Make your startup business a family affair: Richard Branson

Home is where the opportunity is

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Richard Branson and his mother Eve Branson

Richard Branson, right, and his mother Eve Branson at the unveiling of Virgin Galactic’s Spaceship Two in January 2008. (Stan Honda/AFP/Getty)

Moving away from home is one of the most exciting and difficult milestones in a young person’s life. It can be hard to leave the people you love, but at some point, you do have to get out there and learn to be independent. For an entrepreneur who is full of ideas, choosing the right moment can involve some tradeoffs.

I started going to boarding school when I was young, but I have always been close to my parents and sisters. When I left school at age 16 to set up my first business, I moved into my friend Johnny Gems’ basement, below the hustle and bustle of London’s Edgware Road. It was dark, rather damp, extremely dirty—and we had a blast. Running our own business, Student Magazine, while relishing our first taste of independence was absolutely thrilling.

That said, Mum did keep an eye on us. She occasionally brought over baskets of food (we were always hungry) and made sure that we washed at least once a week. Fending for myself at an early age taught me a lot, but I never lost sight of how much my parents supported me, or of how important that support was.

These days my mum and I are close as ever, even though we live in different countries. Recently when she was doing a book signing in Washington (for Mum’s the Word: The High-Flying Adventures of Eve Branson), I paid her a surprise visit. She didn’t know that I was in town, so when I appeared at the front of the line, I gave her a real fright. It has been six decades—she should be used to my surprises by now!

If you are planning to launch a business in the short term, living with your parents would provide some advantages. It is sensible to think of ways to save money, since cash flow problems kill most new businesses. You wouldn’t need to pay rent, which might allow you to hire some much-needed help, starting you on the way to building your team. Your parents may also prove to be a good sounding board for your business plans. To this day I still rely on the Mum Test, where before you approach potential investors, you check to see if your own mum understands and likes your idea.

Even so, there are benefits to consider of moving away. Living in a hub city, where you would be able to mingle with fellow entrepreneurs and other creative people, might inspire you in ways that you couldn’t anticipate living in a smaller area. It is no coincidence that communities of entrepreneurs in places like Austin, San Francisco, Berlin and London draw young people. When a lot of energetic, imaginative minds are gathered in one spot, great ideas emerge. And the nightlife is fun too!

One important thing to remember is that becoming an entrepreneur is a process. The overwhelming majority of entrepreneurs’ attempts to launch their first businesses fail. And their second businesses. And their third. Once you have been through that process a few times—of dealing with disappointment, examining what went wrong and then relaunching your project by building on what you’ve learned—it’s more likely that your company will take off. During those years, however, your hours may sometimes be long and you may not be much of a housemate, so you should keep your parents’ needs in mind as you consider your options.

Whether you move away or not, I’m sure you’ll find that your parents will always love you and support your decisions. Joan and I are very proud of our children, Holly and Sam, for standing on their own two feet, and happy that we have all remained so close.

Richard Branson is a philanthropist, adventurer, entrepreneur and founder of the Virgin Group of companies

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