Why the Best Ideas Fit on the Back of a Napkin, According to Richard Branson

After twenty years of studying persuasion, I’m convinced the best pitch should fit on the back of a napkin. Here’s why.

Americans lost a true maverick and innovator when Southwest Airlines founder, Herb Kelleher, passed away at the age of 87. While the business news was, understandably, focused on the brand’s financial success, I’ve always been intrigued by one extraordinary event at a St. Antonio bar in 1967—the day the idea for Southwest was first planted.

I devote an entire chapter to Kelleher in my book, The Storyteller’s Secret. The story goes like this. At the St. Anthony Club in San Antonio in 1966, two friends meet for drinks at the bar. Rollin King is a Texas businessman. Herb Kelleher is a gregarious, whiskey-swigging lawyer. They’ve been kicking around a business plan to get into the airline business. What happens next is brand-making history.

Rollins reaches for a cocktail napkin. At the top of the triangle, he writes “Dallas.” On the bottom left, he writes “San Antonio.” On the bottom right, he writes “Houston.” Their vision was simple—to create a small, local airline connecting three Texas cities. People would fly instead of drive between them.

“You’re crazy,” Kelleher responded. “Let’s do it.”

And with that, Southwest Airlines was born. It democratized air travel for millions of Americans who, previously, couldn’t afford to fly.

This week the hotel commemorated the meeting with a special edition cocktail napkin. They sent me a photo of the design which you can see below. If you’re near the hotel, stop in for a drink and feel the energy!

If a cocktail napkin isn’t handy, a beer coaster will do. Just ask Richard Branson—which I did. In this video interview with the billionaire entrepreneur and founder of Virgin, I ask Branson why he prefers pitches that can fit on a napkin, envelope or—in a real case—on a beer coaster.

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