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Like a Virgin - Book summary

Business magnate Sir Richard Branson is well-known as a serial entrepreneur, investor, adventurer and philanthropist. In this book, Richard Branson compiles 76 short chapters to address common questions about starting and growing a business, managing people, and living life to the fullest. This free version of Like a Virgin summary outlines some of Branson’s advice tips and insights for business, leadership and leading a fulfilling life.

Business, Leadership & Management

Our complete 15-page Like a Virgin summary distills and organizes the key points from the book into these broad segments: Business Success Principles, Important Business Philosophies, People-management, Management & Communications, Customer Services & Branding, Failure, Innovation & Learning . Here are some highlights:

5 Business Success Principles

The Virgin Group has probably created the most number of billion-dollar companies in the most number of industries. Branson attributes his business success to 5 key secrets, which are expanded upon in various parts of our full summary:

i. Do what you enjoy. Building a business takes significant time and effort, and you should do something you enjoy. Focus on making a positive difference with your business, and success will follow.

ii. Dare to be different. The most successful businesses (e.g. Facebook, Google, Apple) establish themselves by being radically different, and innovating continually. Branson admires the late Steve Jobs for his commitment to think differently, and his tenacity to pursue his vision despite criticism and being ousted from his own company. To make a breakthrough, you must dare to do things differently.

iii. Instill a sense of pride. Your business is only as strong as your people; when people are proud to be a part of your company, they’re more committed to and passionate in their work.

iv. Be a good listener. To lead well, you need to listen and learn from others. Give praises generously, and hold back your criticisms and temper. Never openly criticize others, as it only reflects badly on you.

v. See and be seen. You can’t lead from behind a desk. Get out there, listen to people, take note of what works and doesn’t, and take action. If you run a big business, appoint leaders who adopt this philosophy.

In the book, Branson also shares some of his core business philosophies which have shaped how the Virgin Group functions, e.g. Nice guys can win too (there’s no need to be cut-throat and ruthless in business), Fun as a business ingredient (how Virgin goes beyond the 4Ps to build an edge using FUN), and Small is beautiful (which is why Virgin companies are almost never the biggest in their industries). Get a detailed overview of these ideas in our complete Like a Virgin summary.

People: The Soul of your Business

Businesses are made up of people; one of the key challenges is to find, energize, manage and retain great people, and give them the environment to thrive and contribute fully.

i. Your People = Your Key Assets. Most companies place shareholders first, customers second and employees last; Virgin prioritises them in the reverse order. A customer’s impression of your company is often formed through a single experience with one of your employees. Happy, motivated and well-trained staff are more likely to deliver happy customers, positive word-of-mouth, sales and profits for the shareholders.

ii. Building a creative workplace starts at the top, with the CEO and top management being approachable, showing an intrapreneurial spirit, learning and trying new ideas. You’ll need great leaders who listen to their people, and understand their teams’ strengths and weaknesses. Branson personally carries a notebook where he constantly jots down feedback and ideas for follow up.

iii. Intrapreneurship. An entrepreneur is someone who initiates and organizes new commercial enterprises, while an intrapreneur is an employee who has the freedom and support to create new products, services and systems, without following the company’s normal rules. Entrepreneurs get a company started, while intrapreneurs drive a company forward with ongoing innovations.
– The key to successful intrapreneurship is to unleash people to pursue their visions, so they feel like they’re building their own company, rather than simply working for you. Think of your staff as belongers and your CEO as the Chief Enabling Officer.
– Virgin companies are decentralized, and staff are encouraged to run the businesses as if they’re the owners. Many of Virgin’s businesses—e.g. Virgin Australia airline and Virgin Active health club—come from pitches from Virgin staff or external teams. Where the idea is sound and the management team is promising, Virgin puts its resources behind the ideas. Virgin also invites employees from Virgin businesses around the world to apply for projects, which brings people together, create bonds and deliver new solutions.

Our full Like a Virgin summary also covers Branson’s tips and ideas on Management & Communications (e.g. what it means to be a leader vs a boss, balancing digital comms with face-to-face interactions), Customer Service & Branding (e.g. what it means to build a brand and brand awareness, how customer service can be a competitive advantage), and Innovation & Learning (e.g. how the Virgin Group evaluates whether to take up a business opportunity, Branson’s views on risks and failures).

Entrepreneurship: Starting & Growing a Business

Branson sees entrepreneurship as a force for change, and believes businesses can shape the world for the better. That’s why Virgin will only enter businesses where they can shake up the industry and add tremendous value to customers. Many of our planet’s problems can also be creatively solved by businesses, such as renewable energy, clean water, and sustainable food sources.

In the book, Branson shares about Virgin’s airline, music and finance businesses, as well as their forays into deep-sea exploration, space-travel, etc.  He also shares his views on topics like how to win the war on drugs, kick-start the economy etc. You can get a detailed overview on all these from our full 15-page summary.

