The Spanx Woman is Worth A Billion!? My Key Takeaways.

I’m a complete sexist. I want women to look as good as possible. And I’m not the only one. Women want to look as sexy as possible. That’s why they buy hundreds of millions worth of form-fitting Spanx shapewear every year. And now Sara Blakely, the founder of Spanx is worth a billion according to Forbes. She took Justin Timberlake’s advice. A million is not cool. A billion is cool.

So what happened next? In the past 24 hours I’ve heard three different guys say something to the affect of, “She? She is worth a billion? Huh. I guess anyone can be worth a billion.” As soon as someone says that they are scratched off my list of people I want to spend time with. I only like to be around positive people who celebrate success.

I hold a Twitter Q&A session every Thursday EST from 3:30-4:30. I answer every question asked. Then I expand further into a blog post. Then I’ve taken all the blog posts, expanded further with original material plus added material from questions asked me via email and I compiled the results into a book I just self-published called “FAQ ME”.

One of the questions asked (by Marc ‏ @FreeMarketsFan) this Thursday was, “What are my key takeaways from the Spanx woman being worth a billion and how can one replicate her success?”

Here they are:

First off, I’m amazed by her and I have been ever since I saw on the Donnie Deutsch show on CNBC about 5 years ago. I spoke to the producer of that show shortly after it aired and he told me it was the most popular show they ever had. I never heard of her before then.

I had no idea she is now considered a billionaire. It’s not as if she has a billion in cash, but the theory is that if she were to sell her company today it would sell for one billion.

My takeaways:

Stay motivated. She was reading self-help books (specifically Wayne Dyer’s earlier books) and motivational books since she was sixteen years old. What’s a self-help book do? It tells you that part of the world around you exists because you “think” it to exist. Extreme example: if you are lying on the floor depressed all the time you won’t seize opportunities. If ever day you wake up and say, “what adventure will happen to me today?” then adventures will happen to you. So from an early age she trained herself to look for the opportunities in life. She trained herself for 10 years thinking that way before the idea of Spanx hit her.

She was amazingly good at sales. She had to sell fax machines for Danka as one of her first jobs. Within a few years, by the time she was 25, she was the national sales trainer. People shy away from the word “salesman”. They think the process of selling is “dirty” in some way. But the only way to get anywhere is to come up with ideas and then have a strong ability to sell them. She had that ability. Here’s my own suggestions on how to be a better salesperson: The 10 Keys to Selling Anything:

She solved a huge problem for women. If you want to create $1 billion in value you need to find a problem that nobody solved. Right now, this second, there are about one million problems where if you solve it, someone else will say, “holy shit!  That’s so easy. Why didn’t I think about that?” And yet, these problems right now remain unsolved.

So what was the problem she “solved”? Pantyhose that didn’t have feet that also smoothed out a woman’s body underneath the dress. What does that mean? “Smoothed out”. 99% of woman complain about the “muffin top” that forms after the pantyhose ends and their stomach takes over. No problem said Sara. Here’s pantyhose that solves it. And she did it. Now woman look sexier. Not only was this a huge problem for women, it solved a pretty big issue for men as well! We like looking at sexy women.

Prepare. How did she do it? She had never done anything in fashion before. So she spent every day at the library and the hosiery stores. She had a full time job but at night she researched every patent. She bought every type of pantyhose. She knew the entire industry. To succeed at something:

  • Know every product in the industry
  • Know every patent
  • Try out all the products
  • Understand how the products are made
  • Make a product that YOU would use every single day. You can’t sell it if you, personally, don’t LOVE it.

Cold Call. Someone asked me yesterday if I had any connections at a major children’s company so she would be able to sell an excellent set of children’s travel books to them. I think it’s a great idea. Why? Because I see my kids buy every book from this children’s company. It’s a doll company but they put out books like, “How to be a child of divorce” as an example (which both my kids, being children of divorce, have read thoroughly). So why not travel books? And this woman has already made a dozen travel books for kids ages 8-12, the exact age group for this children’s doll company. I know this woman is a good writer because my kid even did a book report on one of her books and loved it. So I know kids would love her travel books.

She wanted a connection in because she was afraid to cold call. But almost all sales are done through cold calling. If there’s a need, people will love to meet you. Cold call right now!

