In 1984, it was hard to believe that Virgin Atlantic, then with just one airplane, posed any kind of threat to British Airways, which had hundreds of planes in its fleet.

Today the airline is a formidable rival, and Virgin Group Founder Richard Branson says that his business's path to success began with that very first plane. 

"Why should people fly us rather than fly British Airways? The reason was that we got every single little detail right, and we had to," Branson said.

The aircraft had a bar where business people could congregate, sleeper seats, and even masseuses. Plus, because Virgin had its roots in entertainment, it installed an entertainment system on the back seat of every chair. This was well before the feature became common on planes that make long flights, Branson says.

"Because we got all of the little details right, the staff smiled and they were happy. They were really proud of the airline. And therefore, our customers smiled and they had a great experience and they came back for more," he says.

Today, details are just important as ever to Branson. 

"I will carry a notebook at all times. If I'm on a Virgin plane, I'll go and see the passengers. I'll talk to the staff," he says. "When I arrive in a city, I'll go out and get drunk with the staff -- and I definitely won't remember what they've said -- so I'll write it down at the bar."

That way, he can be sure to act on each tip the very next day. 

For more on how to start a truly competitive company, check out the video below.