A billionaire, the determination is almost inconceivable… Sara Blakely, the Spanx Entrepeneuress has joined the club of the most brilliant business minds and lucky blood lines who have made the Ten Figure Mark! Clare O’Connor, Forbes Writer, wrote a fabulous feature with the driven Sara Blakely, and I was interested to read the article just by the title!
On March 15, 2012 Forbes Facebook Page announced a Facebook Chat with Clare O’Connor to discuss her inspiration from Sara Blakely. Of course, I joined in for inspiration and education. Here are some of my personal highlights from the chat… (PS – You still must read the feature from Clare though, some wonderful insight into Sara’s climb.)
Alex Knapp: If she started her business with $5000, what did that $5000 go to?
Clare O’Connor: That $5k went towards materials from craft stores like Michaels, a Barnes & Noble textbook on patent law, and $700 for a lawyer!
... She spent two years working-full time selling fax machines while researching her first Spanx prototype. And as for failures, Spanx came after she failed the LSAT twice trying to get into law school! …step 2 was to professionalize her business and “hire her weaknesses”, as she’s fond of saying. She brought in a CEO with 10 years’ experience at Coca-Cola to run Spanx.
… Sara told me many times in the course of reporting this story that her advice would be not to seek validation from others. If she’d asked her friends and family if she should go ahead w/ Spanx early on, they’d have said no, as it admittedly sounded crazy!
…she got her product on the market through a combination of smart PR and selling herself and her prototype like crazy to buyers at dept stores, starting with Neimans in Dallas.
…She’d say to keep working your day job and work on your idea when you have the time — at night, weekends, whenever — until you’re at a place when you can execute. She only had $5k, but she also had 2 years of work when she took the prototype to market!
Kate Pierce: Did Sara share any insight into how she balances family with running her business? (A question rarely asked of male billionaires.)
Clare O’Connor: Good question! She has actually scaled back her involvement in the day-to-day running of the company since she had a child just over 2 years ago. Her CEO Laurie Ann Goldman runs the company from an operational standpoint. She (Sara) is the face and the DNA of Spanx, and she is still in the office often, but she’s at a place now where she has 125 staff, so she has time for her family.
…Spanx does sell direct to the public on its website but early on she was focused on getting it into stores, and not in the boring hosiery departments but up front near the clothes/shoes in their distinctive red packaging.
…Well, she kept focused on it because she knew that if SHE needed this, other women would too. She’s also thin, but she knew it’d fix the problem of visible pantylines. And if it was good enough for her, it was good enough for all women. Turns out she was right, if sales are anything to go by!
Emily Petersen Arnim: I like that… “Hire your weakness”. I wonder if hiring your weakness can be done in the way of an effective partnership or shareholder of sorts to help you take it to the next level without significant capital.
Clare O’Connor: You might be right, Emily. In this case, Sara was keen to finance Spanx herself and not take any outside investment, but I’ve been asked whether the business would be bigger now if she had. Who knows. Women often find it more difficult to get VCs/investment banks/etc to invest, sadly.
Emily Petersen Arnim: For the record… I think Sara apparently made very wise… decisions for her business. She is a role model for all of us. If you can make it work to control the shares… and bring on major players, wow- what an accomplishment.
Clare O’Connor Emily, I agree. And I’ve had fantastic feedback on this story from young women — not always the first demographic to pick up Forbes for inspiration, admittedly. She’s made it work, but she wasn’t an overnight sensation. This is Spanx’s 12th year.
Read the full chat on Forbes Facebook Page: https://www.facebook.com/forbes
Truly Inspired and hope you took at least one thing from this article!