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Richard Branson on Self-Awareness for Leadership Growth

All sorts of people find success as entrepreneurs, in every profession and area of life.

Richard Branson

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Q: What are the key personal characteristics that go hand-in-hand with business success? — Titto Mbuvi

All sorts of people find success as entrepreneurs, in every profession and area of life. What many have in common is that they’re ready to try and fail while they are figuring out which of their ideas will work, and so perseverance and courage are an entrepreneur’s best assets, as I’ve mentioned in previous columns.

A characteristic that I’d like to add to that list is self-awareness, because it can speed up that learning process and help you along the way.

Like most other companies, we at the Virgin Group have experienced a number of failures along with our successes – it is so easy to get things wrong. After you’ve launched one or more businesses that take off and start growing, it’s tempting to think that you know what you’re doing. Then, after you’ve started up another new venture, seemingly along the same model, you find to your astonishment that it’s about to fold.

This is what happened when we launched Virgin Cola in 1994. We started out with so much ambition, and we had a real impact: Our new business shook Coca-Cola to the core. We heard later that every meeting the top executives had for nine months was dominated by the words “Virgin Cola.”

But as time went on, we realised that we’d failed to adhere to our own rules. Virgin specialises in shaking up industries where consumers are getting a raw deal, but there was no great dissatisfaction with Coca-Cola, Pepsi or the other soft drink brands at the time. Why would customers want to switch to Virgin Cola? After all, we weren’t offering them anything that was radically different or much better value, and so the business was a financial failure.

With Virgin Cola, we were so intent on repeating our model that led to previous successes that we didn’t notice the problems with our idea. But we always learn from our failures, which makes us better at being self-aware – as has answering all the questions over the years about Virgin’s going into new industries.

I’ve found that knowing your business and yourself can also help you to know when to follow your instincts, so you can find the courage to move ahead and ignore the advice of naysayers. When we launched Virgin Atlantic in 1984, many people doubted us, assuming that we wouldn’t know how to run an airline since we had no experience in the industry – at that time we were known for our music label, Virgin Records.

We hired experienced aviation experts for help with logistics, but as we’d suspected, our lack of experience in the business turned out to be an asset.

My team followed me despite these very logical criticisms, not just because it was obvious that the industry needed change, but because we knew our strengths: We knew how to entertain people, and how to find out what amused them.

This wasn’t anything the other airlines were doing, and so we were able to offer something new: a fun, entertaining experience at 35 000 feet.

Self-awareness can also help you to persevere as you carry out your plan. When we launched our passenger rail service, Virgin Trains, in 1997, we were new to an industry again, but we had a bold vision: Our high-speed tilting trains would be fitted with comfortable new airline-style seats and we would offer great services like good food and Wi-Fi.

It took years to build and bring in the new trains and prepare the rail system for the new technologies, and so we had to use old train cars and the outdated system for a long time. But we knew who we were and how we wanted our new rail business to work, and that helped our people to weather the criticism along the way.

With the new trains and refurbished tracks, we have been able to double the number of passengers we carry, from 14 million to 31 million per year, and speed up journey times.

How are the people on your team, with their particular skills and talents, shaping your company and making it different from others? What’s special about your product or service? How is your company helping your community and environment?

If you’re an entrepreneur or business leader and don’t have the answers to these questions at the ready, it’s time to meet with your team outside the office. Throw a barbecue or dinner, and start up a conversation about what you have done so far and what you want to do.

While the answers will change over time, talking about this now will help all of you to get a sense of where you’re going and what you’ve built so far, helping to prepare you for the next bumps you encounter. And what could be better than having dinner and drinks with your team, reflecting on all you’ve accomplished and what comes next?

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Richard Branson is the founder of the Virgin Group and companies such as Virgin Atlantic, Virgin America, Virgin Mobile and Virgin Active. He is the author of "Business Stripped Bare: Adventures of a Global Entrepreneur."

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1 Comment

1 Comment

  1. GlennPWallis

    Jun 11, 2013 at 08:28

    I have been a long-time admirer of Virgin and the Branson brand too.

    In the early days of crashing examples of publicity stunts with Sir Richard centre stage, I felt, purely as a punter, that it showed a lack of self-awareness. But like many great leaders the style has softened over time, the empathy for others seems to have grown and as a result the self-awareness appears to have increased dramatically. Whilst still not publicity shy (!!) Sir Richard seems more at ease with himself. This is a great example that reinforces the fact that EQ – of which self-awareness is central – is learnable and can be improved.

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4 Common Myths About Leadership That Can Hold You Back

Alignment with your values and belief systems is the foundation of becoming an effective leader.

