I heard a podcast interview last week, between School of Greatness host, Lewis Howes, and his guest, Sara Blakely. For those of you who do not know who Sara Blakely is, she is the very successful founder and owner of Spanx, an American intimate apparel company. Named in 2012, by Forbes Magazine, as the world’s youngest self-made female billionaire, Blakely talked about her life prior to and during her business expansion of Spanx. Listed below are what I believe were some of her most influential and must-read statements, as well as things she revealed about her success – which began with setting a firm vision and intentionally setting out to achieve it:
- Blakely sold fax machines door-to-door for seven years before deciding to “re-script” her life. She wrote in her journal, “I’m going to invent a product and sell it to millions of people!” And then she asked the universe to give her a good idea! It took two years for the concept of Spanx to enter her mind, but when it did she ran with it.
- Initially there were a string of “No’s,” as one buyer after another rejected her idea, but instead of giving up, Blakely said she found the strength to persevere because she never gave herself any other options.
- Blakely’s first major buyer was Neiman Marcus, and she landed that contract by taking the initiative to call and ask for just 10 minutes of their time. Later, when her product was in the stores and she became acquainted with some of the other vendors, she learned that her direct calling approach was the better one; the other vendors had taken a reactive approach that involved waiting and hoping for a Neiman Marcus buyer to view their products at a trade show.
- Blakely stumbled through her first couple of years of business, but she’s grateful for the bumps along the way because she believes they helped her to do things more efficiently. She tells all new business owners that what they don’t know can be their greatest asset because it ensures that things will be done differently.
- When Spanx undergarments first went on sale in several Neiman Marcus stores, Blakely paid friends and family members to go and buy her product; it was a strategic move that was extreme but effective. Blakely said, “You have to take extreme measures! You have to ensure your success!”
- As a child, Blakely said her father encouraged her to fail. Each week at the dinner table, he would ask her to share one thing she had failed at that week. If she had nothing to report, her father would express disappointment, but if she said for example, “I tried out for an acting role but I didn’t get it,” her father would praise her and say, “Great job!” She says that he taught her to reframe what failure meant; failure meant trying, versus not succeeding.
- Once at a party, two guy friends told Blakely that owning a business meant going to war; they asked her if she was ready for that. Their question – and perspective of business ownership – disturbed Blakely, and in a deliberate act of rebellion she made a choice to take a totally feminine approach to how she conducted her business. She said she prefers to project a “feminine” energy that relies largely on the trusting of her instincts. She also prefers to employ mostly women, because she believes that they are gifted at multi-tasking, and it’s also a personal goal of hers to use her status and financial gain to empower as many women as possible.
- When asked how she feels about being a multi-billionaire, Blakely said she believes that “money just makes you more of who you are.” If you were kind before making money, you’ll be kinder. Alternatively, the opposite is also true.
- Experiencing the loss of several loved ones has made Blakely realize that we only get one short life and that it isn’t a dress rehearsal; consequently it’s important that we try things even when we’re afraid to.
- Several years ago, Blakely appeared on a reality TV show called The Rebel Billionaire, hosted by Richard Branson. In order to move on to subsequent episodes, the participants were required to take on some pretty daring challenges. One such challenge involved a bungy jump from the edge of a cliff into the arms of a “catcher.” If the jump was too short, the contestant would fall a few hundred feet before dangling in the air on the end of the bungy cord. Blakely says that most of the contestants fell short of the catcher, but she managed to land safely in his arms. What she later learned is something she now professes to be a major life lesson; she said that unlike her rivals, who aimed for the catcher’s arms, she set her eyes above the catcher’s head, thinking that if she aimed higher she’d have a greater chance of succeeding.
- These days Blakely is a mother of four children, all under the age of seven; she described how she used to waste a lot of mental energy on beating herself up whenever she felt like she wasn’t doing a good job at balancing her business and parental roles. Obviously her work and home responsibilities require equal and careful amounts of attention (that anyone in her position would find incredibly challenging), but she realized that a better way to address any personal shortcomings was to offer up kindness to herself and to cultivate a self-nurturing and accepting mindset.
Lewis Howes described Blakely as a legend among entrepreneurs, and I have to agree. She is exceptionally talented, brave, authentic, and inspirational! To hear the full podcast, and get an even greater sense of her character and influence, click this link.