You may have heard of Sara Blakely, the mastermind behind Spanx, but if you haven’t, you should. In 2000, she started her company with $5,000, and 17 years later, it grew into over a billion-dollar company.
It wasn’t an easy road. Sara quietly worked every night and on the weekends for two years. She had no official staff, so she relied on her friends, family and network to support her in the beginning. Sara was so committed to her vision that there wasn’t another option.
She used her determination and creativity to her advantage. Even after two years of hearing no from suppliers, she persisted. No one wanted to give her a chance. Then one day, a no turned into a yes. It was all because her supplier had three daughters who he shared the idea with, and they convinced him to green light the project.
Then she made a phone call to Neiman Marcus. After an unconventional pitch (she invited the buyer into the bathroom with her to see the effects of Spanx firsthand), she landed Neiman Marcus. They ordered 3,000 pairs.
You would think she made it right then; however, the supplier couldn’t produce part of the product and she had to get creative. Again.
Related: Do You Have Adaptability?
Shortly after she fixed the problem with the supplier, she shipped all 3,000 pairs of Spanx to Neiman Marcus (from her apartment). About a month after landing Neiman Marcus, Spanx was featured as Oprah’s favorite product of the year (because Sara sent a gift basket that ended up in her dressing room). Next thing she knew, she had 30,000 pairs on order, which included almost every major department store across the country.
There was only one problem. Sara didn’t have an advertising budget.
Again relying on her creativity, Sara spent two years of her life traveling to do rallies with store employees, essentially making them brand ambassadors for the product. She didn’t stop there, though. While she was in the stores, she spoke with customers, collecting firsthand market research.
Creating a business is all about persistence and having a clear vision. Sara and her journey of building Spanx is such a great example of that!
As she was growing Spanx, Sara met her husband at an event in Las Vegas, and it just so happened that he was growing a business, too. Eventually, the pair decided to start a family and are now parents to four kids.
It was when she became both a mom and a businesswoman that she learned a big lesson: to be kind to herself. She was constantly beating herself up when she was working on her business and not with her kids. When she became mindful of how hard it is to be a mom and a businesswoman, she changed how she approached her life by reminding herself to practice kindness and forgiveness. It helps her stay more present.
When I met Sara, I was immediately impressed with her energy, passion and business intelligence. As smart and ambitious as she is, she is also humble, fun and doesn’t take herself too seriously.
When I asked her what she is most grateful for, she simply acknowledged being born in a country that supports independence and entrepreneurship, as well as growing up in a time when women had opportunities that were unprecedented. She graciously pointed out that the opportunity to create a billion-dollar women’s fashion brand was only possible at the time and place that she was given.
This reminded me that each of us is being given opportunities, all the time, that can only happen because we are in the right place at the right time and we’ve been prepared to take them. It’s up to us, however, to take the risk, work hard and be creative.
If we do, the rewards are exponential.
Creating a business is all about persistence and having a clear vision. Sara and her journey of building Spanx is such a great example of that! She was completely focused on making her idea work, no matter how long it took, how many rejections she got and how many late hours she had to work (while still working a full-time job selling fax machines door to door).
As she told me, she realized one day that her life didn’t look like the picture she had imagined for herself. She knew she had something greater to offer and she followed her intuition. The result was bringing one of the most loved and popular products to women around the world.
To hear more about Sara’s story, listen to the full conversation we recorded together here.