A part of Kathy Caprino’s ForbesWoman series “Entrepreneurial Women Rocking the World” on her Forbes "Career Bliss" blog
At last week’s inspiring National Association of Professional Women’s 2nd annual networking conference, I had the opportunity to attend the keynote presentation of Sara Blakely, Founder of Spanx. In her one-hour talk, Sara highlighted her fascinating journey from launching a start-up with $5000 in savings to becoming the youngest self-made female billionaire in history. Anyone who’s heard Sara’s story knows it’s exhilarating and motivating, but to see her live brings a new dimension to her story. She’s fresh, exuberant, funny and completely passionate about helping women feel and look their best, and about reforming all of the misguided trends that have kept in women in painful and ill-fitting undergarments over the last 50 years.
Sara delivers surprise after surprise in her tale of phenomenal entrepreneurial success. As I love to be “contrarian” in my work, I’m very taken with her non-conventional lessons that fly in the face of all the best business school advice we received from the business pundits and gurus.
Here are the top 10 lessons I learned from Sara’s journey from fax machine saleswoman to entrepreneurial superstar:
Fail Big – Sara’s beloved father followed Wayne Dyer’s guidance in teaching his children the power of failing big. Each day, her father would ask – “So, what did you fail at today.” And if there were no failures, Dad would be disappointed. Focusing on failing big allowed Sara to understand that failure is not an outcome, but involves a lack of trying -- not stretching yourself far enough out of your comfort zone and attempting to be more than you were the day before. Failing big was a good thing.
Visualize it – Sara is a big fan of “visualizing” your big goal, in specific, concrete ways. She saw herself clearly on the Oprah TV show 15 years before it happened. She simply knew it would happen. She’d see in her mind’s eye sitting on the couch with Oprah having an exciting conversation, and wondered, “What are we talking about?” The rest was just “filling in the blanks” to get there.
Don’t share your fragile idea with the world too soon. Sara kept her idea of making a fabulous new undergarment for women under wraps for an entire year while working on developing the prototype. Only after she was 100% committed to it and ready to launch, did she sit her friends down and explain her new direction. Sara explains that ideas are vulnerable, fragile things. Wait until you’re completely read to move forward before you share it with people. Meaning well, they’ll shoot it down, offering all the reasons why it won’t work. But when they do, you’ll be ready to deal with it.
Don’t take no for an answer. Sara reached out to slews of manufacturers and lawyers to help her patent her idea and create a successful prototype. In every conversation she had with potential manufacturers, she was asked three questions: 1) Who are you? 2) Who are you with? 3) and Who is backing you? When the answers to these three questions remained, “Sara Blakely,” no one wanted to take a chance on her, until one manufacturer called her back and said “OK.” Why? Because he had gone home and told his daughters about the idea, and they said, “It’s brilliant!”
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What you are most afraid of failing at? Can you -- will you -- get in the cage with your fears and take a step toward your dream today?