When I was trying to get people to use, a site I built in 2006-2007, I cold-called AOL, Yahoo, Google, Reuters, Forbes. Guess what? Everyone responded because I knew it was something they all needed and I had at least 2-5 meetings with each group and did deals of some sort or other with all of them. If you have something that’s worthwhile then you can’t be afraid to cold-call. They need you more than you need them.

What does this have to do with the Spanx woman? She cold-called the number one place to sell her stuff – Neiman Marcus, and they loved her product and took it right away.

It doesn’t cost much to make a billion. She started with $5,000. That’s it. She never took investors. She never borrowed money. Now her revenues are hundreds of millions a year. Facebook spent a few thousand to get to the point where they had a million users a day. Google hardly spent any money at first. Not that I’m in the billion dollar league but I can tell you that cost me less than $5,000 to build and was sold for $10 million a few months later. And the first company I sold cost less than $0 to build. We had profitable clients from day one.


If you have an idea: don’t focus on the money. Don’t focus on how you will make a living. Do this:

  • Build your product
  • Sell it to a customer
  • Start shipping
  • Then quit your job.

Sara, the founder of Spanx, didn’t quit her job until she was already well on her way to selling her first million in orders. Most entrepreneurs write me before they have a product even built. They have “an idea” and they want to quit their job to pursue it so they need to raise money right now. Are you crazy? Anyone who would give you money might as well get really good with a plunger because they are going to need it after the money gets flushed down the toilet.

Never ask Permission, Ask for Forgiveness Later. Sara didn’t like how Spanx were being displayed at Neiman Marcus. So she bought samples at Target and displayed them right next to the cash register at Neiman Marcus. She knew, innately, that nobody would question her. Nobody questions anything if you have confidence, intelligence, and you are proud of your product. So she just did it. To hell with the ramifications. What else did she do? She sent Spanx to Oprah Winfrey’s stylist. Who was more perfect to wear Spanx than Oprah Winfrey.

Take advantage of all publicity.  I’m bad at this. I say “no” to almost everything. CNBC used to call me all the time and I wouldn’t even return their calls. Finally Jim Cramer said to me, “Why are you embarrassing me like this. Return their calls.” At this very moment I’m turning down an offer to speak at a TED conference. I just don’t feel like preparing for it. I’d rather blog to you guys. But Cramer made the very good point to me, “if you don’t promote yourself, nobody else will.”

I first heard about Spanx when she was on that Donnie Deutsch show. But also millions heard about it through Oprah, an opportunity that Sara created for herself. And she also spent a season on Richard Branson’s reality show, defying every fear she ever had. She promoted herself down every avenue. That’s what you have to do to succeed. You can’t have any shame.  I see in myself that I have a lot of shame in promoting myself that I have to get over. She had no shame.

Looks. I’m not saying good looks or bad looks. But YOU are the best promoter of your product. So if your product is something in the fashion industry, you should make sure you are the best model for it. A good friend of mine is about to launch a skin cream for Latina women. The cream smooths out wrinkles and also smooths out the different shades of color on the face that many Latinas have. She’s about 40 years old. I can tell you this: she doesn’t have a single wrinkle and her skin glows. She will be the best model for her product.

Again, you don’t have to be great looking. I’m a weird, geekish looking guy. Who better to sell a website? Or website services in the 90s like I used to. If I looked like a J. Crew model I might’ve failed. Instead I had the look of a dirty computer genius (even though I was thrown out of computer science grad school) and I can tell you – that look worked for me.

Good for her. Don’t be a hater! 99% of people are haters.

If you want to be successful, you need to study success, not hate it or be envious of it. If you are envious, then you will distance yourself from success and make it that much harder to get there. Never be jealous. Never think someone is “lucky”. Luck is created by the prepared. Never think that someone is undeserving of the money they have. That only puts you one more step removed from the freedom you aspire to. I can tell right away when someone is so envious and jealous that they will never get the freedom they want and will spend the rest of their life trying.

It’s not about the money. In the article I just read about her it tells a story of how she had to tell her fiancé a few weeks before their wedding that Spanx wasn’t just selling a few million dollars worth a year but hundreds of millions of dollars worth a year.

That’s a big difference, right? And it was only a few weeks before their wedding. Why didn’t he already know? She probably never spoke about it. You know why? Because she probably didn’t care about the money.

In the past fifteen years the only time I didn’t look at my bank account every day was when I was doing something I was passionate about. She was clearly passionate about Spanx. The money quickly became an afterthought.

