Richard Branson on start-up success, Trump and the time he drove a tank into Times Square

Advice from Richard Branson
Advice from Richard Branson

CNBC interviewed legendary entrepreneur Richard Branson following an earlier panel discussion at DS Virgin Racing's Innovation Summit in Brooklyn, New York. The Summit was held in advance of the inaugural New York City ePrix event, a fully electric, single-seater auto race. Branson spoke about start-ups, sustainability and some of his signature shenanigans.

CNBC: You're very proud that you have three Brits participating in the [ePrix] race this weekend … from your vantage point across the pond what are the policy missteps you see taking place in America?

Branson: I think there is a big difference between Americans and the Trump administration. America is full of brilliant people with brilliant minds who want to do the right thing. The sad thing is that some of the things coming out of the Trump administration seem to be anything but that. Since today we are talking about climate change, it was America first and our beautiful globe last … it is incredibly sad.

Americans are stepping into the breach, cities are stepping into the breach, and businesses are stepping into the breach and are going to do everything they can to keep America on track to deliver on the climate change pledges that were made in Paris.

Sir Richard Branson speaking at the Innovation Summit in Brooklyn, New York on July 14, 2017.
Adam Jeffery | CNBC

CNBC : You get asked a lot of questions, what's the one question no one ever asks you that you always ask yourself?

Branson : I would love to invent a pill ... that would [bring us back] to 21 or 22.

CNBC : The line between success and failure is very thin … what do entrepreneurs need to do to stay on the right side of that divided line?

Branson: As long as you've come up with an entrepreneurial idea that is going to improve other people's lives, then obviously it would be great if it was successful, but if it fails you know you've done the right thing and you've done it for the right reasons.

If it is going to dramatically improve other people's lives it is going to be successful, but if it happens to fail, pick yourself up and keep going until you're successful. Some of the greatest entrepreneurs have had slip-ups along the way … if you are going to create a lot of things in life not everything is going to be successful.

CNBC: What is your biggest money mistake?

Richard Branson (L), chairman of Virgin, waves as he rides a tank into New York's Times Square to promote the United States launch of Virgin Cola, May 12. Virgin Cola was introduced in the United Kingdom in 1994, and is also available in several other European countries.

Branson: I have had a number of failures, I once drove a tank into Times Square — before 9/11 that is — and we'd 'pyrotechnics up' the Coca-Cola sign the night before without telling anybody … the tank sort of went onto the sign … it looked like the whole thing blew up when we fired the tank and the police didn't look too happy. Coke got their own back on us … they were bigger than us and they crushed us ... we learned our lesson on that one.

After Virgin Cola began outselling both Pepsi and Coke in Britain, Branson wanted a bold introduction for his product in the U.S. The Virgin team had Branson driving a tank through Times Square, running over three tons of stacked Coca-Cola cans and pretending to fire a gun at the Coca-Cola sign, which had been wired with explosives the night before to make it look like it had actually blown up.