Long before Richard Branson launched a record company, a mobile-phone company, an airline, or any of the other 400 or so companies he has created, he was dropping out of school to start a magazine. Fortunately for Branson, he had an understanding father.
Like a lot of entrepreneurs, I had no interest in being a businessman. I was a young man and the Vietnam War was raging, a war I thought never should have been started. A lot of us young people felt very strongly it should be stopped. I thought that maybe by giving us a voice, I could help stop the war. So I set about launching a magazine for young people called Student.
Of course, I didn't have any money. So I worked out of my boarding school, ringing up Coca-Cola and Pepsi and National Westminster Bank, playing them off one another to buy advertising. I had no idea what I was doing, but somehow my enthusiasm managed to land me $6,000 worth of advertising, enough to print 50,000 copies. I wrote my headmaster a note that said, "I'm off! But thank you very much," and I left school to launch the magazine.
A few people tried to talk me out of it. My father was the first. He'd have been an irresponsible father if he hadn't. He drove up to the school to persuade me to continue my studies, and reluctantly, I agreed. He wanted me to be a lawyer, like him. But when he went home, my mother was not happy. She ordered him to turn around and tell me it was OK. On that second visit, he took me on a walk around the garden to lecture me on the perils of what I was doing. At the end, he said, "Look, you know what you want to do at 15; I didn't know what I wanted to do when I was 21. Give it a go, and if it doesn't work out, we'll try to get you a formal education again."
He was a wonderful father. Because, if you have a good idea, 99 percent of people will tell you why it's no good or how it's been done before or why else you're going to fall flat on your face. You've just got to say, "Screw it; just do it" and get on with it. If you fail, pick yourself up and try another one. If you have enough determination, you will succeed more likely than not because of all you learned those times you didn't.
Early funding: 300£ his mother got from selling a necklace she found on a train
Opened first Virgin record shop: 1971
Tickets prepurchased for Virgin Galactic space flights: About 550
Want to learn more from Sir Richard Branson? Join him and other seasoned entrepreneurs at GROWCO, Inc.’s Grow Your Company Conference on April 10-12, 2013 in New Orleans. Visit the conference site for more details.