Female Entrepreneur

Spanx

2016.05

A billionaire female entrepreneur_The founder of Spanx
Female Entrepreneur
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The story of Sara Blakely, the founder of undergarments and bodysuit shapewear start-up Spanx, reads much like that of Cinderella - filled with rejection, turmoil, and eventually ending in victory.

  • Normal childhood: After graduating high school, Blakely started a babysitting stint at the Hilton, earning $8/hour for every child she babysat.
  • Repeated failures: While attending Florida State University, she planned to become an attorney, but after failing the LSAT twice, she instead accepted a job at Disney World. There, she tried to work as one of the mascots, but she gave up after three months because of her short stature.
  • Humdrum career: Blakely became employed as a fax machine salesperson. She was quite successful at selling the machines, distinguishing herself as an excellent salesperson, and she was even assigned the role of training other employees.
  • Undergarment company, asset value of 1 billion: While working as a door-to-door fax machine salesperson, Blakely conceived the idea of creating and commercializing a women’s shapewear brand. She launched her idea and has since become a businesswoman possessing $1 billion in assets.

The beginnings of Spanx was anything but a cakewalk. However, Blakely persisted, and within 1-2 years, she produced a Spanx prototype, which she used to tackle the US undergarment market.

  • The start of an idea: Blakely thought that the pantyhose existing in the market were not ideal for the active woman, as they trapped moisture and heat, and was very uncomfortable to wear. Thus, she conceived the idea to create pantyhose that cut off at the ankle.
  • Starting with $5,000: Using the $5,000 she had saved selling fax machines, Blakely launched her company. In order to minimize the costs, she did her own research on how to obtain a certificate of incorporation and how to patent her product.
  • Prototype development: Blakely initially consulted with existing undergarment manufacturers to produce a prototype. This proved to be unsuccessful because none of the male factory owners understood women’s needs and they all treated Blakely, an amateur female entrepreneur, with derision.
  • Tremendous popularity immediately after launch: Thanks to a factory owner who fathered two daughters, Blakely successfully manufactured and launched her prototype. The approval ratings of Spanx products were off the charts, and the undergarments were selling out in department stores all across the nation, particularly after Oprah Winfrey mentioned Blakely’s start-up in her talk show.
  • Product and market expansion: Spanx has evolved to produce not only women’s shapewear, but also yoga wear and men’s underwear, and its customers now include men /women in Europe & Asia.

Ever since its founding in 1998, Spanx has successfully continued to grow its sales. The company, now valued at $1 billion, has joined the ranks of unicorns.

  • In 1999, the company accomplished $4 million in sales. After being mentioned on the Oprah Winfrey Show, sales sky-rocketed and the company was raked in $10 million in 2000.
  • Today, Spanx has production facilities in 15 countries, earning $250 million in sales and the company is valued at $1 billion.

Unlike other unicorns, Spanx achieved its current success without outside help and solely through the passion and problem-solving skills of Blakely and her employees. In addition, Spanx has uniquely maintained a consistent sales/profit structure.

  • The company started with Bootstrap and even now, Sara and Spanx employees are the sole shareholders of the company (0% debt rate).
  • While most start-ups gain the status of unicorns within 1-2 years through millions of dollars in external funding, Spanx has, over the span of 10 years, built itself up without external funding to become the unicorn that it is today.
  • In the case of most start-ups, the valuations may be much higher than that of Spanx, but the sales/profit structures are also much more vulnerable.
  • Blakely does not have an MBA nor did she ever receive formal business training, despite this, she was able to make her dreams a reality by focusing on one goal, to produce undergarments that would eliminate the discomforts of the everyday woman.

Blakely is now able to share her success story with other entrepreneurs, educating and disclosing her trade know-hows to all who will listen.

  • Never Stop at Your First No
  • Believe in Your Ideas and Instincts
  • The Power of Purpose Pushes Us
  • Know How Your Purpose Helps Others

What has been Blakely’s key to success? What are some lessons that entrepreneurs might gain from Blakely? Do you think it’s more rational to aim for rapid growth through investments? Why or why not? Are you as passionate as Blakely in achieving your dreams?

Please take this time to discuss Spanx, both as a company and as a product, with your Ringle tutor. Furthermore, think about whether you are driven by a similar entrepreneurial spirit as Blakely as you converse with your tutor.

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