Billionaire Sara Blakely: “Start small, think big, and scale fast” | Entrepreneur Advice
[MUSIC] >> [APPLAUSE] >> I love that you guys have to stay here. So I really don’t have to be that funny. It’s like you cannot leave the room and I did enjoy meeting John. And in the back before we started, I just have to say, he asked me what my husband did and somehow the conversation came out that he used to be a rapper. [LAUGH] And then I made the mistake, I said, yeah. He was most known for two songs, Shake It Like A White Girl and College Girls Are Easy. >> [LAUGH] >> And I was like that probably wasn’t the right thing to say to the dean of the school. >> [LAUGH] >> So I was like never mind, never mind. Anyway, I’m happy to be here. >> [LAUGH] >> So Sarah, thanks for being here. >> Yes. >> [LAUGH] >> Thanks for having me. >> Clearly, we’re excited to have you. I’m particularly excited to have you here. I never thought I’d be saying this to a view from the top speaker. But if it weren’t for you, I don’t think I would have been able to zip up these pants today. >> [LAUGH] >> So- >> I’m so honored. Thank you. >> [LAUGH] >> So really, thank you. >> [LAUGH] >> You famously started Spanx with $5,000 in your bank account. What was the hardest part about getting Spanx off the ground? >> The hardest part about getting Spanx off the ground was definitely in the beginning when you first have an idea as an inventor and you’ve thought of something that doesn’t exist, and you want to bring it into the world. There were two things that were happening. One was my own self-doubt was a really hard part of the journey and then the beginning of all the manufacturers that I was having to cold call, and talked to to try to get my product made were all men. And it was much harder to explain and to try to get them to understand the concept of what the product was. So I heard the word no for two straight years trying to get it made, which then increases the self-doubt that can happen and one of the interesting things about being an inventor is you don’t go to school for it. There isn’t an inventor class. You can’t major in inventing. And so it’s really a belief system in yourself and the willingness to look stupid or to have people laugh at you or to fail at something that you believe, you’re your own gut check on that. And so it takes a lot of confidence. So that was the hardest part of my journey. There was a lot of starting and stopping, I’m like am I crazy? And everyone’s saying no, but I kept picking myself back up to pursue it. >> What was it? Was it confidence that kept you going in the early days? What was it that kept you coming back? >> Well, my life was pretty sucked. So- >> [LAUGH] >> That always helps. >> [LAUGH] >> I was selling fax machines door to door for seven years. And as mentioned, this wasn’t mentioned, but I had wanted to be a lawyer. My father was a trial attorney and I used to actually ask to get out of school growing up to watch him in closing arguments, and I debated all through high school. I debated in college and I’m basically a really bad test taker. And so I bond the LSAT and I bond it not once, but twice. And so it set my life on a different course for, I would say things like that happened, then you end up like those moments in your life where you think, I can’t believe this is happening to me is often times. Life’s way of nudging you and just letting you know you are off course. >> Well, thank goodness, you persisted. because today, we have Spanx. And today, Spanx has moved far beyond the world of undergarments. At different points in the company’s history, you’ve both taken on and walked away from the role of CEO. What has driven those shift? >> Well, in the early days, I mean, as an entrepreneur, you’re every department. So I was the before and after butt model. Literally, I took a picture of my own butt. Took it to Kinko’s, got it laminated with and without Spanx on. Stood in the stores and I’m like hey, look what this can do for you. >> [LAUGH] >> I was like the packer and shipper. I was the head of sales, I was everything. And you learn very quickly what you’re good at and what you’re not good at, and what you enjoy, and what you don’t enjoy, and there’s usually a correlation between the two. And so I often say, as soon as you can afford to, hire your weakness. And a few years into Spanx, it was abundantly clear that the lane that I needed to stay in was inventing, selling, promoting. Spanx actually has never advertised. Spanx is 18 years old and the first time we’ve ever sampled an ad was in 16. And so I was sort of the advertisement and me being out in the field talking about the product and sharing the story of the why, why we’re making this? Why it’s better was a big part of the formula? And I needed someone to be in the company day-to-day running the daily operations. So I hired a CEO, she was a co-CEO with me for a while and then she became the full-time CEO and she was that for 12 years and then I stepped back in as CEO about two years ago. It’s been two years and a lot of that has to do with timing. I have four children under the age of eight. And so I was growing and building my family and it just organically feels like the right time for me to do that inside of the company. And so I still am able to stay in my lane, it’s just slightly structured differently where I have a very strong