I love hearing the backstory to how successful businesses are started from scratch and turned into uber-successful enterprises. Sara Blakely is the founder and principal owner of Spanx, a company which changed the game in women’s hosiery, and made her a billionaire in the process.
Sara’s taken her show on the road and now speaks at multiple events regarding her struggle to build the company. After listening to her story here are five key takeaways I got from her story that all us aspiring entrepreneurs should keep in mind as we’re building our own billion-dollar baby. Watch the video at the bottom of this post:
- Build half a product, not a half-assed product. Blakely’s original product is essentially a footless pantyhose. It’s a stripped-down version of an existing product, she just made it fit extremely well without rolling up. It’s simpler to make a great product when you simplify. Cut back on features, not on quality.
- No need to quit your day job just yet. She designed, found manufacturers, and shipped her products after coming home from her 9-to-5 job every day. She made sure to test the viability of her business first before she made any rash decisions and bet the whole farm. Nothing wrong with taking risks, but if you’re more risk averse you can still become an entrepreneur.
- Don’t underestimate charisma and the power of your story. It’s obvious by Sara’s presentation that she is a polished salesperson and knows how to charm people. I’m sure she put all of her communication skills to good use when she was just starting out, even her looks. It’s easier to sell when you’re well-liked and can put a smile on people’s faces.
- Enter a market by being different. She points out in the video that she made her product’s packaging startling on purpose. Until that point all hosiery items came in dull peachy colors. She made her packaging bright so prospective customers would understand that this isn’t your average pantyhose.
- Breaking some rules is part of the job. One of the interesting anecdotes in her talk is how she would show up to department stores and move her Spanx shelf from the crowded hosiery aisle to the front of the store, right by the registers where prime selling space is. The store employees would approach her and she would lie to them and say she was sent under direct orders from the store managers.
- You don’t need anyone’s permission to be great. Sara was not a trained product designer, she had never owned her own business, she didn’t even have office space. The first steps of building a business is a great product idea and the will to make it happen. You don’t need to look to others to validate that you are an entrepreneur. Sara did all of this without any outside investment, no one backing her up.
Check out the video below to see Blakely tell her story. Continue Reading
Most of the time, the effort and the rewards don’t come at the same time. Well, the critical rewards at least.
As Steven Pressfield teaches us, the REAL reward of our work is the work itself. As a true professional we never truly own the money, fame, or accolades of our work. We “lease” all that stuff and make payments on it each and every day with the hours of hard work we put in. I agree with Pressfield wholeheartedly when he says the only thing we have a right to is the work itself, not the fruits of our labor. It’s the only real thing we can control and call our own forever.
But back to my original point: when you put in the work, the right work, the rewards will eventually follow. But they rarely come at the same time as the worthy work is being put in. Many an acclaimed artist has started collecting dividends way past the point where they stopped putting in their groundbreaking work.
That’s why we have no choice but to put in the hard work CONSTANTLY and ENDLESSLY. That’s the only way to make success a long-lasting part of your life.
Woody Allen is the prime example of a true professional who’s never stopped putting in the work. He’s still making films at a yearly pace, and the day after he finishes principal photography on one movie he’s already writing the next one. He doesn’t care about accolades or how well the movie does at the box office. Hell, he’s never even attended an Oscar celebration in which he’s been nominated. He’s had multiple career peaks and valleys, and he’s still going through them at this advanced age. All he cares about is that the writing and filming work he puts in is what allows him to sleep well at night. And that is his reward. The money and fame will come and go without his control over it.
Let’s be like Woody Allen and cherish the actual work as our only concern. Don’t get discouraged if the outside rewards don’t show up right now when the work is actually being done. They will undoubtedly come, but as true professionals we’ll be so enthralled by the work that the outside rewards won’t matter much anymore.
And if we do end up caring about money, fame, and accolades, let’s not get lazy the second we achieve a breakthrough. All that is only temporary, and if we don’t continue the hard work it’ll be a lightning-quick 15 minutes.
The video above is my talk at TEDx MillRiver back in late April. The talk was inspired by a previous post of mine called “How to tell if an endeavor is right for you” relating to pressure-filled situations and knowing which ones will bear fruit. The TEDx event itself was a beaming success with 100+ attendees, great presenters with revolutionary ideas, and some great conversations being held during the intermissions amongst a diverse crowd of professionals.
If you’re interested in checking out the other presenters that day you can see all the talks labeled “TEDx Millriver” on the TEDx Youtube page. You can see another video of a previous presentation I gave here.