What Happened When I Took Richard Branson’s Golden Advice: ‘Say Yes — Then Learn How to do it Later’

It was a wild ride

Boateng Sekyere
Mar 5 · 7 min read
A man wearing a pensive look
Photo by Viktor Forgacs on Unsplash

In November 2017, a 6x founder invited me to his home office for some business. While he dug through his library for a book on accounting, I swivelled around to read some quotes from his idols pinned to the walls.

Names like Robert Kiyosaki, Warren Buffett, and Bill Gates awoke a few memories; their familiar quotes on assets, investment, and entrepreneurship elicited an enterprising smile. But the words of the Virgin Group CEO stood out like an elephant dressed in pink pyjamas.

“If someone offers you an amazing opportunity and you’re not sure you can do it, say yes — then learn how to do it later.” Richard Branson.

They struck me as the most audacious thing I could ever do, and it took me only four months to implement that advice.

18th March 2018. My contract as an estate assistant in a top real estate development firm in Ghana had just run out, and I took a one-month vacation to visit some family in a coastal town about sixty miles from Accra.

The only snag was what to do with my nine-month-old photography career while I was away, as I could feel it was due for a big delivery.

The big delivery came one week into my stay when a friend informed me he had recommended me to a non-profit organization for a project.

“So Boateng, they’ll call you tomorrow morning. They want a short video for a social media campaign promoting proper waste segregation in homes and schools,” he said.

“Did you say video,” I asked, doubt rising in my mind, as my voice dropped? I wanted to confess I had only ever shot a few 30-second videos for fun, and never at a professional level.

Then I felt Sir Richard Branson put his right arm around my shoulder and whisper into my left ear: “This is an amazing opportunity. Say yes and learn how to do it later.” It was soothing music for my ears.

“Alright, thank you so much, Vince. I’ll be expecting the call,” I said, ready for the challenge.

As promised, the call came the next day. Since my friend had already laid the foundation, we quickly built a solid understanding. In no time, we fit ourselves on the same page and shook hands on a deal over the phone. Later that evening, I bid my hosts goodbye, promising to return in a fortnight.

What happened after I said yes?

I nearly drowned in YouTube tutorials

Having learned most of what I know about photography from YouTube, I figured I could repeat the trick with video.

It turned out shooting video is a different beast from posing subjects and clicking shutters, though they shared some common traits: framing, exposure, and the rule of thirds, to name just three.

But it was the differences that nearly caught me off guard. In the three days leading up to the shoot, I learned all I could about boom stands, lapel mics, light setups, variable stop ND filters, fluid head tripods, sliders, gimbals, and a lot more besides.

Since I owned none of these gear, I listed what I would rent and the stock footage I would use as the intro to the video. Here’s a rough list I drew up. (Apologies for the quality of the writing. My hand had to keep up with my racing mind)

Photo by author

I assembled a crew

As the D-day inched closer, I began renting gear and hiring assistants, careful to work within the budget so I can at least break even.

I rented a Canon 5D Mark iii as the main camera, while my 70D and 60D would shoot some b-roll and provide the occasional shot from another angle. I hired three assistants to help with the audio and the clapperboard.

One of them played director, and after about three hours, we had finished shooting. We exchanged high fives like a team that had just secured a home-court advantage after a long playoff drought. We drew some curious stares from onlookers, and I never felt more proud. On to the next round.

After shooting came the hard work — editing. Because I was so concerned about renting the equipment and assembling the crew, I gave post-processing short shrift. Now I had a little over 24 hours to deliver the video.

Since I had used Adobe Premiere Pro and After Effects for some slideshows a few times, I figured I knew the basics. I did the best I knew, only it wasn’t enough. Back I went to YouTube for more advanced tips from Peter McKinnon. Time was running out, and I realized I might not finish on time.

Desperate, I tracked down a more experienced colleague and begged him to help me out. He helped with some color grading and audio work, but he also noted some mistakes even he couldn’t fix. At least not in a few hours.

Chasing an attractive bokeh, I ended up slightly overexposing most of the footage. I forgot to adjust the stops on the ND filter. The sound quality also left a little to be desired.

“You’re better off getting the exposure right in camera,” he reminded me of one of the basic tenets of photography.

I wanted to call Vince and plead with him to extend the deadline since I was already a few hours behind. Maybe we could salvage the wreckage of my terrible footage, I figured. But part of me wondered what would happen if we couldn’t fix the problems even after the extended deadline?

I decided I would present it as is. I knew I had blown it, and I had to own up to my mistakes.

The fallout

I wound up delivering a product a little after the deadline and way below standards. I donned the cloak of honesty and told them what happened. Under the freezing heat of the moment, I nearly choked on my words. Part of me thought I would leave with the promise of a lawsuit ringing in my ears.

Thankfully, I had just about enough goodwill to stave off date in court. They admitted my pictures were nice, and they thought I could do a similar job with the video. I thought so too. But it turned out I couldn’t get it right.

After listening with a pang of guilt that ceded to remorse, I confessed I was more photo-focused, and I had to even rent most of the equipment we used for the video. To save face, I tried to pin some blame on the rental place and the tight deadline. I could hardly look at my friend, Vince.

Generously, they made me keep the 25% payment they had advanced to me. Though it wasn’t even enough to cover the cost of renting the gear and paying the assistants I hired, I was more than content to take the loss.

A few months later, while still licking the wounds of my ruined reputation, my friend told me they had an editor work on it again.

“I would say he has improved upon your work. But he had two extra weeks,” Vince consoled me.

The experience left a sour taste in my mouth and rotten eggs all over my face. My efforts and endeavour went down the drain. But on the brighter side, it served up some lifelong lessons.

Takeaway insights for entrepreneurs

Should you also say yes and figure out how to do it later? Not before you run through these points:

Pick your battles, don’t let them choose you

It’s okay for someone to recommend you as the right person for a job. But you must ask yourself if the job is right for you. Ask yourself if you meet the requirements for the job, and whether you can deliver the goods on time and within budget.

Today, I will gently say no thanks if someone recommended me for a multi-million-dollar commercial video project, for example. I don’t have the setup or the expertise to deliver the quality the project may require. And I won’t get a free pass if I botched things either.

Faced with fierce competition for business, passing up an opportunity may seem counterintuitive, but it could help you in the long run. You could save yourself some headache and the effects of a bad name.

Have a foot on a stone before you say yes

As we say in Ghana, always have a foot on a stone before you start to wax lyrical. In this context, the stone could be the experience of having done something similar in the past.

But even if you don’t have the experience, the stone can also be some colleagues you can collaborate with to get the job done. As a friend says, partnerships and collaborations are not only the keys to opening great doors, but they’re the double-swing French doors through which you’ll waltz to the next level.

With the lessons my experience taught me, I have at least two different video guys I collaborate with when I need someone to shoot a wedding video. While I oversee the photography side of things, I do so with the peace of mind that someone more capable than me will handle the video duties.

Find out what happens if

Sometimes, people walk into agreements without covering their backs sufficiently in case of a breach of contract.

You should always think about what may happen if you said yes but couldn’t hold up your end of the deal. Can you survive a lawsuit or the bad publicity that may follow, for example? Without going into the technicalities of contract law, always indemnify yourself before you say yes.

Conversely, play out the scenario of you investing heavily into the project, only for the other party to bail out on you. How will you seek redress? How would you recoup any investments you may have already made if the deal fell through?

Some of these questions should run through your mind alongside the promise of profit.

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Boateng Sekyere

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Boateng Sekyere

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