What Richard Branson And 30 Amazing Entrepreneurs Taught Me In 7 Days on Necker Island
In May 2015, I spent 7 days with Richard Branson and 30 amazing entrepreneurs on Necker Island.
Take a look at the picture to the right. It just about sums up the trip.
Here was a group of 30 entrepreneurs, visionaries and business people, discussing how to be “changemakers and rulebreakers” on a global scale… and it was one giant party.
Even Richard, arguably one of the most successful serial entrepreneurs on the planet and with a reported net worth of 4.8 billion USD in 2015, got down. As you can see, Richard donned his AirAsia stewardess outfit for the Up, Up, and Away party (there was a different themed party every night).
In this post, I want to dive into some of my takeaways from my week on the island and begin a discussion on going big.
I want to begin by revealing that…
This trip almost most didn’t happen for me.
Here’s how it went down.
In February 2015, I met Brian Lim to record a podcast for The McMethod Email Marketing Podcast. I’d heard a bit about Brian from a mutual friend. He’d been to Singularity University and was building satellites. I wanted to interview him about going big.
After we finished recording, Brian told me he was going to Necker Island in May 2015.
At the end of our call, I joked that “I’ll see you on Necker in a few years”.
I honestly did not believe I would ever get there this year.
“John, I expect to see you there THIS year.”
“Ha ha ha… whaddda you mean?”, I chuckled nervously.
Brian told me that if I sent over my resume and LinkedIn profile, he’d pass them over to Fiona, the organiser, and we could see what she said.
He told me it was $16,000 for the week, plus the cost of getting to the island. I didn’t have the money at the time, but I told him I did and told myself I’d figure something out.
I didn’t hear anything for a month.
I thought it was game over. I wasn’t good enough for the trip. They’d found someone more suitable.
But because I believe that the followup is everything, I shot Brian an email to ask if he’d heard from Fiona.
A couple days later, Fiona emails me and says she wants to talk.
45 minutes later, I’m invited to Necker Island.
Fiona sends me the information, including payment information. $8,000 USD, or 50%, to secure my spot, with the balance due in 2 weeks.
I didn’t tell Fiona… but at the time, $8,000 USD was just about all I had in savings.
I wasn’t sure if I could make another $8,000 USD for the remainder… let alone pay my business and personal expenses during the same time period.
I decided to take a leaf out of Branson’s book.
“Screw it. Let’s do it.”
Worst case scenario?
I’d be calling my mum to borrow money for food in a few weeks.
Best case scenario?
I’d change the world and make billions in the process.
See, my thinking was that a trip like this, to meet Branson and 30 other amazing entrepreneurs, could be rocket fuel for my own mindset and attitude.
I believed that if I could make it… my life would never be the same again.
Now, I made it to the island… but it wasn’t all smooth sailing.
I sent Fiona the $8,000 USD deposit and emptied my bank account.
Then I got busy with making the remaining $8,000 USD within 2 weeks.
I did as many sales calls as I could.
I emailed my list as much as I thought I could without burning them dry.
I set up cold email campaigns to as many different lists of people as possible.
I did webinars, podcasts and even hired a new coach.
But after 2 weeks of 14-16 hour days (including weekends)…
I had nothing.
I emailed Fiona to say that I was having “cashflow problems” and that I needed an extra week.
She sounded worried but graciously gave me another week.
The week was tough.
I was annoyed and frustrated at myself for not figuring it out… for failing… and for spending all the money I had on the slim chance of meeting Richard Branson…
Maybe it was a bad idea.
Maybe I’d made a mistake.
I was a mess that week.
Instead of working… I passed out on the couch and forget about it all. I binge watched House of Cards. I slept in every day for a week straight.
On the verge of quitting, I reached out to Brian for help.
Brian got on Skype with me to discuss the situation. I was half-hoping that he’d tell me I should probably give up and save the money. But Brian called me on my shit.
Brian said, “Look John, when you’re doing anything big and meaningful, you’re going to face challenges. Most people crumble under challenge. They give in, just like you want to give in. But here’s something you should know. The temptation to quit is greatest right when you’re about to succeed. You can make this. I know you can. But you need to buck up and make it happen.”
That was my turning moment.
I was about to quit…
…but after that conversation, my fire was renewed.
Lo and behold… it began to come together.
