Finding My Virginity | Richard Branson

Summary of: Finding My Virginity: The New Autobiography
By: Richard Branson


Embark on an inspiring journey through the life and achievements of Richard Branson in ‘Finding My Virginity: The New Autobiography’. This fascinating summary takes you through the inception and growth of various Virgin companies, Branson’s battles with competitors, and his constant drive to create better customer experiences. Along the way, the story delves into how Branson got involved in industries like mobile phones, gyms, airlines, and charitable initiatives. At its core, ‘Finding My Virginity’ highlights the resilience, determination, and unique approach of Branson’s illustrious entrepreneurial career, providing you with lessons to take on your own journey to success.

Unleashing Virgin’s Entrepreneurial Spirit

In 1999, Richard Branson was at the cusp of making Virgin Group, his brainchild, a prominent global brand. One of his endeavors, Virgin Atlantic, exemplified Branson’s persistence and commitment to offering exceptional customer experiences. Despite facing staunch competition and setbacks, Branson built Virgin Atlantic, aiming to outdo rivals through innovative services and cheeky advertising campaigns.

Richard Branson, a billionaire entrepreneur known for his daring adventures, faced numerous challenges when shaping the Virgin Group into the international powerhouse it is today. His dreams of dominating various markets like cola, vodka, and cosmetics had to be reevaluated after a series of failures. Through this process, he honed his focus on what truly resonated with the Virgin brand.

Virgin Atlantic, one of Branson’s most ambitious projects, stands out as a testament to his fierce determination. Established in the early 1980s, the international airline aimed to provide a superior alternative to British Airways (BA), a company notorious for its subpar food, entertainment, and service. Despite BA’s monopoly at London’s Heathrow Airport, Branson relentlessly pursued competition, spurring Virgin Atlantic’s growth.

However, Virgin Atlantic’s success did not come without a fight. British Airways consistently attempted to undermine its rival through underhanded tactics, such as publishing libelous statements to discredit the newcomer. Though Branson won the subsequent lawsuit, his primary goal remained delivering the best possible airline experience.

Branson’s innovative ideas and bold advertising encapsulate the spirit of Virgin. Virgin Atlantic introduced in-flight massages, and Branson cheekily advertised this service with a sign at Heathrow that read, “BA Don’t Give a Shiatsu.” When British Airways encountered technical difficulties in launching the London Eye, Branson seized the opportunity to fly a blimp overhead, displaying the message, “BA CAN’T GET IT UP.”

This combination of daring innovation, cheekiness, and an unwavering dedication to customer service defines the heart of the Virgin brand.

Branson’s Seed for Virgin Mobile

Sir Richard Branson saw an opportunity for a better mobile service after witnessing a ridiculously high phone bill. He founded Virgin Mobile in 1998 and collaborated with Deutsche Telekom to reduce costs and deliver pay-as-you-go plans. Capitalizing on his existing Megastores, he targeted young customers who desired affordable phones without complex contracts. Within two years, Virgin Mobile UK had half a million subscribers and a £1.36 billion valuation, eventually growing into a global service with ongoing success.

Unfazed by their enormity, Richard Branson was among the first Britons to use cellular phones the size of your head. When Branson discovered his business partner had received the most expensive phone bill in Britain, he saw a lucrative opportunity. In 1998, mobile carriers forced customers into exorbitant contracts with skyrocketing costs. Phone sales doubled from the previous year, amassing a total of $162.9 million.

Branson is captivated by challenges that allow him to create superior services, and the mobile phone market was ripe for disruption. He launched Virgin Mobile and joined forces with Deutsche Telekom, T-Mobile’s parent company. Capitalizing on their existing network, Virgin Mobile introduced pay-as-you-go plans, enabling customers to pay solely for their usage instead of committing to costly, long-term contracts.

The entrepreneur already owned 381 Virgin Megastores, which served as prime locations to sell the new phones to young people—his target market. These individuals craved their own phones without the burden of extensive bills or tangled contracts. Branson’s strategy proved successful. In just two years, Virgin Mobile UK gained 500,000 subscribers, earned a Network of the Year award, and amassed a £1.36 billion valuation.

The service soon expanded to Australia, the United States, and Asia. Virgin Mobile UK became the UK’s fastest-growing mobile startup. Concurrently, Virgin Mobile USA reached a billion-dollar revenue within three and a half years and continues to flourish.

Revamping the Gym Experience

Routinely pitched with new business ideas, it was Virgin Active that captured Richard Branson’s interest as an opportunity to improve the lackluster gym experience. Despite facing initial hurdles, Virgin Active prevailed by focusing on affordability, customer experience, and sustained community engagement, leading to a gym that won hearts and revolutionized the market.

Richard Branson encounters numerous business proposals, but it was Virgin Active that struck a chord as the ideal new venture. Gym memberships were a common subject of dissatisfaction, with outdated equipment, cramped facilities, and exorbitant fees. This made it a prime market for Virgin to make an influential entrance.

Launching Virgin Active was marred by initial catastrophe. In August 1999, after two years of meticulous preparation, the flagship gym in Preston, Lancashire, was severely damaged by fire. In selecting this location, the founding duo, Frank Reed and Matthew Bucknall, utilized innovative data analysis techniques uncommon at the time. As pioneers of the Virgin Active concept, they envisioned an immaculate gym, featuring essentials like ideal water temperatures and towel provision.