In the meantime, let’s zoom in on a couple of ideas and tips about launching your business.

Launching your Business

Branson recommends that you start small and allow your business to grow organically.

• If you’re new to business, start with a simple idea that can be brought to life by an individual. Test our your business acumen and skills over the weekends or evenings, but keep your job until you’re sure your business can work.

• The early stages of business growth will forge the company’s culture naturally. For Virgin, the founders’ desire for fun and inclusion shaped some of the core elements of the business, purely by accident rather than design. Grow at a pace you’re comfortable with, and allow your people to evolve with you.

• Branson shares 4 important tips to remember for your business launch: Stay on target, get realistic costs estimates, hire right, and step down when it’s time. Our complete summary goes into more detail on these.

Raising Fund for your Business

If you’re looking to raise funds for your business, Branson suggests that you consider borrowing from family/ friends, and/or applying for bank loads (based on your business idea or with your assets as collateral)–these give you more flexibility to grow the business.

However, if you’ve decided to seek external investors, Branson believes the best investors are those who’ll take a minority stake (in return for capital and support), and give you the time and space to build a great business. Here are several tips on how to prepare for your pitch
Like a Virgin Book Summary_raising funds
• Start by putting yourself in the investors’ shoes: find out if they’ve made similar investments before, how much they know about your industry, and tailor your presentation accordingly.
Use the KISS principle (Keep it Simple, Stupid): Present a clear, succinct plan that the investors can understand and share with others. Identify the top 3 points that you want them to remember: What makes your product/service unique? How will it improve your customers’ lives? Why would people pay for it?
• Prepare in detail. Check your statistics, claims, competitors’ information and know them by heart. Be ready to defend your arguments, claims and assumptions. Rehearse, get people to ask tough questions, and refine your presentation.
• During the presentation, ask questions, listen carefully and take notes, paying careful attention to the audience’s reactions. Even if your proposal is rejected, ask for feedback, so you can learn and improve for your next pitch.  Do check out our complete Like a Virgin summary to get the details on the 5 points to incorporate into your presentation.

Success & Time-Management

Success is about doing what you enjoy and developing your skills and talents. Get a good mentor, and always do what truly matters to you. Our 15-page summary also shares Branson’s tips and ideas on success, time-management and work-life balance.

Getting the Most from Like a Virgin

The chapters in the book are like short blog articles, addressing various topics. We have distilled and organized the tips into the 3 main segments above our in complete book summary bundle which includes an infographic, a 15-page text summary, and a 27-minute audio summary.Like a Virgin summary - book summary bundle

Besides the highlights in this summary, the book includes:
Interesting examples of Virgin and Branson’s experiences, including his forays into space travel, deep-sea exploration, and his views on charitable causes like fighting famine and climate change;
Q&A snippets about Branson’s work and personal life, as well as trivia and fun facts (e.g. why he named his company Virgin and why Virgin Blue planes were painted red);
Other tips and perspectives on disaster recovery planning, office relations, common start-up mistakes, how to kick-start the economy etc.

You can purchase the book here for more details.

Want to learn more about business and entrepreneurship? Do also check out our summaries of The Hard Things about Hard Things and Shoe Dog (about the Nike journey).

About the Author of Like a Virgin

Like a Virgin: Secrets They Won’t Teach You at Business School is written by Sir Richard Bransonan English business magnate, investor and philanthropist. He founded the Virgin Group, which controls more than 400 companies. He started his first business venture—the Student magazine—at the age of sixteen. This was followed by a mail-order record business in 1970 and a chain of record stores (Virgin Records, later known as Virgin Megastores) in 1972.

Branson’s Virgin brand grew rapidly during the 1980s, as he set up Virgin Atlantic airline and expanded the Virgin Records music label. In March 2000, Branson was knighted at Buckingham Palace for “services to entrepreneurship”. He has become a prominent figure for his work in retail, music and transport (with interests in land, air, sea and space travel), his taste for adventure, and his humanitarian work. In 2002, he was named in the BBC’s poll of the 100 Greatest Britons. In January 2016, Forbes listed Branson’s estimated net worth at $5.2 billion.

Like a Virgin Quotes

“Good people are not just crucial to a business, they are the business!”

“The brave may not live forever—but the cautious do not live at all!”

“Small, lean entrepreneurial companies are the future of business.”

“Success in business is best measured by whether or not you have created something of which you can be truly proud—and whether or not you’ve made a real difference for others.”

“An entrepreneur does not succeed alone.”

“Remember, the shorter your pitch, the clearer it will be.”

“There is always opportunity in times of change.”

“Getting the jump on trends requires taking risks and having the confidence to go with your gut.”

“When it comes to helping a customer, the chain of assistance is only as strong as its weakest link.”

Click here to download Like a Virgin book summary and infographic

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