The Lean Airline

While reading Derek Sivers’ book, Anything You Want, he briefly mentions a bit of the backstory behind Richard Branson’s Virgin Airlines. 

So I hunted down a few more details:

In ’79, when Joan, my fiancee and I were on a holiday in the British Virgin Islands, we were trying to catch a flight to Puerto Rico; but the local Puerto Rican scheduled flight was cancelled. The airport terminal was full of stranded passengers. I made a few calls to charter companies and agreed to charter a plane for $2000 to Puerto Rico. Cheekily leaving out Joan’s and my name, I divided the price by the remaining number of passengers, borrowed a blackboard and wrote: VIRGIN AIRWAYS: $39 for a single flight to Puerto Rico. I walked around the airport terminal and soon filled every seat on the charter plane. As we landed at Puerto Rico, a passenger turned to me and said: “Virgin Airways isn’t too bad – smarten up the services a little and you could be in business.”

When VA was launched in ’84, not one person thought it would survive for more than a year. The bosses of these 13 big American airlines, that we competed with, said we’d fail. Now 21 years later, all 13 of them are out of business – proving the number 13 is unlucky for some.

Obviously there was much work to be done and much capital to be deployed before that first flight in 1984. But, it took no money to test and validate the need for a new airline.

Everyday we meet founders who are allocating precious resources of time and capital to build new features and products they think their users want.

Rather than creating new costs, why not look at the costs that have already been sunk.

What assumptions can you test today without building a single new feature? What features can you tweak without an entire redesign? What can you take away that will add to a user’s experience? What demand can you generate without a single line of code?

What is your equivalent to Richard Branson’s telephone and chalkboard? Do that.