Why Richard Branson Gave $400,000 to an 18-Year-Old
It was around 10 a.m. on June 13, 2011 when 18-year-old Stacey Ferreira needed a break. She and her brother, 20-year-old Scott, were busy building an online password storage portal out of their apartment in Los Angeles. Ferriera fired up her Twitter account and immediately noticed a tweet from Sir Richard Branson.
The British magnate and founder of the Virgin Group wrote that any of his followers willing to donate $2,000 to his favorite charity were welcome to attend a cocktail party with him in Miami and included a contact email at the end of the message.
Ferreira wasted no time. She e-mailed Branson, telling him that she wasn’t old enough to consume alcohol, but would still love to meet him. Hours later, she received a response. He wanted to meet her, too, as long as she could fly to Miami and donate $2,000.
The event was in just two days and without disposable income, the sister and brother secured a $4,000 loan from their parents with the promise of pay them back by the end of the summer. They boarded a plane less than 24 hours later.
Meeting a Tycoon
Nearing sundown on June 15, a dressed-up Ferriera and Scott walked into Branson’s party at the Versace mansion on Miami Beach. A bouncer ushered them into a room with 18 other people. When Branson entered, Ferreira jumped at the chance to chat with him.
“I was the first person to introduce myself; I told him that my name is Stacey, I am 18 years old and I have a business,” she remembers.
Ferreira and her brother explained their company, MySocialCloud.com. The site operates as a password storage space in the cloud where users can auto-login to every password-protected site they use. It also enables the sharing and organizing of bookmarks.
Branson was immediately intrigued.
“We ended up chatting the whole night,” she says. “He was genuinely interested in what we were doing and was the nicest person ever.”
The party extended to the following night at South Beach’s Raleigh Hotel. It was then that the siblings exchanged contact information with Branson and promised to keep in touch.
Ferreira and Scott returned to Los Angeles high on excitement. They dove into work and reached out to Branson frequently. In August, Branson put them in contact with Jerry Murdock, a Colorado-based founder of Insight Venture Partners. He then promised to match any investment Murdock made, penny for penny.
After several phone conversations, Murdock flew out to Los Angeles to meet the MySocialCloud.com team. As Ferreira says, he “grilled” them about plans for the future and the health of their business. At the end of the visit, Murdock invited Ferreira and her brother out to dinner.
“It was at dinner that he told us that he wanted to invest $400,000 into our business,” Ferreira says. “After the meal, we went back to the car, pinched ourselves and asked, is this real? How did this ever happen? We were stoked.”
Murdock and Branson’s investments came through in August, an amount that helped Ferreira and Scott move to into an office and hire employees.
Since then, Alex Welch, founder of Photobucket, has also invested—at Murdock’s recommendation.
Today, Ferreira, 19, and Scott, 21, run a nine-person team out of their Los Angeles offices and regularly keep in touch with Branson. When the company released its beta version in February, they notified him over email. Two days later, he walked through their door.
“We weren’t expecting him to come; we didn’t even have a party,” Ferreira says. “But he was passing through L.A. and stopped by to say hello. It was great.”
The team plans to officially launch by the end of the summer. Regardless of how big they get, though, they plan to stay close with Branson.
Ferreira says, “We used to watch our grammar when we would e-mail him, but now we can send casual one- or two-liners.”
Advice for Teenage Entrepreneurs
Teenage entrepreneurs: have faith. Ferreira recommends asking people for help while you are building your business. She networks through Twitter and then transitions her contacts into Google chat conversations.
And never give up.
“No matter what people say, just go for it,” she says. “So many people told us that we were too young to succeed. If we had listened to them, we wouldn’t be where we are today.”
Katie Morell is an independent writer and editor based in San Francisco specializing in business, travel and human interest topics. Her work has appeared in USA TODAY, Hemispheres, The Writer, Destination Weddings & Honeymoons, Chicago Tribune, Chicago Sun-Times and many others.
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