Richard Bransons 9 Biggest Business Failures

Richard Branson failures - Photo by Flickr user D@LY3D

Richard Branson – everyone knows him and entrepreneurs aspire to be like him.

For so many small business owners, the biggest thing holding them back from achieving success like Branson is a fear of failure.

The fear of making a wrong decision, being put on the verge of bankruptcy, or being embarrassed publicly and having to admit that your great idea wasn’t really all that great.

But failure is not something to fear, in fact failure should be embraced.

Richard Branson has failed as much if not more than most, and continues to do so even to this day.

After starting his Student magazine in 1967, Branson’s searing ambition and personality has lured friends, entrepreneurs and established corporations to believe they can always earn fortunes by their attachment to him. His clever and powerful use of publicity has created headlines of his successes over the years helping to sustain the myth of business invincibility.

A fear of failure will hold you back, so here are some of Richard Branson failures you probably didn’t know about.

#1 Virgin Cola – Most Publicisied Failure

Virgin Cola was probably the most highly publicised of Virgin’s failed businesses, and also Branson’s favourite failures.

“I got to drive a tank into Times Square and also to create a cheeky bottle in the shape of Pamela Anderson,” he said and explained the take away lessons he learnt as well.

“I’ll never again make the mistake of thinking that all large, dominant companies are sleepy!”

Today Virgin Cola is not entirely dead and is still sold in Afghanistan, France, Italy, Japan, Kosovo, Malta, Nigeria, Switzerland, Tunisia, and the Philippines.

#2 Virgin Brides – Struggled To Compete

Virgin Brides was a company specialising in weddings and bridal wear and Branson launched its first store in 1996 by shaving his beard and wearing a wedding dress. Here’s a photo.

After suffering losses and struggling to compete with the highly competitive bridal market, the company shut its doors.

When asked by this company failed Branson cheekily says “We soon realised there weren’t any”

The store stopped taking orders in December 2007, 11 years after start-up.

#3 Virgin Clothing – Big Losses

Virgin Clothing was a line of men’s and women’s clothing, footwear and accessories specifically aimed at the younger 18-35 aged market. It was only sold in U.K. retailers and department stores but the brand folded in 2000 with losses to all shareholders.

#4 Virgin Vodka – Success Isn’t Guaranteed

Like Virgin Cola, Virgin Vodka had very little monetary and commercial success. In fact neither did many of the other drink products Virgin attempted eg. Virgin Vines, Virgin Energy Shot, and Virgin Ooze.

Showing that success in one market, doesn’t guarantee success in all markets.

#5 Virginware – All Lingerie Liquidated

Bransons attempt at a sexy lingerie line, looked promising at first. Rapidly expanding the initially online only Virginware brand into 30 retail stores between 2003 and 2004.

However, after a few short years, the brand collapsed into administration in April 2005. And in July, Virginware took its final breaths with a liquidation sale of 35,000 pairs of Virgin-branded bras and G-strings before all websites and stores disappeared from existence.

#6: Virgin Cars – Didn’t live up to promise

Virgin Cars launched in 2000 and after 5 solid years attempting to make a name for itself the Internet based automobile retailer closed in 2005.

Branson initially predicted and promoted that the company would sell 24,000 cars in its first year, however the company only managed to sell 2,000 not even 10% of forecasted sales.

By 2003, the site had only sold 12,000 cars total, putting the writing on the wall that this was a market that was going to be tough to crack.

#7: Virgin Vie – £21 million written off

The Virgin Cosmetics Company was a line of cosmetics and toiletries founded in 1997 and sold through a number of different channels.

  1. Online
  2. In Virgin stores
  3. Home parties.

Closing the stores due to disappointing sales, the brand re-focused on the direct selling model and became Virgin Vie At Home.

In 2009 Virgin got out, paying £8.8 million in ‘Brand Protection’ money to the new management and writing off £21million in loans as it cut itself lose from the business.

#8: Virgin Megastores – Open Too Long

Virgin Megastores lived a long life. Opening in 1992, these stores where flagships of the Virgin brand but finally couldn’t challenge the impact of the rising digital music market.

Richard Branson, 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.

With Apple pushing the rise of Digital Music, as most record stores discovered selling CD’s became more and more challenging.

#9: Virgin Digital – Couldn’t Stand Up to Apple’s iPod

Branson wasn’t going to sit idle with the iPod and iTunes doing so well in a market he had once dominated.

Launching Virgin Pulse, his answer to the iPod, and Virgin Digital, Virgin’s answer to the iTunes Store in 2004.

“The rise of Apple’s iPods and iTunes meant that Virgin’s device suddenly looked out of date before we had even launched it,” Branson said.

This venture, lasted less than 12 months.

And so they will continue…

Richard Branson is indeed an incredible entrepreneur, and a huge inspiration to myself and many in our community here at Business Builders Academy.

He recognises that mistakes are often opportunities and lessons in disguise.

“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.”

Failure is not something to fear. It’s normal and no-one is immune to it – not even Sir Richard Branson.

Photo Credit: D@LY3D

About The Author

Carl Taylor

Carl is the Author of Red Means Go! and founder of Business Builders Academy. He invests in and runs a number of businesses, and regularly teaches business skills through online training and live speaking events.