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Sara Blakely

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Sara Blakely (born February 21, 1971) is an entrepreneur businesswoman best known as the founder of SPANX, a slimming woman’s undergarment that she invented. She was raised in Clearwater, Florida, where her father was a prominent personal injury attorney and her mother was an artist. A good student at Clearwater High, Sara was a member of the debate team. Afterwards, Blakely attended the Florida State University where she majored in communications but her ultimate sights were set on being an attorney like her dad. She had been known to cut high school classes to watch her father do closing arguments in court.

However, after college, she failed the law-school entrance exam twice (L-SAT). Depressed and her career dreams crushed, she headed for Orlando to join the Walt Disney World “cast” while she figured out her next career move. That lasted 3 months. After her Disney experience, she took a job with Danka, an office supply company, where she sold fax machines door-to-door. Her debate skills translated to sales skills and she became a national sales leader.

Forced to wear pantyhose by the Danka’s dress code, she disliked the seams that showed in open-toed shoes and they were hot but she liked the slimming effect the waist band had and the way they hid panty-lines. To resolve this, she cut the feet out of a pair of pantyhose to wear under a pair of slacks but that didn’t work so well. In the course of the day, the pantyhose would involuntarily roll up her leg under her slacks. Instead of quitting on her idea, decided to solve that problem.

Then, at 27, Blakely was promoted to national sales trainer and was transferred to Atlanta, Georgia. Determined to make her makeshift item a real product, she took her $5,000 in savings and the next two years researching and writing her own hosiery patent and scouring area stores to find just the right materials. After many “NOs”, Blakely found a hosiery factory in Asheboro, NC, willing to make her product. She accomplished all this while working full-time at Danka and keeping her project top secret.

After a succession of really bad ideas she decided to name her product and company Spanks, substituting an “x” at the last minute after reading that made-up names sold better. “The word ‘Spanx’ was funny,” she says. “It made people laugh and is sort of naughty. No one ever forgot it.” Blakely went to Neiman Marcus to meet buyers that fall. Current CEO Karen Katz was president of all the upscale chain’s stores at the time and remembers seeing Blakely in a conference room, pitching. “Sara’s effort was to solve an age-old problem for women in a modern way,” Katz says. She adds that Blakely’s obvious charisma and unusual backstory didn’t hurt. “We were smitten from the beginning.” With Neiman in the bag, Blakely convinced Bloomingdale’s, Saks and Bergdorf Goodman to give her a shot.

Blakely did everything and found herself sitting up all night shoving Spanx orders into white padded envelopes from Office Depot. She was 24/7 customer service, answering phone calls from her bathtub or bed. Her then boyfriend quit his job and took care of shipping and handling.

She connived her way to her biggest coup, shipping samples to Oprah Winfrey. In November 2000 Winfrey named Spanx her favorite product of the year. She resigned from Danka two weeks before the Oprah show aired. She had to get a website built just before the show to handle the inevitable onslaught of orders.

On her first exposure on QVC in 2001, she sold 8,000 pairs in the first 6 minutes. Spanx was profitable from day one, and raked in $4 million its first year and $10 million the next.

Forever the public relations genius, she left her company in the hands of her second-in-command and went on Richard Branson’s 2003 reality show, Rebel Billionaire, where she won task after task. “Sara was the runner-up overall,” says Branson. “The only reason I didn’t give her the top prize was because she was already successful. She didn’t need a leg up.” Instead, Branson cut her a personal check for $750,000 to start a foundation. It has been estimated that exposure was worth $100 million. Everyone was happy.

In 2008, Sara Blakely married entrepreneur/rapper Jesse Itzler and they have one son, Lazer.

Today, SPANX does an estimated $250 million in annual revenues and net profit margins estimated at 20%. Blakely, who owns 100% of the private company, has never advertised and never taken outside investment. Forbes estimates her net worth at $1 billion.

Companies and Investments

SPANX

Lessons Learned

Persistence is one of the major keys to success for an entrepreneur. My sticktoitedness made more things happen than I could have imagined.

If you are bashful, you might want to re-think being an entrepreneur. At times, I had to pull my dress up to show off the Spanx to a buyer. That is not for the faint-of-heart.

Sometimes you have to follow what your heart is telling you. Everybody but everybody said don’t do Richard Branson’s 2003 reality TV show, Rebel Billionaire but I came out of that with $100 million in free P.R. and $750,000 for my foundation.

Inspiring Quotes

Richard Branson - A business has to be involving, it has to be fun, and it has to exercise your creative instincts.

My Quotes

Sara Blakely - My dad encouraged us to fail. Growing up, he would ask us what we failed at that week. If we did not have something, he would be disappointed. It changed my mindset at an early age that failure is not the outcome, failure is not trying. Do not be afraid to fail.

Influential Books

Dale Carnegie - How to Win Friends & Influence People

Mentors

Oprah Winfrey

My Dad

References


Technical

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