The world’s youngest, self-made female billionaire had plenty of advice to share at the 30th annual
Spanx Founder Sara Blakely is no stranger to supporting budding entrepreneurs and social change-makers. From Spanx’s first year of operation, she has set aside a portion of her proceeds to empower women. Blakely was also the first female billionaire to sign on to The Giving Pledge – a commitment by the world’s wealthiest to dedicate a majority of wealth to giving back.
She offered these tips on achieving entrepreneurial success at the April 19 banquet:
Long before Spanx was even an idea, Blakely was convinced her future was in law. Rather than succumbing to dejection after twice failing the LSAT law-school entrance exam, she instead realized the opportunity to reenvision her life and explore the unknown.
Her advice on how to abandon fear of failure? Redefine it.
“My dad encouraged me to fail,” she recalled. “At the dinner table, he would ask my brother and I what we failed at this week. If we didn’t have something to tell him, he would actually be disappointed. Failure became not trying, versus the outcome.”
Despite having no business background and never before having worked in the undergarment industry, Blakely fearlessly pursued her idea of Spanx. “I wanted to give it a try,” she explained, “because of that positioning around failure.”
Get a Job in Sales
Blakely is convinced that working in sales and making cold calls offers an ideal entrepreneurial training ground. Her learnings from seven years of fax-machine sales before she conceived of Spanx? “If you can make someone laugh or smile,” she said, “you get an extra 30 seconds.”
Visualize the Future
Spanx started long before Blakely concocted the idea. It started with a visualization of what she wanted to spend her life doing. “I set the intention for this idea to come into my life," she explained.
Blakely had been selling fax machines door-to-door, and after a tough day of being kicked out of numerous buildings on her sales route, she went home to write in her journal. “What are you good at?” she jotted down. Despite her rough day, she realized the answer was, indeed, sales.
She remembered writing, “I’m going to invent a product I can sell to millions of people that will make them feel good.” And then, out loud to the universe she said, “Please give me the idea.” Two years later, she cut the feet out of pantyhose so she could wear white pants to a party and solve an undergarment challenge.
Don’t Seek External Validation
After the idea for Spanx struck, Blakely kept the idea a secret from friends and family for a year. “I didn’t want to spend time explaining it. I wanted to spend time pursuing it,” she said.
“Everyone has million-dollar ideas in their lifetime,” Blakely continued. “These ideas may come and go, but are the most vulnerable in the moment that you first have them.”
Had she shared her idea with the world, well-intentioned love ones may have pushed back on the idea, asking “If it’s such a good idea, why doesn’t it already exist?” Blakely reflected. “Had I heard that in the moment that I had the idea, I would probably still be selling fax machines.
Encourage the Mind to Wander
Though Blakely lives six minutes from her Spanx offices, she leaves for work an hour early, allowing her thoughts to mindfully wander during her “fake commute.”
She encouraged Scholars to ask themselves these questions: “Am I spending enough time alone, and where is my thinking time?”
“You’ve got to get quiet with yourself,” she concluded. “Listen to the voice, trust your gut. It’s like a muscle – the more you trust your gut, the louder that channel will get.”