22 June 2014
On this day in 1984, Virgin Atlantic had its first flight. Flying in the face of ordinary; a motto that has stayed true for thirty years and counting.
What’s interesting is how many people reacted to Branson when he made the transition from music to aviation with his ‘fleet’ of one leased Boeing plane. The glamour and excitement of the inaugural flight elicited a kind of eyebrow-raised half scepticism from many. Others probably questioned how and why a music mogul had chosen to set up his own airline when there were already established brands flying passengers around the world. But for Branson, there was a gap that needed filling and he took up the challenge.
There are a multitude of paths you can take through life and not all of them go in a straight line. I think we have a tendency to fall into a set way of thinking about the route we’re “supposed” to take, the linear path we’re “supposed” to follow. The gap Richard saw all those years ago was about customer service and experience, about an industry that needed some shaking up and an injection of rock and roll.
What he proved with Virgin was that success isn’t necessarily about experience, but about imagination, vision and the passion to go the distance. When you get stuck in a set way of doing things, you limit yourself. Branson’s imagination and zest for life meant that he could visualise an airline that transformed the experience of flying for customers, making it into something enjoyable and memorable by putting the focus on people and providing outstanding service.
His boundless imagination resulted in Virgin being the first airline to do a lot of the things we experience today – putting video in the back of every seatback, for example. Is this the difference between an entrepreneur and a business person? I think there’s something inherent in entrepreneurs’ personalities that means they’re always dreaming up ways to make things better, whether that’s more efficient or simply more enjoyable. Do you ever find yourself imagining ways that a certain experience could be improved or even transformed completely? In my experience, this is a great reason to start up a business. Perhaps you need to release your inner entrepreneur?
It’s also worth mentioning that you don’t need to have a completely new product or service or be first to market in order to be successful. Richard proved that with Virgin. He entered the market to disrupt it and to add some competition. He recognised the benefits of competition to the customer, something that Virgin continues to defend today, with Richard criticising brands that look to monopolise markets. Competition pushes companies to be better, to offer more to their customers and surely this is a good thing.
Fast forward to 2014 and Virgin has expanded its fleet, ventured into new areas of the world and continued to innovate. Branson’s plans for a new space programme prove that imagination doesn’t have to age (something I can testify to as well) and I look forward to seeing how this ambitious project progresses. The sky’s the limit!