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Starting a business is like raising children: Richard Branson

Virgin founder Richard Branson, the father and entrepreneur – then and now. (Source: Virgin/Getty)

British business magnate Richard Branson is the founder of Virgin Group, which owns 400 companies; so 69-year-old knows a thing or two about running a business.

But it’s not the most difficult – or the most fulfilling – thing he’s done.

“If you think running a business can be tough, try bringing up children – and having grandchildren,” he wrote in a new post on the Virgin website.

“However difficult it may be though, I’ve realised over the years that raising children is one of the few things even more rewarding than building a company,” he said.

Branson – the father of two and grandfather to five – likened starting a business to having a baby.

“You have to do a huge amount of planning before the big day arrives, but no matter how prepared you are, something unexpected will inevitably happen,” sharing anecdotes of mishaps that happened at the birth of his daughter Holly and at the launch of Virgin Trains in Miami Central.

Both businesses and babies take up all of your time in the beginning, he added. “You have to pick up new skills on the fly. Getting out there and trying fresh tasks is the best way to learn.

“In the same way you won’t know how to change a nappy until you do it, you won’t know how to sell advertising until you give it a go,” he said.

And with five grandchildren and hundreds of Virgin companies under his belt, Branson has learnt a thing or two about the art of delegation – and sleep deprivation.

As he recalls telling a lady at an entrepreneurs meeting years ago in Lima, Peru, delegation will help you take back control, as well as get a look at the bigger picture.

“If you are not having fun as an entrepreneur, you should probably try a different idea,” he said.

“While running a business is very hard work, you need to take time out to stand back and enjoy what you have created. This space also gives you a chance to look at the bigger picture and plan your next move.”

And at some stage, you’ll have to take the foot off the pedal and let others take the wheel.

“As your children grow up, you have to give them the freedom to make mistakes and learn lessons for themselves. Through this, they will find their own path in life and go on to thrive,” Branson wrote, reflecting that his daughter Holly became a doctor before joining the Virgin group and his son Sam created his own production company.

In a similar vein, Branson says he still keeps an eye on the Virgin businesses, “but often from a distance so the CEOs and leadership teams have the space to do their jobs and build their teams”.

“They make their own decisions, learn from their errors and celebrate their successes. I try to offer advice and support, without stifling or micro-managing. Over the years, I’ve learnt first-hand that this really is the best approach to ensure a new business comes into its own.”

And the ultimate lesson is: expect the unexpected.

“As a parent, ‘grand-dude’ or an entrepreneur, you can never guess what is coming next, which is all part of the excitement,” he said, adding that anything you think can happen probably will – even what you thought was impossible.

“Embrace it all as a pleasure and privilege – even the nappies!”

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