With recent investments in Tumblr and Square, serial entrepreneur and fun-to-watch billionaire Sir Richard Branson is galloping into the American startup world on a snarling steed.
We say "snarling" in the most flattering manner possible, given Branson's tendency to turn heads and disrupt the status quo whenever he enters a new industry. Take, for instance, the time he decided to make space tourism a reality. He founded Virgin Galactic and built the world's first spaceport — all in the span of a few years.
Branson is no less ambitious about his arrival in Silicon Valley with his investment in Square, the new mobile payments startup from Twitter co-founder Jack Dorsey, which aims to run credit card companies out of business. But we can't help but wonder: Why didn't Branson get involved in the tech-startup world sooner?
The short answer is that Branson has always been a startup guy. In a sense, the Virgin empire is the original startup incubator. After launching it as a mail-order record company in 1970, Branson built out the Virgin Group one forward-thinking business at a time. The stability provided by the larger conglomerate meant that Branson could try (and potentially fail) to launch new ventures. Now more than 40 years old, Virgin comprises more than 400 companies -- and Branson is starting to branch out. "I'm very passionate about helping people start and grow successful businesses," he said in a statement announcing his latest investment, "And Square is an incredible technology that inspires and empowers everyone to be an entrepreneur."
Branson's new adventures are separate from his work at Virgin, but the overlap explains his shift to Silicon Valley. One of Branson's newest businesses, the airline Virgin America, is based out of the Bay Area, and Branson has been spending more and more time in Silicon Valley, hanging out with startup types, Virgin spokesperson Christine Choi explained to The Atlantic Wire. Choi explained that Branson's proximity to the innovation happening in Silicon Valley has piqued his interest about the social media platforms, and he stays impressively active on his blog, Twitter, Facebook and Tumblr. Becoming an investor in such companies was a natural next step.
Branson is aiming for ultimate disruption with his startup investments and dealing only with the tech industry's heaviest hitters. With both Tumblr and Square, Branson's entrance into the investor circle comes after massive rounds of funding — $85 million and 100 million, respectively. The geeks and executives of Silicon Valley know Branson is someone who likes to go big, and news of his entry into the startup world spawned rumors that Square would soon take over the world.