Richard Branson’s 5 Lessons on Failure 

September 8, 2015

12:30 pm

You can’t run a company for nearly 50 years without some massively spectacular failures, and Virgin Group founder Richard Branson has certainly seen his share. Maybe you’ve heard of the defunct Virgin Cola, but what about Virgin Brides? (A somewhat judgmental name for a bridal shop.) Or how about Virginware lingerie?

Branson recently shared 65 lessons he’s learned in business, and several of them center on failure.

1. Regard Opportunities Like Buses – There’s Always Another One Coming

This was Branson’s attitude after he missed out on a chance to buy and distribute the game Trivial Pursuit – which undoubtedly would have made a bucketload of cash. Eh, he’ll get ‘em next time…

2. Learn By Doing and Falling Over

In the early days, Branson and his team were business virgins – “a bunch of kids learning on the spot,” he says – and they experimented with different ideas and (later) different industries for Virgin to try. “If you fall flat on your face, at least you are moving forward!” says Branson.

3. Use Past Failures to Unlock Future Successes

“Failure is simply indispensable to the entrepreneurial experience,” Branson says. The roots of Virgin lie in a magazine called Student, which also advertised mail-order records. When the record business took off and the magazine did not, the Virgin record shop was born.

4. Think of Failure as a Hurdle, Not a Dead End

“Every success story is a tale of constant adaptation, revision, and change,” Branson says. At least 14 Virgin companies saw the light of day and then crashed – some of them quite publicly. Surely there were countless more ideas rejected and tested. But Brandon has more than a thick skin; to him, the lure is part of the process, like entrepreneurial natural selection. That’s the beauty of going after many opportunities at once.

5. Don’t Focus on the Past, Plan for the Future

Failure isn’t just painful when it happens, Branson points out. If we’re not careful, we end up dwelling on past mistakes and clouding the present with should-have-dones. But instead of using them as fodder for self-criticism, we could instead take what we’ve learned from failure and apply it to our current challenges. I’m sure the failures of Virgin Express and Virgin Charter helped Branson and his team gain an even better understanding of how to run Virgin Air, for example.

Read all of Branson’s 65 business lessons here.

Image credit: Flickr / David Shankbone / CC BY-SA 2.0

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Kira M. Newman is a Tech Cocktail writer interested in the harsh reality of entrepreneurship, work-life balance, and psychology. She is the founder of The Year of Happy and has been traveling around the world interviewing entrepreneurs in Asia, Europe, and North America since 2011. Follow her @kiramnewman or contact

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