This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t think about money. But it does mean if YOU ARE thinking too much about money while building your business then either you are not very passionate about the business or you aren’t helping people with your business. Those two thoughts alone will crowd at the thoughts of your own personal bank account.

What a pleasure that is when you experience it and it doesn’t matter if you are rich or poor. It doesn’t matter because you are not even thinking about the money.  You KNOW you are creating value. The money is just a side effect of passion.

My final takeaway. God bless her. She’s worth a billion.

  • Nicely written James! Very important lessons here. Her story encapsulates the key elements it takes to be successful. It surprises me how many people are haters or completely clueless about studying success.

  • I’m very happy for her…What a great entrepreneurial story. Nothing more refreshing these days then watching someone become successful by supplying what other people demand. 

    We need stories like this to replace those of people using the political means to get rich.

  • Do you have any other posts on how you built

  • God bless her!

  • Maggie

    I hate her product. I would never wear a spanx. I think it is as bad for women as high heels. She doesn’t deserve a billion dollars for selling such a product.

    •  What does “deserve” mean? Who decides.

      • JP

        Everyone always gets what they deserve.  


    •  Was that comment a joke?  I wonder if Maggie read the paragraph about not being a hater, and not being jealous.  Well, anyway, I learned something new today.  I thought “Spanx” were those padded prosthetic butts.  Was I partially right?  Do they make those, too?  Probably not – I was probably misinformed.  At any rate, who can fault someone for selling so many billions of dollars’ worth of a product that people obviously want (they presumably bought of their own free will, right?)  To be analytical, this is just a form of “shapewear,” variations of which have been around forever but have recently been in short supply (they waned out of fashion in recent decades.)  They will always “wane back in” and this person was in the right place at the right time, with the right product!  p.s.  I might never wear Spanx or high heels but I would also never wear a wig and people “deserve” a fortune if they devise wigs people want…

  • I heard about her a few years ago. I am an idiot when it comes to money, math and women. So I have to say I am a little surprised that someone can make a billion just by selling pantyhose. I cannot help but wonder how many pantyhose need to be sold to make a billion mathematically.

    That’s a LOT of pantyhose sold and threw away. Thank the universe we don’t have to worry about running out of pantyhose anytime soon. Good inspiration. Good for her.

    • boo

      Spanx can be suprisingly expensive–I bought a piece of shapewear from them for my wedding that was $70. The thing is, they make a really excellent product; I still use that thing and I bought it over 3 years ago. I can’t tell you how many pairs of pantyhose or shapers I’ve purchased and had to throw out before even wearing them once.

      • Thanks for the info. There comes out the truth. She doesn’t just make threw away pantyhose. She makes high quality product. When you dedicate your heart to excellence, the reward is automatic.

  • So much good advice here my comments might end up longer than your post! I’ll just comment on the point you make in the end. It is so hard to convince people that it’s not about the money when you have lots of money. They just don’t believe you. But it is true! “You will
    never be as successful as you hope if you are only trying to emulate the
    success rather than trying to emulate what made the other person successful.” – me

    Now I have to check out your tweetchat.

  • she lives here in Atlanta, my home town. I am very proud of all her accomplishments. she basically reinvented the girdle of yesteryear, and that just gives me confidence that everything old really can be new again. thank you for your writing, James ~ I truly enjoy your perspective on our world. 

  • Nfamous365

    God Bless her & I hope she’s further up the Billionaire’s list next year!! (Thank you for your insight as well James!!!)

  • mikeyhell

    I like what Nassim Taleb says about finding success in life. To paraphrase: seek out the envelope of serendipity and, if you are prepared, you can find happiness there. In other words, chance favors the prepared but you have to find ways to increase the frequency of chance events with positive effects because these just won’t happen on their own (usually only the events with negative effects happen on their own). Sara probably did all she could to let serendipity into her life, even if she wasn’t thinking about it that way.

    • love this.  

      • Sooz

        you know what I love?
        the user~name Mikeyhell…

        and serendipity. 

  • Dan

    The embedded link to The 10 Keys to Selling Anything isn’t working for me. Is it my problem?  Or yours?  Thanks…

  • Mehranalmasi

    Wikipedia mentions her motive as “In the heat and humidity of Florida, she tried unsuccessfully to find pantyhose that didn’t have seamed toes, and that didn’t roll up the leg when she cut them.”
    The style in your image is basically a corset. An old and forgotten solution with newer material.

