Last week, 24-year-old Charlotte Cramer was one of three entrepreneurs selected to join the inaugural Virgin Atlantic flight from London to Detroit.
The best part: Billionaire Virgin founder Richard Branson joined them.
Earlier this year, Cramer and her business partner Davide Russo, with whom she cofounded ;Glow Away, a glow-in-the-dark duvet cover for children, received a $US20,000 loan from Virgin Startup, a not-for-profit company founded by Branson that provides entrepreneurs in England with the funding, resources, and advice they need to start a business.
To select entrepreneurs to join Branson on the transatlantic flight, Virgin Startup ran a competition among the businesses they funded. Cramer was one of the lucky winners — along with Sam Morgan, founder of Paria, and George Edwards, founder of Gas Sense.
She spent four “extraordinary days” partying at 38,000 feet, receiving invaluable business advice, and exploring Detroit. “I returned home feeling blessed, inspired, and wondering where my canapés and film crew are,” she jokes.
In all seriousness, she says, her time with Branson gave her an incredible insight into the “way he runs his businesses and lives his enviable life,” she tells Business Insider. “He is undeniably a pleasure to be around. Our time in his presence shed some light on a few traits we will surely be adopting in hopes that they will somehow take our businesses one step closer to Virgin-esque world domination, and ourselves to a Branson-degree of loveable.”
Here are the four most important things she learned from him:
1. No matter how busy you are, give others the time of day they deserve.
During the official press conference in Detroit with the CEOs of Virgin Atlantic, Delta, Wayne County Airport, and the Mayor of Detroit, a young woman raised her hand, introduced herself as an entrepreneur, and asked her question, Cramer says. “Sir Richard didn’t just answer it — but also invited her to tell him more about his business, giving her the opportunity to pitch it to the room of top-tier journalists and business owners.”
This level of “genuine interest in startup businesses, although initially startling,” was incredibly insightful into how Branson has earned the respect and admiration of so many people, she says.
“It wasn’t surprising that the woman, content with the response, followed with ‘I just want to say I think you’re an amazing person.'”
2. Find solutions to problems. It can help you change the world.
It’s no secret that Branson is a big advocate of businesses that solve problems, Cramer says. “After all, that’s how Virgin Atlantic was born: a chartered flight to satisfy the disgruntled customers of a flight, the last of the day, that had been cancelled.”
She says Branson passionately explained: “You might as well stick your neck out and do something to make people’s lives better!”
“The journey of an entrepreneur is a bumpy one at best, and if you’re going to stick with it and see your business through to success then it better go some way to make the world, in some tiny way, a better place,” Cramer says. “Branson’s emphasis on entrepreneurialism as a means for social impact shed light on something far greater in his motivations: a respectable and influential approach to what we should be creating in the world we live in.”
3. Know yourself, your strengths, and your weaknesses.
“Having had the opportunity to meet those who manage a number of the Virgin businesses, it was clear that Sir Richard is good at concentrating on his strengths and employing the best talent to fulfil the other roles,” she explains.
“He told us to become aware of what we’re good at — likely coming up with new ideas — and stressed the value of handing over the general management of the business to have the headspace to innovate,” Cramer recalls.
Of course, she says, a degree of groundwork needs to be done initially, “but it felt worth bearing in mind that we should be on the lookout for someone with the skills to manage our business day-to-day better than we ever could, ultimately giving us the time to dream of the future without being tied down by the daily challenges.”
4. Ask for the things you want — and give others what they ask for, when you can.
“We were sitting in the audience of the ‘Ain’t Too Proud to Pitch’ event, which brought together over 500 people and businesses — four of which were pitching their ideas to a panel of famous judges,” she explains. “One of the businesses was called Merit. It’s a Detroit-branded clothing company that contributes 20% of its profits to college scholarships for Detroit students, and helps ensure that they don’t drop out.
“In the middle of their pitch they brought on stage a girl who was part of their program and she half-jokingly said that she wanted to visit London,” Cramer says. “Branson immediately said, ‘You’ve got two tickets to London.'”
“It taught me that when you want something, ask for it. And Branson showed that he can, and will, help wherever he can. And when he did, it became clear that he is impeccably in-tune with who he is and how he is perceived. In doing this he is able to play to his strengths with the dexterity and talent of an orchestral conductor: not only creating a thing of beauty but also winning the love and applause of the crowds.”
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