Business Success Series, Part 1: Sara Blakely – Spanx

Sara Blakely is a poster child for “do it yourself” problem solving. Like many entrepreneurs, she found success by focusing on a need that was common and not being addressed. She didn’t have a degree or any experience in business. She only had a problem that needed solving. The solution was Spanx.

 

If you have any women in your life or have spent any time in a department store, chances are you’ve seen the brand Spanx. While the brand has expanded to encompass everything from denim, yoga wear and yes, even some men’s wear, its original product—and the staple product that made it famous — can be considered something along the lines of a woman’s secret weapon: body contouring and smoothing undergarments. This is the product that revolutionized the hosiery industry and catapulted her brand to the $250 million it is estimated to be worth today.

Spanx is a fresh take on a product that has been around for decades. Even though the industry was well established, Sara knew there was a better way to create women’s hosiery by thinking outside of box. She just didn’t know how difficult it would be to convince the decision makers. If you’ve ever doubted the power of ONE Thing focus the story Sara shared during an Inc. Live event will change your mind.

Never Stop at Your First No

Sara got a lot of “no’s” before she started hearing “yes”. From the onset, when she began calling hosieries in hopes of getting help with a prototype, no one wanted to get involved. With “no’s” continuing to mount, it seemed like a more impossible task.

This is when the majority of us quit. People perceive roadblocks to be stop signs when they are actually just detours. These unpredictable, external circumstances can make it seem like the odds are stacked against you, but you are the one in control over how you react and the next steps that you take. Roadblocks are inevitable in any long journey and can be overcome with a combination of creative thinking and perseverance.

After hearing a lot of “no’s” over the phone, Sara didn’t give up. Instead she decided to go see the hosiery managers in person. Again, she heard nothing but “no’s” and then finally one “yes”.

Believe in Your Ideas and Instincts

Even after making calls to the hosieries and being told her idea wasn’t worth considering, Sara didn’t give in to the critics. Through her own personal experience she knew there was a real need for her product and that she could provide it with the right partnerships, which spurred her belief in her own product.

It’s important to listen to constructive criticism from others and challenge your own thinking, but you can’t let it drown out your inner voice. Instinct is a powerful decision making tool that blends experience, subconscious logic and intuition. Gut feelings are the emotions that fill in the gaps between data and statistics. When you feel the fire of an idea deep down, it’s a cue that you may be onto something.

The Power of Purpose Pushes Us

Purpose is the driving force behind our actions. It can help us do and achieve things we never thought possible, and has the power to get us past obstacles that are standing in our way.

Having only $5,000 in her wallet to use as seed money for her product, she quickly realized that her budget wouldn’t get her very far — making funding her largest initial roadblock. Without necessary funds, she couldn’t acquire legal help to assist with creating crucial patents, leaving her without protection as she attempted to sell her prototype.

Sara’s strong sense of purpose compelled her to pursue the patent on her own. It wasn’t easy, but she learned everything she could about patent writing. She also took on the product design herself with the help of a friend since there was no budget for marketing materials. Sara was way out of her normal wheelhouse, but it wasn’t that big of a factor.

That’s the power of purpose. It pushes us to new levels of excellence and accomplishments that we normally would have never attempted.

Know How Your Purpose Helps Others

Sara immediately realized that the hosiery execs were out of touch with their customer base. This circumstance led to the problem that she was trying to solve. In fact, the hosiery owner that decided to help Sara initially declined a partnership. It wasn’t until he passed the idea by his daughters that he realized Sara was onto something.

It’s a hurdle that Sara knew she would have, but she didn’t realize the extent of the issue. Males were the decision makers, and they were making decisions without a female perspective. It was a perfect example of the importance of informational diversity in business decisions.

Your ONE Thing goes beyond yourself. Whether it’s just your spouse or millions of adult women across the country, it has an impact on others. Sara understood that her purpose helped other women and kept that bigger picture in mind every step of the way. Without that realization and drive, she may not have driven Spanx to the level of success it reached today, giving her a presence among those on the “richest” lists with a net worth of over a billion dollars today.

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