  • Gonzalo Gandia

    Good job once again, James. I eat these success stories up, so great for the soul!!

    Hey, why won’t you do TED? I’ve seen you speak in public, you’re good at it…take your own advice, do it!!!

    •  Well, I just turned down TEDxWallStreet. I don’t know why I don’t do them. I probably should.

      • mikeyhell

        James, prepping for talks sucks. It’s one reason why I left academia. I hated all the prep prep prep in order to talk talk talk. But TED is huge and could do more for your traffic than just about anything else these days. So I think you should take a deep breath and plunge in to it. Try thinking about the one or two people (at least) that you’ll meet doing it. 

        • mikeyhell

          I meant to say “the one or two really cool people that you’ll meet. Probably more.

  • I think the lesson for all success is to look at the destination and not the means. The destination being making a good product or what you call a ‘sticky solution’ and the money will take care of itself. Great post!

  • InterestedParty

    Great story.  But like with most stories like this, there are massive gaps.  In this case, it’s:

    “YadaYadaYada cold called Neiman Marcus who immediately said yes”.Kinda brushing over a minor detail, aren’t we?  That said, it IS interesting to read about the hard work she put in to create a product that was worth selling.

    Similarly, when you sold, there’s no mention of how you got Jim Cramer to mention it multiple times on air!  

  • Sara was on Richard Branson’s version of The Apprentice in 2004.  Her leadership skills were unbelievable.  She basically won every contest in which she was the group leader through her resourcefulness, imagination and management skills. 

    In classic fashion, the other contestants never acknowledged how good she was and the others always took credit for the wins, even though it was clear Sara was the real driver.  And the great thing was, she never complained.  She just went about her business to win the game, just like every good CEO does.  While she came in second place, Sara basically gave a clinic in how to manage a group of smart, energetic people with big egos.  Sara is the real deal and she deserves all praise.

  • More power to her!

  • I think she should expand her line and make Spanx for men.  Name it something else with an x at the end. 

    Or has she done this already?

    • What a great idea! Pantyhose for men with muffin top. Now, that’s how you get to 2 billion. 

    • Anonymous

      She could license it to Under Armor.  They’re already sort of in that business and with their brand, it would be more “compression activewear” than a “men’s girdle”.

    • She already does – Tom Hanks loves them.

  • TED…! You should do it… You’d be my hero

    • A Grateful Fan

      If doing a TED talk would extend the reach of what you do here, and it doesn’t bring you too much discomfort, you should do it. Don’t keep it bottled up. Open your eyes man! You are changing the world with your words!

  • Iamtheluckiestguy

    James – I dont mean to accuse you but think about this. I think you are afraid that your TED speech may not live up to the high expectations you may have built with your blog. More downside than upside…  The fact that you have already announced to all of us that TED invited you, you may have almost gotten the benefits of giving the actual speech – psychologically speaking.

  • lorenzolotto

    I remember reading something interesting about Sara a few years ago.   When she was growing up, every evening, her father would say to her ,”Tell me what you failed at today.”  My takeaway from this is, if you come to think of “failure” as part of your normal, everyday landscape, as common as dirt, then maybe it is not so frightening after all.

  • Sooz

    Wow..a billion buck~a~roos!! I remember when Harpo had picked spanx as a favorite thing(show). I love it when people succeed!  Here’s to her next billion. This is a great post,J.A., thanks.
    Hey, what ever happened to Donny D?
    one last thing..
    I agree with others..TED..TED..TED..:)
    you should reconsider.

  • Cool post! Hope you present at TED! Would be pretty cool, what are they asking you to talk about?

  • James,

    Please do the TED talk! I love TED, and it would be awesome to see you presenting.
    I enjoy reading success stories, and I believe success does leave clues.

    I need to get better at distancing myself from negative envious people as soon as 
    they show me who they are. One key element I noticed about Sara is that she formed a 
    relationship with a billionaire, Richard Branson. I remember his show and it looks like Sara
    made the most of that opportunity and relationship. 

    P.S.: Please do the TED talk!

  • Rachel

    Speak at the TED conference! Set a date! the content will come to you, through you…and the whole experience will be very energizing–and something to blog about!

  • amy

    Spanx is a great product, even if I’ve only worn it once or twice. As the women in the developing world get more access to rich food and chocolate–look out! She should blow by the 2 billion mark easily. 

