What I Learned About Entrepreneurship from Richard Branson For young entrepreneurs, having a mentor -- even one you've never met -- can mean the difference between running a successful business and just dreaming about it.

By Matthew Toren

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

Richard BransonI have man crush on Richard Branson. Though in modern vernacular "man crush" means a deep admiration, it's more than mere respect for Richard Branson's accomplishments that I feel.

Ever since I first heard about Sir Richard as a young kid, I've been drawn to his amazing business sense, thirst for adventure and desire to give back to the world. Even back then, I recognized that the combination of those characteristics is both rare and appealing.

When my brother Adam and I were in our early teens, we had already been entrepreneurs for several years. We were like sponges, soaking up everything we could learn about the business world. At the time, I read a magazine article about Richard Branson that gave me inspiration. The story of a guy, who had started his first business at age 16 and was now one of the most successful people in the world, really made me think about my own possibilities.

Up until that point, I had dreamed of future fame and fortune, and my brother and I had already experienced some success. But I couldn't quite pinpoint where we were going -- until I read about Branson.

Since then -- and throughout my life as an entrepreneur -- I have found myself asking: "What would Branson do?" I admit that I don't always follow the advice the answer brings, but it often helps me see situations in a different light. For example, the first decent size business my brother and I took on after high school was a billiard hall. We purchased the struggling business with high hopes of turning it around -- and eventually did just that. But before committing to the purchase, I remember feeling fearful about putting all of our money into a business that we knew little about. One of the thrills of being an entrepreneur is the risk, but the emotion that often comes off as excitement can also signal fear and doubt.

I sometimes thought: "What are we getting ourselves into?" Then I asked myself: "What would Branson do?" and became excited rather than fearful. Branson is known for his expression, "Screw it, let's do it," which isn't indicative of a reckless attitude but rather a sign of his desire to live in the moment. His attitude inspired me to take the chance on that billiard business and many more since then.

As a young entrepreneur, it's important to have mentors, and, as with Richard Branson, they don't have to be people you've met. Having someone to look up to, even from afar, can be valuable in making decisions. Here are four lessons that Branson has taught me that have helped guide and inspire me:

  1. Live in the moment. From what I've seen, Branson lives every moment of his life fully and makes no apologies for it. In business, his attitude has translated into quick, decisive action that has paid off big. As a young entrepreneur, I used the same philosophy to build our businesses quickly. We trusted our intelligence and guts and didn't hesitate in deciding which direction to go with a project, acquisition or marketing scheme. That decisiveness has kept the momentum strong in our businesses.
  2. Have fun. It's abundantly clear that Branson loves what he's doing. He has fun at business, play and life. And so do we. Whether we are expanding our media company, writing a book or starting a new venture, fun has consistently figured into our decision making process. We love what we're doing, which makes the chances for success infinitely greater.
  3. Give back. As a philanthropist, Branson recognizes the importance of giving back to the world. Though, he typically does so in a big way, we've noticed that we too can derive joy from giving back -- even if it is on a small scale. We try to introduce the entrepreneurial spirit to kids of all ages through our Kidpreneurs book, speaking engagements at schools and youth organizations and related projects.
  4. Don't give up. Regardless of the odds, Branson has always refused to consider defeat. That, more than anything else in my estimation, has been the key to his success -- and the reason I admire him so much.
Matthew Toren

Serial Entrepreneur, Mentor and co-founder of YoungEntrepreneur.com

Matthew Toren is a serial entrepreneur, mentor, investor and co-founder of YoungEntrepreneur.com. He is co-author, with his brother Adam, of Kidpreneurs and Small Business, BIG Vision: Lessons on How to Dominate Your Market from Self-Made Entrepreneurs Who Did it Right (Wiley). He's based in Vancouver, B.C.

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