City A.M. chatted with Richard Branson about his views on startups, why affordable space travel is imminent and what drove his decision to invest in a drone business.
What’s the most exciting startup at the moment?
I’m lucky in that I meet exciting startups virtually everyday. One that’s especially grabbed my attention lately is car sharing app Sidecar. It allows ordinary drivers to pick up some extra cash by charging for lifts. The drivers set their own fees per ride and users pick specific drivers based on price, quality of car and personal traits. I’m excited by the rise of the sharing economy and feel there’s still a lot of space for new startups to fill in this area – Sidecar are an example of a business that’s moving things forward in that space.
Where will space travel be in 10 years’ time?
Twenty years ago space travel for tourists was a distant dream, [but] very soon we hope to realise that dream with Virgin Galactic - and myself plus my family among the first passengers.
In five years’ time we hope we’ll have given all of those who have already reserved their ticket to space the opportunity to fly, and then in 10 years we hope to have opened a number of spaceports around the world which will give more people the chance to become space tourists. In time, I hope we will be able to fly from point to point very fast.
So how long before it’s affordable?
Our aim is to make it more affordable over time as the business grows.
You’ve just invested in drone maker 3D Robotics - why are drones exciting?
It’s amazing to strap a little GoPro camera to a drone and send it up to film or take pictures. In the past that would have required an expensive helicopter and a crew. Going further than that, this technology, which is relatively affordable, can also be used to help manage natural disasters and deliver healthcare to remote areas.
And what do you think of Apple Pay?
I’m really glad to see Apple is continuing to innovate and move technology forward. Apple Pay is a step towards mobile payments becoming even more mainstream and it’s the right step because it’s how I think we’ll be making payments in the future
Bitcoin is dangerously close to being mainstream. What do you think about governments regulating virtual currencies?
I’m always looking to the future and admire anyone looking to disrupt and change the way we do things for the better. Virtual currencies such as Bitcoin are an example of innovators doing just that. If government regulation prevents laundering of virtual currencies, protects people’s cyber security and gives people more confidence in using them, then I don’t see a problem with it.
What global challenge do you think needs more attention at the moment?
I’ve just returned from Ukraine and it’s essential to ensure a peaceful resolution to the Russia – Ukraine conflict. The dismantling of the Berlin Wall and the end of the Cold War was one of the greatest moments of our lives and we should do all we can to stop a return to those dark days.
- Last week Sir Richard Branson was in London supporting Foodpreneur Fest, Virgin StartUp’s latest competition to seek out Britain’s top food entrepreneurs. Virgin StartUp is a not-for-profit organisation launched by Virgin Group in October 2013. For more information, go to www.virginstartup.org.