Wanna Be An Astronaut?

July 20, 2011 at 3:22 pm Leave a comment

by Diane Krakora, CEO

I certainly do! And Sir Richard Branson might actually be able to make that childhood dream come true. The Microsoft 2011 Worldwide Partner Conference closing keynote speaker was thought provoking and motivational, in a reserved, subdued manner.  Sir Richard Branson is world class entrepreneur and it is inspiring to get a glimpse of the $18 billion kingdom he’s built. If you’re over 40 years old you remember what vinyl is and you certainly know Virgin Records and hopefully you’ve been able to experience the unique value proposition of Virgin Airways.  Branson’s 60,000 employee Virgin empire holds over 50 separate entities including record labels, retail outlets, exported music publishing, computer gaming, broadcasting, satellite television and radio, and film and video distribution, a digital magazine, spirits and sodas, a health care group, airships and balloons, cosmetics, renewable fuels, several non-profits, a formula one team, and Virgin Galactic – my ride into outer space. Virgin Galactic licenses the technology behind Spaceship One, which is funded by Microsoft co-Founder Paul Allen – which is probably why he’s on the WPC stage. It certainly isn’t because of the Virgin Group’s decision to standardize on Google Apps.

During the Q&A style session, I heard three key messages from Branson – there might have been more, I drifted off to outer space a few times.

  • “Screw it. Let’s do it!”

This line appeared in his introductory video, is the title of his first book, and was the first topic addressed. Branson’s point was to not over-analyze everything. Sometimes you just have to go for it. He’s adamant that entrepreneurs need to follow their instincts – they’re entrepreneurs for a reason. Branson suggested that “small is beautiful” as it provides for more specific performance evaluation and quicker decision making. For example when he was running Virgin Records, it was actually 20 different record companies, in 20 different buildings. He could quickly and easily see which were performing to expectations and the leadership of each company could move faster as a small organization. As most of the audience is small business owners, Branson cautioned to take bold moves without risking the company you’ve built up. He relayed the story of being willing to risk only half the record business to start the airline business. A little different scale than his audience, but we got the gist.

“My interest in life comes from setting myself huge, apparently unachievable challenges and trying to rise above them…from the perspective of wanting to live life to the full, I felt that I had to attempt it” – Sir Richard Branson

  • Buy Beers

Branson stated a well motivated team is a key to success in any type of business. And working together should be fun. It doesn’t cost much to throw a BBQ and supply some drinks now and then to ensure the fun element. He also hinted that during the drinking part you can get some good feedback on what needs to be changed in the organization. He joked about carrying a note pad along with him so he could remember the feedback after a few beers. Along with fun, flexibility in the workplace also leads to a motivated team. Branson suggested we as small business owners consider offering job share and telecommuting flexibility (on Mondays and Fridays) to ensure the team has a balance life. 15,000 WPC attendees have been working non-stop for four days – in meetings and sessions all day and catching up on our “real work” at night. Who has time for balance?

“For me business is not about wearing suits, or keeping stockholders pleased. It’s about being true to yourself, your ideas and focusing on the essentials” – Sir Richard Branson

  • Forgive Your Enemies

It’s only business, so ring up your competition and have a lunch. Break bread and as Branson called it “befriend” them. He suggested life is too short and too precious (he’s had more than a few adventurous close calls) and the world is too small to prolong antagonism. Is this a kinder, gentler Branson at 60 years old? Gone are the days of “campaign of dirty tricks”, ushered out by a plethora of Humanitarian initiatives and an unwavering commitment to clean energy. He extended the theme of forgiving your enemies to his personal life – reaching out to befriend people that might have hurt you personally. As someone who needs everyone to like her, I can align with a “forgive and forget” mantra. However I’m still not calling my ex. 🙂


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