Richard Branson: The rule which was key to billionaire’s first successful business

Richard Branson discusses phone call from Buzz Aldrin

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Sir Richard Branson is a world-renowned success story in the business world and a self-made billionaire. During an appearance on the BBC Radio Four programme Desert Island Discs back in 1989, he discussed the infancy of his career in business that set him up for many years of future success.

Sir Richard said that he set himself a rule that he would not produce the magazine until he had secured the advertising needed to cover his costs.

He said: “I didn’t have outside finance, so I had to sell enough advertising to cover the printing of the paper costs

“I set myself a rule that I wouldn’t launch the magazine until I’d had £5,000 worth of advertising sold.”

He also told the fascinating story of how at age 15, he was running the operation from the telephone box near his school, and wearing many hats.

“I actually worked out of the telephone box at the school and I used to put on a false voice to pretend that I had a secretary, and then I put on my real voice as Richard Branson.” the entrepreneur said.

“I didn’t feel that advertisers would accept to a school boy at a telephone box.

“I somehow managed to blather my way into getting £5,000.”

Sir Richard stressed the importance of believing in the vision of a company in order to be successful.

He said: “You had to believe in what you were putting out. I was putting out a magazine that was going to go to 50,000 young people.

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“I had to act more grown up and I really was, I didn’t want to let on I was 15.

“Once I’d got £5,000 worth of advertising committed, I then had to persuade them to wait until I’d actually got the first edition together.”

Young Branson managed to attract big names such as the cartoonist Gerald Scarfe among others to contribute to the mag, and he revealed how he managed to bring them on board.

“Mostly on the public telephone, occasionally writing them letters from the school library,” he said. “The idea of a magazine run by young people appealed to most of these people.

“Once you got one or two, you could name drop a bit, so it was easier.”

With the 1971 postal strike threatening the future of his business, the entrepreneur adapted and thrived.

On the strike, he said: “That was a bit disturbing, because all our income was then coming from the mail order company. And with an eight-week postal strike we faced going out of business.

“We headed off down Oxford Street one day and went into various shops, and ended up in a shoe shop.

“I walked upstairs and saw they had an empty space and went up to the manager and said, ‘How about letting us have that space for a record shop? You’ll sell lots of shoes, and we’ll sell lots of records.’

“He said yes and about a week or two later, we opened our first record shop, and we sold a lot of records.”

However, Sir Richard revealed that the operation of his store was not the most professional.

“It was more like a club than a record shop,” he admitted.

“Our takings started very well, but soon, nobody could actually get to the counters to buy the records, because we had pillows and headphones.

“It became the place to go rather than the place to buy anything. We never really ran in those days our retail operation very professionally.”

He later launched his record label, Virgin Records in 1972, and the rest is history.

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