What happened on Necker Island this year, what were Yanik’s biggest take-aways… and did he get kicked off again?
“I want to live on the island like Richard does.” — Zoe Silver, Age 4¾
I think that’s the sentiment from the group returning from Necker. This is my fourth visit there, and it gets better every time. It’s become an annual retreat for Maverick members, together with Maverick1000 Member #8, Joe Polish’s 25k Group.
All proceeds after the island cost go towards Virgin Unite… and I’m happy to report we raised over $250,000.00! (Thank you guys very much!)
It’s really hard to describe the week because it’s truly magical, and with a remarkable energy. And it’s everything from the fellow entrepreneurs on the island, to Richard being a gracious host, to the staff members, who really become like your friends. We had more “repeat offenders” than ever this year, so once we (hopefully) get dates for 2013, you should jump on it.
Since only a handful of members can attend, I’ll share a couple interesting stories and business lessons out of my journal:
In the four years I’ve been to Necker, it’s been really powerful to have different conversations with Richard, see how he interacts with the staff, other guests, etc. You can learn a lot by taking notice. Here are some of the things that jumped at me this year:
1) Make Your Own Rules.
This is a huge one, and something I continue to see each year in big and small ways. Last year at one of the dinners, we played a game I created called “Dinner Quirks.” Everybody at the table gets a note, giving them three ways to behave during dinner (e.g.: Talk in 3rd person, make “air quotes,” ask inappropriate questions, etc.)
Now Richard shows up at dinner a little late, and the only open seat was next to my wife, Missy. He reads his envelope, and then gives Missy a nice slap on the check in jest. She’s obviously pretty surprised, but he points right to the paper and claims that’s what the note says. Now I wrote all the dinner quirks, so I know there wasn’t one like that — but it’s a perfect illustration. Richard just does not play by other people’s rules.
One night before dinner this year, Maverick1000 Member #81 Robert Hirsch and I were playing against Richard in a game of pool. When my turn came to sink the 8 ball for the win – I was getting harassed by a pool cue and maracas from behind, to throw off my concentration. I told Richard we were playing for one of his lemurs… but he didn’t find that as funny as I did.
Before the Great House burned down, there was a framed illustration of rules for an annual sailing race around Necker Island. I don’t remember all the rules, but one of them said Richard was allowed to board any vessel as pirate — or something like that. You can see a lot of that in Richard “at play,” but you also can see a lot of it with him in business. Virgin has always succeeded by not playing with the same set of rules that the traditional incumbent uses. One of my favorite examples is how Virgin Mobile was launched in the US.: Instead of spending billions trying to build their own infrastructure, they simply “rented” unused bandwidth from Sprint. Then, if they had enough customers they could decide what to do. This provided a lot of upside, with a lot less risk.
2) “Suggest” and Collaborate… Instead of Dictate.
Richard really enjoys being active, and he’s in great shape. There are many mornings you can find him swimming around the island at 7am, or going kite boarding. One afternoon, he had a “business” meeting with his General Manager on Mosquito Island. (Mosquito (aka: “Moskito”) is a neighboring island he recently bought for about 15M, and is in the process of building up and selling off private lots from.)
So anyway, Richard decides his mode of transport will be a stand-up paddleboard to get to his meeting. It’s about a 30-minute outing (if you’re good) to Moskito…. and there were a handful of entrepreneurs who were
foolish smart enough to join Richard. I don’t think any one of us had more than 20 minutes of experience with the paddleboards, but we went for it. I think there were five or six of us who started, and only three of us finished —all Mavericks, of course— including Maverick1000 Member #61 Mike Cline, and #81 Robert Hirsch. The waves were quite a bit bigger than I imagined… but I got there. I was the last of the three, but the only one who stood up the whole time!
Once we got there, Westy the GM picked us up and toured us around the island. He showed off some of the new amenities (community pool, clubhouse, etc.) for the private guests. I sat back and just watched and listened to Richard interact with Westy. One of the most poignant parts was the discussion around new roads on Moskito. Some of the contractors wanted to reinforce the heavily traveled sections of the road and make them concrete — or the other option was a dirt-colored, mud-like road, which was 50% cheaper. Richard said, “Let’s try it the dirt-road way first, and then if it doesn’t hold, we can always pour the concrete. Plus, it looks more like an island road.”
From that one little interaction, I picked up a lot: Richard values frugality, he doesn’t dictate how things “should” be done, and he makes it all very pleasing with a “Let’s try it…” kind of attitude.
This past year, Richard added a small lemur sanctuary on the island, and out of everything he’s ever done, Charlie Smith, the lemur specialist, said this received the most media attention of all. Quite a few people thought Richard was wrong to move the lemurs from their natural habitat. (Here’s one example: http://www.care2.com/causes/sir-richard-branson-sparks-lemur-controversy.html )
Instead of coming out rallying directly against the conservationists, Richard and his team embraced what they had to say, and asked them to collaborate on plans to help the endangered lemurs. The first step was putting them into an enclosed setting on Necker, so they could see their impact on the local plants and animals.
Now when you ask Richard about the lemurs, he just lights up. And my kids, Zack and Zoe, absolutely loved them. They were incredible, friendly creatures, who literally jump on your back around feeding time. Here are a few shots of them (including a little baby lemur on the back of Momma):
During the brainstorming sessions, of the biggest ongoing business discussions we had was around company culture and alignment. Maverick1000 Member #85 Vishen Lakhiani said he spends 60-70% of his time on culture and growing his team. Maverick1000 Member #127 John Ratliff added that he can immediately tell if a team is aligned and the culture is there… the moment he “walks” into a business or interacts with it. John should know — he’s a master at acquisitions, and then immediately infusing the new team with the Appletree culture.
