Startup Grind Greenwich: 14 Pieces of Advice from the Man Who Helped Build Virgin Airlines



Greenwich, Connecticut is probably the last place that comes to mind when you think of creating a startup community. Yet, this is where Startup Grind has established its latest chapter. Peter Sinkevich, the Greenwich Chapter Director, used a Blue Ocean strategy in picking Greenwich – taking a contrarian approach that, upon closer inspection, isn’t so contrarian.

“Greenwich is a town of success stories. Further, it has tremendous resources in terms of a wide variety of business experts and prospective investors – from angels to VC’s to investment bankers – that can help any entrepreneur. And with the burgeoning startup community of Stamford next door, the rest of Fairfield County, plus New York City just a 40-minute train ride away, Greenwich has easy access to a tremendous number of startups.”

Startup Grind’s first event was held at the Bruce Museum, which definitely does not have a startup vibe about it. The speaker was David Tait, who wrote the Virgin Airlines business plan and built it to what it has become today. For 18 years, Mr. Tait led all of the airline’s North American operations, including sales, marketing, operations, customer service, finance, IT and HR as Executive Director and Executive Vice President North America. His conversation with Mr. Sinkevich was filled with anecdotes about his Virgin experiences, examples of the brilliant guerilla marketing that Virgin used to gain awareness and twit their main competitor – British Airways, and key tenets for success that seem obvious when you hear them, but so many people forget when they are running a business, whether it is a small company or a multi-national giant.

These key tenets can be categorized into Product/Business Definition and How to Run a Business/Your Mindset.

Product/Business Definition

  • “Your people are your product” – Customer service (or more specifically, business-to-customer interaction) is an essential part of whatever product or service you offer
  • “Don’t be the lowest price anything” – Price is always matchable. You need to demonstrate that what you offer is worth the price you want your customers to pay. And you do that by exceeding expectations.
  • “Build loyalty by keeping a strong customer focus” – building on what has already been said, consistently exceeding expectations will build loyalty
  • “The customer is not always right” – That being said, customers’ perspectives are based on what they have experienced before. It is incumbent upon the brand/company to educate its customers.
  • “Be bold marketers” – Create disruption. You do not need a lot of money. You just need be able to pounce on opportunities quickly to show why you are the better choice.
  • “Don’t obsess on the competition, focus on doing what you do better” – Focus on what you can control.

How to Run a Business

The overlying theme is to create a positive, open culture.

  • “Be inclusive – ‘us’ not ‘they’ creates ownership” – You want to make everyone on your team to feel essential.
  • “Have fun” – When you spend more time with your co-workers than your family and friends, it better be enjoyable. Further, studies show that happy workers are more productive
  • “Don’t bring me problems, bring me solutions” – Mr. Tait learned this from his mentor, Sir Freddie Laker. Simply put, only identifying a problem makes you a negative force. Providing a solution makes you a problem solver and that is what all businesses need to succeed.
  • “No such thing as a stupid idea” – Self-evident, but ego and stupidity get in the way. This also ties back to being inclusive
  • “For a startup, if you make mistakes, make them quickly” – Being the little guy gives you the advantage to correct the problem and pivot quickly. Changing direction in a sailboat versus an ocean liner
  • “Don’t build a box for people to think out of” – Some people need structure, but Mr. Tait believes that startups will more likely succeed when ideas are constantly flying around the office.
  • “Constantly look for ways to improve your products and your business” – The “If it ain’t broke…..” mentality encourages stagnation and complacency.
  • “Don’t obsess on the competition, focus on doing what you do better” – This is listed twice because it contributes to the culture you are trying to create

Overall, an inspiring event.


About the author: Andy Harrison

Andy is a Product Development and Relaunch expert with extensive application and platform development expertise, strong game and gamification knowledge. He lives by the Entrepreneur’s Credo: “He who risks and fails can be forgiven. He who never risks and never fails is a failure in his whole being.”

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