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The power of ‘yes’

Published: 
Thursday, November 10, 2016
Allington “Gumption” Creque, right, with Richard Branson

As an animal lover and a member of the Ocean Elders conservation group, I always smile when I see Allington “Gumption” Creque’s boat pull up to Necker Island.

His glass-bottom boat business, Sea It Clear, is doing wonderful work promoting conservation efforts in the British Virgin Islands, with a primary focus on protecting endangered sea turtles. Even better, his customers are spreading his message of preservation and protection around the world.

Gumption is truly an inspiration for budding entrepreneurs. We met on Necker Island years ago when he was working there. He wasn’t in the best of spirits at the time. He told me about his business plans and that he’d been denied a loan by four banks. He had also turned to his family for help, but even his mother had told him to give up on his dream. Despite being told “no” nine times, he refused to give up. We talked a bit more. Like me, Gumption had dropped out of school, and, like me, he had a passion for entrepreneurship. I could see it in his eyes.

A short time later, Gumption had nine “no’s” and one “yes,” from yours truly.

In October 2012 we gave Gumption a $50,000 loan to buy a boat and pursue his dream. It was one of the best business decisions we’ve ever made. Gumption not only paid us back in full in six months, he also went on to become a successful and purposeful entrepreneur.

He even gave a TEDx talk this year, during which he said, “Being in business, you just can’t focus on money. We have to have purpose beyond profit; a positive purpose beyond profit. And since we are a glass-bottom boat making money off the ocean, it’s only right to put money back into the ocean. And that’s why I started Save the Turtles BVI. My idea for this programme is legislation, tagging and education.”

We’re quite proud of Gumption, and I’m happy that we said yes to him.

As I’ve written before, my nickname at Virgin is Doctor Yes; simply because I’m known for saying yes, yes, yes to so many ideas. I’ve always been eager to try new things and take chances.

In fact, when I was a young boy, I had a similar nickname: Letsgo. That’s not a typical nickname, but there was good reason behind it. Whenever I was out with friends and we were deciding what to do, I would get impatient and say: “Let’s go!” 

My friends would generally stand around and talk about doing things, while I wanted to get on and do them without having to overthink everything.

These days, I get just as excited about new ideas, but before I say yes, I use a simple test to evaluate a business concept. I suppose you could call it the Richard Test. If I can understand an idea, hopefully anyone can understand it. But if a concept sounds too complicated to me, it will probably be too confusing for consumers.

A good idea should be able to fit on the back of an envelope and be explained within a few minutes. Anything beyond that is likely to bore customers before they ever get excited about your business. Understanding when an idea falls on the right side of this divide comes down to a mix of instinct and experience. Once an idea passes the Richard Test, I put it through one more: the Mum Test. As the name suggests, I run the idea past my mother. If she understands the concept and thinks it’s a great plan, then there is a good chance everybody else will, too.

Gumption’s idea passed both tests with flying colours. Visitors to the British Virgin Islands can reserve a spot on his tours to see the reefs and animals up close, and leave with a better understanding of the need to conserve the ocean.

By operating his enterprise with purpose beyond profit, Gumption has inspired more entrepreneurs. If you’re an entrepreneur looking to launch a startup, I encourage you to follow Gumption’s three simple rules for doing business: have an open mind, think like a customer and have fun. And take note of his mantra: Dream big, think purposefully and act productively.

(Richard Branson is the founder of the Virgin Group and companies such as Virgin Atlantic, Virgin America, Virgin Mobile and Virgin Active. 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.)

(Questions from readers will be answered in future columns. Please send them to Richard.Branson@nytimes.com. Please include your name, country, e-mail address and the name of the website or publication where you read the column.)

A Tale of Gumption:  Watch Allington “Gumption” Creque tell his story and bring a little bit of British Virgin Islands flair to the TEDx stage in this video: bit.ly/2fBoUWP. Once you do, you’ll understand why he got his nickname.

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