Q: Passion is said to be key to launching a successful business. But what if you have a good idea for a product or service in a field that you aren’t necessarily passionate about? Could I build a business on an “ah-ha” idea I have that fills a gap in an existing market? Would that ultimately lead to failure? - Mike Aquan-Assee
A: Starting a business is one of life’s biggest challenges, and only truly determined people are able to find a path to success. Since passion is one of the effective motivators, it’s also one of the strongest predictors of whether an idea will lead to the launch of a thriving business.
When you have an “ah-ha” idea, pay attention: Perhaps that idea will help you to identify a market gap, or even to disrupt an industry.
But launching a startup simply to make money is likely to result in failure - if you don’t care deeply about your idea, how can you motivate others to work with you or to buy your product or service?
Great ideas are often transferable. If you have an idea that might work in an area that you’re not passionate about, instead think about ways that you could apply it to a sector that does excite you.
Look at your idea from a different perspective, and you might be surprised by the results.
Here’s an example of what I mean. Personally, I’ve never had a great mind for finance.
In Virgin’s early days, we had some truly turbulent relationships with banks. Some of the most testing times of my life were spent sitting barefoot in boring boardrooms (this was during my hippie days) discussing Virgin’s future with bank managers.
Understandably, it surprised people when I decided to enter the world of finance with the launch of Virgin Money in 1995, but our team saw a great opportunity for revamping customer service in banking.
While I wasn’t passionate about banking, customer service is something that interests me. In fact, it drives the entire Virgin ethos.
Our team wanted to make a real difference in a field that was ripe for disruption, so we leapt. Since then we have worked tirelessly to build the company into one of UK’s leading challenger banks, striving to make everyone better off.
Our goal was never simply to make a profit: We wanted to instill our passion for customer service into an industry that was known for a lack of it.
We were also intent on reinventing banking with our straightforward approach and the inimitable Virgin touch.
One of our innovations was the Virgin Money Lounge - based on our airport Clubhouses concept - which was the first of its kind in the banking business.
Following the 2008-2009 financial crisis, people started to think that banks had the responsibility to help their customers thrive, and to educate them better about financial matters.
This new awareness changed the industry: banks now need to deliver positive financial and social outcomes, and to abide by a firm set of values.
This is the fundamental reason why we got into banking in the first place. We didn’t just have a passion for finance - we were passionate about making it accessible and understandable. Our efforts paid off late last year when Virgin Money became a publicly listed company.
Passion is also important because you need to inspire your staff when you launch a company, and you need to help them believe in your vision for the future.
In other words, you have to be a passionate leader with a purpose. Such leaders have been central to Virgin’s success.
Take Jayne-Anne Gadhia, Virgin Money’s CEO. She’s been with Virgin Money from the very beginning, holding steadfast to her motto: Never give up. And she hasn’t.
Though we’ve experienced a number of setbacks along the way, her passion for the business has kept her head clear and her spirits high.
While I don’t believe that passion can be taught, I do think it is infectious - Jayne-Anne’s certainly is.
When you believe in something, the force of your convictions will spark other people’s interest and motivate them to help you achieve your goals. This is essential to success.
Mike my advice would be for you to go back to that aha moment and try to understand what motivated you to think in that direction in the first place - the passion behind your idea might lead you to the business or industry that you truly care about.
And remember, passion is more than an attitude. It’s a requirement for any entrepreneur or business leader.
Mr Branson is the founder of the Virgin Group. Email: RichardBranson@nytimes.com.