management team around me running the day-to-day operations. >> You still hold 100% ownership over Spanx and you made a conscious decision to never take money from outside investors. Why? >> I never needed to. >> [LAUGH] >> I mean, I just I never needed to, so I don’t know if it was some super conscious decision along the way more than just I didn’t really have the need. Spanx was profitable from the first month that I was in business and I’m of the belief system for me in my journey to start small, think big and scale fast and a lot of people want to start big and think big. And oftentimes, get ahead of themselves and that can end wildly successfully, but it can also cause a lot of problems. And you dilute yourself down a lot and then you have a lot of other people that you’re answering to. So that just was the journey that I took. I mean, I started it with five grand. I’ve never had any outside funding. And whatever money I made from selling Spanx, I just put back into the business. >> I love that, start small, think big. Do you want to run Spanx forever? >> [LAUGH] I operate off gut and intuition and I think when the time is right, I’ll know it. When I first started Spax, I’ve never taken a business class. I’ve never worked in fashion or retail when I started Spanx. And about six months after I started it, all these people kept coming up to me at business events or cocktail parties or wherever. And said, Sarah, what’s your exit strategy? I was like what are you talking about? I didn’t even know what that meant. And so eventually, I started telling people, my exit strategy is that I want to exit a room and look good. >> [LAUGH] >> That’s my exit strategy. So. >> [APPLAUSE] >> The best exit strategy ever. >> Exactly. >> [LAUGH] >> You mentioned that you’re an inventor first, many aspiring entrepreneurs, even in this room struggle to find their initial idea. How do you constantly find ways to invent new products and where does your inspiration come from? >> I I mean, I think of a lot of ideas at traffic lights. >> I think of them- >> [LAUGH] >> All the time in different places, and I think it’s part of just being hyper-observant. I like to find white space. I pay attention to what are things that haven’t evolved and why? There’s certain things in our society that updates itself and changes constantly, and then there’s certain things that’s not. And so I’ll ask myself questions all day everyday. It’s just the way my brain works. I could even be looking at a table and be like, why is the table like that? When was the table first created? Is that the actual best design for a table or could there be something different? And Spanx went into men’s, and randomly how that happened was because I got curious that the man’s undershirt was created in 1918 and no one had paid any attention to it since. It was literally the same thing. And so I just talked to my brother and my husband about it and their undershirts, the necks stretched out, or they were boxy and bulky under clothes. And I thought, I’m just going to add a little bit of lycra to the cotton undershirt for men, and so the neck won’t stretch out. And I’m going to taper it in at the waist. So ideas come to me like that. Our latest invention is arm tights. And ladies, do you want to stand? Anyone wearing an arm tight? They just showed me these, I was very excited. Stand up. Okay, here we go. >> [LAUGH] >> So Jennifer and Naomi have them and I feel like there was somebody, yeah, you have them. She’s wearing them. >> [LAUGH] >> Hello. >> Hello. >> Hello. >> Hello, hello, hello. >> I’m hiding them under the blazer. >> Well, you put that cute jacket on over, that’s why. >> Yes, it’s true. >> Anyway so the invention, the idea for is arm tights, is literally, I mean, there’s so much that comes from being a frustrated consumer. So I’m a woman, I’m looking at my closet. Most of my favorite things are sleeveless, like a sleeveless shirt, a sleeveless dress. And I’m like, you know what, I want to wear that differently. And I also want to wear it year round. So I just want something that goes underneath, on my arms, super simple in lots of different colors. I don’t want to always have to put a cardigan or a jacket or something over it, come fall or winter or when you’re transitioning in spring or even inside of office buildings. I’m cold a lot and I don’t want the integrity of my shirt or my dress to be covered up. So that’s how arm tights. It’s a little crop top made on a hosiery tights machine, which had never been done before, and you put it on over your head. It stops just below your bra and the reason for that is less bulk under your clothes. It’s super breathable, easy to wear. And then it just literally, with one $30 item, your whole closet exponentially grows with looks and how you want to layer it and wear it. >> I love it. >> But yeah, ideas are- >> Clearly I love it. >> My assistant, who’s my right hand Lisa, she’s been my right hand for 16 years, can attest to this, but I have 99 pages, I don’t know why it’s 99, but she told me the other day it’s 99 pages, single-spaced, typed, of ideas. >> [INAUDIBLE] one last [INAUDIBLE]. >> [LAUGH]. >> I need one more idea. So I think of ideas constantly, on airplanes, in car, talking to somebody, and I email it to myself. And then I just keep them and log them. >> Wow, [LAUGH] take note. You’ve said that you deliberately