You have to fall to get up, goes the saying. Richard Branson seems to have made it his credo. The British billionaire announced this Friday, March 31, the end of Virgin Orbit, its satellite launcher. Created in 2017 for compete with Elon Musk’s projects and Jeff Bezos, and not to be confused with Virgin Galactic, its space tourism companythe company has gradually declined since a failed launch attempt in early 2023.
After laying off 85% of its workforce, or 675 people, this umpteenth subsidiary of Virgin, whose bankruptcy was confirmed on Tuesday, April 4, will join the cemetery of Richard Branson’s failed projects.
VIDEO. Virgin Orbit: failure of the first 100% British space mission
Since the start of his entrepreneurial adventure, the London native has launched more than 400 companies. By affixing his Virgin brand in front of everything that can be sold, Richard Branson has made his group an empire. Nicknamed “Doctor Yes” for his propensity to say yes to each project, the serial entrepreneur defends a strategy of extreme diversification, even if it means leaving a few marbles behind. If his musical label Virgin Records or his airline Virgin Atlantic allow him today to be among the greatest fortunes in the world, other operations have proved much less lucrative.
The Virgin Cola fiasco, and other multi-million dollar adventures
The launch of Virgin Cola illustrates these costly attempts. In 1994, the Londoner launched his brand of soda with one objective: to compete with the giants Coca-Cola and Pepsi. To promote his new baby, Richard Branson does not hesitate to walk the streets of Tokyo disguised as a can of soda or to go up Times Square in a tank, crushing thousands of bottles of his rival Coca-Cola in the process. In vain.
Virgin Cola will finally be taken off the shelves three years later. The time of its marketing in the United States, the drink won only 0.5% market share. “We thought we could knock the beverage giants out of their leadership position,” the billionaire concluded. And we had a lot of fun along the way. »
In line with this multimillion-dollar adventure, we find Virgin Clothing, a “young, fun and frivolous” clothing brand, Virgin cars, an online car sales site, or Virgin Brides, an organization agency of marriages. Average life of these subsidiaries: less than five years. But if chess is part of the world of entrepreneurship, Richard Branson has made it his trademark.
An image of failure to success
“Show me someone who has never failed and I’ll show you someone who has never tried anything new,” the British entrepreneur philosophizes on his blog. “Embrace failure and learn from it,” he insists on his social networks. Far from the myth of the businessman who succeeds in everything, Richard Branson surfs on this image of failure to success.
In a post published on the Virgin Group websitehis daughter Holly Branson perfects his portrait. ” My father has always been convinced that we learn more from failure than from success, reports the one who took over at the helm of the Virgin empire. For him, I had to miss something or I would never learn anything valuable about life. »
This image of a resilient entrepreneur is also a way of reuring investors. By minimizing the cost of his failures and highlighting their lessons, Richard Branson tries to limit the consequences of bankruptcies on the health of other subsidiaries that gravitate in the Virgin group. After the Virgin Orbit plunge, the parent company still has 46 branches and employs more than 60,000 employees worldwide. Their cumulative turnover was around 23 billion dollars (about 21 billion euros) in 2019. The fortune of the Briton peaks at 3.1 billion euros. What, indeed, help to relativize the failures.