💸 Shaping a Billion-Dollar Empire

💸 Shaping a Billion-Dollar Empire

At 41, Sara Blakely became one of the world’s youngest self-made billionaires.

But her path to success wasn’t easy.

Starting with just $5,000 in savings and no experience in retail, Blakely built Spanx into a household name through sheer determination and innovative thinking.

Spanx’s success is not just about its quality products but also Blakely’s unique approach to business. 

What lessons can you learn from Sara’s inspiring success story?

Here’s what we got for ya:

  • 🛣️ The Path to Billion-Dollar Success

  • 🧠 How Changing Your Mindset Can Change Everything

  • 📢 Anti-ad Campaign

Read time: 4 min 35 sec

🛣️ The Path to Billion-Dollar Success

Sara Blakely felt like her life didn’t belong to her. It was like she was trapped in the plot of the wrong movie. 

Sara wanted to be a lawyer but failed the LSAT twice. She had a quarter-life crisis working as the Chipmunk at Disney for a few months, then got into selling fax machines door-to-door. Everybody’s dream job!

After 7 years of selling fax machines, Sara knew something had to change. She set a goal to create her own product to sell that would make people feel better.

Two years later, she had her ah-ha moment. 

Sara was getting ready for a party one night and cut the feet out of control top pantyhose to wear under cream pants. 

Having set the intention to create a product two years before, Sara Blakely was constantly seeking ideas. When her DIY footless pantyhose worked better than anything available in stores, she decided to perfect this product for herself and women everywhere.

In 1998, Sara started Spanx with $5K of her own savings. 

When she started, she was hand-packaging every product into white envelopes.

But even in the beginning, she made sure her products were high quality, ensuring comfort and results.

In its first year, Spanx made $4M in revenue.

 How did someone without any retail or fashion experience build a successful shape wear brand so quickly?

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🧠 How Changing Your Mindset Can Change Everything

Sara Blakely had something more important than experience: the right mindset.

I know that sounds gimmicky, but it was Sara’s mindset that let her bet on herself.

While growing up, Sara’s father would ask them the same question every night at dinner:

What did you fail at today?

By normalizing failure, Sara no longer feared making mistakes. The real failure became not trying at all.

So while Sara had no experience in retail or fashion, she was ready to give it her all. 

She used her lack of experience to her advantage. 

Because she didn’t come in with the same mindset as everyone in the industry, she questioned the way things were done. 

Here are two examples of when Sara’s novice perspective helped her:

#1- When she went to the manufacturer for Spanx, she questioned why they were still using an uncomfortable rubber cord in the waistband. It was the way things were made, but there had been enough technological advancements that the rubber cord was no longer necessary. 

#2- People were confused about how Sara got Spanx into Neiman Marcus, a major department store, when her brand was so new. But the truth is there were no secret deals or lucky connections. Sara literally just picked up her phone and called. 

These are not the only things Sara does differently. The way Spanx advertises its product may surprise you…

More on this:

📢 Anti-ad Campaign

This is the first year Spanx is using ads. The company reached $1B in 2012 but still chose not to advertise.


They preferred a more grassroots method of marketing.

At first, word of mouth wasn’t just a strategy; it was a necessity. The company only started with $5K funding.

Sara went to every single Neiman Marcus in the country to promote Spanx. 

She would talk to all the employees to get them excited about the product. And she’d put her shape wear around the store without permission to get it out of the back corner.

Then she stood by the product and showed potential customers what the shape wear did for her. 

Sara in Neiman Marcus

She had a laminated picture of her own butt in white pants before and after Spanx to prove to customers that the product works. 

As the budget grew, it became clear that the effectiveness of women discovering the brand through other women was still a good strategy.

But nobody said the person you know has to be in your own social circle. 

Sara had sent Oprah Winfrey a gift basket of her product to thank her for being inspiring.

Every year, Oprah has a show announcing her “favorite products of the year.” 

Oprah loved Spanx so much that in 2000, she not only chose Spanx as a favorite but also invited Sara to share her inspiring story on the show. Normally, Oprah focuses on the product and not the person.

After Oprah’s enforcement, sales went crazy. 

In 2003, Gwyneth Paltrow wore Spanx to the Oscars and in a red carpet interview shared that it made her feel more confident with her post-baby body.

Getting celebrities to genuinely like and promote your product is worth more than any paid advertising.

More on this:

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