Millionaire Story: Sara Blakley – SPANX Inventor

What have you been doing the last decade or so? I retired in 2010 and thought I was doing great by starting several websites and landing writing jobs at several others.

After reading Sara Blakley’s story, I feel like a real slacker!

In just four years she went from working as a saleswoman for someone else to inventing a new product, starting a new company, getting noticed by Oprah and meeting Richard Branson. In the following years she went on (with her CEO Laurie Ann Goldman) to grow her company (SPANX) to a multi-million dollar enterprise and landed on the Forbes list of self-made billionaires (she is now just 42 years old).

You probably already know what Spanx are – undergarments to smooth those bumps and lumps in our bodies.

From the company’s 2012 press kit  here is a summary of the timeline of the company:

1998 – Sara was selling fax machines at Danka.

2000 – She convinces a hosiery mill in North Carolina to manufacture them.

2000 – Sara makes first department store sale to Nieman Marcus and then expanded to Nordstrom, Sacs, Bloomingdales and other high end retailers.

2000 – Oprah hailed Spanx as one of favorite products.

2001 – Company gets business offices (Decauter, GA) & adds another product.

2002 – Sara hires a CEO (Laurie Ann Goldmanand), 10 other employees & the company adds two more product lines. Ernst and Young names Sara the entrepreneur of the year. Laurie is credited with growing the business due to her prior experience at Coke.

2003 – Company moves to Atlanta adds another product line, adds employees and launches in UK.

2004 – Sara joins Branson in reality show Rebel Billionaire and gets him as mentor and contributor to new foundation she creates in 2006. SPANX got more celebrity endorsements.

2005 – More product lines added.

2006 – A less expensive brand was created for lower end retail outlets. Sara Blakely foundation was formed as a philanthropy.

2007 – Company has 50 employees & Sara appears on TV show American Inventors as a judge.

2008 – Company has 75 employees and a product is ranked number one in sales.

2009 – Company launches new line Haute Coutor. Has 200 products, 3000 retail locations and 85 employees.

2010 – Company’s 10th anniversary – products for swimwear and men added.

2011 – Spanx rear view blog launched. Company has 110 employees and its own shop inside Bloomingdales.

2012 – Forbes includes Sara on list of self made billionaires + Times names her as one of a 100 most influential; stand alone Spanx stores are launched.

Ms. Blakely sparked the company and it is privately owned. Without CEO Goldman, some (like Fortune) say that Spanx might not have had such resounding success – according to the Bizjournals article, Spanx CEO steps down:

“Fortune adds that while Blakely is no doubt a shapewear genius, her brand would never have hit icon status without CEO Goldman’s focused vision. “Goldman crafted a business model for the company based on lessons she learned during her 10-year stint at Coke: thinking big, starting small, and scaling fast,” said Fortune. “She advised her team at SPANX to focus on product quality over profit margins.” “

If you have often wondered if there are any new ideas or inventions left to be discovered, this story, and others like it should reassure you that yes, you can still go from rags to riches in America. On the other hand, why haven’t I been able to do the same? Why haven’t you?

What was I doing for those 4 years when Sara was inventing Spanx and starting her company? Working away as an established software development manager – same routine I had for years.

How is it that some people and some companies can go from zero to 100 in such a short time? My theory is that there are times in each of our lives where we are supercharged, super productive and then there are times in our lives when we slow down to consolidate our gains and ponder our losses.

I think my supercharged era was when I went back to school to learn computer programming and then advanced rapidly through the ranks at my jobs.

We get inspired by an idea, actively pursue it, surround ourselves with others excited by it and get spurred into action. We pursue the endeavor vigorously, but inevitably stop or slow as our excitement wanes. Keeping momentum in a company is difficult, especially when the original product line reaches the saturation point. To continue to be successful, company executives must continually evolve their offerings – as Spanx has done.

Keeping momentum as a person can also be difficult. We also need to constantly reinvent ourselves by trying new ideas and activities – otherwise we stagnate and mentally die.

What was your supercharged era?

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