To build a great company, rock on
Published: Aug 23, 2013
As an entrepreneur, it’s up to you to create the kind of workplace and company culture that will attract great talent.
This can be daunting - how will you help employees to stay engaged in their work and care about your customers? Integrating a charitable component into your business is a great way to start, but some entrepreneurs have trouble finding a model that works. During music festival season this summer, I’ve been thinking, what better way than through music?
Music is part of Virgin’s DNA - our first businesses included a mail-order record service, a chain of music stores and a music label - and one of the projects I think everyone loves working on these days is our music festival business that’s based in Britain, V Festival. When we launched it in 1996, we didn’t just see it as a chance to enjoy live music and have a good time with our friends, but also to help the community.
Our Virgin Mobile FreeFest coming up in September, in Columbia, Md., is a great example of how we have honed our model over the years. In August we offered 50,000 free tickets, which music fans snapped up in minutes. We then offered some tickets for just under $50, $10 of which went to the Sasha Bruce RE*Generation House in Washington, D.C., Virgin Mobile’s charitable initiative that helps homeless youth. Those went fast as well, but fans can still earn tickets by volunteering their time at homeless youth shelters or by donating kits containing toiletries.
Due to the way FreeFest-goers earn their entry, there is always a feel-good atmosphere at the festival, with everyone sharing the sense of togetherness and satisfaction at making a difference. The heady combination of music and mud, friends and fields, singing and sunshine helps our team to forge strong bonds.
Could you work music into your business? This doesn’t just mean team karaoke sessions after work (though we all enjoy those!), but instilling the values everyone loves about music - passion, fellowship, energy and excitement - into the fabric of your company. There are so many ways to do so. At Virgin we’ve been involved in music through businesses like Virgin Records, Virgin Live and Virgin Radio. We have DJs in our health clubs in South Africa and hold live gigs on some airplanes, which makes those flights unforgettable.
Perhaps I’ve motivated you to consider holding a music or entertainment event. Here are a few lessons we have learned along the way:
1. Help people to donate time as well as money
When you are planning your event, think of ways you can involve the ticket buyers in a more meaningful way than simply by promising to donate some of the revenues to charity. If you offer concertgoers opportunities to volunteer, your event will have a much greater impact on your community, making it more memorable.
2. Make it your own
Look at ways to make the event unique - perhaps by leveraging your deep connections to the community or highlighting your partnerships with charities. Think about concerts that you have attended and what you’d like to do differently using your company’s best talent.
With V Festival, we decided to offer a different format than other festivals. Most festivals usually book lots of bands for an hour’s work and fill one site, but we realized that we could entertain twice as many fans by holding two festivals in one. The logistics took a lot of work, but V is held at two parks simultaneously. Both venues share the same bill: Artists perform at one location on Saturday and then the other on Sunday. (This great idea came from Jarvis Cocker, the lead singer for Pulp, which just goes to show that you should always welcome proposals from all sources.)
3. Reach for the stars
Booking a big star would energize your team and sell tickets. If you don’t have a big budget, try to think creatively about how else you can attract performers - perhaps by highlighting the great location you’ve chosen or by explaining why this event is particularly suited to the performer or band you’ve targeted. While superstar singers won’t play everywhere, you might secure top talent by positioning your event as a unique occasion.
4. Invest time and money, and reap the rewards
Allow your staff to organize the event during their normal workday, and if you can, invite customers and others to get involved, too. This may put a strain on your resources and require some creative management, but you will be surprised at the payoff. Some of the ideas that work well at the event will be adapted to other areas of your business, and such events are an excellent way to develop brand awareness in new markets.
There’s nothing more energizing than a great song with a catchy beat. Integrating that into your workday is sure to make people smile, often making work feel more like play.
• Richard Branson is the founder of the Virgin Group and companies such as Virgin Atlantic, Virgin America, Virgin Mobile and Virgin Active. He has recently published two books: ''Screw Business as Usual’' and ''Like a Virgin.'' He maintains a blog at www.virgin.com/richard-branson/blog. You can follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/richardbranson. To learn more about the Virgin Group: www.virgin.com.