How to Be a David to an Industry Goliath

Richard Branson

Lesson time 12:54 min

When you enter a big industry, you’re bound to stir up some trouble. Richard discusses the pioneers who guided his strategy against a goliath of the airline business—and how he defended himself in one of the biggest battles of his life.

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Topics include: When you enter a big industry, you’re bound to scare up some trouble. Richard shares the adventure and airline pioneers who guided his strategy against an airline goliath, and the lengths he had to go to defend himself in one of the biggest battles of his life.


[WIND BLOWING] RICHARD BRANSON: As a child, I was captivated by stories of adventurers, like those who tried to be the first to reach the South Pole. [MUSIC PLAYING] I'm actually related to one of those great adventurers-- Scott of the Antarctic, who set out for the Pole in 1912. I knew his descendants. They were cousins. And as a kid, I used to enjoy visiting them and hearing the stories. When you're doing something for the first time that nobody's ever done before, you do just have to accept that there is a reason that people haven't done it before. And what you're trying to do is overcome the reasons that people haven't done it before, and try to make the odds stack in your favor as best you can. [MUSIC PLAYING] I learnt a lot from Scott at the Antarctic, because he tried and died in the pursuit. People who tried and failed, I think you can actually learn more from, often, than people who've succeeded. [MUSIC PLAYING] It's often easier to follow a pioneer than actually be the pioneer. So Freddie Laker started the first low-cost airline to take on British Airways in the early '70s. I learnt a lot from Sir Freddie Laker, because he'd tried and gone bankrupt. Freddie Laker took on British Airways. He only survived a year. It was a very exciting year. BA did to him what they did to pretty well every airline that took them on-- Dan-Air, Air Europe, British Caledonian-- they drove them out of business through, I think, generally very questionable means. What I could look at was, what was Laker's weakness? Laker's weakness was, it was just a low-cost long-haul airline, and great fun, but low-cost long-haul airline flying to one city, New York. BA, we're flying to numerous cities. So what BA could do was just reduce the price around his flight times on their flights and suckle the business to British Airways, and basically, lost the lead in order to drive somebody out of business. So what we decided to do based on that experience was make sure that we were very different from British Airways, so it was much more difficult for them to do it. Our idea is not the sort of no thrills airline, which Laker was going for. What we've decided to do is actually offer an airline which is better than the TWAs and the Pan Ams. It has better service, better food, better everything. [PLANE ENGINE WHIRRING] There is no point whatsoever in starting a new business if it's just like another business that's already going. They will be able to drive you out of business. If all you've got say is "lower fares," they'll be able to just drop fares on your routes, and you'll disappear. So you've just got to differentiate yourself, make sure that you create the absolute best airline in the world. And make sure it's completely different to bigger competitors. And again, that's what we did with Virgin. [MUSIC PLAYING] I remember Lord King, who headed BA, once saying, when I said I was ...

About the Instructor

Sometimes, making it big is all about following the fun. Ask Richard Branson. The founder of the Virgin Group built a business empire by solving the problems that fascinated him, disrupting every industry he touched, and pursuing dreams that seemed impossible. The adventure took him from humble beginnings to the stars. Learn how you, too, can find ideas so good they’re scary, lean into your fear, and achieve liftoff.

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Richard Branson

Entrepreneur Richard Branson teaches you how to turn your wildest dreams into successful businesses—and have fun doing it.

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