Super U Podcast | Grit with Spanx Founder Sara Blakel‪y‬

On this episode of the Super U Podcast, Erik discusses 7 Super Tips from Spanx founder, Sara Blakely. Click here to subscribe to the Super U Podcast. Need a sneak peek? Below are the main takeaways from the episode.

Super U Podcast | Grit with Spanx Founder Sara Blakel‪y‬:

[2:11]   Envision What Success Looks Like For You

“I visualized this for myself, when I was selling copiers, door to door, I had a very clear vision of what my life was going to be like. And I encourage everyone to do it. Take a snap photo of what success looks like for you. How many employees do you have? Or how much are you making? Where do you live? Are you sitting at a table with world leaders? Are you standing on a stage in New York City giving a speech? Hold on to that snapshot and you will subconsciously start to make decisions that get you there. And so my snap photo for myself when I was going door to door to sell copiers was to be self-employed, invent a product that I could sell to lots of people and not just one copier to each person and create a business for myself that would continue to fund itself if I wasn’t present, and wanted money to be generated without me having to be there I was that specific in my vision.

[4:01] Celebrate Your Failures

“Growing up, my dad used to encourage my brother and me to fail. So at the dinner table, he would actually ask us, “What did you fail at this week?” And if we didn’t have something to tell him, he would actually be disappointed. And I can remember coming home from school and be like. “Dad, Dad, I tried out for this and I was horrible.” And he’d be like, “Way to go!” and high five [me]. And it was such a gift what he was doing. I didn’t realize that at the time, but he was redefining failure for me. And so failure became not about the outcome but about not trying. And so the fear of failure, as we all know as entrepreneurs is one of the greatest fears in life. It’s one of the things that stops us in our tracks and keeps us from trying something and so, I incorporate that in my philosophy at Spanx. We celebrate failures, we talk about them. We have “oops meetings” where we all announce the oops that I have and sometimes we have fun with it. We’ll even attach theme songs to our oops. And we’ll play them in front of the whole company. But I think it’s just so important to try to get the people that you work with to take risks and to be entrepreneurial and not live in a place of, I want to protect my job and feel like I’m not safe if I make mistakes. That’s tough. And one of the things I also do is I like to go up to people at Spanx and I say, I’m always trying to get people off autopilot. Like if you think about it, everything we do, almost everything we do in life is autopilot. We’re doing things exactly the way someone else showed us how to do it, or taught us how to do it. Well, if you’re doing things exactly the way everyone else is, there’s no there’s not going to be any real significant change, there’s not going to be a really meaningful potential breakthrough. So I always go up to people at Spanx and say, if nobody showed you how to do your job, how would you be doing it?

[6:27] Find Your Purpose

“Well, I stay focused and motivated by [tracking] my priorities daily and quarterly and annually, but I stay motivated because I’m connected to a purpose bigger than myself. And I believe that the entrepreneurial journey is hard. I mean, it is the one thing people don’t talk about is how hard you work. I mean, in many cases, I tell people, it’s really who wanted to work the hardest, and who had the most staying power and grit to just keep going on… I was talking to someone the other day, I’m like, I didn’t take a vacation for like 10 years. I mean, I was just working when all my friends were going on vacations and people were going out to parties I just wasn’t. So it was just a lot of commitment on that end. But why I was willing to do that, and why I still stay motivated is because, for me, I’ve been doing this for something greater than myself. I’m very passionate about women and helping women and supporting women. I believe I’m very lucky to be a woman born in the right place at the right time. And so I feel this deep gratitude. And I almost feel that gratitude daily throughout the day. And it fuels me to keep going. So it reminds me to know that when I’m doing something for Spanx, whether it was cold calling Neiman Marcus to get my foot in the door, or, you know, tried to land a big account, or go in front of a bunch of customers, or give a speech, all those things scared me. But I stayed motivated because I felt like I was walking through the door on behalf of women and on behalf of women that came before me that didn’t have this opportunity. And on behalf of women still around the world right now who don’t have the opportunity that I have, just because they’re a woman. And so I suggest and talked about this in my masterclass like, what is your purpose? Your purpose is going to get you through this and your purpose needs to be bigger than “I just want money” and “I just want to be successful so I can like buy things.” That’s great, that does happen if you are really successful. But if that’s the main motivation, it’s a lot harder to have that really deep staying power and motivation. So your purpose is kind of the intersection between, you know, what do you like to do? What brings you joy? Like, what are you good at? What brings you joy? And how can you best serve the world? And a lot of times I talk about if someone’s like, “I don’t know what I’m passionate about,” I talk about what makes you cry, you know, what, what really affects you and whatever that is pay attention to that because your purpose probably lies within that or around there. And for me, seeing women not being able to fulfill their own potential is what really deeply affects me.”

