EO Atlanta member, Sara Blakely, has become a household name with her innovative company, SPANX. And the combination of her unique job history and life experiences has been crucial to her success. Read part of her interview for Octane magazine below, and check out the full article here!
Disney World greeter. Fax machine salesperson. Stand-up comedienne. You’ve had an eclectic work history before SPANX. How has your past employment influenced you as an entrepreneur?
SB: “Working at Disney World and selling fax machines for Danka, I spent a lot of time in pantyhose because it was required dress code. Thanks to those jobs, I learned about the benefits of control-top pantyhose, which helped me develop SPANX Footless Pantyhose. Cold-calling fax machines also taught me to never take no for an answer. So when the manufacturers all said no to me the first year I was trying to get my product made, I was unfazed.
“Stand-up comedy taught me that there’s humor in the ‘k’ sound (an old comedy rule), which I included while naming my invention. I also used a lot of my comedic writing in the marketing of SPANX. For example, ‘Don’t worry, we’ve got your butt covered.’ And lastly, working at Disney World taught me that I didn’t want to walk on a moving sidewalk for a living!”
You’ve made an incredible impact in your industry. What advice do you have for other entrepreneurs eager to make a similar mark?
SB: “I think it’s important to visualize where you want to be. I always visualized a different life for myself while selling fax machines door to door. I wanted to be self-employed and financially independent. I wrote down my goals and was ready for an idea. Also, differentiate yourself in everything you do. Make sure you know why you’re different and that your customer does, too— preferably in 30 seconds or less. And don’t be afraid to use humor. Humor opens doors, makes you memorable and usually gets you another 30 seconds!
“I also like to remind entrepreneurs not to share their idea too early. When you tell people your idea right away, the ego gets involved. Then you spend more time having to defend your idea and explain it, rather than pursuing next steps. Share your idea once you’ve invested enough of yourself in it, to the point when you know there is no turning back.
From US$5,000 to a billion-dollar business offering 200 products in 40 countries— what a journey! Looking back, what is your greatest lesson learned?
SB: “I learned it’s important to hire your weakness! For someone who’s never taken a business class or managed anyone, to all of a sudden be a business owner and manager was shocking. I recognized I wasn’t good at certain things quickly. Instead of beating myself up about it, I decided, ‘It’s OK if you’re not good at this, hire someone who is.’ One of the smartest business decisions I made was to hire a CEO. It’s best to let go of control in the areas that aren’t your strongest, and focus on the areas that are.”
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