Sara Blakely was just 27-years old when she invented Spanx, and today, her company is worth $150 million with 55 employees and 100 products. The newest product in the Spanx line, Bra-llelujah (a comfortable, hosiery bra), will hit stores in January 2008, and Sara’s company shows no signs of slowing down.
Two of the key things I always talk about on my marketing and branding blogs are common sense and starting with a good product. Sara Blakely did just this as she built her Spanx business. She had no business background, but she invented a product that she new was fundamentally good and fulfilled an existing need among consumers. She trusted her gut, and persevered despite the challenges she faced.
Following is an excerpt from an interview Sara Blakely did with Stacy Perman of Businessweek.com that is both inspirational and educational to women in business:
“When did you know that you could really make a go of this?
I knew right away when I wore the prototype and I saw the difference it made in my wardrobe. I knew right away that this was going to be big. But the real blessing was twofold. Neiman Marcus said they would try it and put it in their stores right away. About four weeks later I got a call from the Oprah Winfrey Show. Oprah had chosen Spanx as one of her favorite products in 2000. I had boxes of product in my apartment and I had two weeks notice that she was going to say she loved it on TV and I had no shipping department. It was pretty intense and a fabulous call to get as an entrepreneur and it got the ball in motion quickly.
How did you know how to create a business from your idea?
At heart I am a salesperson, and I wanted to sell the product and let the rest work itself out. Once I started to get accounts, the business plan and infrastructure setup happened. That’s why Spanx was profitable from the first month.
I think that there is a fine line between ignorance and confidence. I didn’t know how to run a business and I had never taken a business course in my life. From the beginning, I had no board of advisors and nobody to consult on this journey except for my own gut. I am a case study of ‘if you didn’t know how this is done, this is how you do it.’ It’s interesting. Now I give speeches and I always ask: If no one showed you how to do your job, how would you be doing it? Take a moment and ask that question. Often your way is better. Maybe it’s a fresh new approach. If you are doing something the way that everyone is doing it, you are not really creating change by doing it that way.
How did you maintain your confidence when doors were closed in your face, when people didn’t get it and said “no” frequently?
I was my own focus group. I had already tried the product and I saw what it did for me. I knew if they said “no,” I just said they didn’t get it. I never second-guessed the product. Before it was actually made I did hear “no” a lot. It was very discouraging. At times I stopped out of discouragement, but I never lost confidence in the fact that it was a good idea.”
To learn more about Sara Blakely’s inspirational story, follow the links to read the complete Businessweek.com interview with Sara Blakely of Spanx.