SAN FRANCISCO -- Virgin Group founder Sir Richard Branson is well known for fully embracing social media, so it's no surprise that he was invited as the special guest for a fireside chat with Salesforce.com CEO Marc Benioff at Dreamforce '12 this year.
But rather than talking about what he might think about the social enterprise, Branson started off by offering entrepreneurial tips based on his storied career in publishing, music, the airline industry and more.
"I've always dreamt big, as you certainly have, and a lot of people in this room have," Branson told Benioff in front of the keynote audience on Wednesday afternoon.
Branson's business career started off when he was just a teenager, as he described in his book, Business Stripped Bare.
When Benioff asked if it's easier today for a young person to start a successful business compared to when Branson launched a magazine at age 16, Branson didn't exactly respond accordingly, but he seemed more encouraging of the approach of learning in the field rather than in business school.
For example, Branson cited that he's been lobbying in the United Kingdom for entrepreneurial loans rather than just student loans for 17- or 18-year-olds with great business ideas.
About student loans, Branson argued, "Sometimes people don't go onto great things with them anyway." He admitted that maybe the first or second businesses won't work, but he said that possibly the third one will.
"The best way to learn anything is by doing it," Branson advised. Branson admitted that with most of the ventures he started, he didn't think he was going to make lots of money off of them. He added that he most of his businesses "started out of frustration" that he couldn't achieve something unless he started it. Essentially, the business mogul's mantra boils down to this: "How can I create something that is really going to make a difference in people's lives?" Branson's end goal seemed overly simple for a leader of a huge and diversified global enterprise, but he said wearily that "hopefully at the end of the year you have more money going out of it than going into it." "The conventional wisdom is that [people] should stick with the one business they know," Branson remarked, describing this is often what is taught in business school. With Virgin, he said it reflects his adventurous, thrill-seeking personality in just "getting out there."
The Virgin Group chairman reflected, "Over 45 years, I've learned a lot from making mistakes, and occasionally from making good things."
Branson also shared some of his opinions on some decidedly non-business topics, such as legalizing marijuana in the United States (he's for it), the Save the Whales movement, and the crisis in the Middle East.
About the troubled global economic climate, Branson maintained his generally positive attitude by asserting that "things are turning" and we have to work just "a little bit harder to make sure." "It's all these little companies that spring up that create the jobs," Branson said. "Everything that can be done to encourage small business to get going, any bureaucracy needs to be taken off their shoulders."