Malachi Thompson

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To be a great leader in today’s world, being a brilliant knowledge expert or technician is no longer enough. Even harder is trying to learn the golden rules of the wrong and right ways to be a great leader. The amount of content spouted in countless books and resources is overwhelming let alone confusing.

To be unstoppable leaders for our businesses and our people, tuning out from the noise and distractions potentially misguiding us is pertinent now more than ever. Pay attention to any presence of these four myths and make guiding your people a more soul-enriching journey that they and you will want to continue well past your leadership term’s end.

Myth 1: Great leaders are highly ranked individuals

Richard Branson proves a classic example of how great leaders can get to the top without having ivy-league school connections and astounding qualifications. Having had enough of struggling at school, Branson dropped out of the highly reputed Stowe boarding school at the age of 16 to start a magazine called Student. The first publication sold $8000 worth of advertising. We all know the Virgin story from there on. Then there are the likes of Rachael Ray, food industry personality whose empire has amassed a $60M fortune without her having any culinary qualifications whatsoever.

There’s a common entrepreneurial DNA that runs through the veins of such leaders. An avant-garde vision, tenacity and patience seem to be common underlying themes for many. For others, it’s about making sacrifices and taking risks that could cost their life to serve a cause extending far beyond serving their own needs.

Related: 22 Qualities That Make A Great Leader

By publicly speaking out against the Pakistan Taliban’s extremist rulings, one of which of was to prevent females from accessing education, Malala Yousafzai became a target. At 15 years of age, a masked gunman boarded her school bus and shot her in the head. She survived and many months of rehabilitation spurred her determination to fight for every girl to have the opportunity to attend school. The work she achieved through establishing the Malala Fund with the undying support of her father, earned her the Nobel Peace Prize in December of 2014.

Whether from desperation or a happy place there is always the genesis of a passion driving a persistence to go against the grain and to continue the fight. Often there’s no formal training, qualification or certification in sight.

Myth 2: Following a certain checklist of behaviours will make you a great leader

The ‘fake it ‘til you make’ adage has become a common throw-away phrase consultants and coaches spout as a means to quickly build confidence. Following advice to merely emulate the behaviour of those you admire and respect can pose grave risks, especially when you become a leader by default as opposed to by your own audition. Smart teams can smell falsehood and copycats a mile away. Your integrity will often be scrutinised and your jury will constantly evaluate the values and principles you lead by. One foot wrong might end your leadership term just as quickly as it began and not necessarily by your team’s choosing.

Imagine being tasked with driving credit card sign-ups yet you yourself struggle to make repayments on your own overdraft. How long can you resist your inner conscience? You’ll feel the tug every time you invite a customer to sign up and at every request to your team to follow suit. At some point, you’ll be struggling to face yourself see in the mirror.

This article was originally posted here on Entrepreneur.com.

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9 Ways To Get Employees To Buy Into Your Vision

Your business is your dream come true, now it’s time to include your employees in your vision to drive future success.

Nicholas Bell

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Your vision statement is the foundation of your business. It is the baseline against which all strategic planning is assessed and the benchmark against which all results are measured. However, as important as it is to have a vision when it comes to business success, it is equally important to get your employees to buy into this vision to ensure that success.

Here are nine ways to get your employees to buy into your vision by making it their dream, as much as it is yours…

  1. It must be believable – Your company vision needs to be within the realms of possibility otherwise people just won’t believe in it. It must be steady, achievable and relevant.
  2. It must be inclusive – Employees need to see how they can play a part in achieving this vision to make it relatable and inclusive. If they don’t understand what the business does, they won’t care how well the business does.
  3. It must be reinforced – Talk about your vision all the time. Don’t assume everybody has read it or is familiar with it as new people may not have seen it and older people may have forgotten. Constant communication is critical to ensure everyone is, literally, on the same page.
  4. It must be transparent – Make sure your communication around your vision is open and clear. Talk about it with clients, with all staff members, at all meetings and keep on talking until everyone understands it. When a vision is tangible and accessible it is far more achievable than when it is ethereal and vague.
  5. It must be practical – Don’t make flamboyant statements that are almost impossible to achieve like, ‘We will be number one in X!’. Be practical. It doesn’t matter if you’re not number one, it does matter  that  your vision is practical.
  6. It must be shared – Connect people’s careers to the vision by creating opportunities for them. Show them how the work they do is tied back to the vision and the business. If the business is only about profit and customer, then employees often don’t see how they fit in or why they are important. Create opportunities for them and they will be inspired to achieve your vision.
  7. It must be people-centric – People make up the core of your business. It is bigger than just one person or one idea. So, give them something to aspire to with a realistic, practical and human company vision.
  8. It must have purpose – Embed your vision and its values into the way you do business. The way you treat your employees and your customers and the choices you make should all reflect your vision.  Take it beyond just ‘We want to make money’ and show how your vision positively affects your community and others.
  9. It must be visible – Put your vision on doors, in emails, on letterheads, in proposals. Show what you stand for at every opportunity. Employees need to feel that there is a cohesive plan for the future. This will not only drive engagement but it will keep them steadfast when times get tough – they believe in the ship too much for it to sink.