I closed a deal for $5k.
Then another for $5k…
Then a deal for $10k.
Then a deal for $24k.
(Learn more about copywriting and deals here: What Is Copywriting?)
I’d done it.
Necker was happening.
I was back in action.
Now, the reason I tell this story is to highlight something I discovered on the island.
When I first arrived on Necker, I was intimidated and anxious. I think I hid it well, but at the time, I felt totally out of my league.
Here are people who are literally changing the world… from building homes in the third world, to drones that explore the sea, to satellites that read the chemical makeup of the earth’s surface…
…and here I am with a small marketing agency… a lifestyle business.
I have a great lifestyle, but I’m not changing the world with my email marketing.
For the first few days, I wasn’t sure what I had to offer. I was hungrily soaking up every little piece of wisdom I could glean from everyone, but I wasn’t yet sure if I had anything to offer them…
How wrong I was!
Once I got out of my head, and began to connect to everyone on the island, I discovered that what brought us together, and made us kindred spirits, wasn’t the amount of money in our bank accounts, or our net worth, or how many companies we’d built and sold, or how many customers we had…
…but about our vision, ambition and desire to change the world.
What connected us was not external but internal… our passion to make a difference on the biggest scale possible.
So – here’s the takeaway:
If you want to change the world and play a bigger game, what matters most is not how much money you have, how many companies you’ve sold, or how many venture capitalists you know… but your passion, drive and enthusiasm.
I’m not saying that skill and expertise aren’t important.
But if you have enough passion, drive and enthusiasm… you’ll do whatever it takes to achieve your vision, including learning whatever you need to learn to make it happen.
This leads to my next big takeaway:
If you want to go big, the only thing you need to do is decide to go big.
After meeting Richard Branson and everyone else on the island, I noticed that the only discernable similarity between everyone there was the fact that they had DECIDED to go big.
Some had lots of education. Some didn’t.
Some had built and sold companies. Some hadn’t.
The core differentiator between this people was that they decided to change the world.
This realization forced me to face the fact that I had a script in my head that said something like…
“I have to do X before I can do Y”.
I have to build my marketing agency before I can build satellites.
I have to achieve success with a small idea before I can achieve success with a big idea.
I have to prove myself in a small way before I can achieve success in a big way.
I have to make $X before I can build satellites, or drones, or space ships.
Before I went to Necker, this script was invisible. I knew I wanted to go big at some point in life, but I kept telling myself that I would do it in a few years. I thought I had to build my current company and make a few million that way first… and THEN go bigger. I thought I didn’t have the authority, or track record, or confidence, to go big.
But after Necker, this script is in clear view.
I don’t mean to discount the need for hard work, or money, or confidence, in the pursuit of big things. If you’ve built and sold companies, or you know VCs, or you have a great reputation in the space industry, or you have a PHD in computer engineering, you’ll have certain advantages.
My point is that what ultimately matters is not resources but one’s belief, ambition and vision. Nail that part of the equation and you can figure out the rest along the way.
If you’re a skeptic, then you might want to interject here and talk about the millions of people living below the poverty line who don’t have the same opportunities… regardless of how much belief, ambition and vision they have.
You’re absolutely right.
This article isn’t for starving kids in Africa… it’s for the people who are reading this… people who probably have everything they need to change the world, except the self-belief that they can actually do it.
If you’re reading this, you speak English, the most prevalent language in the world, and the language that affords the most opportunities.
Plus, if you’re on my website, a marketing website, reading about business, and Necker Island, there’s a good chance you come from an affluent society, or at least an affluent family, and therefore you have access to more opportunities than 99.999% of people on the planet.
This leads us to the next lesson from Necker Island:
You and I have a responsibility to change the world.
This isn’t about doing it because it’s fun.. or because Steve Jobs said so.. but because you and I have access to more wealth and abundance than most people currently living.
Question is –
What are we going to spend that potential on?
Are we going to spend our lives living small, having a nice little family, a secure job, save a little money and enjoy a nice retirement?
Or are we going to use our lives to carry humanity into the future? To impact millions, if not billions, of people around the world?
What will our legacy be?
Sure, this language is all very grandiose, and some people don’t like to think this way… but if you come from a Western country, and you speak English, you could literally change the world, just like Steve Jobs, or anyone else, has.