[11:52] Not Knowing Is An Asset

“I like to say that the big secret behind disruption is not having any idea how it’s supposed to be done. I had no idea how it was supposed to be done. And if you have no idea how something’s supposed to be done, I guarantee you, you will end up being disruptive. But the key is you have to embrace not knowing, or a lot of times when we don’t know something, especially you know, most people in society, we end up being afraid of what we don’t know. Or we take that as a negative, it can hold us back. Whereas if you let what you don’t know, become your greatest asset, you are bound to do things very differently. Because we’re all mostly on autopilot in life. And if you think about it, we’re doing things exactly the way somebody else showed us how to do it. Everything that we’re doing is because someone else showed us how to do it. So I like to do this mental exercise. And I tell people at Spanx to do it too. I say Close your eyes, and pretend like you have no idea how to do your job. Just sit in that space for a minute, what comes up? If no one has shown you how to do your job, how would you be doing it? And listening to the answers, but it takes asking those questions asking why, and spending that time in that space to say, is there a better way? Why has a bra always been made this way? or Why? Why is it this way? And so for me, my not knowing was really a great asset for me.”

[15:54] Do Things Differently

“I approached it with a very feminine leadership style. Traditional business has been very masculine. And it’s been a very masculine model. And so I approach it, and when I say that, I, [because] 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, “Sara, so we heard you invented something.” And I said, “Yes, I did.” And they said, “Great.” And one guy, you know, patted 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 them and thinking,”Why?” And I went home that night, and, and sat in my apartment, and I sat on the floor, and I was thinking about all that was happening. And, you know, this risk I was taking and 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.” Like, take a totally different approach. And so I have approached Spanx with very feminine principles… But you know, using vulnerability, really operating off of intuition. If the data is trumping my intuition, I go with my intuition almost every time. So you know, 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, 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 ‘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 your product. And I was like, “hey, like, I’m one of you.” Like, here’s, 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 like consumers became really connected and really loyal. And probably part of the reason why Spanx as a brand, didn’t need to advertise for sixteen years. I mean, we haven’t spent any money on advertising in 16 years, because a lot of its word of mouth, from women sharing with other women.”

[18:45] Surround Yourself With Good People

“The habits that I have, that I would say are really helpful throughout this journey are taking the time to think. I [talked] about keeping a good cadence with your leaders and your leadership team inside of the organization, staying connected to them in a meaningful way, making sure that you’re all sharing the same vision and that they feel supported. Habits like trying to take a little bit of time to work out. It’s been a really big shift for me. And balancing it every day is different. I mean, some days I feel like I’m really balancing it great. And then other days, as you know, I’m crying and saying, “Jesse, I can’t do this, or I can’t handle it.” And you’re always like, “honey got this,” but there are ups and downs like that. So one of the habits that I’ve had is I have sort of my own board. They don’t even really know they’re my board, but they’re my feel-good board. So when I know I’m going in that downward [spiral] like feeling overwhelmed, I have two or three people that are my go-to’s that I’ll just either call on the phone or make sure I spend time with and they’ve really helped me get through it.”

[20:58] Passion & Hardwork Will Take You A Long Way

“I was very interested in hiring people that covered my weaknesses. You know, as you’re looking when you’re really small, and you’re like, “Who’s going to be my first hire is going to be my second hire?” It’s super smart to kind of say, “What’s my bench strength? What can I cover in the business? And what are the areas that I’m not as good at,” and those were my first hire. So my first hire was an operator to handle the inventory, handle the accounts receivable, handle the accounting, set up QuickBooks, and, and then I didn’t have a sit down strategic plan how to acquire talent, as I was doing every department because that’s what entrepreneurs do. In the beginning, I figured where I needed more bench strength. I was calling my PR person, I was calling every newspaper, every magazine, I was trying to get the word out about my product and get people to know about it. And I was also selling it on the road. The face of the brand, I was doing all these other things. And so as I was spending my time it became clear, I can’t really delegate this one, or I can’t really hire this one, I need to stay in that lane. But this one, maybe I can. And so my second hire was a head of PR. And it was a girl that I went for a walk with to get a bagel and I gave her a free product and the entire walk to get the bagel. She said, this is the most amazing product, this is what I worked with. I tried it on with 15 things in my closet, I haven’t worn these things in like 10 years, I felt like I just got new clothes because of your item. I mean, she went on and on. And at the end of the walk, I was like she wouldn’t be my head of PR. She’s like, I don’t know anything about PR. I’m like, I don’t either, but you just get this list of magazines and radio stations. And now it would be podcasts and influencers and you know, it would be Instagram different people you follow on Instagram and reach out to them and send them product and call them. And so I did not hire people in the beginning, I did not raise capital to hire top talent. I didn’t put a lot of emphasis on that early on, I hired people that didn’t have experience in what I was hiring them for. But I liked them. And I thought that they were passionate and hard workers. And it really worked out for me in the early days. So there comes a time though, where it’s really just a lot of intuition along the way, you know, like, I need somebody with really deep experience in this position. And I’m willing to invest upfront, the way that I ran my business, I never ran my business, to invest in things that were gonna payout down the road. For example, I was in the moment, “how much money do I have to spend right now?” That’s what I’m going to spend, how much money do I have for the next batch of inventory? That’s what I’m going to spend. And I was very small. I operated that for a very long time. And 20 years later, it worked. I’ve seen a lot of different business models, I’ve seen a lot of ways people do it. You know, a lot of people start, and then they got exponentially bigger than I was plodding along the way that I was. But then, you know, three years later, they were out of business, some of them or they raised so much money that it became a very different scenario inside of the business with debt and things like that. And I’ve just kept it that way. So I never got ahead of myself in that.”

Connect with Sara Blakely:



Instagram: @sarablakely


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The Super U Podcast is hosted by #1 bestselling author and Motivational Speaker Erik Qualman.

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