Richard Branson Started Virgin Airlines Because Of A Girl And A Cancelled Flight

image001A version of this article previously appeared on Forbes.

Popular and prolific and blogger James Clear recently shared with me why Richard Branson started Virgin Airlines. Not surprisingly, a beautiful, young girl played a prominent role in encouraging Richard to “screw it, just do it.”

An entrepreneur, weightlifter and travel photographer, James’ work can be found at, where he offers entrepreneurs leadership advice and insights. A recurring theme in his writing is the importance of one’s health to personal and professional success.

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You can watch a 3-minute excerpt from my conversation with James below.

The Ten Pillars Of Superhumans

One of James’ most widely read blog entries is The Ten Pillars Of Getting Better. According to James, “The Ten Pillars… (represent) what was most important for me (in) building this community. I wanted people who believed the same things that I believed, and were interested in living their life in the same way.”

All of the superhuman precepts cited by James are intriguing, but the eighth one especially resonated with me: We believe that successful people start before they feel ready and fight when it gets hard. This philosophy is core to successful entrepreneurship, as you will never know “enough” nor is the timing ever “perfect” when you start a venture. As described in Do Not Seek Your Fortune, Create It, those who wait to begin their entrepreneurial career risk waking up one day in their mother’s basement, wondering what happened to their youth.

When I asked James to elaborate on his “starting before you feel ready” mindset, I was surprised to learn the source of this philosophy. “Number eight, it’s interesting that you picked that one. That’s actually one that I learned from Richard Branson.”

It turns out that James attended an intimate conference at which Mr. Branson spoke. During his talk, Richard illustrated his notorious “Screw it, just do it” approach by describing the genesis of Virgin Airlines. In James’ words, “Apparently, he was on a plane to the… Virgin Islands. He was in his late twenties. He had a business but nobody really knew who he was at the time. He said, ‘Well I had a pretty girl waiting for me…, and so (I) was pretty adamant to get there that night.’

Apparently his flight got cancelled and he was annoyed. He really wanted to get there on time, so he started calling around about chartering a plane. He (said), ‘I didn’t really have the money to charter a plane at that point, but I told them, let’s go ahead and order it.’

He (then) went over, picked up a small blackboard and went over to all the people who had had their flight cancelled with him, on the previous flight. And he just wrote on (the blackboard), Virgin Airlines, $29 and (he) sold off  the rest of the seats on this chartered plane and used their money to buy the chartered plane. They (then) all went there that night.”

Not The Smartest Man On The Planet

The following day, James attended a panel discussion in which Richard participated. While observing the panelists, James considered the source of Mr. Branson’s success. James concluded that while Mr. Branson is obviously bright, Richard’s achievements are not the result of superior intellect. James recalls thinking at the time, “It’s not necessarily that he’s the most intelligent guy. He might not even be the smartest guy sitting on that panel right now.”

James resolved that what differentiates Mr. Branson from most people is his bias toward action and willingness to fail. In James’ words, “The main thing is that he’s willing to start before he feels ready. He had no business starting an airline company. He didn’t know anything about it. He didn’t have the money. But, how many of us have had a flight cancelled? That happens to everybody. But only he was the one who decided to charter an airplane and do something about it. And so I think that… (the) idea of start before you feel ready is so indicative of successful people in almost any field.”

If you are an entrepreneur in waiting, follow James and Richard’s advice and screw it. Start before you feel ready and be prepared to relentlessly fight when the going gets tough.

Follow my startup-oriented Twitter feed here: @johngreathouse. I won’t tweet a photo of a killer burrito I am about to devour – just startup stuff.

John Greathouse

John Greathouse is a Partner at Rincon Venture Partners, a venture capital firm investing in early stage, web-based businesses. Previously, John co-founded RevUpNet, a performance-based online marketing agency sold to Coull. During the prior twenty years, he held senior executive positions with several successful startups, spearheading transactions that generated more than $350 million of shareholder value, including an IPO and a multi-hundred-million-dollar acquisition.

John is a CPA and holds an M.B.A. from the Wharton School. He is a member of the University of California at Santa Barbara’s Faculty where he teaches several entrepreneurial courses.

Note: All of my advice in this blog is that of a layman. I am not a lawyer and I never played one on TV. You should always assess the veracity of any third-party advice that might have far-reaching implications (be it legal, accounting, personnel, tax or otherwise) with your trusted professional of choice.

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