Sara Blakely, Spanx inventor and youngest woman on the Forbes Billionaires list.
For the cover of our recent World’s Billionaires issue, I profiled Sara Blakely, who took a simple idea — footless pantyhose — and turned it into a $1 billion business. At 41, the inventor of Spanx is now the youngest self-made woman on the Forbes rich list.
Since our first meeting last summer, I’ve logged hours of interview time with the Florida-born billionaire. As always with these sorts of profiles, some of her words of wisdom didn’t make it through the editing process. Here are Blakely’s top five lessons for would-be entrepreneurs, culled from the cutting room floor:
1. Don’t let the first “no” (or five) stop you.
Before Blakely hit it big, she worked a handful of unglamorous jobs — all of which, she says, contributed to her eventual success with Spanx.
After scoring miserably on the LSAT exam twice and deciding to forgo law school, she spent a nightmarish three months on a moving walkway at Disney World, wearing Mickey Mouse ears and guiding customers onto an Epcot Center ride. When she couldn’t take it anymore, she started working for office equipment company Danka. She was responsible for selling $20,000 worth of fax machines each month door-to-door. It was 1993, before fax machines were a staple of every small business.
“I was the delivery department too, and the biggest fax machine was like a copier — I was 22 and tiny,” she says. “It was very high stress, with [the bosses] always asking what you’re going to bring in each month.”
Blakely remembers almost begging business owners — like the proprietor of a Clearwater, Fla. fruit and vegetable shop — to buy her products. “The produce stand man’s objection was that he didn’t have an electrical outlet,” she says. “I said, ‘If I can overcome that, would you buy my fax machine?’ Do you know what I did? I went to the business on the corner and asked if I could run an extension cord to the produce stand. That was my first sale. I did this for seven years.”
Blakely credits Danka with teaching her how to cold-call, how to handle customers’ objections, and how to get her foot in the door — all crucial skills when she decided to give Spanx a go. “My training of cold-calling and everyone under the sun telling me no, and my keeping going, was a huge part of the first two years of Spanx,” she says.
2. Don’t quit your day job just yet.
Blakely was 27 years old when she decided she needed a product that didn’t exist, namely slimming shapewear than wasn’t, in her words, “a hardcore girdle” or old-fashioned control-top pantyhose with an unsightly seam along her toes. She stayed at Danka, working 9 to 5 , but spent her evenings and weekends meticulously researching pantyhose design and existing patents. When the time came to try and get her prototype made, she’d drive back and forth from her home in Atlanta to North Carolina, where she got used to hearing “no” once more, this time from the owners of hosiery mills.
Blakely didn’t resign from her role at Danka until the age of 29, two years after she first conceived of the idea for Spanx. She learned to subsist on minimal sleep and kept her sideline gig from her colleagues, having early batches of her footless pantyhose delivered to her home while she was at her day job.
“There were days that I’d be at Danka all day and the semi trucks would drop boxes of Spanx outside my apartment,” she says. She didn’t turn in her resignation letter until she was absolutely sure her start-up was on the right track.
“I resigned on October 14, 2000,” she says. “I quit Danka and two and a half weeks later I was on the Oprah Winfrey Show.”
(this is an excerpt from the article by Clare O’Connor, Forbes Staff)
Read the full article on http://www.forbes.com/sites/clareoconnor/