Wow! We are throwing it back all the way to episode one of the How I Built This Show, and what a story and entrepreneur to start with!
Sara Blakely is the epitome of a gritty, optimistic and innovative change maker. She didn't have the MBA from Harvard or all the right connections, but what she did have was a problem that she was passionate about solving. At 27, she was selling fax machines to make ends meet. Fast forward some years and she was the youngest female billionaire in America. That is where Spanx comes in, the perfect undergarment for women.
"Sara, don't take this the wrong but I thought you were going to give these away as Christmas gifts for like the next five years, what do you mean Neiman Marcus just took it" - Sam, Spanx product manufacturer.
5 Key Lessons I Learned:
You don't need a lot to start. Sara saved up $5,000 from selling fax machines which she used as her initial investment to start Spanx.
Enthusiasm and confidence counts. She was turned down by every manufacturer she approached to make her product, except one. The reason the one manufacturer decided to give her a shot was because of the enthusiasm and confidence she had for her idea.
Don't be afraid to roll up your sleeves and do the dirty work. Sara was not a lawyer and she needed to file a patent for Spanx and her innovative idea. She approached lawyers to make it happen and was quoted in the thousands of dollars, a price she simply could not afford. Instead of complaining about the exorbitant fees, she made the patent herself!
Make your shot count. When Sarah got into Neiman Marcus, she camped in the store from morning to night beside the Spanx aisle, selling passionately to everyone that passed by.
Don't do it for the money. Sara was never in it for the money, it was all about her love for making the product and solving a problem. When people asked her what her exit strategy was, she had no idea what they meant! She could not even believe that people started companies just to sell them. She started Spanx for herself and and still owns 100% of the company.
Most Surprising Thing I learned:
Sara had a meeting at the Neiman Marcus headquarters with the Hosiery buyer, but she could tell her pitch was not doing the trick. So she asked Diane, the buyer, to come to the bathroom with her so she could show her the difference Spanx created. Diane was blown away and Sara got the order!
Sara's story creating Spanx left me feeling inspired for a few reasons. The fact that Sarah was selling fax machines before starting Spanx illustrates that you can always make your dream happen. Even if you are not living the life that you envision right now, with hard work and some persistence, you can change your life. Additionally, Sara exemplifies what it means to take a shot on yourself. She didn’t have a business degree, law degree or experience in creating a physical product. Yet, she made a business, she wrote a patent, she created a product. She did not allow her lack of experience or knowledge to be a limitation, but rather as motivation to put her head down and work!