Sara Blakely built Spanx into a billion-dollar brand having no background in design, business or manufacturing.
She launched the company in 1998 with just $5,000 she had saved from selling fax machines door to door. But beyond just seed money, Blakely says that job provided something else important for her and for Spanx: Working in sales taught Blakely to pitch products to complete strangers. She says she frequently had doors slammed in her face and had her business cards ripped up. It wasn’t easy, but the experience helped her when later pitching Spanx to major retailers. The key, according to Blakely, was being unafraid to embarrass herself.
“The two things people are most afraid of [are] fear of failure and fear of being embarrassed,” she said in an Oct. 1 Instagram post. “I’m constantly working on both of these fears, so I can live the life I want free from the burden of caring what other people think of me.”
Overcoming these fears is “required to pursue your dreams,” she wrote, and for her, it takes practice. Oftentimes, Blakely will intentionally do things to embarrass herself “so that the fear of embarrassment loses its power over me,” she said.
For example, in her Oct. 1 post, Blakely included a video of herself at an airport approaching strangers to ask if they would follow her on Instagram.
“When being embarrassed actually becomes the goal, it flips the whole thing on its head. Eventually, the brain starts to say, ‘Hey, that wasn’t so bad. I survived,” she said.
“What I’ve found is it actually becomes fun and funny, and the worst thing that happens, is you end up with a great story,” she wrote in October.
Blakely says she actually had to embarrass herself to get Spanx into Neiman Marcus, its first big retailer.
“In the middle of my meeting with [the Neiman Marcus rep], I could tell I was losing her. And I just knew it was my one shot. So I said, ‘Will you come with me to the bathroom?’ And she just paused. She goes, ‘Excuse me?’ I go, ‘I know, I know, it’s little weird. Will you just please come with me to the bathroom? I want to show you my own product before and after,'” Blakely told Guy Raz during an episode of “How I Built This” in 2016.
“I went in the stall and put Spanx on underneath and came out. And she looked at me, and she goes, ‘Wow, I get it. It’s brilliant.'”
Blakely says her ability to take risks is thanks to her father, who encouraged her to fail.
“We’d sit around the dinner table and he’d ask, ‘What did you guys fail at this week?’ If we had nothing to tell him, he’d be disappointed,” Blakely has said. “He knew that many people become paralyzed by the fear of failure.”
Blakely is currently worth $610 million, according to Forbes.