Finding My Virginity

Every entrepreneur should pickup a copy of Richard Branson’s book, Finding My Virginity. This book is full of gold nuggets for business owners. And it is hilarious too! Because of this book I was actually able to make some decisions and take my business into a more clear direction. 

Before, I was always afraid to define my brand and never took any clarifying positions. Branson’s book helped me to understand that it is better to take action, try new ideas, and quickly move onto a new idea when it doesn’t work out versus my old default of being timid and circling around a business idea and never making any commitment. Coupling this new philosophy with James Altuchuer’s ten ideas habit will keep my idea muscle strong and I will be adaptable and able to pivot to adjust my business as necessary.

Tim Ferriss once talked about not pitching folks in the bathroom and here is another excellent example of why this is not a good idea.

Don’t ever do this:

“But as I stood at the urinal, I realized a man had followed me into the toilet. “Richard, it’s great to meet you, can I have your autograph?” he asked, sidling up next to me. “Of course,” I said, turning to face him, completely forgetting that I was still relieving myself. Before I knew what was happening, I had managed to piss all over the guy’s trousers—not exactly the memento of meeting me he had been hoping for. After that debacle, I’m afraid the rest of the night is a complete blur, which is probably for the best.”

On starting your business. Richard Branson and Virgin Group have started 100’s of businesses and his advice applies to all levels of entrepreneurs and business operators:

  • “Generally, we like to work fast: try ideas, see if they stick, and, if they don’t, quickly move on to the next one. I work best when my mind is able to jump from one topic to the next”
  • “normally when I start a business there are rival companies which aren’t working the way I would, and I use their (bad) example to inspire my new vision.”
  • “If it [your business concept] can’t fit onto the back of an envelope, it’s probably a bad idea. Keep it short, sharp and picture-perfect.”
  • “I’ve always found the best market research is to ask the people closest to you for their opinion, and then steadily branch out.”
  • “When it comes to deals like this, or any negotiations really, the key is to display passion, know-how and determination. Get to the point quickly, be persistent and consistent and don’t rely too heavily on prompts, statistics and certainly not PowerPoint slides. I went into the meeting with my notebook in my back pocket, armed with beautiful spaceship pictures, a lot of enthusiasm and belief in the project. Investors buy into people and ideas, not numbers alone.”
  • “Whenever you are setting up a new project, the most important thing is to surround yourself with people who are better than yourself, have different skills and a healthy combination of enthusiasm and experience.”

Qualities that can make you successful:

  • “Bill [Gates] listens and learn from his wife. He asked lots of questions and it was interesting to have another avid note-taker around. He can be chatty, but would certainly agree with Doug Larson’s quote, “Wisdom is the reward you get for a lifetime of listening when you’d have preferred to talk.” Bill and I are very different characters”
  • “Whenever you come across absurd rules, take advantage of them.”
  • “One lady came into a meeting and I offered my seat to her. She turned out to be Pam Omidyar from Humanity United, who has gone on to commit millions to the Elders. “I’ve never forgotten your courtesy,” she told me years later. There is a lesson there. Good manners cost nothing: little kindnesses will take you a long way.”
  • “I thought about how we could keep momentum up. I’m a big believer in creating panic early. Too many leaders wait until deadlines are looming or a crisis is in full flow before injecting urgency into their team. By then it’s too late. I like to shake things up in my teams and keep people motivated by pushing them to think as if it’s a crisis, when everything is running on schedule. This way, innovations can be sparked, and future crises can be averted.”
  • “It isn’t just big amounts and major deals I use this logic on; I try to simplify everything and apply this to every aspect of my life, however small or big. This means paying attention to detail. A good entrepreneur signs every check personally, say, every quarter. Doing so, they will pick up large and small discrepancies. We have used the same taxi firm in Miami for years. In checking the bill recently it was clear we were being ripped off. We called up and asked them to justify their new prices—they immediately apologized and cut their rates by 50 percent. Then there are bigger amounts.”
  • Continued… “Too often people only look into these details when times are tight and they are losing money. It is much easier to remove unnecessary over-complications and costs when business is doing well, keeping your company lean and mean.”

How to respond to problems:

  • “There’s no question, the key thing after a major disaster is to get there quickly, deal with it head on and be both sympathetic and honest. Handling the aftermath of an accident involving your company is one of the hardest things a leader can do.”
  • “At one point, Delta discovered a weakness in the contract that meant fluctuating fuel prices benefited them more than us. Before we even mentioned it, they brought it up and we resolved it. This is the way for true partners to behave. I am confident the relationship will last my lifetime and beyond.”

How to find time to write as a busy entrepreneur:

“People also often question how I find the time to write so regularly; whether notes, letters, blogs op-eds or even books like this. But the reality is I’m always getting my thoughts down on paper. The trick is to make it part of your daily routine. You have time to eat, drink, brush your teeth and do dozens of other things every day—just add writing to the list. I jot down ideas, thoughts, requests, reminders and doodles every single day; if I didn’t, I would forget them before I could ever put them into action. It doesn’t matter if you use a notebook and pen like me, or a shiny new tablet like [my daughter] Holly—the key is making writing a welcome habit. But keep a little pad in your back pocket just in case—you never have to charge a notebook.”

And always remember this:

“I find any time when my family is suffering excruciating. Making life or death decisions for family requires the same skills as making crucial business decisions, but, of course, it feels so much more intense. As an entrepreneur you are better equipped than anyone to question things, listen and learn and ultimately make a call. But there is always another company—there is not another wife, son or daughter. It doesn’t matter how much money you earn; nothing is worth more than your family’s health.”

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