approached Spanx with a degree of feminism you had rarely seen in business. Can you elaborate on that for us? >> Well, I approached it with a very feminine leadership style. And so I think that traditional business has been very masculine and it’s been a very masculine model. And so I approach it, I mean, and when I say that, when I first started Spanx, I was maybe three months in and I was at a cocktail party and these three guys came up to me and they said, Sarah, so we heard you invented something. And I said, yes, I did, and they said, great. And one guy pat me on the shoulder and he said, I hope you’re ready to go to war, and he said, business is war. And I just remember looking at him and thinking, why? And I went home that night and sat in my apartment. And I sat on the floor and I was thinking about all that was happening and this risk I was taking in potentially leaving my job and the secure income and just thinking, I don’t want to go to war. And this voice inside of my head just said, do it different, take a totally different approach. And so I have approached Spanx with very feminine principles. And there’s the feminine and the masculine in all of us and it’s all super important. But using vulnerability, really operating off of intuition. If the data Is trumping my intuition, I go with my intuition almost every time. So that’s not typical in a corporate environment. So those kinds of things that I’ve done, like being vulnerable with the business. I felt as a consumer, I just felt like companies aren’t really talking to me the way that I want them to talk to me. And I’m not listening to them, I don’t believe them. I don’t necessarily trust them. And so when I started Spanx, instead of talking at my customer, I wanted to talk to them and I made myself vulnerable. So I joked and said I used my own butt in the before and after picture. But I had felt like companies were operating in this like, we need to be perfect and you need to see us as the authority and you need me, and that’s how I’m going to sell you product. And I was like, hey, I’m one of you. Here’s what’s happening. Here’s what it does for me. This is why it works. And it was just a very different approach. And I felt consumers became really connected and really loyal. And probably part of the reason why Spanx as a brand didn’t need to advertise, we haven’t spent any money on advertising in 16 years, because a lot of it is word of mouth from women sharing with other women. >> Yeah, if that flashing example in the green room we had earlier- >> [LAUGH] >> Was any example of what that virality looks like for you then I can only imagine. Can you tell us about a meaningful experience- >> I tried to get John to flash, but he wasn’t wearing any Spanx. >> [LAUGH] >> Moving on from that. >> [LAUGH] >> Can you tell us about a meaningful experience you’ve had mentoring young women since founding Spanx? >> I mean, sure, a lot of different women come to mind. I look for women that I can support what they’re doing in education and in their business as an entrepreneurship. There’s a group of ten women that I started supporting and mentoring in Atlanta, I wanted to kind of do something really close to home, who are all doing social impact-type businesses for the community of Atlanta. And that’s been really rewarding and wonderful to watch. And all of them now have crossed the $1 million mark. And I do a lot of work with Grameen America, helping female entrepreneurs living below the poverty line here in the United States. One woman comes to mind, Brittany Underwood, who started Akola Jewelry. And I mentored her a little bit as well in addition to helping to support her, and mentioned that she should try to sell her product at Neiman Marcus. And a result, Akola Jewelry is at all the Neimans. And she’s doing a fabulous job giving women, particularly in Dallas, homeless women employment. And her company started in Uganda. But the reality is people have been asking me for 18 years, multiple times a day, for 10 minutes of my time to mentor them or to help them. And so, I’m Working on a digital format for that. And it’s in beta right now. And it’s just a way to answer how did I do this. And the real answer of how I did this is Spanx started way before I cut the feet out of my pantyhose. That’s the sound bite in the press that everybody’s talked about for almost 20 years. But it actually started fundamentally when I was 16. I worked on mindset for myself. And I’m such a believer in mindset is almost everything. And it just happened to be a set of circumstances. I was riding my bike with one of my best friends at 16, and she was run over by a car and killed in front of me. And then a few months later my dad left home and my parents separated and ultimately got divorced. And when my dad moved out, he came into my bedroom and he handed me a cassette tape series called How to be a No-Limit Person by Wayne Dyer. And he said, sweetie, I wish I discovered this when I was your age instead of the age of 40. And then he moved out. And so I started listening to this How to be a No-Limit Person, which was talking about visualization, law of attraction, not caring about what other people think about you, not being consumed by the fear of failure. And just the clouds parted for me and I thought I’ve spent a lot of time being taught what to think, but no one’s really