Leadership

Richard Branson funded his first business at 16 for less than $2,000

Sir Richard Branson
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Sir Richard Branson

If you think you need big bucks to get your business started, think again. A lack of funds didn't stop a teenage Richard Branson from his first venture — and he says it shouldn't deter you either.

The Virgin Group founder receives pitches from entrepreneurs on a daily basis, he writes in a recent blog post. Most share a common line: "I need x amount of money to get started."

This sort of thinking is a mistake, says Branson. "There's no doubt it can be easier to achieve lofty ambitions if you already have financial backing," he writes, "but in many cases you don't need lots of money to start a business."

He uses himself as an example. Branson, dyslexic, dropped out of school as a teenager. He has said he was considered, "the dumbest person at school."

At this time, Branson hatched Student Magazine, his first business. Branson saw the youth magazines of the day as boring, saying that his ideas were "too 'revolutionary' to be aired in the school magazine." His interschool publication, launched in 1966, was an alternative with attitude. It covered Branson's passions, such as music and the Vietnam war.

His business plan was simple — just a list of names, potential advertisers and costs that he jotted down in a school notebook. The magazine was run out his co-founder's parents' dingy basement. "I was just 16 years old when I founded the magazine, and had no money to put toward it," writes Branson.

As fate would have it, Branson's mother found a necklace on the ground near their home and gave it to the police. After months without anyone stepping forward to claim the jewelry, the police returned the necklace to her. His mother sold the necklace for £100 and offered it to her son. (£100, by some calculations, has the purchasing power of around £1,500 in today's money or just more than $1,900 USD).

The two business partners used the money to pay off their magazine's electricity and postage bills. "Without it, the business would have collapsed," Branson writes.

The magazine — and the lessons it taught Branson — helped kickstart Branson's business empire. A few years later, Branson would found a mail-order record business which would later become Virgin Records. Branson eventually expanded the Virgin brand to encompass airlines, a music label and even space travel.

"That £100 ended up paving the way for Virgin Galactic, Atlantic and all the other Virgin companies around the world today," writes Branson.

Branson reminds new business owners that the digital era has made it cheaper than ever for anyone to become an entrepreneur. He says technology has "dramatically" brought down the cost of selling products and services online and much can be done right from the comfort of your own home.

"Rather than commit to pricey premises you can set up online with no technical expertise using a website builder, and start selling from your kitchen table," says the billionaire.

Even funding is easier, he writes. "Raising finance to start a business from a bank has gained a reputation for being difficult, but today you can bypass this altogether with schemes that are dedicated to helping entrepreneurs launch, such as crowdfunding or Start Up Loans."

"We didn't need lots of money to start our first business and that's even truer today than it was back then."

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