How trusting her gut got this Australian entrepreneur into business with Richard Branson

Jo Burston. Photo: supplied.

Being invited to Richard Branson’s Nekker Island is a dream come true for any entrepreneur.

But when Jo Burston’s, founder of Rare Birds, four-day trip to the inspiring entrepreneurial island came to an end, she decided it wasn’t enough.

So she did something most people would be afraid to do – she asked for more.

“I decided that my time there was not done and I listened to my gut instinct not to leave,” Burston said.

“I spoke to management and asked if I could stay a bit longer. Fortunately they had a cancellation in the next group, so I stayed on for another three days.”

It was during this rare opportunity to have extended time on the island that she struck entrepreneurial gold.

“On the first day of those extra three days Richard came up to me and gave me a hug and said: ‘I’m happy you’re staying’.”

It turns out Branson had taken quite an interest in Burston’s idea to build an online resource for women seeking a mentor, and partnered this with his Virgin Unite business so they could expand the idea commercially.

They started talking more seriously about the business model and brainstormed how it would work.

“Next thing, I was drafting a proposal document and sent it off to his Virgin Unite team,” as she said, “and they loved it”.

Burston then flew straight from the island to London to meet the Virgin Unite group, where they started negotiating a deal.

“Twelve months later we’ve got this world class mentoring platform that we’ve co-developed,” she said.

“Rare Birds Mentoring is unique to how entrepreneurs are mentored and how we’re going to be able to collect data in the future, and research what are the success factors in becoming a mentor.”

Using a matching algorithm, similar to that used by dating sites, women can be paired with the right mentor to accelerate the growth of their business and receive the specific guidance they need.

Rare Birds is the first organisation to use the unique Virgin Unite platform outside of the UK.

Business Insider asked Burston what it took to get the deal done and what advice she has for other Australian startups looking for a partnership overseas.

You have to be quick thinking.

“My mind works in strategy-mode at one hundred miles an hour anyway so I could see really quickly how the relationship with Richard was developing and opportunity to align that with Rare Birds was there.

“I thought about how to make it a win-win situation and how to make it happen really quickly.

“I wanted to leave the island with something tangible,” she said, so she went for it.

“I think this there is an expectation when working with an entrepreneurial that [working fast] happens in a business. It’s like Richard’s famous quote… ‘say yes, and work it out later’.”

It has to be win-win, balanced partnership.

“It’s a collaboration. One can’t do without the other. It’s a process of both our ideas, of both our means of development. It’s about both people walking away feeling like it’s a great deal.

“Like any relationship, there has to be an expectation of how each other behaves in the relationship commercially and how we behave in the relationship in general. There has to be guidelines, boundaries, and an understanding of outcomes, deliverables and expectations. We worked hard to make sure it was a win-win environment.

Build a strong, trustworthy relationship.

“A lesson for me is that building deep and meaningful relationship is where the best outcomes lies.

“It’s a like a marriage – you court, work out if it’s going to work and then you work hard for it continue to work.

“Developing this strong, deep trust ensures that the relationship will work not just now but for many, many years.

“We’ve already started to plan future developments around what we’re going to do together. Today is just the start of a long journey together.

Be prepared to work hard.

We’ve all put hundreds of hours into it… I can’t imagine that anything that is worthwhile not being hard. If it was easy everyone would do it.

“The effort and energy and time being put into it is because we want to create something magnificent. I think always an entrepreneur you go the extra mile, you do that extra hour.”

Align with a brand which has the same values as your own.

“Know exactly how your own brand is going to align with another brand based on the depth of understanding of not just your own business, but the other business, its people, their mission and values.

“If values aren’t aligned where do you go when things go wrong? How are you going to remind each other about why you’re doing it?

“It will ensure it [the partnership] has the best possibility of success.”

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