teaching me how to think. And at 16, that was so incredibly important. So in this digital platform, it’s kind of passing on a lot of these insights that deal with mindset, that I think is the real reason that Spanx exists. >> So, you had this incredible minset at the age of 16. And you’re kind of almost paying it forward by empowering women around you. What role to you hope the Sarah Blakeley Foundation will play in the empowerment of women? >> Well, I mean, my ultimate goal is that the male and female energy on the planet becomes balanced. [LAUGH] So I feel like, that was a snap. Was that a snap, okay? >> [LAUGH] >> All right, well, good, that one person who agrees with me. [LAUGH] >> [LAUGH] >> Yes. [LAUGH] >> Where are you? Yeah, anyway, the male and female energy on the planet more balanced. And the reason I say energy, I mentioned earlier is that we all have the male and the female energy inside of us. And I feel like the feminine has been pretty squashed for long time on our planet. And it’s not serving the greater whole. So what can I do in my short lifetime to elevate the feminine? And that’s what the foundation is focused on. And how can I help the elevating and supporting that, and I take my opportunity as a woman in this country so seriously. And I think part of the reason that I do is because I got to watch my mom and my grandmothers and their lack of options, and that was really hard. And so we’ve been on the planet for thousands of years or millions of years depending on who you ask and what you think. But the bottom line is my mom is only 22 years older than me, and my mom had about three of four options only afforded to her because she was a woman. So in the grand scheme of life and how long we’ve been on earth, I’m like I made it by 22 years. I’m like, what, you’re kidding me. So I feel like a lot of my courage, and I’m scared of a lot of things. I mean, I’m afraid to fly. I’m afraid of heights. I’ve got all kinds of things. But I feel like where I get my courage is that knowing and thinking about I’m a woman born in the right place at the right time. I don’t want to squander that. And I want to make the most of that. >> You’re definitely a family woman. We see that a lot. Your family’s featured on your Instagram a lot. How has your relationship with your mother and grandmother influenced you? >> Well, I think they influenced me, I mean, I love my mom and my grandmother so much. My mom is the most supportive person ever, but they influenced me more by what they didn’t do than what they did. So my mom’s an artist. She’s very sweet. She’s very soft spoken. She has low confidence, but is a lovely and probably the sweetest person I’ve ever known in my life. And she was a wonderful mother. So I have four children under the age of eight. I have an eight-year-old boy, twin boys that are three, and a two-year-old daughter. So this is vacation for me. >> [LAUGH] >> I’m so happy to be here. [LAUGH] I woke up in my hotel room and I’m like wow, cool. >> [LAUGH] >> We’re happy to have you here [LAUGH]. You mentioned that you have so many fears, including the fear of heights. But you’re known as a leader who does not shy away from her fears. So yes, you are terrified of heights, but you’ve climbed on top of a hot air balloon. And to be clear, this is on top, not in the basket, to drink tea with Sir Richard Branson. What fuels your drive to face your fears head on as a leader? Honestly, the opportunity to be a woman. I feel like when you’re doing something in life, or you’re living your life for something beyond just yourself, you’ll get courage you didn’t know you had. And so I really feel like when I do things, I’m doing this for women, I’m doing this for women. >> [LAUGH] >> And it just helps me. But that was a particularly insane moment in my life. I did a reality show with Sir Richard Branson many, many years ago and it was his take on The Apprentice. And instead of the business challenges all taking place in one city like New York, they took place around the world. And instead of, and this was the fine print I didn’t totally read, instead of if you lost your business challenge, instead of getting in the boardroom, and him firing you, you had to do a world record breaking, death-defying stunt with Richard. >> [LAUGH] >> Which I should have known because there was a 27-page contract that came over from Fox that I was supposed to sign. And I emailed it to my dad who I mentioned is a litigator. And the contract basically was like, we can submerge you under water. We can put you in political unrest. [LAUGH] >> We can light you on fire, I mean, it was crazy. And I emailed it to my dad and I said dad, can you help me kind of tweak this and give me some advice? And all he wrote back was no sane person would sign this, love, Dad. >> [LAUGH] >> So I signed it. >> [LAUGH] >> Of course. >> And I spent two months with Richard Branson, and I just trusted my intuition that he wasn’t going to portray me in a way, with Fox. because, literally, my lawyer was on his hands and knees like don’t do this, you’re four years into Spanx, why would you ever put. But the first day of filming, at 3 in the morning they woke us all up, and they said, we’re going to go out into the field by Richard Branson’s home in Oxford, England. And they handed me a helmet. And I was like, why do I need a helmet? >> [LAUGH] >> I’m an