The Definitive Guide to Business

Richard Branson put together his first business plan at 15 years old and it's surprisingly solid

Richard Branson
Photo by Hulton Deutsch

The multi-billionaire iconic entrepreneur Richard Branson, now 67 years old, began his career more than 50 years ago. He started his first venture, a student magazine, at 15 years old, and he just revealed his original business plan.

He was "disgruntled with the archaic school practices of the day," Branson writes in a blog post. His headmaster at the time suggested that Branson take his frustrations to the school magazine. But the young entrepreneur didn't want to be bound by that publication's rigid standards.

"We wanted to campaign against corporal punishment, compulsory chapel, games and Latin," Branson says.

"All these ideas were far too 'revolutionary' to be aired in the school magazine, The Stoic, a name which seemed only too apt to its long-suffering readers. We then thought about linking up with other schools that had similar rules. Gradually the idea of an inter-school publication, Student magazine, was hatched."

The entrepreneur met with students from other schools, talked about ideas and recorded everything in a notebook. Branson is a huge proponent of writing down your ideas when they come to you so you don't forget.

Then, Branson wrote down the names of 250 members of parliament he would like to be in touch with for the magazine, as well as a list of potential advertisers he found by flipping through the phone book. He contacted British retailer WHSmith to see if it would sell the finished product.

"Thus, with contributors, advertisers, distributors and costs all in place — at least on paper — I had written my first business plan," says Branson.

That was enough to get him going.

"It's amazing how your ideas can take flight, so long as your write them down and share them with others. And as you can see from my story, a business plan doesn't have to be a lengthy, well-thought-out proposal — it can be as simple as some notes in a notebook, or a scribble on the back of an envelope."

Branson's message is that you don't need to wait to have a formal, perfected business plan to get started. That idea has been championed by other billionaire entrepreneurs, like Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg and LinkedIn co-founder Reid Hoffman.

"If I had to understand everything about connecting people before I began, I never would have started Facebook," Zuckerberg said in his commencement speech to Harvard graduates this spring.

Zuckerberg was a teen hacker and he carried that mentality into launching Facebook.

According to Hoffman, that is why Zuckerberg is so successful.

"He has no qualms about rushing out an imperfect product. In fact, his famous mantra is 'move fast and break things,'" says Hoffman about Zuckerberg on his podcast, "Masters of Scale." "If you are Steve Jobs, you can wait for your product to be perfect, but there are almost no Steve Jobs in the world."

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