Branson: If you have to make a fool of yourself, do it

Richard Branson's tips for success
Richard Branson's tips for success

Self-made billionaire Richard Branson is shameless.

"Be willing to use yourself to get out there and put the company on the market. If you have to make a fool of yourself, make a fool of yourself, but make sure that you end up on the front pages, not the back pages," Branson said. "In time, it's possible that your company will stand out from the crowd and you'll be successful."

Branson knows what he's talking about. He's an enthusiastic participant in publicity stunts. Once he lifted his kilt for the cameras, revealing the slogan "Stiff Competition" on his underwear, at a media event for Virgin Atlantic. Then there was the time he dressed in drag as a flight attendant after losing a bet on a Formula 1 race.

Richard Branson arrives at a news conference to announce the winner of his Virgin Galatic Sub-Orbital flight sponsored by Volvo during the the 2005 New York Auto Show, March 24, 2005.
Timothy A. Clary | AFP | Getty Images

His own lofty ambitions extend beyond his businesses. Branson used to attempt to break a record every year, but he has recently calmed down a bit.

"I had to write a new will every year, so it was quite a good time to reflect and make sure you've got your house in order," the billionaire businessman told CNBC a few years ago.

As paranoid as that sounds, it was close to necessary when Branson attempted ocean crossings by hot air balloon with Per Lindstrand. In their 1987 Atlantic Ocean crossing, they made three landing attempts. Lindstrand jumped out during the second attempt and was stranded in the sea for two hours, leaving Branson to pilot the balloon on his own.

"You never think you're not going to make it and you always think you're going to come home," Branson said as he reflected on his record-chasing past.

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Today, Branson's pioneering impulses are channeled into Virgin Galactic as he competes with Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos in the private space exploration industry. It's Branson's adventurous streak that motivates him to commercialize space travel, making it possible for civilians to see the final frontier.

But even the mischievous mogul says a good business venture needs substance and can't actually be sustained on flash alone.

"There's no point in starting a business unless you're going to make a dramatic difference to other people's lives. So if you've got an idea that's gonna make a big difference to other people's lives, then just get on and do it," he said.

Still, life and business are adventures for Branson, and should be treated as such.

"Have a blast. Have a lot of fun doing it."