Richard Branson’s advice to YLAI entrepreneurs

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Richard Branson speaks to fellows from the Young Leaders of the Americas Initiative at the U.S. State Department. (State Dept./Kelsey Brannan)

Richard Branson, one of the world’s most recognizable entrepreneurs, recently spoke to more than 250 Young Leaders of the Americas Initiative (YLAI) fellows from the Caribbean and Latin America.

Here are four main takeaways from his talk.

Reputation is everything

One of Branson’s key points was that “reputation is everything in life.” He urged the young entrepreneurs to treat their current partners and employees with respect, and also to make sure to remember their early supporters.

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YLAI participants wait in line to ask questions of Richard Branson. (State Dept./Kelsey Brannan)

“Make a list of those people who might have lost some money with you and make sure you pay them back … if you can afford to,” he said. “You don’t want to go through life in any way damaging your reputation.”

Public relations are important

Branson said many young entrepreneurs are often one of their own best resources.

“If you’ve got a product you believe in, using public relations [to] get out there and do interviews and talk about it is often a lot cheaper than advertising,” he said.

Being well-known doesn’t just promote your product, he said. Even if it is only in your local community, if people have heard of you, “if your business is respected and your reputation is good, then people are more likely to take your calls.”

Businesses succeed by making people’s lives better

Branson emphasized that businesses should be solving problems to make people’s lives better.

“Businesses will only succeed if they found a niche in the marketplace that is going to make other people’s lives better,” he said. “The best businesses are actually conceived by people who did not think ‘I’m going into a business.’… [The] people who start projects from their heart, where they feel ‘I’ve been frustrated by something. I feel I really can do it better than other people are doing it,’ are the ones more likely to succeed.”

Be a force for good in the world

Beyond their products, Branson urged the entrepreneurs to become a force for good in the world.

“Every single businessperson in this room can adopt a problem,” he said. “More and more businesses are saying: ‘Let’s help government and let’s help the social sector. Let’s get out there and speak out on issues that we feel strongly about and let’s campaign on issues. Let’s try to use our influence to try to persuade governments.’”

“It will be highly motivating for your team of people, it will be very satisfying for you, and between us all I think we can get on top of most of the problems in the world.”