Richard Branson has achieved remarkable success taking the Virgin brand into industries "out of frustration" with existing record, airline, and telecommunication companies and the like. He looks for "obvious gaps in the market" and launches products or services that are "heads above everyone else." To continue to succeed (in industries that don't "get killed by a technological change") he says "the way you survive is to be much more creative than your rivals".
When pushed, Branson described the Virgin Cola example:
"Virgin Cola was our greatest success in that we were so successful in the UK that we absolutely terrified Coke. They sent a 747 with bag loads of money and 20 SWAT teams to the UK and we suddenly found it disappearing from all the shelves. They decided just to stop the company completely before we could get going out around the world. Because you've got two cans of soft drink, although people at the time preferred the Virgin brand of cola – we were outselling them and Pepsi at 3:1 – we didn't have a fundamentally better product. When British Airways tried to do that to us in the aviation business, we were able to beat them. We were not in soft drinks."
It's one of Branson's main themes. As he said in a recent graduation speech, "We always enter markets where the leaders are not doing a great job, so we can go in and disrupt them by offering better quality services." Now he's so tired of waiting for NASA that he's launching his own space travel program. This is definitely a man who reaches for the stars over and over again.
At the same time, anyone in the main conference room when Branson spoke at C2-MTL this past week had to have been struck by how he and the audience engaged. His Q&A time with the audience turned into a series of extraordinarily inspiring conversations as he wanted to understand the questioners context, hopes, and ideas. He was genuinely curious and offered genuinely helpful advice to each individual. We all walked out thinking he deserved all the success he has had and looking forward to the contributions we know he's going to continue to make to the world through "The Elders" and all the other great programs he's enabling.
The holy grail of innovation is the Eureka moment – the sudden breakthrough. Those moments don't happen in vacuums. They have preludes and second acts. So prepare in advance, focus on solving problems, and follow through. Follow this link to read the overview article on Forbes.com. Or follow this link to read about "The Virgin Way".