testimony to the brand and values of Richard Branson. And he was on the island with his family, including grandchildren: spending time with family is extremely important to him, even though he is the leader of hundreds of brands.

5. Create non-negotiable values as the framework to make decisions.

I understand that having non-negotiable values when starting your company is hard to do, mostly because you're still trying to understand what your company's values really are.

Our internal mantra at Y Media Labs is "Yield to Nothing." It stands for our belief that we won't get stopped at barriers; we will do what it takes to break them down.

What I also learned from Branson is that you don't necessarily have to say out loud "this is what I believe." What he believes is all around him. His actions are his beliefs.

Inviting 15 other entrepreneurs to spend  four days with him on his island alone is a huge statement about what he believes: he believes in helping others first.

Seeing Richard in action made me re-think what I believe in, and how my beliefs can transform my life and my business.

6. The world is full of non-tech entrepreneurs.

I admit that I live in the Silicon Valley bubble. To me, entrepreneurship mainly means tech innovation.

Out of the 15 guests, there were only two other true "tech" entrepreneurs. The rest were entrepreneurs who were innovating in non-tech fields. One very interesting entrepreneur I met was Henry Hu, founder of CafeX, who is revolutionizing the way coffee is served by using robots.

Other innovators on the island are involved in real estate, banking, and medical devices. Some were small businesses, and some were more established. The lessons we learned however, were all relevant.

It opened my eyes to see how else I can contribute to entrepreneurship -- and to what opportunities exist outside of tech.

7. One coffee meeting can change your life.

I would like to express my gratitude to Bobby Brannigan, investor in Uber and founder of Mercato, who nominated me for the opportunity to meet Richard Branson.

When Bobby and I met I had no intention except to catch up over coffee. Without him, I wouldn't have met Richard Branson... and I definitely wouldn't be writing this article.

And oh yeah. I got my selfie :)

Published on: Jun 22, 2016
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