Billionaire Richard Branson relied on the ‘Mum test.’ You should, too

Richard Branson and his mother, Eve Branson, attend the AltaMed Power Up, We Are The Future Gala at the Beverly Wilshire Four Seasons Hotel on May 12, 2016
Michael Kovac | Getty Images
Richard Branson and his mother, Eve Branson, attend the AltaMed Power Up, We Are The Future Gala at the Beverly Wilshire Four Seasons Hotel on May 12, 2016

There's never been a better time to be an entrepreneur, according to Richard Branson. Thanks to crowdfunding and the feedback it provides, it's never been easier to secure the most important thing all business leaders need: proof their hunches are right.

Crowdfunding, according to Branson in a recent blog post, is more than a way to secure seed money or create brand awareness. It's a way to validate an idea.

"It helps you to create a tribe of customers, ambassadors and superfans. It brings market validation," says Branson, "and real time feedback."

"Crowdfunding is so much more than just raising money," he writes.

Crowdfunding is a large scale version of a method the Virgin Group often used himself: 'the mum test." Branson advises young entrepreneurs and leaders to pitch their ideas to someone close to them, someone who wants them to succeed. Ask for their honest thoughts, he says, and then gauge that person's reaction.

"If your friends and family can't summon enthusiasm for your idea, it's unlikely that the average person on the street will feel any differently."

Technically, the first ever Virgin Atlantic flight was crowdfunded more than 30 years ago. Branson's domestic flight from Puerto Rico to the British Virgin Islands was canceled when the airline decided there weren't enough passengers booked on the flight.

"I borrowed a blackboard and write "Virgin Airlines" on top and "$39 one way to BVI" underneath. I went round all the passengers who were on the cancelled flight and managed to club enough together to hire my first plane. So Virgin Atlantic was born."

Though modern crowdfunding leverages social networks and new technologies — its basic appeal remains the same: anyone can test out ideas and hunches quickly and efficiently among friends, tweaking their concepts as needed.

Branson says that too many people are afraid to share their ideas, thinking they'll be stolen. He thinks that's a mistake. "Even if someone was to use your idea, it's highly unlikely they will execute it in the same way you will — no two entrepreneurs are the same."

He suggests that innovators, leaders and entrepreneurs share their ideas with as many different people as possible. "Feedback from potential customers and your peers is invaluable when you're proving your business idea. And if you bring your fellow entrepreneurs and potential customers along on the journey, they will be much more likely to support once you do turn your idea into a reality."

If someone does manage to borrow your idea, Branson says to take that as a good sign. "Just don't stand there and let them get away with it — do it better than them!"

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