Jun 122012

Business Stripped Bare: Adventures of a Global Entrepreneur by Richard Branson  

This is the second time I have listened to Sir Richard Branson’s book, but the first time I have reviewed it. Richard Branson is a fascinating entrepreneur. Struggling in school, he started a newspaper for students. It quickly grew in popularity to the point he received an offer to sell it. He immediately turned that money into the music business, reselling vinyl albums by mail cheaper than the corner shops. The next logical step was to create a recording studio and begin promoting bands. From there, things continued to grow and grow. The result of his willingness to strike out into areas he knew nothing about became known as the Virgin group of brands.

Business Stripped Bare is a look at Branson’s business philosophy and brand genius. He shares the story of how he built the brand and why he feels it is successful. He is brash, challenging, energetic and doesn’t subscribe to stuffiness on any scale. He believes in keeping businesses as small as possible (100 employees where possible), empowering employees to make decisions and energizing them around the brand.

The Virgin Group is one of the largest privately held companies in the world and this inside look at how they approach business is fascinating to me. Branson’s easy-going, chatty-style of writing is engaging. He provides story after story demonstrating his core beliefs on building a business. More than most business books, I found the advice useful and entertaining. While not a step-by-step manual, he covers the more intangible aspects of success, such as keeping employees engaged, dreaming big, where to never compromise, how to recognize and capitalize on opportunity and how to learn from mistakes.

There are few global business leaders I would like to meet. Branson is one whom I would. Judging from his writing style, I think I would l even be comfortable talking with him. Perhaps this book is ghost written, but the style matches what I have read about him in the news. He seems like a normal guy who made it big. He isn’t afraid to let it all hang out on the line in promotion of the company, even if it means bungee jumping from a helicopter or showing up naked to a product release. He does things on his terms and no one else’s. He believes in his people and is relentless in the pursuit of of perfection for the customer service and safety.

One thing I took away from his book is the importance of constant observation. He carries a notebook with him everywhere he goes and writes down every observation. Everything from worn carpet on a plane, salt shakers on trains to ideas for improving cell phone offerings go into the book for review and implementation. He prides on Virgin’s ability to rapidly adapt and execute change quickly to meet customer needs and expectations. I believe they are richly rewarded for this attention to detail. There is a lot to be learned from his approach.

Business Stripped Bare: Adventures of a Global Entrepreneur is a book every entrepreneur should read and reread. I believe his advice to be sound and immediately adaptable to any size business. I am attempting to implement as much as possible within my own company, even though it is far from entrepreneurial. Of course, I also try to apply it to the virgin brand of my own. If I have even a half a grain as much success as he has, I’ll be satisfied.

Jan 242012

The Intelligent Entrepreneur: How Three Harvard Business School Graduates Learned the 10 Rules of Successful Entrepreneurship by Bill Murphy  

For the college entrepreneur, being accepted to the the Harvard or Stanford Business Schools is the Holy Grail of Opportunity. Each year, thousands apply and only a few are accepted into these elite programs. The graduates are assured lucrative job offers and contacts for which others would kill. This book follows three HBS graduates who chose another popular route, entrepreneurship. These three turned down the six figure salaries for the opportunity of making something big on their own.

I picked up this book in the hopes of gleaning some information to feed my desire of someday having my own company. What I came away with was unexpected discouragement. I am sure this wasn’t what the author went for, but after tracing the route of these three Harvard graduates, I got the distinct impression a) I could only make it if I attended the Harvard Business School and b) if I didn’t create a multimillion dollar company in three years, I wouldn’t be a successful entrepreneur. The stories were interesting, the advice pertinent, but the loftiness unattainable.

The three chosen subjects each started Internet companies: The Ladders, Military.com and Bluemercury (an online cosmetics retailer). Each were successful through the tenacity and strength of their founders. Each survived through their contacts made at HBS. In fact, one of the lessons I learned from the book, intentional or not, is the value of high-powered contacts, both for advice and cash. It is discouraging to anyone who hasn’t gone to the elite schools to ever hope of meeting these kinds of players.

The chronicle of their respective business startups was very educational and interesting. The book is very engaging, the stories very well written. It is obvious Murphy is a reporter. His style and experience shows through – I cared about their problems and successes. I cheered inwardly as Marla made the shift from sinking online retailer to successful brick-and-mortar boutique. I applaud the success they achieved and grumbled at the poor people management decisions and bad behaviors.

I came away from the book with a fresh look at the hyper-charged life of the successful big entrepreneur, with multimillion dollar investments and even larger payoffs. What I didn’t find was much value for the small entrepreneur. It felt that the message was “if you want to be successful, you better go to Harvard or Stanford”. That just isn’t an option for me, so I was left wondering if I had any business even considering starting my own business. That wasn’t what I was hoping to find.