SPANX founder and executive chairwoman Sara Blakely started her company and revolutionized the undergarment industry with only $5,000, a lucky red backpack, no fear of failure, and a willingness to move ahead without knowing how “it’s supposed to work,” she said. Blakely sat down with ATD President and CEO Tony Bingham Monday morning for an opening keynote Q&A session.
The start to Blakely’s vision
Blakely was 16 years old when she was riding her bike and watched a good friend get hit and run over by a car. Around the same time, Blakely’s mom and dad separated. One of the greatest gifts her dad gave her was a set of cassette tapes from author and motivational speaker Wayne Dyer. It was only because of the obstacles and dark period she was experiencing that she said she was willing to listen to the tapes. But Blakely explained that by listening to those tapes as well as to Tony Robbins, Zig Ziglar, and others, she learned to believe in and put into practice visualization, writing down her goals, and looking to the universe for signs. One of her early goals was to be on the Oprah Winfrey Show.
Blakely’s life took some twists and turns: She failed at the law school admissions test, worked at Disney for three months, and then sold fax machines for seven years. After a particularly miserable sales day, she decided she was “in the wrong movie.” She took out pen and paper and asked herself what she was good at. She knew she was good at sales, but she didn’t stop there. She asked herself what it is about sales that she relished and identified that she enjoyed making products that improve others’ lives or make them happy.
When she had a prototype of an undergarment designed to help women feel good when wearing white pants, Blakely pitched Neiman Marcus. Not realizing the usual way to get a foot in the door was via trade shows, she called—and called and called—until she was able to meet in person to present her product.
Stay in your lane
SPANX is now a billion-dollar enterprise. As business grew, Blakely realized she was getting further and further away from the things that she loved: product, sales, and marketing. “Hire your weaknesses,” advised Blakely. Delegate the parts of the job or life that you don’t enjoy or aren’t good at. She also buckets her days to focus on one area of the business each day of the week.
Another way she schedules herself is for time alone. She said our best thoughts occur when our mind wanders—it is then that our intuition kicks in. For Blakely, she gets up early and drives; that’s her fertile time.