Richard Branson Takes On The Universe
Richard Branson is the epitomization of Elite entrepreneurial qualities; no one knows more about building an empire then he does. From music to cell phones to soda, and now space aviation, Branson seems to be unbeatable.
His latest venture, Virgin Galactic, is the first commercial space travel business dedicated to providing spaceflights to everyday citizens. Well, the ones who can afford it anyway.
Slated to begin suborbital test flights later this year and passenger service by year's end, Virgin Galactic has already signed up nearly 500 customers willing to fork over $200,000 each to reach an altitude of about 68 miles above the Earth's surface.
All of this is not surprising, as Branson has always done things differently and disrupted the status quo. His lifestyle plays a central role in the Virgin brand and culture, and it is the catalyst behind Virgin Galactic, which he calls “the most exciting thing” the company has ever pursued.
Like all Virgin efforts, the Galactic unit emerged out of Branson's deep dissatisfaction with the norms of society and business. Instead of disrupting what is inefficient in Branson' eyes, with Virgin Galactic he is simply breaking into uncharted territories.
First we're taking people to suborbital space travel, then orbital, and then we'll be able to put satellites into space at a fraction of the price it currently costs. One day, maybe even hotels in space – who's to know? Whatever happens, it's going to be ridiculously exciting. It's the start of a whole new era.
Branson built the Virgin Group brand by targeting business verticals where things are not being run well by other people or not being run at all. Branson remains driven by a compulsive desire to do things the way he believes they should be done. Seemingly all of Branson's stories of entrepreneurial success begin as tales of consumer discontent.
In the case of Virgin Records, he formed his own label because no established company would agree to release multi-instrumentalist Mike Oldfield's hypnotic Tubular Bells; the album inaugurated the Virgin imprint in 1973 and went on to sell more than 16 million copies worldwide.
Your brand needs to make its mark, and making that mark means that when you go offer space travel or something, people will say they'd like you to be successful at that as well. So one thing leads on to another.
In the case of Virgin Atlantic, Branson and 50 other passengers found themselves stranded in Puerto Rico when American Airlines canceled a flight to the Virgin Islands; he chartered a 50-seat plane, sold all the tickets for $39 apiece and not long after acquired a secondhand 747 to launch an airline in earnest.
Entrepreneurs can make a mint by making a difference:
All startups should be thinking, What frustrates me and how can I make it better? It might be a small thing or it might be a big thing, but that's the best way for them to think. If they think like that, they're likely to build a very successful business.
Which is not to suggest that Branson has always played it safe – or that he has always come up a winner. Not all Virgin efforts have disrupted their target markets: Virgin Cola failed to quench consumers' thirst for Coca-Cola and Pepsi, for example, and apparel brand Virgin Ware quickly fell out of fashion.
Critics also question Branson's daredevil proclivities, like his attempt to circumnavigate the globe via balloon, or his record-setting English Channel crossing in an amphibious vehicle.
Virgin is an adventurous company because I am an adventurer as well as an entrepreneur. We were the first to cross the Atlantic in a balloon, and we've broken lots of other world records.
That's been part of the spirit of building the brand and building the company, and set it apart from the more staid companies we compete with. On the other hand, one could analyze it and say it's very irresponsible. But we like to break the rules occasionally.
Only time will tell whether Virgin Galactic falls on the positive side of the ledger. That company “again came out of personal frustration,” Branson says.
I thought when I saw the moon landing all those years ago that one day NASA would be able to fly me into space. I waited and waited and waited, and soon it became apparent that government-run companies don't have any interest in worrying about you or me going to space. They have other things on their minds.
Virgin Galactic will launch commercial services on the wings of SpaceShipTwo, a six-passenger, two-pilot spacecraft designed and tested by Scaled Composites, the aerospace firm founded by famed engineer Burt Rutan (designer of the Rutan Voyager, the first aircraft to circle the globe without stopping or refueling) and now owned by Northrop Grumman.
As of February, SpaceShipTwo, the first vehicle in the company's proposed five-ship fleet, had completed 31 atmospheric test flights in all, 15 attached to its carrier aircraft White Knight II and 16 glide tests.
From December of this year, Virgin Galactic will be offering people trips into space.
Virgin is already one of the top 20 most respected brands in the world, and I suspect this could propel us into the top five and will be a wonderful sort of halo effect for everything else Virgin does.
It is unclear what the suborbital spaceflight market might be worth, but Virgin Galactic competitor Xcor Aerospace estimates a potential value of $3 billion within the next few years.
Xcor is just one startup battling Virgin Galactic to dominate the space tourism market; other rivals include Armadillo Aerospace, Space Adventures, Orbital Sciences Corporation and RocketShip Tours. There is no incumbent. But, Branson welcomes the challenge:
Every single person in a company has to be empowered to be open to new ideas all the time,” he says. “You've got to have a yes mentality, rather than a no mentality. You've got to be willing to take risks and allow people to fall flat on their face on occasion. Don't criticize them when they do, or else they won't take risks the next time around. Screw it, just do it–get on and try things.”
via Entrepreneur Mag.
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