10 things we learned from some of the most exciting entrepreneurs at Virgin Disruptors


We all know that Sir Richard Branson is a seriously cool guy, but it's a fact that bears repeating.

It turns out that he's had a near-death experience every year of his life - and how many of us can say that? This was one of the many revelations that came out of the Virgin Disruptors conference.

This was the sixth Virgin Disruptors event, which lives out Branson's motto of "Screw it, let's do it" with the aim of inspiring and creating change.

Virgin Disruptors.
(John Phillips/PA)

It was an action-packed day with an impressive line-up of speakers, from the worlds of finance to publishing.

So if you weren't lucky enough to make it to the event, here are our top 10 takeouts. These points might come in handy if you're setting up your own business, or just want to excel in whatever you're doing...

1. Challenge yourself

Virgin Disruptors.
Peter Smith (John Phillips/PA)

Branson's greatest pleasure in life is "setting myself seemingly impossible challenges and trying to overcome them", he says. Judging by his impressive portfolio of businesses, this ethos has really worked for him.

Peter Smith, the co-founder of FinTech company Blockchain, gave the advice: "No one owes you anything - go out and get it for yourself." It became clear that all the inspiring speakers of the day had gone up against some huge challenges, with great success.

2. Surround yourself with people better than you

This piece of advice is a no-brainer - if you've got a good team around you, your chances of success will be greatly increased.

On top of this, Branson added the importance of a personal life. He warned against the danger of thinking that you are the only person who can run your business.

As long as you've got a strong team around you, chances are everything will be okay and you can take the all-important time for yourself.

3. There's a difference between disruption and innovation

(John Phillips/PA)
(John Phillips/PA)

Seeing as this was the Virgin Disruptors conference, disruption (unsurprisingly) was top of the agenda. But what really is it and how does it differ from innovation?

Luckily, this key question was answered for us by the speakers.

Putting it simply, "disruption" is doing something slightly different and exciting that takes away business from your rivals - FinTech is a prime example of this. Innovation is slightly different - as it's creating something entirely new that hasn't been done before.

So the two go hand in hand, but don't be fooled into thinking they are the same.

4. Start before you're ready

Virgin Disruptors.
Holly Ransom (John Phillips/PA)

Good things might come to those who wait, but success certainly doesn't.

Most of the speakers agreed that there's no use resting on your laurels when you could be out there making your product better.

Holly Ransom is chief executive of Emergent, a company specialising in enabling change, and was the navigator for the day.

She made the point that if you're not out there disrupting, someone will come and disrupt you - regardless of what industry you're in. Change will only happen if you start acting on it.

5. Think of the customer

Emma Sinclair.
Emma Sinclair (John Phillips/PA)

It's very easy to get bogged down in your glorious idea and wonderful code, but every so often you need to stop and think. Would anyone want to buy this? Success is much more rooted in the practical than you might have anticipated.

Founder of EnterpriseJungle Emma Sinclair said: "It doesn't matter if you're facing Goliath" - as long as you do something amazing that people want, you'll be on the road to success.

6. No one can quite agree on where the entrepreneurial spirit comes from

Solly Solomou (John Phillips/PA)
Solly Solomou (John Phillips/PA)

Are you born with it or can you learn it? This was a major issue that many of the speakers during the day just couldn't agree on.

"I think for me you're either born that way or you're not", said Smith somewhat controversially. This was met with quite a lot of disagreement from the other panellists - Sinclair instead thinking that anyone can be an entrepreneur if they have the right mindset and work ethic.

Branson and Solly Solomou, founder of The LADBible, both agreed that everyone has the entrepreneurial spirit - it just has to be teased out of you. Good news for all of us then.

7. Purpose is seriously important

(John Phillips/PA)
(John Phillips/PA)

One thing all the speakers could agree on was purpose. While you don't need a sense of purpose to be successful and make money, it is what drives all of these inspiring speakers.

Smith said: "What I'm excited about is changing the world... for me, I need that purpose." And his company is certainly helping the world: he wants to make it as easy to do business and transfer money as it is to communicate on WhatsApp. This will have a vast impact on developing countries.

Solomou and The LADBible also have a higher sense of purpose than just disrupting the publishing industry. Using the power of the platform, Solomou recently launched the "You okay mate?" campaign which aims to open up conversations about male depression. "Purpose for me fuels disruption," he said.

8. Fight the politics of fear

Sara Khan, the co-founder of the counter-extremism and women's rights organisation Inspire, gave a particularly moving speech on the danger of the politics of fear. She pointed out that our society is shifting: extremism and the far right are becoming more pronounced.

Khan gave the worrying statistic that 55% of British voters think there's a fundamental clash between Islam and British values. She emphasised the difference between Islam and extremism, and urged us all to help protect the middle ground.

9. We need to be really, really worried about the environment

Cyrill Gutsch
Cyrill Gutsch (Prudence Wade/PA)

The founder of Parley For The Oceans Cyrill Gutsch gave us all a bit of a shock when he told us that we have just 10 years to save the planet. The problem? Plastic. Our addiction has got so bad that we are in desperate need of a replacement drug.

Gutsch is an example of someone who isn't sitting on his laurels: he's turning negative into positive, and making some real eco innovation (his preferred term to the dull "sustainability").

Case in point - Parley's collaboration with Adidas: turning plastic eel nets into some sweet sneakers.

10. Elle Woods is a business icon

Well, according to Sinclair. But maybe don't watch Legally Blonde for business tips anytime soon.