Businesswoman Profile: Sara Blakely, Spanx Founder

November 28, 2007 by Susan Gunelius
Businesswomen Profiles

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 or read Sara Blakely’s complete bio on the Spanx website.

Photo courtexy of Spanx.com.

Susan Gunelius

Susan Gunelius is the Founder and Editor-in-Chief of Women on Business. She is a 20-year veteran of the marketing field and has authored ten books about marketing, branding, and social media, including the highly popular 30-Minute Social Media Marketing, Content Marketing for Dummies, Blogging All-in-One for Dummies and Kick-ass Copywriting in 10 Easy Steps. Susan’s marketing-related content can be found on Entrepreneur.com, Forbes.com, MSNBC.com, BusinessWeek.com, and more. Susan is President & CEO of KeySplash Creative, Inc., a marketing communications company. She has worked in corporate marketing roles and through client relationships with AT&T, HSBC, Citibank, Intuit, The New York Times, Cox Communications, and many more large and small companies around the world. Susan also speaks about marketing, branding and social media at events around the world and is frequently interviewed by television, online, radio, and print media organizations about these topics. She holds an MBA in Management and Strategy and a Bachelor of Science degree in Marketing.

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{ 5 comments… read them below or add one }

Pam Thomas with Pam Thomas Designs April 2, 2009 at 1:17 pm

I have created a brand new garment for women and I followed Sara Blakely’s story and did what she did and was told what I was doing was “BIG”.I haven’t had anyone tell me “NO”.All I hear is keep going!You have a “fabulous and unique idea” and everyone woman and girl could use it and enjoy it!So, I am going for it but it has taken a lot of learning but I continue to stay motivated and hopefully it will hit the market soon!I was trying to see if I could get some advice from Sara Blakely because what I am doing is exactly what she did but with a different garment.If you could possibly have her contact me I would greatly appreciate it.
Thank you ,
Pam Thomas
Pam Thomas Designs
901-682-3747

Sonia Kelley September 28, 2010 at 9:51 am

Sara, I write for inspiration. I have an idea that I believe will revolutionize women’s apparel. I have worked on this project for over a year and while there have been times I feel defeated and give up, the idea continues to haunt me to keep going until I find the one to say “YES.” I have discussed this idea with family and close friends who believe it could be “incredible.” It is something that every female needs but that has never existed. I am having problems getting industries to provide product for the prototype. I am a simple consumer who is desperately seeking advice on how to “get my foot in the door.” Advice from industry tells to hire a manufacturer first and then use their leverage to obtain product. Is this something you would recommend? If so, how do you get a manufacturer to believe in you and how much could it cost?

Any guidance would be greatly appreciated.

Sonia Kelley
214-478-0030

Kelly March 31, 2011 at 1:52 am

My friend is a 22 year old female at Emory University. She just invented this website out of her dorm room and it’s already an overnight sensation among aspiring fashion designers! Thought it would interest and inspire all female entrepreneurs!

http://www.SocialAttire.com

Enjoy,
Kelly

Marion Chamberlain April 15, 2013 at 9:57 am

Sara:
I am taking my first step…writing you. I have needed something in the line of an apparel accessory and I believe other women do as well.
I have researched the patent process. I have no contact with a manufacturer, textile supplier.
Who do I go to first?
I am a full time special education teacher with two sons in college.
Looking for advise.
Thanks so much.
Marion M. Chamberlain
504-391-1675

Susan Gunelius April 15, 2013 at 8:51 pm

I’m sorry, Marion, but this site isn’t affiliated with Sara Blakely. You might try commenting on the Spanx blog or using the contact information on the Spanx website. Here is a link to the blog: http://www.spanx.com/category/index.jsp?categoryId=11847576

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