On Inexperience as an Asset
Branson's Advice: "How does your approach differ from that of other businesses? How will you reach out to target markets? Why should people choose your products and services over your competitors'? Present prospective partners with a fresh take on a tired industry, and you will grab their attention."
On Customer Service
Branson's Advice: "When creating your first ads, designing a logo and reaching out to potential customers for the first time, you may be tempted to create a brand that's very corporate and remote. As a consequence, these brands acquire no texture, no character and no public trust. Whatever you decide your new brand will stand for, deliver on that promise. And beware: Brands always mean something. If you don't define what the brand means, your competitors will."
Branson's Advice: "Rather than focusing on mistakes, a leader needs to catch someone doing something right every day. If this culture of fostering employee development through praise and recognition starts at the top, it will go far toward stamping out the employee fear of failure that can stunt a business, particularly in its early days. When mistakes happen -- which is inevitable -- you have to learn from them, not dwell on what went wrong. It's almost always better not to go over the obvious with the people involved. They know exactly what happened."
On Handling Success
Branson's Advice: "When a business does well, many start to focus solely on increasing profits, no matter what the cost -- leaving behind everything that originally made the business special. If you are mulling over an expansion, tell all your employees about your plan – include everyone from the truck driver to your senior team -- and ask for their input. If you can, it would be best to work out the details of the expansion plan together, taking into account the challenges faced by your employees, and incorporating improvements they would like to make."
Branson's Advice: "Stepping back frees the founder to focus on the bigger picture -- to dive in when there are problems or to help close a deal. When your team is in place and the launch phase is over, take the time to conduct a test to see how well the company performs without your help. This can be a very revealing exercise: It will show you where the problems are and, most important, how well you have learned to delegate. So make sure you hire great people and find ways to keep them on your team for the long term."
On Selecting Investors
Branson's Advice: "When you are evaluating a proposed partnership, do not focus only on the capital you need to kick-start your business. Ask: Will this person or group give us the space and time we need to build a great business? Bear in mind that a dictatorial financial partner can dim the spirit and enthusiasm of a new enterprise, muffling the spark that prompted you to launch this project – the spark that is most likely to make your venture different from your competitors."
On Staying in Touch
Branson's Advice: "Take time to find out what the staff is actually doing on a day-to-day basis. Spend at least a few hours observing operations, and if you are qualified, borrow a desk, grab a phone and lend a hand. Then, ask yourself: What are the employees' working conditions? Do people seem energetic and creative? And ask employees: Do you have the resources you need? If you could, what problems would you fix? What ideas of yours has your manager followed up on? Ensure your staff is consistently encouraged to contact you with ideas and problems. Re-energize employees by showing them change is possible and action is valued. Just remember you are not always going to hear pleasant news."
On Taking Risks
Branson's Advice: "There is little point in entering a new market unless it provides the opportunity to really shake up an industry. Almost all our new ventures come about from our thinking up a product or service that we believe people really want. Then, if our entry has the potential to make waves, we're going to look at it very closely. But we always protect the downside and make sure we have a way out if things go wrong. If a new business has the potential to damage your brand in any way, you should not invest in it."