One of the nights, Joe Polish decided to play a little prank on Richard, by having a few of us tell him all the little ways the island has really gone downhill since the fire and loss of the Great House. It was Joe’s idea, but pretty funny. I started by saying how the sushi served in the pool just wasn’t the same; because they placed it too close to the edge and people didn’t have to get wet to have their lunch anymore. And a few of the other repeat visitors shared their “critiques” around odd little things. Then John started talking about the staff, and before he could finish, there was a simultaneous “Shut Up!” yelled at him from the Director of Guest Services, Lucy, and Richard… throwing a full glass of water in John’s face. Now that’s alignment! Then we let Richard in on the joke and had him going.
4) New Perspective .
While having an informal breakfast, I asked Richard if he ever imagined he’d be running 300+ different companies. His answer somewhat surprised me: He said it happened when he first read a story about how “elastic” the Virgin brand was, which caused him to actually consider that there might be a lot of other industries and marketplaces he could go into. He said it gave him a little bit more permission to think even wider and bigger.
Richard has always pursued businesses that personally interest him — and originally that’s how the small conglomerate came together. I remember in one of the “uncensored” Q&A sessions last year, he mentioned there was a small plan, originally with each new business supporting or being a spin-off of the other. For instance, he bought a recording studio that could be used for Virgin Record artists, but which could also be rented out for additional revenue.
Okay that’s probably enough about business – how about a few interesting Maverick Moments from Necker?
Have Gong Will Travel
Last year, we made the incredible discovery that the gong they use to summon you to lunch or dinner could be moved. We were the first group in history to pack up the gong from the Great House, and bring it down to one of the Bali houses… in order to wake up a sleeping compatriot who had retired early.
This year, the “Necker Seals” were formed to take on a dangerous and daring mission: To extract the gong, board it onto a seafaring vessel, and take it aboard the Necker Belle (the 3rd largest Catamaran in the world) to awaken the guests there. To preserve these individuals’ innocence (or guilt), I can only say there have been rumors of such a group – this picture has not been authenticated.
After preying on a few of the fellow Necker guests, the Seals took on their most dangerous mission: Gonging a staff member. Anna, the Chief Stew, pointed us to Pixie, the ship’s cook, slumbering below the galley. And the last words out of Anna’s mouth were, “Oh… you know sometimes Pixie likes to sleep in the buff.”
Yes, I’ll leave it to your imagination —but all I can say is that the Necker Seals went in a determined group —snake-eyed and tactical – and reemerged perplexed and confused.
The Sumo Championship of Necker
Necker has quite a few odd toys, and one of them is a set of huge and cushy sumo wrestling outfits, which make you look like you weigh 350 lbs. Last year, I was the Undefeated Sumo Champion on Necker. (I only had one match, but was 1-0). This year during an “abbreviated” Beach Olympics, I took my opponent out and retained my title. BUT… My title was challenged at 2 o’clock in the morning, with the evening entertainment being myself and Maverick1000 Member #117, Ben Richter. Now Brother Ben is about 6’ 3”, probably with a good 5 inches and 35 lbs. on me.
It was a hard fought bout, but Ben took me out, 3-2. I will need to file a claim with the athletic board of BVI for alleged cheating and infractions that took place in this unsanctioned match. Parker Powers did a great job filming this… and I hope it never surfaces.
Swimming Lessons & Being Vulnerable
Another interesting and transformative aspect of the week was when Maverick1000 Member #90, Abby Moneyhun opened up to admit she—as an adult—couldn’t swim. And then a few other people stepped forward to admit the same thing. This was just one of the open-hearted conversations we had about business, relationships, and life. It was really interesting (but not surprising) that as one person opens up in a truly vulnerable way, others step up to say they share the same thing… or to step up to help.
And who stepped up to help Abby? Well none other than Sir Richard Branson himself. He’s got quite a nice fall-back option if the whole Virgin thing doesn’t work. In fact, the swimming lessons made it to his blog after we left.
In previous years, I’ve been “kicked off” the island, had head-on collisions in golf carts, and even sprayed the entire great house with Champagne. Well this year, the tradition of mischief was continued by my 6-year old, Zack.
We were lucky enough to stay in Richard’s actual house… and see if you notice anything out of place from this picture of the roof:
If you picked out the Angry Bird stuffed animal, you are correct. Ding-Ding: The last morning we were there, Zack somehow managed to get his Angry Bird lodged into the beams of the ceiling. Now considering this was Richard’s house, I’d assume this was some sort of ancient Balinese wood or something like that; and after a few unsuccessful attempts at bringing the bird down, I thought it might have to stay there — since the beams are like 100+ feet in the air. Luckily, someone on the Necker team was able to get it down with a long oar.
Each night, I typically ask my kids what their three favorite things were from the day, so they can feel grateful for what’s happened, and take that positive progress and focus into thinking about the next day. Well, I’ll steal a quote from Zoe again, when she said: “Today was the best day of my life.”
Gotta love it!
Final thought – go buy my damn book!!
Pick up a copy of my new book, Maverick Start Up, just out. It comes from good pedigree:
Click here to buy a copy of Yanik’s NEW book, Maverick Start-Up: http://www.maverickstartup.com/