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5 Lessons from Sara Blakely
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Today we’ve got Sara Blakely, the founder of Spanx and one of the most resourceful founders I’ve come across in my research.
Sara started Spanx with $5,000 of her own savings and about a decade later, without raising venture capital, had become the world’s youngest female self-made billionaire.
Here are five lessons from Sara.
1. Take Ownership
Sara personally traveled across the United States to showcase her product and grow her business.
I was absolutely determined to ensure my own success and I think that’s what it takes. I didn’t want my success to be contingent on anyone else having to sell this. So I hit the ground running…
I feel like if I didn’t go to the stores and really make this happen on the ground level, that my product, as great as it is, would’ve shipped to the store and six months later would’ve been shipped back to me.
2. Play Your Game
Sara plays by her own rules and others buy in.
I don’t subscribe to the fact that you have to act serious to be taken seriously. I like to laugh at myself. When I worked in corporate America for a long time and everybody was super uptight and super serious, there was no humor, there was no levity, and then everybody at like five o’clock became ragingly hilarious.
I named my company Spanx, which made people laugh and believe it or not it was very shocking at the time that I named the company Spanx, I actually had people hang up on me often.
She expanded this to how she named her products as well, which made people want to join in on the fun.
I named it power panties. I started naming all my products and it made people laugh and it gave so much energy and then all of a sudden you had Gwyneth Paltrow and Julia Roberts flashing their Spanx on red carpets and saying, “I’m wearing Spanx.” Like, all these celebrities and I think it is because I chose to do humor and people wanted to participate in that.
3. Be Relentlessly Resourceful
One of the attornies she ended up meeting with actually thought she had been sent by candid camera because he thought her idea was that bad.
She’d meet with a few different law firms, which quoted her between $3,000 and $5,000 to patent her idea - money she didn’t have at the time.
So she decided to write the patent herself.
Taking risks is part of the game too.
At one point, Sara had a genius idea of how to increase visibility for her Spanx in the stores.
She went to Target and bought stands she could use to display Spanx by the register in Neiman Marcus. At the time her product was kind of hidden away and she wanted more visibility for the product.
All the employees assumed someone else had already okayed it.
But they hadn’t.
Word got to Burt Tansky, the CEO of Neiman Marcus, and his reaction was not what you’d expect.
He was okay with it!
He told the stores to let Sara keep doing whatever she was doing because he had never seen so much volume off a $20 product.
It pays to be bold.
4. Embrace Authenticity
It’s all about connecting with your customers.
I had felt like companies were operating in this like, “We need to be perfect and you need to see us as the authority and you need me, and that’s how I’m going to sell you product.”
And I was like, “Hey, I’m one of you. Here’s what’s happening. Here’s what it does for me. This is why it works.”
It was just a very different approach. And I felt consumers became really connected and really loyal. Probably part of the reason why Spanx as a brand didn’t need to advertise, we haven’t spent any money on advertising in 16 years, because a lot of it is word of mouth from women sharing with other women.
You don’t become a self-made billionaire without it, right?
I didn’t take a vacation for like 10 years. I mean, I was just working when all of my friends were going on vacations and people were going out to parties, I just wasn’t. So it was just a lot of commitment on that end.
But why I was willing to do that and why I still stay motivated is because, for me, I’ve been doing this for something greater than myself. I’m very passionate about women, and helping women, and supporting women.
Want more insights?
Since February 2023 I’ve spent more than 1,000 hours researching and writing about world-class founders, publishing 46 in-depth profiles of people like Sam Altman, Tyler Perry, Patrick Collison, Estée Lauder, Travis Kalanick, Coco Chanel, and many more.
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