This video sums it up for me (from Blake Brinker, one of the wonderful people I met on Necker):
I now believe we all CAN change the world. And if we CAN do something so great, then we owe it to each other to go and do it.
If you had the ability to cure aids with a click of your fingers, you would be immoral, unethical and evil if you didn’t do it.
Well, we all have untapped ability and potential, and we can access it if we decide to, so if we don’t… if we don’t at least try… we’re letting not just ourselves down… we’re letting current and future humanity down.
The problem is, we all have a voice inside us that says we can’t do this stuff… we can’t help develop the third world… we can’t develop a device to create clean drinking water… we can’t, we can’t, we can’t…
…but it’s a LIE.
We have far more power than any of us know.
But guess what happens when we each start tapping into our power?
Our friends and family pull us back from the edge… back from that moment of self-discovery.
This happens at every level.
Remember when you decided to quit your job to start a business and how everyone told you that you were out of your mind?
We laugh at those moments now, but that same “negative thinking” happens at people at all levels in business.
I’ve seen ambitious business people, people who talk about their desire to go bigger, and well-meaning entrepreneurs tell them to think smaller… that they should focus on going small before going big… that they’re just being idealists…
I bet that some people will comment on this post and tell me how most people should stay small… how not everyone can go big… how we need to stop being grandiose and focus on Adsense, Adwords, Ecommerce or productized-service businesses.
I’ve seen it happen before.
Sometimes, I bet that’s true.
But I think we need more idealists.
More people with the balls to go bigger.
Because the more people that think bigger and live bigger, the faster we’ll solve the biggest challenges that are facing humanity.
The more people that pitch in to help the cause, the faster we’ll get there.
So that’s the next lesson:
When you decide to go big, there will always be naysayers and some of them will be the people you least expect. Entrepreneurs who started by bucking the status quo but have now lost their vision. They’re now content to stay small.
If you want to go big, and if you have the vision, don’t let it go.
Because when you go down that road, you become an example to others.
You show everyone else that the only thing that matters is the decision to go big and help humanity:
“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, ‘Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous?’ Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It’s not just in some of us; it’s in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”
If you’ve read this far, you’re probably wondering where to begin…
There’s no simple answer.
I don’t even know exactly what direction I’ll be going in… but I know I want to do something big.
I’m reminded of something someone said while on Necker:
“There are thousands of ‘big ideas’ floating out there, in ‘the ether’ perhaps, that are just waiting for someone to put their hand up and say that they’re going to solve that one. We don’t need more ideas. We need more willing hands.”
And so, that leads me to my conclusion, and my plans moving forward.
How I plan to go big and change the world
I discovered on the island that one of the most important things in this game is who you know. People use the “it’s all about who you know” idea as an excuse, but in 2015, it shouldn’t stop us.
With email, Facebook, LinkedIn, and plenty of other websites, anyone can contact anyone in the digital age, so there is no excuse.
What happens when you meet more people?
It’s not about the opportunities that people will tell you about… but about idea sex.
Idea sex is what happens when you meet a few people with different ideas. Each idea finds its way into your brain, and begins having sex with the other ideas in your brain. Each idea that you add to your brain, you increase your ability to produce good ideas. Over time, your brain starts producing amazing ideas.
So, if you want to change the world, start by meeting people who are doing it and living it.
You don’t need to go to Necker Island to do it. That’s just what I did.
Here’s what I’ll be doing in the next month or two as a result:
Going to SF, NYC, Nashville, and several other places across the US, with the goal of talking to as many people as possible who are involved in this space, and following up on a few opportunities.
I believe that this is the first step for me, and for many. Through those conversations, something is bound to come up out of it… whether it’s co-founding a company, joining an existing one, or something that neither of us can imagine.
All we need to know is the next step.
Do you want to change the world?
If so, what’s your next step? Please post below.
P.S. Going big doesn’t have to be boring.
I used to think that building a lifestyle business was the only way to live an exciting life.
But the island was a non-stop party (as you saw from the pic with Richard Branson).
Don’t put off “going big” because you think you’ll need to work too much, or you won’t get to travel.
You’ll probably have more fun and it’ll definitely be a lot more satisfying.
P.P.S. If you want to discuss anything mentioned here in private, email me (john at dropdeadcopy dot com)