Mentoring is at the heart of what we offer at Virgin StartUp – every entrepreneur who receives a Start Up Loan through us is matched with their own mentor, who commits to 15 hours of face to face support over 12 months.

So we were really happy to be able to offer a unique experience at the 20th anniversary of the Sunday Times Fast Track 100.

We asked entrepreneurs to apply for the chance to be mentored by one of 20 Fast Track 100 mentors - founders of fast-growing, game-changing businesses – and were thrilled to pick 20 amazing businesses to benefit from this opportunity. And more than this, there was a surprise mentoring session up on stage from Richard himself. The lucky Virgin StartUp-supported startups who got to ask his advice were Elsie Rutterford of all-natural beauty business Clean Beauty Co., and William Adoasi of Vitae London, which sells watches that do social good. Here are some takeaways from the day.

Mentoring at the Fast Track 100

Get people talking about you

One of Elsie’s key challenges was how to get the message out there about her business in a crowded industry such as beauty. Richard explained “We literally did anything and everything to get the brand known, including jumping in balloons and boats and other foolish things. If you can get people writing about you it’s a hell of a lot cheaper than taking advertising. Really think as hard as you can about what the story is, what you haven’t yet told and can get across.”

Mentoring at the Fast Track 100

Standing out

When Richard started his business, he explained that there wasn’t so much competition from other entrepreneurs – but they had to compete with government and big business. His advantage was his age, starting Virgin when he was just 15 years old, so the original stories about his business focussed on this. However, he also talked about his willingness to make a fool of himself in the name of gaining press coverage (including sitting naked in a glass cage in Trafalgar Square), and of the power of blagging it (telling the press they were launching a major poster campaign across the country, but actually only unveiling one).

Mentoring at the Fast Track 100

Taking risks

As Vitae London are about to launch a crowdfunding campaign, William asked Richard about risk-taking – how do you know when the risk is actually worth taking, and how can you avoid failing in front of everyone?

“Never be worried about failing publicly,” Richard assured him. “If it doesn’t work, not many people will actually notice and you can just push on until the next idea. Keep trying things. You might fall flat on your face three times, but on the fourth it might be great. The key thing is not to be afraid of failure, and if one thing doesn’t work, try another thing.”

Mentoring at the Fast Track 100

Know your value

When William handed Richard a watch onstage, to everybody’s surprise Richard handed him his old watch – and cash to the value of the Vitae watch too. Why? Because, as Richard told him, when you’re starting out you should never give things away free, even to your mentor.

Mentoring at the Fast Track 100

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