Posted: 12:00 a.m. Monday, March 11, 2013
By Eric Schurenberg
Branson's first hero was infamously intrepid. But every business success is rooted in chutzpah.
Last month, I was lucky enough to spend an hour with one of the greatest entrepreneurs of all time, Richard Branson. Among much else, I learned one little-known aspect of the Branson origin story--namely, his boyhood inspiration.
That was one Douglas Bader, a Battle of Britain hero, Branson family friend, and possibly the most determined man of the 20th century.
Bader lost both legs in a flying accident in the 1930s. He not only taught himself to walk on artificial legs, without so much as a cane, but also to play scratch golf and to fly fighter planes well enough to become a top British ace. When Bader was finally shot down over German-occupied France, he lost one of his prosthetic legs. After his captors allowed a replacement to be airdropped to him, he rewarded their chivalry by promptly climbing out a window and escaping.
It may not be exactly a straight shot from Bader's tin knee to the Virgin Group boardroom, but every founder needs inspiration. Branson took his from a boyhood idol. Many Inc. 500 CEOs tell Inc. that they get theirs from their father or a mentor--or, in many cases, from Sir Richard himself. No wonder: To launch his first successful company at the ripe age of 16, Branson overcame dyslexia, shyness (a problem he has clearly outgrown), and a doubting father who wanted young Richard to stop talking rubbish about entrepreneurship and become a lawyer like him. "Whenever you have an idea," Branson told me, "99 percent of people are going to tell you it won't work." In the end, young Branson decided, "Screw it; just do it," his five-word audible for making a leap into the unknown, as every entrepreneur eventually must.
You'll find eight more gutsy start-up stories here, including that of our cover subject, Bobbi Brown, who talked her way into an account with Bergdorf's by pretending to have a deal with Saks. "It's not bluffing," she rationalized to Inc.'s Issie Lapowsky in classic entrepreneurial style. "It's thinking on your feet."
This issue of Inc. is dedicated to all the founders who have to think on their feet, ignore handicaps, face down doubters, and take that leap. Our start-up stories should remind you that even Richard Branson, Bobbi Brown, and their ilk once had nothing to go on but chutzpah and the example of someone they admired. May that give you the inspiration you need to screw it, and just do it.