Kaspars Purmalis of Lativia asked several questions, all about motivation. This column is for him and others who share his interest.
Q: What was your childhood dream profession?
A: When I was young, I excelled at sports and always dreamed of becoming a professional sportsman. Unfortunately, at the age of 11, I damaged my knee so badly that the doctor said I would not be able to play for a very long time. I was devastated!
Sidelined from sports, I spent a lot of time following news of the world's issues and hoped to go into journalism. I didn't quite make it into the world of journalism, although I did start running my very own student magazine at the age of 15. I funded it by selling advertising up front, from the school phone booth.
As a boy I also had an interest in space exploration. The Apollo 11 landing on the moon in 1969 really sparked a desire to become a spaceman. Thanks to the genius of Burt Rutan, the extraordinary aircraft designer who has worked with me on a vehicle to take civilians into space, I will get the chance to be a spaceman after all!
Q: At what age did you realize you made a success of your first business?
A: When the student magazine started to get checks from companies for advertising. That was a sign that we had a real magazine. It was tough going, but we had a good run for a number of years.
When I was 20, some friends and I started Virgin as a small mail-order company. Then we opened record shops and a recording studio. We discovered Mike Oldfield and released "Tubular Bells." From then on, the rest is history!
Q: When did you realize that you had an interest in business?
A: In the 1960s people assumed that if you were not doing well in school, you were doomed to failure. I wanted to prove them wrong. From an early age, I developed an appetite for creating things as a way to compensate for lack of traditional academic success.
At 15 I began to think about all the things I was not happy with at school – and in the world. After a discussion, the headmaster at Stowe School suggested I air my views through the school magazine. I was never fond of the magazine that existed. Together with a friend, Jonny, who was far more worldly and knowledgeable than I, I decided to start our own national student magazine and make a splash. The idea was to promote our views and those of other young people. In truth, the business side came second.
Q: Before Virgin and the student magazine, were there other businesses that you attempted to start?
A: The first company I attempted was a Christmas tree company. My friend and I planted 400 seeds. We planned to sell trees for two pounds a tree and make 800 pounds; unfortunately, rabbits got to the seedlings before they had grown even an inch. We were wiped out!
After that I tried a budgerigar farm. To be honest, my plan to sell the small Australian parrots didn't make any money either. But the two failed attempts gave me experience and a hunger to carry on and try to succeed in business. Afterward my friend and I began the student magazine, believing, at 15, that we could change the world!
Q: What criteria do you use to evaluate your budding business partners? What qualities do you look for in them?
A: I look for people who have a passion for life and a passion for what they do. I enjoy working with like-minded people who aren't afraid of risks and will always take on the established "big boys." Within the organization, we have a great mix of entrepreneurs and managers. In business the picture is constantly changing, so I prefer people who enjoy thinking imaginatively and who are constantly creative and inspiring.
Questions from readers will be answered in future columns. Please send them to BransonQuestions@Entrepreneur.com. Please include your name and country in your question.
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