For the past several evenings, I’ve been curling up with Richard Branson’s latest book, Like a Virgin. This collection of blog posts and interviews is subtitled Secrets They Won’t Teach You at Business School.
As you might guess, it’s full of stories, philosophies and insights that are often surprising and provocative.
I’ve been fascinated by this renegade entrepreneur for years who’s always done things with a unique flair. For instance, what other enterprise made up of 400 companies has no gigantic world headquarters?
In many ways, Virign’s success has come about by thinking big, but acting small. This morning, I posted a quote from Branson on Facebook and it got a bunch of Likes from my friends.
He said, “I have spent my career staying away from offices and have only ever worked from three places: houseboat, home and hammock.” I find that endearing.
Happily for us, Branson has always been willing to share his experiences and insights. He’s not alone, of course.
There are all sorts of wise entrepreneurial elders who generously share what they’ve learned. Doesn’t it makes sense to become a voluntary student of those who’ve made the journey ahead of us?
Another favorite of mine is Mel Ziegler who says, “I would not think of starting a business unless I was its first customer.”
Ziegler knows a thing or two about being the first customer. He started out as a journalist, but grew increasingly frustrated by his inability to have creative control over his life.
He and his wife Patricia started their first business because Mel loved to wear bush jackets and khakis, but he couldn’t easily find any. “The closest you could get to something authentic was in the surplus world, particularly British Army Surplus in those days,” says Ziegler. “It was magnificent. We saw the surplus and were kind of excited by it. We just played with it.”
That business was the original Banana Republic, which began life as a mail order company. They didn’t just sell clothes at Banana Republic; they sold clothes in which you were certain to have an adventure.
Patricia drew the catalog and Mel wrote it. “We just created it more as a theatrical experience than a retail experience,” say Ziegler.”Neither of us had retail experience. Neither of us had business experience.”
I still have a couple of those wonderful Banana Republic catalogs which were unique and fun to read.
After they sold that business, a chance encounter on an airplane got the Zieglers involved with starting Republic of Tea. “The only way I know how to create a company is for myself,” he says. “ I don’t really know how to do it any other way. I mean, I created Banana Republic and Republic of Tea for myself. I’m doing this for myself.”
That may sound simple, but it’s quite revolutionary.
The old paradigm (still much in vogue) has entrepreneurs studying demographics and putting together focus groups, hoping to infiltrate the consumer mind.
The artistic entrepreneur does it differently.
The creative entrepreneur knows that it’s possible to start a revolution by taking an old idea and changing the way it’s been done. That’s precisely how Virgin has built itself into a global operation.
Whether you aspire to build a huge business or are thrilled to remain a small operator, when it comes right down to it, being an entrepreneur is nothing more than spending your days sharing what you love with other people.
“The thing I remember best about successful people I’ve met all through the years,” said Mr. Rogers, “is their obvious delight in what they’re doing and it seems to have very little to do with worldly success. They just love what they’re doing and they love it in front of others.”