A live tech talk with Richard Branson at 30,000 feet
In the early 1980s, a 20-something Richard Branson started Virgin America with a few thousand dollars, a chartered plane and a hastily scribbled sign.
Like many startup founders, Branson was compelled by both necessity and a personal connection — at the time he was stuck in Puerto Rico, waiting for a flight to the British Virgin Islands, a flight that would be canceled because of a lack of passengers.
But with flying in his blood — his mom was a stewardess on the first commercial jet plane, and his uncle flew in the British Royal Air Force during World War II, even surviving getting shot down — Branson took matters into his own hands.
Fuming from the poor treatment he was getting from the airline, and as legend has it, even madder that he was missing out on seeing a lover, he hired a plane for $2,000, wrote “Virgin Airlines, $39 one way to BVI” on a blackboard, and quickly filled the plane with the fellow travelers who had been bumped. And just like that, an airline was born — one Branson built to emulate his desire for a better overall flying experience.
Today, the brand has expanded to become a global, mult-hyphenate force, with Virgin’s imprints flying more than 32 million passengers a year, amassing an estimated annual revenue of around $9 billion and soon taking aim toward the heavens with space tourism. But it all started much less ambitiously, with a guy just looking to get on a flight and see his girl.
This morning, Branson is taking to the skies for the inaugural flight of a new route, from SFO to Denver, in the hopes of linking a nascent tech community in the Mile High City with an established one in Silicon Valley.
Joining him are students and founders from the KIPP entrepreneur program, the Techstars Virgin Media Accelerator, Denver’s tech-focused mayor, Michael Hancock and LinkedIn’s Dan Roth, all part of a 30,000-foot livestream about the smartest early-stage approaches to building a company, and modern entrepreneurship in an age of constant connection, competition and distraction.