Richard Branson on Taking the Entrepreneurial Plunge
Editor's Note: Entrepreneur Richard Branson regularly shares his business experience and advice with readers. Ask him a question and your query might be the inspiration for a future column.
Q: I am 18, and plan to start my own business while pursuing higher education. I have no background in computer programming, but I’ve noticed that many startups are technology-based. How should I go about realizing my dream of becoming an entrepreneur? --Shaurya Jain
Shaurya, it’s great to hear that you’re keen to start your own business and that you’ve been looking at which industries have the most potential. Tech hubs like Silicon Valley and East London’s Tech City are attracting people like you from around the world -- individuals who are on their way to becoming entrepreneurs.
You haven’t mentioned your idea or area of interest -- IT startups can be found in almost every industry -- but perhaps you’re not at that stage yet. So let’s start from the beginning.
If you envision building an app or a business that is otherwise based on code, it would make sense for you to master the basics while you’re in school. Learning to code used to be quite daunting, but now there are many options that make this process easier. Codecademy (a company that I invested in) offers a user-driven experience based on a set of modules that would be easy to fit into your studies. Other solutions you might check out include Udacity, Girl Develop It and Code Racer, just to name a few. Whatever path you pursue in the long run, these skills will be an asset to you - at Virgin we are encouraging our employees to try their hand at coding, since it’s increasingly useful.
But if you don’t have a knack for coding, that’s not a problem -- you can work with colleagues who do. Meanwhile, you should focus on developing your skills in the areas you excel at. For instance, given your interest in entrepreneurship, you might consider joining organizations that offer help with learning the basics of starting up a business.
When you begin tossing around ideas for your startup, don’t just limit yourself to apps and IT solutions. A great idea is a great idea, no matter what sector it’s in. We launched one of our newest nonprofits, Virgin StartUp, with the aim of helping fledgling entrepreneurs to flourish through low-interest loans and a mentorship program. Many of the businesses that we have helped are not at all software-based -- they are being launched by bakers, hairdressers and fashion designers. One innovative idea that caught my eye was the pitch for Intrepid English -- a business where a teacher, Lorraine Venables, offers English courses to nonnative speakers that are tailor-made to each student’s specific requirements.
Sooner or later, you’ll take the plunge -- and it sounds like it will be sooner! The startup phase is where the IT industry does offer some real advantages in your case, since such businesses can be very nimble. Their offerings can be adapted fairly quickly to new markets or tweaked to reflect a change in emphasis, and that in itself has helped to enable the development of a new and more flexible culture of entrepreneurship. It now seems to be more accepted than it used to be that entrepreneurs will make mistakes along the way -- that not all projects work, and sometimes you just have to pull the plug. It’s all part of the process.
Finally, the possibility of starting your business from the desk in your dorm or at your parents’ kitchen table may be best in your situation, partly because your overhead would be very low. This would give you more time to find investors, raise capital and recruit employees or partners -- it could very well be your recipe for success.
Shaurya, it’s wonderful that you already have a sense of where your interests lie, and are planning for the day that you launch your business. Don’t be discouraged if your first idea doesn’t work, or even your third. Everyone starts out as a beginner: Successful people are just further along in their careers.
If you try and try again, when you do succeed, your enterprise will join the list of thriving organizations that were started up by people who had no experience in business -- people like Jack Dorsey and Mark Zuckerberg. They just gave it a go and ended up driving real change in their industry. You might be next!