entrepreneur. And they were like, here’s your helmet. And I got in a hot air balloon and two hot air balloons went up into the air over the English countryside first thing in the morning. And it was at about 9,000, 10,000 feet, and there was a balance beam connecting the two hot air balloons and you were asked to walk across the balance beam. And I was one of only two people who couldn’t do it. Where did the people come from? >> [LAUGH] >> And so anyways, so I was like I can’t. And then when they disconnected the two hot air balloons, and Richard turned to me and he said, so, Sara, because you and Tim couldn’t get across the balance beam, now you have to do something twice as hard. And I had to climb on a dangling rope ladder the whole circumference of the hot air balloon at 10,000 feet in the air going across the English countryside. And meet him on top of the balloon for tea. >> [LAUGH] >> Sounds fun. >> So it took me 48 minutes to climb the balloon, it was insanely hard. And Yeah, so my friend Leslie gave this to me last night over dinner and it’s so cool. It’s a hot air balloon with someone dangling off of it. [LAUGH] She was like, I saw that and thought of you. I’m like, thank you very much. It will remind me of the courage it took me or the insanity to do that. >> [LAUGH] Since that show Richard Branson has become a mentor to you. What does that relationship and that mentorship mean to you and what does mentorship mean to you more generally as well. >> Well, he actually became, he’s a friend, he’s a great friend and what I like about Richard is he has an incredible bias for action. He is someone who just goes and you just marvel at it. He requires very little sleep, he’s always got a notebook with him and he’s always writing ideas in it. He’s a great delegator, he doesn’t ask anybody to do anything he won’t do himself. And he’s funny. I mean he won’t talk about a prankster. He is funny like he likes to prank people. So you just have to always be prepared when you’re around him that something is going to jump out >> Always have your helmet. >> Yeah. Always have your helmet exactly. >> So speaking of humor, as you know here’ at the JSB, we have a class of humor and business, we’re Spanx models. >> I think Spanx is so great. I do. I think it’s so important. Yeah, it’s really important when we’re in business. >> So tell me, why is that important. I know that as part of the Spanx training camp, one of the mandatory learning modules is comedy, that every employee has to go through. So, why is that important? >> Yeah. Well, I just fond out in the green room that I am one of only two CEO’s that you guys are aware of that has also done standup comedy. And the other one is who started Twitter, right? Yep, so, I guess that would make me the only female CEO that’s ever done standup comedy. Well, part of also wanting to stay very connected to the feminine principles and the feminine style of leadership starting Spanx, I also felt like I didn’t understand why everybody was so serious. So I thought, you know what? I don’t subscribe to the fact that you have to act serious to be taken seriously. And I like to laugh at myself. When I worked in corporate America for a long time and everybody was super uptight and super serious, there was no humor, there was no levity and then everybody at like five o’clock became rangingly hilarious. >> [LAUGH] >> What’s going on, like you know and so the alcohol probably helped at five. But anyway, I wanted to use humor and I love to do that in the workplace. Yes, we have a boot camp at Spanx, a training boot camp when you come on board and one of the modules is doing stand-up comedy and I’ve used the comedic stuff that I did in my marketing. I mean I wrote don’t worry we’ve got your butt covered right on my package when I first started in 2,000, which was not very common to do. Especially taking it to Neman Marcus to sell it. I named my company Spanx, which made people laugh and believe it or not it was very shocking at the time that I named the company Spanx, I actually had people hang up on me often. I would call them and say, hi, I’m Sara from Spanx and then they’d hang up. >> [LAUGH] >> And I’d call back and I’d go, I’m serious, I’m a real company and my company’s called Spanx. >> [LAUGH] >> And they’d go, I thought you were prank calling me. So and then naming my products. I broke into the world’s most boring category. I mean can we talk about shape wear? Who wants to talk about shape wear and undergarments but it was, I named it power panties. I started naming all my products and it made people laugh and it gave so much energy and then all of a sudden you Gwyneth Paltrow and Julia Roberts flashing their spanx on red carpets and saying, I’m wearing spanx. Like all these celebrities. And I think it is because I chose to do humour and people wanted to participate in that. There was energy around that. So, I use it in every aspect of the marketing. I use humor to turn around a situation when I’m bombing it. It might give me a second chance. When I cold-called to sell fax machines door-to-door for seven years, I learned very quickly that if could make somebody laugh or smile, I’d get another 30 seconds before they’d slam the door in my face. There’s just, it helps you move through pain, it’s a wonderful tool. >> What impact have you seen humor have on your Spanx employees? >> Well