This month’s entrepreneur spotlight is perhaps slightly less well-known than some of the other entrepreneurs we’ve featured, and yet she has the made the Time 100 list of the most influential people in the world (2012) and named the 93rd most powerful woman in the world by Forbes (2014). She is Florida-native and Georgia-famous— Sara Blakely.
Claim to Fame: Spanx
Sara Blakely originally set out to pursue a career in law, but decided early on that it wasn’t the right fit for her. Instead, she found that she excelled in sales after gaining employment at a door-to-door company that sold fax machines. It was in this career that she came up with her billion dollar idea: women’s undergarments, like hosiery, that would hide lines and firm up the appearance of the upper legs and torso without an unsightly toe seam or rolling.
Blakely was just 27 years old when she set out to develop and sell her product. Over the course of two years, she met with several executives in the hosiery industry. Nearly all were male and nearly all of them rejected her product. Except one. A mill operator offered to support Sara and her product thanks to encouragement from his three daughters.
The prototype took a year to create. Sara spent $750 on a patent and $150 on a trademark for the product. They would be called Spanx.
Once the product was complete and packaging was created, Sara Blakely pitched Spanx to Neiman Marcus. The company took on the product, initially selling them in just seven stores. Several other major department stores took notice and added Spanx to their inventory not long after. Throughout all of this, Blakely maintained her job with the fax machine company. In fact, she would remain with the company until 2000 when Oprah Winfrey named Spanx a “favorite thing.” Sales soared and Blakely left the fax machine company to focus on her own business.
Not one to shy away from work, Sara managed all aspects of her business by herself until it was no longer possible for a single human to do so. Spanx netted a cool $4million in year one sales, and doubled revenue to $10 million in year two.
In 2005, Blakely met Richard Branson during her time on a then-popular reality tv show for billionaires. In 2013, she expressed interest in designing “the world’s most comfortable high-heeled show.” In 2015, she was a part of a group that successfully purchased the Atlanta Hawks – a professional basketball team based in Georgia.
As of November 2017, Sara Blakely was worth $1.14 billion…all because she was no good at law.