Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Shaping the World

As a child, Sara experienced a tragic event that changed her life. While riding her bicycle, she saw her best friend run over and killed by a car. From that day forward, she was determined to pursue life with a sense of urgency, and wasn’t going to let anything get in the way of her dreams. Her dad helped her in this regard. Each night at dinner, he would ask what she had failed at that day. His point was that if she wasn’t failing at something, then she wasn’t trying hard enough.

Identifying problems and solving them came naturally to young Sara. She found clever ways to do her chores, like organizing a weed-pulling competition among her friends. She financed her own Halloween parties by charging admission to the haunted house she created in her backyard. Instead of babysitting for one family, Sara set up a kids club at the beach so she could watch dozens of kids at the same time. She was an entrepreneur long before she understood what that really meant.

Sara’s dad was a lawyer and she planned to follow in his footsteps. But when she graduated from college, she failed the entrance exam for law school twice. Living in Florida, she still needed a job while she figured out what to do next, and so she applied at Disney World. She was too short to wear the Goofy costume but was hired to buckle guests into the rides. This wasn't her long-term plan, but she believed that every obstacle and failure was a gift and a chance to learn what to change. So she persevered and moved forward.

She applied for a job listed on a billboard and within a few weeks was working at a large office supply company, selling fax machines door-to-door. She was determined, staying not just positive, but grateful for the opportunity, and this attitude helped her excel in the difficult business as she lugged the heavy machines from one cold-call to the next.

Sara’s “a-ha” moment came one night while getting dressed for a party. The panty hose she’d always worn to work were hot and uncomfortable in the Florida heat, but she liked the slimming effect on her form under the slacks. In a moment of inspiration, she cut the feet off her panty hose to increase the comfort while maintaining the shaping quality. It was a partial success, as she found them riding up her legs, and realized that she wanted a simple undergarment that just didn’t exist… yet.

At age 27, Sara was selling fax machines during the day and working on her idea at night. She invested her$5,000 life savings to launch her business. The money quickly disappeared as she researched fabrics and made samples. After four years of hard work, Sara invented a new panty hose without feet that combined body shaping and comfort. She made up the name "Spanx" and went door-to-door selling her creation to department stores.

After sending samples to Oprah Winfrey’s stylist, Sara received an invitation to be on the show, and was advised to make sure her website was ready for big volume. The problem was Sara didn’t have a website. She scrambled to put one together, and was just in time for Oprah's announcement that Spanx was one of her favorite products of the year. Spanx sold over $4 million in product that year.

Sara Blakely has grown Spanx into a company with over 200 undergarment products, and Forbes magazine just named her the youngest self-made female billionaire in the world. I met Sara this weekend as she was inducted into the Entrepreneurship Hall of Fame, and asked for advice I could pass on to people pursuing their dreams. She said, “Having no knowledge or experience can be your greatest asset if you don’t let it intimidate you. Don’t let failure be an option and connect your passion to a cause you believe in.”

To all my readers, Spanx may be shaping the way their customers look, but if you follow Sara’s advice, you can live your dreams and positively shape the world too!

Until next week...

Live Your Dreams

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