they are not as afraid to fail, which is a really criritical lessson. And I think companies, if you can create a culture where they are not terrified to fail or make a mistake, then you’re going to be highly productive and more innovative culture. So, having people feel free to laugh at themselves and watching me as their leader laughed at myself. I have ups meetings at Spanx, where we get up and I tell them what I messed up at or mistake that I made and I usually tell funny story about it and I encourage everybody else in the company they stand up and say that and then share and make it a funny story. And so, I think that helps. >> Do you have any stand up comedian role models? >> I like Tina Fey a lot. I think she is fabulous and super funny and I didn’t grow up watching comedy or stand up comedians. I told you I had a crush on Gene Wilder. I had a crush on Gene Wilder when I was little and I tried to join the Gene Wilder fan club and there wasn’t one. All my friends were like had crushes on Andy Gibb and all these other fan clubs. And I looked up the Gene, my mom tried to find a Gene Wilder fan club and apparently I was the only one trying to join that. But I think he’s so fabulous and funny and very sexy. My husband actually looks a lot like Gene Wilder. That crazy curly hair going in every direction. >> What lessons did you take away from your time as a stand-up comedian? >> What lessons did I take? I mean, well, one thing that I learned that was random. This isn’t really a takeaway but like The Green Room? I’m just like, why is it called The Green Room, it’s not green? >> [LAUGH] >> The Green Room is never green. And then after about, six months of doing stand up comedy, everyone sitting in the room was either throwing up or about to throw up, and I’m like that’s why it’s called The Green Room. >> [LAUGH] >> Like, we’re all just sitting there green. >> No. >> But I mean, I learned because I wrote all my own comedy, so I have notebooks and notebooks full of comedy, so I learned the importance of one word, I learned the importance of a comma, I learned the importance of timing. I mean you could tell a joke and the next night tell a joke and change one word in it. It’s like a complete different reaction, it’s flat. So, there’s so much importance in the deliver and in how you write comedy. I learned so much. I learned that I needed to go invent something because I actually wasn’t that funny to create a full time career out of it. [LAUGH]. >> But as an entrepreneur, I have seen you kind of pull threads of comedy as you mentioned, you’ve said that you tried to go out of your way to embarass yourself on a regular basis, why is that? >> Well, I am curious about the things that hold power of us and one of the big fears is fear of embarassment. We all have that, we have fear of failure. So I’m always working on these things that I feel like might hold me back and so if I embarrass myself, then it loses its power over me. And especially if embarrassing myself at times becomes the goal. Then it feel like I don’t know, it’s like I’m playing my own head games with myself on that but one example of embarrassing myself is I joined Instagram and I joined, I feel like I might be the last one on the planet to have join it, it was about a year ago. And my team is like, join the Instagram, you got to do it, you got to put yourself out there. And I was nervous and I wasn’t sure like I don’t know The day that I joined, I happened to be flying to New York on business, and I was at the Atlanta airport. And so I was like, I’m going to go around the airport and personally ask people to follow me. >> [LAUGH] >> And it was so embarrassing, and I was mortified. And I was embarrassing myself and I posted the whole video, it’s like my first post on Instagram. It’s me, because I’m like, how does this work? How do you get followers? So I was around Jackson Hartsfield airport, and I even stood up in the video, I’m filming myself, and I make an announcement at my gate. I’m like, excuse me, I’m Sara Blakely and I just joined Instagram today, will you follow me? And literally [LAUGH] I go like this, not one person looks up, they’re like. >> [LAUGH] >> I was like, thank you, thank you. >> I was going to ask if it worked, but-. >> [LAUGH] Not exactly. >> because I need more followers, that’s why I’m asking [LAUGH]. So you’ve given us many examples of how you’ve been able to push yourself to face your fears. What fears have you not figured out how to face yet? >> I mean, I can’t really think of one. I work hard at them, and sometimes my fear of heights and flying is winning, and sometimes I’m winning at it. I’ve fear of public speaker, sometimes I’m winning sometimes I’m not at that. There’s just a lot of different things, but, There’s nothing that I feel like I’m not, Trying and working at, so. >> So Sara, you talked about your Instagram account, where you share literally unfiltered moments, as a mom, as a wife, as a friend, and as a leader. What keeps you so unbelievable grounded amid all your outstanding success? >> I feel like success just makes you more of who you already were. I feel like money and success just does that, so it’s like it holds a magnifying glass up to who you are. People always ask me that, and I am like, I don’t know who else to be, I am who I am. So the money, the success, and so I like to say if you were a jerk