The secret of playing the money game: Think big, start small

Richard Branson

It’s easy to imagine that the normal route to creating a successful business is to come up with a killer idea, write a business plan, prove that the whole thing will work, then go take a giant leap of faith – and a massive risk along with it.

But this simply isn’t true. The roots of most successful businesses are in the early playful experiments of ordinary people who were willing to try something out.

One of my favourite illustrations of this comes from everyone’s favourite icon of unconventional business, Richard Branson.

As Richard tells the story himself,

“In ’79, when Joan, my fiancee and I were on a holiday in the British Virgin Islands, we were trying to catch a flight to Puerto Rico; but the local Puerto Rican scheduled flight was cancelled.

The airport terminal was full of stranded passengers. I made a few calls to charter companies and agreed to charter a plane for $2000 to Puerto Rico.

Cheekily leaving out Joan’s and my name, I divided the price by the remaining number of passengers, borrowed a blackboard and wrote: VIRGIN AIRWAYS: $39 for a single flight to Puerto Rico. I walked around the airport terminal and soon filled every seat on the charter plane.

As we landed at Puerto Rico, a passenger turned to me and said: “Virgin Airways isn’t too bad – smarten up the services a little and you could be in business.”

Not long after this, he acquired a secondhand 747 and launched his airline in earnest.

Richard Branson is now undoubtedly a very skilled entrepreneur but he learned the vast majority of what he knows by undertaking the same kind of experiments as that first flight.

Over to you…

Have you played  the money game in similar ways? Have you had fun with an entrepreneurial or creative experiment of your own? Have you even had one of them turn into something more significant such as a full time business?

If so, leave a comment and let me know – I may even feature you in my second book (with your permission)!

If you haven’t played the money game much yourself, what could you do as a small play project to try something out?


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  • Jo Atherton

    Hi John,
    A few years ago I wanted to write for a living. I was browsing through the local paper and noticed an advert for free tester pots of paint. I wrote an article, listing ten creative ideas using a tester pot of paint. I was called in to see the editor and offered a permanent writing job. I had five fantastic years working on that newspaper, and tell everyone to think outside the box. It’s always worked for me, and always lead to happiness

  • Adele de Caso

    Hi John, I used to be a really shy person and turned my life around when I discovered personal development. I became passionate about it and wanted to tell others who were shy too. I compiled all the notes I had ever made and published my own book in 2009 called Shy People Can Be Successful Too! – How to achieve your dreams without changing your personality. I approached a book distributor who attends events for network marketing companies etc and he now prints the book himself and sends me a royalty check every few months. You definately can get paid for doing what you love and helping others at the same time. Adele

  • johnsw

    That’s a great story Adele! Can you get it on Amazon?

  • johnsw

    That’s brilliant Jo! I love it.

  • Adele de Caso