Sometimes, you just need to follow your gut…

SaraBlakely-ProfileBeing ranked ninetieth place on a list of one hundred isn’t always the most encouraging piece of information to put on a resume, unless of course, that ranking places you amongst the list of Forbes 100 Most Powerful Women. Happily perched at spot number 90 is Sara Blakely, founder of the wildly successful women’s shapewear brand: Spanx.

After being annoyed with wearing regular panty hose for her previous jobs, Blakely ceremoniously cut off the ends of her stockings and set off on the journey to create a pair of pantyhose that women would be happy to wear. Giving up her life as a door-to-door office appliance sales woman, and with her life savings in hand (a modest $5000) Blakely started researching, designing, testing and pitching her product to perfection.

By starting out on her own, and with such a small amount to start with, Blakely was forced to befriend the word “no” in a very intimate way. Practically ever corner she turned, someone was there to question who she was, what she was doing, and most importantly, who was backing her. Still, with each refusal she received, she was able to revise her pitch and built her confidence up until she convinced a small mill owner to invest in her design. Using all the research and resources she had found, she was able to begin production on her product.

While it may seem that Blakely is one of those fear-less, headstrong entrepreneurs that battles every obstacle in her path with grace and poise, she’ll be the first to let you know that not everything is as easy as it appears. While devising a business development plan, she spent hours pouring over textbooks to write her own patent (a tactic that saved her $3000 in legal fees), while keeping in mind what her father taught her while growing up: if you haven’t failed big at something yet, then you haven’t tried hard enough. This kept her moving forward with her plan, because every failure proved a step in the right direction.

With practice, and a series of failures behind her, Blakely was able to conquer her fears about the business world, but she’ll still confess to being afraid of things like heights and public speaking (which most people can agree, are pretty nerve wracking!)

Since then, Blakely can attest to a real turn around in the way people interact with her. Her husband, Jesse Itzler, told Forbes Magazine that Blakely has become a serious magnet for partial nudity. Often, when she’s recognized on the street or in stores, women flash their Spanx in appreciation for her invention. This is a complete turn around from the days when she herself was flashing her product to store managers as a way to showcase the before-and-after effects of Spanx. It might even bring back memories to when Blakely pitched her product without shame in the ladies room of Neiman Marcus, where she landed her first big contract.

When you think about it, what higher honor could there be for an entrepreneur than satisfied customers showing you the use of your product, even if it includes a few hiked skirts on the street?

Blakely is a brilliant example of the success that can come with a motivated and dedicated leader. Without her constant drive to find the best version of her product, Spanx would still be stuck where it was almost 20 years ago, and Blakely wouldn’t see nearly quite so many happy women with well-shaped behinds thanking her for her product.


© Zoe Begopolous, DemGen Inc. 2013