The fire proved to be a significant setback, with expenses piling up from paying staff while reparation work hindered revenue generation. Positively, the staff remained fervent in promoting the brand throughout the reconstruction period, ensuring a persistent presence in the community’s mindset.

Contrasting rival gym offerings, Virgin Active prioritized affordability, steering clear of substantial membership costs and binding long-term contracts. For instance, the local competitor, LivingWell, demanded a £300 registration fee, making Virgin Active an enticing proposition. When the gym ultimately opened its doors, customers flocked to experience the transformative approach, resulting in a love affair between patrons and the health-centric facility.

Branson’s Rail Revolution

Traditionally, essential services in England were government-run, including British Rail. Richard Branson’s encounter with Japan’s bullet train in 1991 set the stage for a shift in the rail industry. As British Rail privatized, Virgin Trains emerged. Despite initial challenges, their West Coast Main Line service displayed significant improvements, increasing ridership and efficiency. Critics of this privatization, like Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, argue for a return to nationalization. However, the surge in passengers attests to the improvements achieved under Virgin Trains’ management. With 65 new Azuma trains in the pipeline, Virgin Trains remains committed to constant progress.

Uniting Global Changemakers

Richard Branson cherished his friendship with Nelson Mandela, who made a tremendous impact on the world. After Mandela’s passing, Branson continued to honor his friend’s legacy through Virgin Unite, a charity developed to unite philanthropic leaders. At the core of Virgin Unite, Branson established a council called “the Elders,” inspired by village elders’ wisdom. Branson welcomed Mandela to be the first Elder, followed by Kofi Annan. The Elders, including Jimmy Carter, Desmond Tutu, Mary Robinson, and Muhammad Yunus, all shared a passion for improving human rights worldwide. They used their collective wisdom to respond swiftly to crises in places like Darfur, Somalia, Palestine, North Korea, and Russia. Virgin Unite continues seeking solutions to global human rights violations by unifying the brightest and most powerful humanitarians worldwide.

Rising and Falling of Virgin America

Richard Branson faced several tough decisions, including selling his businesses to support others. However, Virgin America’s launch in 2004 posed a unique challenge amid a struggling global airline industry. With Branson’s determination and customer-centric approach, Virgin America managed to capture the market, winning numerous accolades. Despite this success, US law limited Branson’s ownership, allowing Alaska Airlines to acquire Virgin America for $2.6 billion. Unfortunately, Alaska Airlines subsequently decided to dissolve the Virgin brand, much to Branson’s disappointment.

In 1992, Richard Branson sold Virgin Records to support Virgin Atlantic, and later sold 49% of Virgin Atlantic to launch Virgin Active gyms. Despite these sacrifices, the sale that hurt the most was the Virgin America airline in 2004, when airlines were struggling following the 9/11 attacks. Experts believed that even an established brand like Virgin would fail to thrive, but Branson saw an opportunity.

Observing a lack of enjoyable customer experiences in the American airline industry, Branson saw the potential for the Virgin brand to provide a superior service. After three years of convincing the US Department of Transportation, Virgin America took flight and began winning over passengers with in-flight WiFi, on-demand dining, and exceptional entertainment options. As a result, Condé Nast named Virgin America the best domestic airline ten years in a row.

However, US law prevented Branson from maintaining full control over Virgin America due to his non-American status, limiting him to only 25% of voting shares. When the airline went public in 2014, competitors swooped in, and within 18 months, Alaska Airlines presented a $2.6 billion offer that the board at Virgin America unanimously accepted.

This sale devastated Branson, as Alaska Airlines showed no intention of preserving the Virgin spirit. Instead, they planned to retire the brand by 2019, leading to accusations that it had become “another bullshit airline.”

Virgin Media’s Game-Changing Move

When Richard Branson was approached by NTL CEO Simon Duffy to bring Virgin Media into the cable communications market, he faced a challenge: improving NTL’s notoriously poor customer service. By scrapping scripted interactions and embracing the Virgin way of doing things, they created the successful “Four Play” package, transforming Virgin Media into a leading broadband provider and giving major competitors a run for their money.

Richard Branson found himself in a dilemma when NTL’s CEO, Simon Duffy, approached him with a proposal to join forces with Virgin Media. NTL, known for its exceptionally poor customer service, seemed like the last company Branson would want to work with. But Duffy’s enticing “Quad Play” concept, offering cable, internet, and both landline and mobile phone services, was an opportunity Branson couldn’t pass up. He decided to rebrand it as “Four Play” to maintain Virgin’s signature irreverence.

Realizing that scripted conversations were the root of NTL’s customer service woes, Branson did away with them. Instead, he encouraged service operators to loosen up, be themselves, and avoid using scripts when helping customers. This switch to the Virgin way quickly pleased customers, leading to rapid success for the joint venture.

Virgin Media swiftly rose to prominence, becoming the UK’s top broadband provider and second largest pay-TV and home-phone provider. Unsurprisingly, this rapid growth didn’t sit well with media mogul Rupert Murdoch, whose company Sky TV was the UK’s largest pay-TV provider. To prevent Virgin Media from merging with ITV, Murdoch purchased a £940 million stake in the company – a move later deemed a violation by the Office of Fair Trading, ultimately forcing Murdoch to sell over 10 percent at a £348 million loss.

Murdoch’s media company News Corp also faced controversy when a subsidiary was caught hacking the phones of Branson, his family, and neighbors in 2011. After resolving the issue, Branson received an apology letter, a small consolation for this invasion of privacy.

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