Posted on January 31st, 2008 No comments
Here is the full presentation I delivered at the FLEET New(s) Generation conference in Brussels, Belgium on Jan. 31, 2008. I’m posting it for those who participated, and others who may be interested. You can also find some of the other presentations I mentioned here:
I would like to thank Hans De Canck from FLEET for organizing this and inviting me to be a part of this conference, and many others who I met today whose names are unfortunately stuck in a stack of business cards in my hotel. It was truly one of the more informative conferences of its type that I’ve had the pleasure of attending recently. I will be posting more of my insights from the conference soon, but let me just say that the people in Flanders totally get the importance of online community.
Technorati Tags: FLEET
Posted on January 5th, 2008 No comments
There’s a great interview in today’s Wall Street Journal with the king of all wacky successful entrepreneurs, Virgin’s Richard Branson.
As we start a new year — and possibly a new era of optimistic change, as expressed in Thursday’s Iowa Caucus surprise embrace of Washington outsiders Barack Obama and Mike Huckabee — I think this interview contains some good reminders of how true innovators push for transformative change in both good and bad times, and always look for ways to turn seemingly intractable problems into paradigm-shifting, positive solutions. This is good for Americans, and really all world citizens, to keep in mind as we deal with a shifting economy made worse by a global credit crisis. One person’s problem is another person’s opportunity, and Branson is the ultimate opportunist.
I have to admit that I’ve been a fan of the guy ever since he showed up nearly naked in Times Square for a publicity stunt to promote Virgin Mobile. I thought, “that guy is nuts!” and I couldn’t believe the leader of any major company would act that way (he regularly kite-surfs, too). So of course I had to see what he was going to do next.
Later, I watched every episode of The Rebel Billionaire reality TV show, in which Branson-like executives competed to take over his job at Virgin. They’d come up with business plans one day, then climb onto the top of an airborne hot air balloon to have tea with him the next to show that they were serious about taking risks.
Soon after that show Branson started Virgin Galactic, which plans to be the first commercial tourism venture, using the SpaceShip One spaceplane that was tested in Kern County, not far from Bakersfield. And now he’s working to make his Virgin airline companies (there are three) more environmentally friendly by running on butanol instead of traditional jet fuel to improve their efficiency and reduce their impact on the environment.
Branson’s embrace of environmentally friendly technologies is about more than just good will. You can tell that he’s also thinking about how it can make him, and many others, lots of money. There’s no way like profit to get people to jump on a bandwagon. Some other things in the interview that caught my eye:
- Necker Island, the Caribbean island that he owns and calls home, will be 100% carbon neutral in six months by using energy from windmills and the sun. And it’s not all for environmental reasons. He claims it’s going to save him $500,000 a year. (I’ve been on a boat next to that island, and I can tell you that it’s really sunny and often windy, so I can see how this would make sense).
- He points to the folly of America’s new official embrace of corn-based ethanol not for completely environmental reasons, but also because it’s not as efficient as sugar-based ethanol, which means lower profits. He says:
“Sugar-based ethanol is seven times more efficient than corn-based ethanol, so every acre of land can create seven times the volume of fuel.”
Hmm, maybe we’ll all be filling our cars with “Virgin Sugary Ethanol” one day?
- And as the ultimate example of the glass-half-full mindset, he’s already thinking about how to literally turn rising sea levels into something positive. From the interview:
“If the sea levels are going to rise, why don’t we create some massive inland lakes in Africa and Asia? Instead of having all the cities flooded all over the world, the inland lakes can help take the brunt of it. At the same time, you would have this cool water, which would help cool the earth down. The water itself would help fertilize deserts, which would then grow trees. So we’re trying to think of biggish schemes that would help counter the problem.”
Would that last idea even work? I have no idea, and I bet neither does he. But this is exactly the kind of brainstorming that needs to happen in times of great need and change.
As his fellow Brits would say, Branson is a bit of a “nutter,” but you have to respect his relentless drive, optimism, and even pragmatism (even his craziest ideas have solid business plans, and most succeed). Underneath his 1980s-esque hard rock / “stoner” look, there are signs of someone who can see into the future like nobody else simply because he refuses to limit his thinking. And that’s also why he lives on his own private island while the rest of the world wonders how to keep from going into mortgage default due to sub-prime mortgages gone bad.
Since I work for a newspaper and usually blog about things that impact media, you may be wondering why I’m going on and on about someone who runs an airline, is building a spaceport and previously ran a record company.
That right there shows the connection. Branson doesn’t think about anything in terms of just one industry, but rather looks for opportunities where his company can solve problems for people in new ways — and make a buck. As the latest example, Virgin is even trying to buy a British bank that’s on the verge of insolvency thanks to bad mortgages. His justification: “In times of strife, there are certainly opportunities.”
Richard Branson shows how sometimes you have to start with the “it’s so crazy is just might work” type of ideas, and then work down from there, versus starting only with what you think you can accomplish with current resources. That’s something that’s important to any industry. At this time in the newspaper and media industries generally, we all need to be more like Richard Branson.