Related: 22 Qualities That Make A Great Leader

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What’s Your Number? How To Unpack Company Valuations

Business is booming. Investors want in. But how do you put a price on the value of the company you have built with your own hands?

Louw Barnardt

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Company valuations is such a hazy part of the scale-up journey of a private company. Putting a price tag on a business is both art and science. At the end of the day, the number that makes the headlines (if ever disclosed) will be where willing buyer and willing seller meet.

But how do you , as business owner,  go about setting your asking price? Before approaching investors, it’s a good exercise to determine your own valuation range for the business. Choosing the right valuation method is the first big question. The answer has many parts to it, but the most important driver is the stage of the business.

Let’s look at some of the most commonly accepted valuation methods in our market:

Earnings Multiple

Applicable stage: Established, profitable companies

Listed companies, institutional players and private equity investors normally invest in a company for its cash flow profit that can contribute to their portfolio income. More often than not, companies will be valued based on their current earnings (bottom line profit after tax).

This method can only be used for companies that consistently make a profit. A multiplier will be chosen based on the company’s perceived risk. Younger, more risky businesses will likely have lower multipliers (as low as 3 and 4) and high growth, well established, lower risk companies will get higher multipliers (8-15).

Sometimes small adjustments are made to current year earnings (like non-standard, non-repeating income statement items) after which the valuation is set at Earnings times multiplier equals company valuation.

Related: 7 Factors That Influence Start-up Valuations

Discounted Cash Flow (DCF)

Applicable stage: Post-revenue start-ups, growth companies and established businesses

The most commonly used method in practice, the DCF method argues that a company’s value is determined by the future cash flows that it will yield to investors.

The starting point is creating a five to ten year cash flow forecast for the business. This is no small feat. In order to create a full financial model – income statement, balance sheet and cash flow statement – for the next decade requires a lot of work, both from a strategic and technical perspective.

Investors love this model because if forces the owners to put a clear strategy and expansion plan for their business into numbers. It will include dozens if not hundreds of assumptions – all of which can be scrutinised for reasonability. The result of financial model will be five to ten years’ worth of projected cash flows. These amounts are then discounted to present value at a discount rate that reflects the company’s risk and expected cost of capital.

The sum of the discounted future cash flows plus a terminal value (that represents the value after the five or ten year period of the model) then represents the valuation of the company after some final small adjustments for things like existing debt in the business.

Revenue Multiples

A revenue multiple valuation approach is focused on the market for similar businesses and is underpinned by your company’s current turnover. It seeks out the sales price of other similar companies in the country or worldwide, adjusted for size, stage and market differences.

A company that sold for R100 million at a turnover of R50 million would have a two times revenue multiple (valuation/revenue). If the average revenue multiple for similar companies is in a certain range, this multiple is then slightly adjusted and applied to your business.

If the average sale in your industry has been two times revenue but you are growing much faster than the average with a better competitive advantage, you can argue that two and a half times revenue is a more applicable number for your business. Revenue multiples are often used as a reasonability check in the market for the current asking price.

Related: Why Start-ups Like Uber Stumble When They Scale

Other methods

Most established companies are valued using one or a combination of more than one of the above three methods. At start-up stage, there are a number of other methods like Cost to Replicate or the Scorecard Method that early stage investors look to. When a company is simply in too early stage to practically value it, seed stage investors would also consider SAFE Agreements (Simple Agreement for Future Equity) – an instrument that determines that the percentage of the company the investors are buying with their investment. This is only determined when the Series A round is raised at a future date and under certain conditions, generally at a discount to the price the series A investors are paying.

Company valuations are complex. Many of the above technical factors play a role. A lot of it also comes down to the salesmanship of the owners and the negotiating capabilities of the parties. In ‘How Yoco Successfully Secured Capital And The Importance Of A Pitch’, the Yoco team speak about the importance of the right approach in their recent R248 million fundraising

Don’t go into this process without seeking some kind of expert advice. The price of the wrong valuation is simply too high. Make your numbers and your arguments bulletproof and you will be on your way to defending a strong and exciting valuation for your next raise!

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