Since Richard Branson started his first business in 1966, it’s safe to say the mogul has launched close to 100 companies (if not more) under his Virgin brand. Virgin has plastered its name on everything from airlines to wine clubs to underwear.It’s not surprising that he would have a few failures under his belt. And given the over-the-top way that Richard Branson does business, it’s also not surprising that some of them are pretty spectacular.
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In fact, Branson has lost count of the number of times he has been told that one of his ventures was a goner. Many times he would try to save the business by coming at the problem from a different angle, he wrote in an American Express Open Forum blog post, but some ideas can’t be saved.
It is those times, Branson has said, recognising mistakes and recovering are essential skills for an entrepreneur:
My mother drummed into me from an early age that I should not spend much time regretting the past. I try to bring that discipline to my business career. Over the years, my team and I have not let mistakes, failures or mishaps get us down. Instead, even when a venture has failed, we try to look for opportunities, to see whether we can capitalise on another gap in the market.
After all, “Business opportunities are like buses, there’s always another one coming,” says Branson.
'There wasn't a national magazine run by students, for students. I didn't like the way I was being taught at school. I didn't like what was going on in the world, and I wanted to put it right,' he told Business 2.0 Magazine.
The magazine didn't run as well as he hoped, so he started a record mail-order business that he advertised in the magazine. The mail-order business proved so popular that he ditched the magazine and opened his own record shop. He called it Virgin.
Virgin Cola was the most highly publicized of Virgin's failed businesses, and also Branson's favourite failure. 'I got to drive a tank into Times Square and also to create a cheeky bottle in the shape of Pamela Anderson,' he wrote in a blog post.
'That business taught me not to underestimate the power of the world's leading soft drink makers. I'll never again make the mistake of thinking that all large, dominant companies are sleepy!'
Virgin Vodka: The cola was part of Virgin Drinks (also launched in 1994), which included Virgin Vodka.
Like Virgin Cola, Virgin Vodka had little commercial success. The same goes for the other drink products produced by Virgin -- Virgin Vines, Virgin Energy Shot, and Virgin Ooze (a fizzy alcoholic drink).
One blogger suggested the products couldn't hack it because they brought no added value to the table: 'Whereas Virgin Atlantic had such unique features as on-board massages and free ice cream going for it, Virgin Vodka could not stand up to its competition.'
Virgin Brides opened its doors in several locations throughout England in 1996. For the launch of the store, Branson shaved his beard and wore a wedding dress (seriously, here's a picture).
But the venture into bridal was short-lived. The store stopped taking orders in December 2007 after suffering losses in the intensely competitive bridal market.
Virgin Vie was a line of cosmetics and toiletries sold online, in Virgin stores, and at home parties. After stores closed due to disappointing sales, the brand focused on direct selling and became Virgin Vie At Home.
Then, in 2009, it just became Vie At Home when Virgin got out, paid £8.8 million in 'Brand Protection' money to new management and wrote off £21million in loans as it made its way out the door.
Virgin Clothing was a line of men's and women's clothing, footwear and accessories aimed at the 18-to-35 set. It was only sold in U.K. retailers and department stores.
Virgin hired ad agency Saatchi & Saatchi to work on the line (see ads to the right).
The brand folded in 2000 with losses to shareholders.
Things looked up in the first year for the lingerie line. Virginware expanded rapidly from internet sales to opening 30 retail stores between 2003 and 2004, including a flagship store near Carnaby Street in London.
But by April 2005, the brand collapsed into administration. And in July, Virginware took its final breaths with a fire sale of 35,000 pairs of Virgin-branded bras and G-strings.
Virgin Megastores lived a long life. Opening in 1992, the stores finally succumbed to the impact of the digital music market in 2009. Richard Branson, however, admits that he probably kept the Megastores open for much too long.
'... the business was losing a lot of money. We did not make a speedy exit in part because I resisted closing the business. I was worried about losing the flagship stores' presence in Times Square and on Oxford Street since they were so important to brand recognition and our link with the past. But the scale of the losses meant that we had to sell the business to its management and focus our attention on markets where we could be the disruptor, not the disrupted,' he wrote in a blog post.
Mystery surrounds the fate of Branson's ill-fated, low profile venture into the florist trade. We could not locate any record of when Virgin Flowers was launched, but articles such as this and this -- among others -- refer to the company. If it did exist at one point, Virgin either shut it down or sold it, since it no longer appears on the list of companies on the Virgin Group website.
Virgin Pulse and Virgin Digital were Branson's answer to the iPod and iTunes, respectively.
'We founded the company in 2004 and then folded it a year later when it failed to make inroads against the major brands. The rise of Apple's iPods and iTunes meant that Virgin's device suddenly looked out of date before we had even launched it,' he wrote.
VirginStudent was a community site launched in 2000. It wasn't called a social networking site at the time, but if you look at archived pages of the site it has all the same things you find on Facebook -- profiles, photo albums, friending, groups and messaging. The site had hundreds of thousands of members, according to this guy who interned there in 2001.
VirginStudent eventually shut down in 2005, after a series of technical breakdowns. We're also guessing that the rise of MySpace had something to do with it.
Possessing the licence for the U.K.'s National Lottery would have given Branson 'vast cash flow in management fees and endless free publicity to Virgin by association' wrote Tom Bauer in The Guardian. He applied for the licence twice. First in 1994 and again in 2000.
After Branson was awarded the 2000 bid, his competitor took the commissioner in charge of rewarding the licence to court for inappropriate conduct in selecting Branson. Said commissioner was forced to step down and the competition was reopened. This time, Branson lost.
Although he vowed never to bid for the licence again, Bauer wrote in 2005 that Branson had 'embarked on preliminary discussions with the regulator to consider launching a third pitch.'