Find your passion, find your business

Hello, Lonwabo. It’s great to hear that you have such a love for entrepreneurship; it sounds like you just need to figure out where to focus that energy. Luckily enough, that should be the easy part.

I’m willing to bet that you have many passions in your life besides entrepreneurship. Running a business is all about combining those passions — and turning them into something greater than the sum of their parts.

To discover what you’re passionate about, write down all the ways you allocate your time each week. What exactly do you do with all those hours? Where do you go? What do you talk about? What do you read?

Next, list the problems and daily annoyances that you, your friends and your family encounter on a regular basis. If there’s one thing every successful entrepreneur is passionate about, it’s solving problems; maybe a close friend can point you in the right direction. We’ve certainly got no shortage of problems in the wider world. From global food shortages to climate change to systemic poverty, there are hugely important issues that need to be addressed over the next decade. So don’t be afraid to think big.

It’s also true that you don’t have to work on a grand scale to make a meaningful, positive impact on people’s lives.

Take my friend Sara Blakely, the billionaire founder of Spanx undergarments. Back in 1998, Sara had a very simple problem: She wanted her backside to look great in a pair of white pants. So what did she do? She took a pair of scissors and cut the feet off her pantyhose. With that one tiny adjustment Sara started on the road to becoming a wildly successful entrepreneur, creating a business that would go on to benefit millions of women around the world. Now, with Spanx hugely profitable, Sara is able to support her broader mission: empowering women.

It’s important to be passionate about something when you start a business, but there’s no reason why that something can’t change over time. When we founded the first Virgin business over 45 years ago, we didn’t have a shared passion for hot air balloons or health clubs or trains. In fact, some of the companies that are now proudly part of the Virgin Group, such as Virgin Mobile, are part of industries that didn’t even exist back then.

The longer you spend in business, and the more time you dedicate to talking to people and hearing their stories, the more passions you’ll uncover. You may even find that helping consumers who are being taken advantage of, and fighting for a better deal on their behalf, becomes one of your biggest passions.

Once your business is up and running you shouldn’t be afraid to encourage people on your team to find their own passions. Let them pursue projects that aren’t in their job descriptions, and your business will likely benefit from what they discover.

Consider Alex Tai, our director of special projects, who began his life at Virgin Atlantic as a pilot, and still fulfills that role on occasion. From day one, Alex was brimming with ideas, and since I was a regular traveler on Virgin Atlantic he used to run them past me. Not all of them were great, but over the years he’s certainly been responsible for more than his fair share of winners. From hot air balloon challenges to boating adventures, we’ve backed many of Alex’s ideas, some of which have come to define the Virgin brand.

Alex is also the leader of our all-electric DS Virgin Racing team. Entering our team in the Formula E Championship has been a great way to showcase the innovative potential of clean technology while having a ton of fun along the way, as I saw firsthand when we won a recent race in New York.

In order for a business to stay healthy, relevant and engaging, it must constantly evolve. Entrepreneurs can’t stand still. You have to encourage people to follow their passions and bring them to work. Welcome new ideas. Create an environment in which people are always asking: What’s next?

(Questions from readers will be answered in future columns. Please send them to Richard.Branson Please include your name, country, email address and the name of the website or publication where you read the column.)

© 20xx Richard Branson (Distributed by The New York Times Syndicate)

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