Richard Branson: Why I start businesses

We’ve often heard about the ‘how’ when it comes to starting a successful business, but today the Virgin Group founder chooses to focus on the 'why' - offering up a unique insight into the mind of a serial entrepreneur.

"Why do I start businesses? The answer is the same today as it was when I launched my first company five decades ago: to make a positive difference in people’s lives. I believe that companies should have a similar desire at their core, no matter what industry they’re in," writes Richard Branson in a recent blog.

"Our team at Virgin has always kept this in mind whenever we’ve entered a new sector. Take the airline industry. We built three beloved airlines - Virgin Atlantic, Virgin Australia and Virgin America - based on the belief that passengers deserved better. We feel that when people choose an airline, they deserve courtesy and care. They also deserve respect and an amazing experience. They certainly do not deserve to be treated like numbers on a balance sheet, or like cattle in a cabin.

"Sadly, not every business shares this viewpoint. (I’m sure you can think of one or two you’ve recently read about without me having to name them)."

Richard Branson Virgin Atlantic Seattle Union Jack

As Richard explains, the positive impact a business can have on a person’s life shouldn’t just be seen as a customer-focused ambition – it’s staff who should first feel the benefit. It will then, in turn, fall on them to make sure the customers feel as positive about the product or service as they do.

"Companies like these tend to put profit before people and they will ultimately be found out. Every company and business leader makes mistakes. I’ve made more than my fair share, and I know I’ll make more. The good news is that if you face them head on, move fast and have a strong company culture in place, you can recover from any setback.

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"Maintaining a strong company culture begins with putting people first, and that requires heartfelt service. Allowing your team the freedom to be themselves is key to achieving that. When things go wrong, having too many processes and procedures in place can hinder staff when they need to make judgment calls based on their own experience, their humanity and the company culture.

"On our team, we strive to give employees enough latitude to make decisions that are based on common sense, not outdated rulebooks. We believe in giving our staff the right tools to do their job, then trusting them to do the right thing."

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It won’t be possible to ensure that both customers and staff receive a positive experience 100 per cent of the time, but providing the necessary support networks and trusting people to do the right thing will result in far fewer negative experiences.

"Whether it’s dealing with an overbooked flight, a missed train or an issue with a phone bill, empower your front-line team to deal in the moment. Acting fast can cost you some money, but a delay or a rigid response will probably cost you a great deal more in lost good will. And in this age of social media, a customer issue can spread like wildfire across the internet, and cause lasting damage," notes Richard.

"Giving your team flexibility and responsibility is part of the solution, but it’s also important to ensure that workers feel like they’re part of a bigger mission than just making money: They will treat customers better, and those customers will prove to be more loyal and come back over and over again. In the end, this will reflect positively on your profits, too."

Have you started a business before? If so, let us know why.

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