before you got really successful, and a lot of money, you become a bigger jerk, really. And if you were insecure, you’ll become more insecure, if you were nice, you become nicer. If you were generous, you become become more generous, it’s literally just a magnifying glass. But yeah, People ask me that, I don’t know any other way to be. Just going through it, figuring it out along the way. >> Awesome, well, I know there’s a couple of people in the audience who have questions for you. So I’m going to hand it over for a minute. >> Great. >> So if you have a question, please raise your hand, and we’ll get a mic to you. >> Hi. >> Hi. >> Thank you so much for being here. My name’s Beth. >> Hi, Beth. >> And I’m in my second year, and about to have to leave this place. The question that I’ve been wondering about that you’ve spoken a little bit is I mean, your Instagram is just awesome. There are not other CEOs who I want to spend time seeing what they’re up to in their daily life. And I’m wondering, what you think other people who are running companies and business can learn from how you think about communication through social media? >> Well, I haven’t thought that much about what other people are and aren’t doing. I love the idea of leaders and CEOs showing vulnerabilities, and showing the ups and downs, and I just don’t really subscribe in the feeling that I need to put on any kind of a facade to be taken seriously as a leader. And so it’s like this is my life, this is who I am. I’m a mom of four, some days I’m working it out, some days I’m not. And I think that’s important. I also sort of have my own filter for Instagram, it’s not planned out, I do it 100% myself. And I’m having fun with it, if I wake up one day and it’s not fun anymore, then I’ll figure out a plan B. But so everything kind of happens organically and in the moment for my Instagram. And I tend to think before I do it or if it’s happening, is this going to inspire someone or make them feel better?. I’m kind of interested in making other people feel like they’re not in it alone, or it’s not the projection of a perfect life. >> Much for being here, we’re so excited to have you. I’m Britney, I’m an MBA two as well, about to graduate. And so as Dean Levin mentioned, you’re famous and very much admired for your hustle. I think the story of paying your friends to go buy your product from the shelves of Neiman Marcus is one that many of us have heard. And I’m just curious kind of what hustle means to you, whether you think it can be learned. And also whether it’s possible to take hustle too far. >> [SOUND], that’s a good question, that’s a few questions, I’m going to try to hit them all. I’ve got mommy memory. >> [LAUGH] >> So I’m going to start with the first one which was what do I think of hustle? I feel like hustle is the willingness to work really, really hard, and then also your willingness to get the job done. Like kind of navigating and doing what it takes. And there’s so much about my journey where I was like, I am not going to let the outcome, or my success, be contingent on other people, as much as I can control it, help it, navigate it, I’m going to. So yeah, in the beginning especially, still now, obviously I’m hustling. Where I am now, and I’m running around the airport asking people to follow me on Instagram, you know? I just feel like it’s innate in me also, to a degree. But In the beginning, there’s a few examples that come to mind. You mentioned that I called my friends and asked them to go buy Spanx, and I wrote everybody checks and sent them a check because I needed to drive momentum. And I had no money to advertise, so I’m like, this product’s going to sit on the shelf, so I needed to get people to go in and buy it. I also, when I went into the stores, I realized very quickly that my product was in the sleepiest part of the department store. It was back in the corner and nobody was going there. So then I immediately went to Target and I bought envelope dividers that you put on your home desk, and I ran around Neiman Marcus and put them at every register. And I put Spanx in them, and then I walked away. >> [LAUGH] >> Nieman’s has impeccable visual rules and regulations, and I did that because I had to get my product out of the department. And because I did that, women in shoes started buying Spanx and women in contemporary. And those decisions made such a big difference. And by the time somebody figured out that nobody else had approved it, because everybody thought somebody else approved it. >> [LAUGH] >> It was so successful that the head of Neiman’s was like, whatever this girl’s doing, let her keep doing it. I mean, I have so many stories like that of just what do I need to do, yeah. >> I am second year biophysics PhD student. >> My question is what advice did you receive about getting Spanx off the ground in the first few years, good or bad? And what approach did you take to taking this mentorship or advice into consideration? And how did you navigate meshing that advice with what you wanted to do based off of your intuition and plan for your company? >> So what advice did I get in the beginning of Spanx? >> [LAUGH] >> We have compound questions here at Stanford. >> [LAUGH] >> That’s okay. What advice was I given in the beginning of Spanx? I mean, I remember somebody saying to me as I was delegating and growing and getting