Business Lessons of Turtles

Virgin Founder Richard Branson says

A new business is a lot like a baby turtle. That might sound ridiculous, but bear with me on this – here’s why….

Richard with turtle nest on Necker

We’re ecstatic to have 13 new turtle nests on Necker Island this year. The most we’ve ever had before is a single one. Turtles usually return to the same island they have nested upon before year after year. However, with numbers dwindling and other beaches becoming overcrowded, they have changed tack.

When an entrepreneur realizes the way things are being done in a certain sector isn’t working, this can be the spark that results in a new business. They recognize that making the same mistakes won’t work, and decide to change. This may mean they leave the company they work for to create a start-up, or alter the processes of the business they are already in.

The most dangerous period for a new business is the start. The first priority for any new company is survival, pure and simple. While few fledgling start-ups go on to become successful businesses, many of them don’t get past the incubation stage. The same goes for baby turtles; only one in a thousand turtles survives to adulthood. 20% are never strong enough to even make it out of their nests.

The dangers at the start are most prominent. For turtles, there are crabs, birds and fish to avoid and tough terrain to cover. For businesses, cashflow, advertising, recruitment and product are the hurdles that need to be jumped before a company can really get off the ground.

Richard with turtle nest on Necker

Turtles don’t get a lot of help in their efforts to reach the ocean and survive. While experimental ‘headstarting’ programs have been set up to aid hatchlings, their success is so far inconclusive.

There is all sorts of assistance available to new businesses, from mentorship to Start-Up Loans. Nevertheless, in the end, however much help is given it is up to you to make your venture a success.

However, if the business does make it past this initial stage, those involved will be wiser from the experience and battle-hardened from the obstacles they have overcame.

As for turtles, as they develop their shells grow tougher and they become less vulnerable to attack. But with their soft underbelly they can never relax and consider themselves completely safe.

If they make it through the tough times, turtles can live to around 80 years of age. Successful companies can go on for generations, as long as they are able to adapt to the changing business environment.

One example of an entrepreneur who is learning the business lessons of turtles is a delightful young man named Gumption, who was the first recipient of a new entrepreneur loans scheme in the British Virgin Islands. Yours truly and Larry Page are making small loans on a not-for-profit basis to BVI entrepreneurs who can’t get backing from banks. Gumption used his loan to start a glass-bottom boat company, which is going so well he has become the first member of the scheme to fully repay his loan.


His thriving business has also invigorated his desire to protect species in the ocean.  Gumption has started a campaign to get governments to ban the killing of turtles, which have traditionally been eaten by locals for many years. As a local himself, he can see much more can be made enjoying turtles alive than dead. Let’s hope in years to come both Gumption’s new business and the BVI’s turtles are surviving and thriving.

Virgin Founder

Richard Branson


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