On Stories of Resilience, Sara Blakely discusses how she built SPANX by using humor, solving challenges, and embracing technology as she grew.
Blood, sweat, and pantyhose. That’s the combination that propelled SPANX Founder (and Salesforce customer) Sara Blakely to launch and grow her category-creating business and become a self-made billionaire. And though she may sit atop a veritable empire now, she worked excruciatingly hard to get where she is. She launched the company with just $5,000 of personal savings, overcame numerous roadblocks, and stayed true to her personal values and product vision throughout.
In a powerful episode of Stories of Resilience, Blakely addresses how she helps small businesses affected by the pandemic via her new Red Backpack Fund. She also let us in on a few surprising secrets of her success. Here are four tips she shares – but watch the entire episode for more. It’s full of fantastic advice and laugh-out-loud stories we hope will give you a little lift (just like our favorite SPANX products themselves).
1. You control how you process adversity
Entrepreneurs and small business leaders face a tremendous amount of challenges, many of which may seem insurmountable. But each leader has the power to decide how they handle things. As for Blakely, she says, “I learned early on that I can control how I think and how I process adversity. I started practicing not fearing failure or worrying about what people think of me.”
Blakely admits self-doubt was an issue for her in the early years, but every setback served as a lesson. She says, “Resilience is like a muscle. The more you gut through challenges and not let them defeat you, the stronger your resilience will be.”
2. Start early with growth technology
Blakely also touted technology as a way small businesses can grow and scale. She recommends leaders research to find the best technology they can afford now, that will also allow them to grow. In her view, technology has three main buckets: “There’s the tech you’re going to need for operations, inventory, and finance. There’s tech that you’re going to need to communicate, connect with your customers, and sell the product. And then there’s the tech to generate awareness.”
One example of quality growth technology? Blakely says, “We use Tableau, a Salesforce company, and it’s really instrumental in helping us decipher the data on our website and make sense of all of the information we’re getting from consumers so that we can serve them better.”
3. Self-awareness is an entrepreneur’s greatest gift
Entrepreneurs and leaders have plenty of strengths that support them in their day-to-day activities. But, according to Blakely, it’s incredibly important to know and acknowledge your weaknesses. “Being self aware as an entrepreneur is one of your greatest gifts,” she says. “I knew what I was good at. As soon as I could afford to, I hired people to do the things in the business that I’m not so good at.”
Authenticity is a vital component to Blakely’s success and one she recommends other entrepreneurs maintain for the long haul. She says she got a lot of “fake it til you make it” advice when she first started out, but she chose instead to stay true to herself and her values, “Being truly authentic throughout the journey has really served me well.” Authenticity, resilience, and a competitive mindset are what differentiates leaders in a crowded field.
4. Business is not war
In the early days of SPANX, Blakely was at a cocktail party when a handful of entrepreneurs gave her some advice. They said, “Congratulations on your new endeavor, but business is war. We hope you’re ready.” The metaphor was upsetting enough for Blakely to rethink her whole strategy. “I made a conscious decision to do it very differently and not feel like I was going to war,” she says. “I wasn’t trying to annihilate anyone. I wasn’t obsessed with wiping out the competition.”
This led Blakely to build a different kind of company. SPANX is a category creator – but beyond the product, their values and leadership styles are unique. Blakely also says through it all, she’s learned “you don’t have to act serious to be taken seriously. There can be a lot of silliness and joy and laughing at yourself, while still achieving amazing results, earning respect, and exceeding customer expectations.”
More leadership advice from SPANX Founder Sara Blakely
Want to learn more about Sara Blakely’s nonlinear path and unique leadership style? Watch her full Stories of Resilience episode now. Let us know what you think and whom you’d like to hear from next by tagging us at @essentials on Twitter with the hashtag #StoriesOfResilience.
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For more business and leadership inspiration, check out our entire Leading Through Change series.