bigger that they said, Sarah, if it’s 80% as good as you could do it yourself, let it go and be very happy. And that was so freeing for me, because I think I was always critiquing in my mind. That wasn’t 100% exactly the way and I was just like that became a really important lesson for me in growing the business, and letting go more. No, it’s so funny. I don’t have a mentor and I didn’t have, I never took a business class. And Wayne Dyer, the gentleman I mentioned, he’s no longer living. He died almost two years ago, I think the inspirational motivational speaker was someone that I really kind of taught me without ever knowing him. Then I’m sorry, you had two or three more questions in there. >> [LAUGH] >> Did I answer them or okay, cool. >> We’ll take maybe one last question from the audience before. >> Hi, I’m Mark. I’m an MBA one, so I’m not graduating for a little bit. >> [LAUGH] >> Hi, Mark. >> Hey, quick question. You talked a lot about intuition versus data and decision-making, and also failing. I’m curious if there’s a situation where the numbers would have lead you one way, your intuition lead you another and it was a failure and kind of what you learned from it. An example of intuition not working or working? >> I guess an example where your intuition maybe led was a mistake. >> I cannot give one example, I can’t. I can give examples on the other end of not listening to my intuition and it being a mistake, but there’s been so much along the way where I and it requires you being quiet and being receptive and listening to whatever the knowing is inside of you. It requires that. >> I’d love to take the final question if that’s okay, Sarah. >> Sure. >> You’ve said, the harder you work, the more the universe will believe how serious you are about your goals and dreams and will then show up to help. How much of your success do you attribute to your hard work versus luck handed over by the universe? >> I think they’re so related, I really feel like they’re one in the same. And I mentioned when I first started Spanx, I was selling fax machines door to door. I had a particularly bad day. I literally did get escorted out of buildings almost all day every day and people ripped up my business card in my face often. And one day, I just pull off the side of the road and I was like this is not my life. I’m in the wrong movie. Call the director. Call the producer. Like cut, this is not happening and I went home to my apartment and I wrote my strengths. I was like what am I good at? And pretty much, the only thing in the good column was sales. And so I started asking myself, what is it about sales that I’m good at? And I realized I like giving somebody something or selling them something that could help them, or change their life or make them feel good. So I actually wrote in my journal that night, I’m going to invent a product that I can sell to millions of people that will make them feel good and then I specifically asked the universe for the idea. And I said out loud in my apartment, universe give me the idea. And two years later, I cut the feet out of my panty hose to go to a party and I couldn’t figure out what to wear under white pants. And I did it only one time, because I was so open and receptive to what the universe was going to provide for me and it took two years. And I was always looking, but it showed up and I was going to pursue it. I wasn’t sure if that was the idea or not, so I’ve been in partnership with the universe. I feel like the universe, my CFO who’s a little bit more analytical minded than I am. She now says, the universe is the best employee on the payroll. Because they’re free, it’s free. >> [LAUGH] >> So she’s now a believer. And you know what’s so funny is about like when I first started Spanx too, I joined a group and they put me in a forum of men and there were only men in this entrepreneurial. It’s like a YPO across the country and they put me in my chapter in Atlanta and I got put in with ten guys, I’m the only girl. I have met with these 10 guys every single month for 17 years now. They’re like my brothers. But they will tell you when I first started, they were all taking bets in the group of how long I’d be in business and I would always say things like they go around the room and talk about things. And I would say, well, I’ve asked the universe to do this. >> [LAUGH] >> And I taking care of this and I have visualized that I’m going to be on Oprah, and I have, and they’re like. >> [LAUGH] >> And then my results kept going up and up, and up. And then eventually after a couple of years one by one and I’m not kidding, every single one of them pulled me aside secretly and was like so how do you talk to the universe? >> [LAUGH] >> Thank you. >> [APPLAUSE] >> Thank you very much. >> Thank you. >> Thank you so much. >> Thank you, everybody.
Sara Blakely, founder and CEO of Spanx, discussed her journey from inventing Spanx to becoming the world’s youngest female self-made billionaire.
She talked about having the right mindset for starting a company, running a business with feminine principles, and how to successfully grow your company.
“I’m of the belief-system that you should start small, think big, and scale fast. A lot of entrepreneurs want to start big and think big, but oftentimes get ahead of themselves.”
Visit Spanx online at: https://www.spanx.com
Updates from Sara Blakely