“If you ask any successful business person, they will always have had a great mentor at some point along the road.”~ Sir Richard Branson
A canceled flight and already pent-up frustration with the airline industry inspired a young Richard Branson to launch Virgin Atlantic in 1984.
Having built a successful music business, Richard saw an opportunity to build a successful airline business next. On a whim, the 28-year-old bought a secondhand 747 from Boeing and dived head-first into the daring, new industry.
But Richard was well aware that there was far more to running an airline business than owning a plane. He knew he needed direction from the best and most seasoned minds and turned to someone he had always admired – the legendary airline entrepreneur Sir Freddie Laker.
“Drawing on his experiences with his own airline, Laker Airways, his advice on how to set up the company was invaluable. We wouldn’t have gotten anywhere in the airline industry without Freddie’s down-to-earth wisdom. He helped shape our vision for high quality service at competitive prices, and was the first to bring my attention to how fiercely we would have to battle with other airlines to make a success of our airline.”~ Richard Branson
Freddie was the pioneer of low-cost flights and the founder of UK’s Laker Airlines, which incidentally had just been crushed by the industry giant British Airways. The wisdom he’d gleaned from this experience allowed Freddie to help Richard set the right expectations and steer clear of the mistakes he’d made with his own venture.
“He said (to me), ‘You’ve got one plane, they’ve got 250 planes, and if you’re going to get the airline on the map, you’ve got to use yourself, get yourself on the front page, and not an anecdote on the back page.”
And instead of dismissing Richard’s characteristic “screw it, let’s do it” approach to building businesses, Freddie taught him how to double down on that and make it work to his advantage. Freddie showed Richard how to play to his strengths and be successful at the same time.
With Virgin as a fledgling airline without the big budgets of its much bigger competitors, it was Freddie who pushed Richard to become far more outgoing, be the face of his company, and drive his own branding for free.
“One of the best pieces of advice he gave me was: ‘You’ll never have the advertising power to outsell British Airways. You are going to have to get out there and use yourself. Make a fool of yourself and get yourself (noticed). Otherwise you won’t survive.
That piece of advice influenced my entire approach to business. I took his advice on board and have been thinking up fun ways to stand out from the crowd ever since. I’ve found by standing out in fun and different ways, your chances of ending up on the front page of the newspaper, rather than the back, are much higher.
I’ve been making a fool of myself ever since!”
38 years and countless outrageously fun and entertaining marketing campaigns later, Virgin Atlantic is currently the second-largest long-haul carrier in the UK.
Calling Sir Freddie Laker one of his biggest heroes, Sir Richard Branson named one of Virgin Atlantic’s Boeing 747s, “Spirit of Sir Freddie” in his honour.
“Take it from me: no matter how incredibly smart you think you are, or how brilliant, disruptive or plain off-the-wall your new concept might be, every start-up team needs at least one good mentor. Someone, somewhere, has already been through what you are convinced nobody else has ever confronted! Building a new business takes more than technological skills and creative genius – it needs people, and if you’re going to create a great culture as well as a great product, those people need tending to in a plethora of different ways.
Do you have a mentor?”
This month’s MRR implores you to ponder, explore, and answer just that.
On behalf of Team SaaSBoomi
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