Richard Branson reveals the role of location to business start-ups but also sets a creative space of options open, for (always) utilizing innovative approaches on solving problems, which are also (always) expected:
Q: I want to start a cybercafe in my village or in a nearby town. What should I look for when deciding where to locate my business? – Entrepreneur reader, Kenya
In business, conventional wisdom dictates that location is everything — this is the make-or-break decision that will determine whether you succeed in the long run. But I have never been one for conventional thinking, and entrepreneurs launching startups always need to improvise quick, creative solutions to the obstacles they encounter. When we were preparing to open our first Virgin Records store in the early 1970s, my friends and I really had to think on our feet — so to speak! We knew that our business would depend on foot traffic, so we started looking for locations in central London. First we needed to narrow down to the neighborhood: We spent a morning counting the shoppers on Oxford Street, and compared it to the number of shoppers on Kensington High Street. That brief experiment confirmed that we should take the first option. We couldn’t afford to pay much in rent, so we looked for empty spaces at the unfashionable end of the street. We managed to find some empty, unused rooms above a shoe shop, and we promised the landlord, who happened to run that shop, that we would bring in lots of customers to our record store, and reminded him that they would all have to pass his door before they went up the stairs. He agreed to the deal. While I don’t know for certain whether he managed to sell any extra pairs of Doc Martens, we were able to launch our business in a good location, and without having to pay a big check every month.
Richard Branson sets two important questions to be answered: Whether and Why..?
In your case, when you are searching for a location for your cybercafe, you need to think about whether your customers will be using the computers and Internet connectivity for short periods or long, and why. Are they students or professionals or members of another group? Will they need quiet, or will the hum of a busy cafe suit them better? Then you’ll need to find a location that these customers can easily get to. Once you’ve narrowed down some possibilities, start thinking about what you’re going to do with the space. Again, don’t just follow conventional ideas in your industry, but ask yourself and, if you can, some of your potential customers, what they need and how you can help them best. When Virgin Money bought the British bank Northern Rock in early 2011, one of our first changes was to take down the glass that separated staff from customers, to make the experience more welcoming. And the new Virgin Money Lounges we opened had an even bigger impact, since they are not recognizable as branches at all: Instead, they provide a work space for our customers, where they can come in and use the free Wi-Fi, have a meeting, read the paper and have a cup of tea or a snack. There are staff members on hand, but these are very much places for those who bank with us to relax and carry out their everyday business, whether it is bank-related or not. We’ve noticed that this approach is starting to stir things up. Last year our Virgin Money store in Norwich was being outperformed by many branches. When a Money Lounge was introduced in the same city, the branch became the second-best-performing store in all of Britain – quite a turnaround. It seems that it took some extra exposure for people in Norwich to understand what Virgin Money is all about: that it isn’t a run-of-the-mill bank.
More importantly, your well-defined mission statement can effectively help you solve problems during your start up:
At some point during the launch of your startup, it’s likely that a potential investor will ask you about your company’s mission statement. Many business management experts would argue that this should be your company’s cornerstone, inspiring and informing your employees in the years ahead. I can’t agree. The Virgin Group does have a mission statement — one that is brief and to the point. In general, there is too much importance being placed on such statements, but it is interesting to see how they reflect common missteps in business. Most mission statements are full of blah truisms and are anything but inspirational. A company’s employees don’t really need to be told that “The mission of XYZ Widgets is to make the best widgets in the world while providing excellent service.” They must think, “As opposed to what? Making the worst widgets and offering the lousiest service?” Such statements show that management lacks imagination, and perhaps in some cases, direction. At the opposite end of the scale is the statement that fails through flowery waffling. An example: “Yahoo powers and delights our communities of users, advertisers and publishers – all of us united in creating indispensable experiences, and fuelled by trust.” That sounds wonderful, but what does it mean? Whoever wrote it should try listening to the company’s CEO, Marissa Mayer, who said in a recent speech, “Yahoo is about making the world’s daily habits inspiring and entertaining.” It’s not perfect, but it would be a step in the right direction. Some companies are not actually able to carry out their mission. The reasons can range from a disruption in the markets to a merger or acquisition, and then there are cases like Enron’s: Before the giant energy company went bankrupt in 2001, ruining the lives of tens of thousands of employees and investors, its vision and values statement was “Respect, integrity, communication and excellence.” Say no more! While some mission statements consist of one vague statement, others are too long, which may reflect management’s lack of understanding of what a company really does. The Warwickshire Police recently produced a new mission statement; to the police chief’s dismay, the resulting 1,200-word screed gained the attention of the media and was nominated for the Golden Bull award “for excellence in gobbledygook” from the Plain English Campaign, a group that helps organizations to provide clear communications. Not only was the rambling epistle filled with buzzwords and jargon, but the word “crime” was not mentioned once.