Before she became the billionaire founder of shapewear company Spanx, Sara Blakely failed a lot.
She didn’t make it as a standup comedian. She couldn’t become a lawyer like her dad because she failed the LSAT — twice.
She even auditioned to play Goofy at Disney World, but because she was shorter than the required 5’8″, they made her a Chipmunk instead, Blakely said on a panel at the Forbes Women’s Summit in New York on Wednesday.
She spent seven years selling fax machines and was rejected almost daily. People would hang up on her cold calls and rip up her business card in front of her.
“It was great life training,” Blakely said.
Not only did she get used to hearing “no,” but she learned how to get to a “yes.”
“I had to learn to be concise, to tell them what’s in it for them,” she said.
All that training proved useful when she cut the feet off her pantyhose one day and realised she had a viable product: a slimming, seamless undergarment that no one would know you were wearing.
She kept her day job selling fax machines and worked on the Spanx prototype nights and weekends. While looking for a manufacturer to produce it, she spent months knocking on doors of North Carolina factories and getting them slammed in her face, she said.
“Who are you?” they would ask. “Sara Blakely,” she would say.
“Who are you with?” they’d ask. “Sara Blakely,” she’d say.
“Who is backing you financially?” they’d ask. “Sara Blakely!” she’d say.
Finally, she said, one guy “took pity” on her. After initially rejecting her, he’d reconsidered. He said he had daughters.
The rest, as they say, is history. Spanx is now a household name, and Blakely is one of the world’s wealthiest self-made women.
The false starts and constant rejection taught her something profound about herself.
“One of my greatest weaknesses,” Blakely said, “is also one of my greatest strengths: being underestimated.”