  • E Menatejeda

    Please do the TED conference! you OWE IT to all your readers and followers

  • I really appreciate this post.  When I am too cautious and care a bit too much about what people think I ending up not do all of the things necessary for my life.  Being cautious can be a complete curse for someone who is trying to be successful.  Intelligent Audacity may be the key that will open doors that have been once closed.  Time is too short to stay in our comfort zones forever.  Love this post!!

  • Anonymous

    I have a confession to make, I tried to search you on I had asumed that you’ve already been there. Disappointed to find you werent there. So please go on. You already have heaps of material.

  • sooz

    Kudos for her business sense.  But, as a purchaser of her product, not that great, and DEFINITELY not worth the money.  But I am not the typical American consumer, so…

    • Sooz

      wow..this could get a bit confusing.
      (2) sooz’s…hmmm!

      well,sooz(lower~case), I, Sooz(upper~case..:) have never used her product but prefer going commando..

       still very happy for Sara.

      • Sooz

        the only thing i would dispute is her advertising. Those women photographed in spanx(slim and fit) probably have never bought her product either..

        she needs a chubby model..and she’ll hit the 2 billion mark!

        • Guest

           I agree. I think her models don’t need Spanx. And for those of us who do, there’s the small problem of breathing while you wear these body girdles. more than a minor discomfort.

          • Sooz

            added note:
            Harpo is every ‘Entrepreneurs’ dream..
            the day she endorsed this product it was worth millions.
            (lucky for Sara..and the Harpo to the races at that point)

          • I am very slim. Similar body type to the models used in her ads. And I can tell you that almost every woman on the planet gets that muffin top look with regular hose. Even the very slim. If you’re wearing a sexy form fitting dress, the panty hose will be a problem.

            That said, I’ve found the least expensive solution to this problem is to simply make a few small cuts through the waistband of regular drug store panty hose. This is what many dancers do. It’s a trick I learned in my seven years performing in a burlesque troupe.

          • Sooz


            believe you/me..I’ve danced years of classical ballet(most beautiful dance..just beautiful). I know a lot about binding stuff from tights~tulle~Pavlova shoes.

            Can’t speak for the burleque(much too modest for that) but i believe you, Brooke.


          • Sooz

            should be noted: Decades ago..but a discipline that i’ve applied throughout my life (I thank my most beautiful mother for that one).

        • She has the best models of all – some of the most popular actors (Tom Hanks wears Spanx) and actresses on the planet won’t go anywhere without wearing Spanx, and appear to be very happy to sing the praises of her product. At the latest Academy Awards, Octavia Spencer, the actress who won an Oscar for Best Supporting Actress for her performance in “The Help” (and who would probably be described as “chubby”), happily shared with everyone that she was wearing 3 pair of spanx “just in case” LOL You can’t buy advertising like that.


  • Summer Berkeley

    Great post James. All positive, no negative- it’s great to throw those in there once in a while. Sara works hard, seems to be a genuinely nice person and has created value with a product and a BRAND. No matter what is said about the brand cliche- branding is key.



  • Kellycoty

    Love her success! I have used her business as a benchmark for my new recently launched company.  We too have a  problem solving product.. reading glasses that double as a hairband! They are available at  So women do not have to wear old granny readers or balance them on their head. Our product is sleek and modern!!

  • Anonymous

    “If you want to be successful, you need to study success, not hate it or be envious of it. If you are envious, then you will distance yourself from success and make it that much harder to get there. Never be jealous. Never think someone is “lucky”. Luck is created by the prepared.”

    That’s got to be some of the best advice on success EVER!  I’m personally always astounded by haters and at how many of them there are.  I don’t know about 99%, but I’d put it over 85% to be sure.

    It’s like all the Justin Beiber haters – you gotta wonder how much time and energy has been put forth flaming that kid on the internet. If you could harness that energy (human and electrical) you could probably run a small manufacturing facility.   It’s beyond silly, really. I personally hope he makes a couple billion too, if for no other reason than to drive the haters over the edge.  And I say that as someone who couldn’t name one song he sings. I have no idea if I’ve ever even heard one.

  • amy

    I am not familiar with TED. Just went online and checked it out. Is it geared to left-wing speakers and celebrity guests? I see Richard Branson, Bill Clinton, Bono etc., but do they invite anti-global warming scientists, George W. Bush (I’m guessing he’s not as busy on the lecture circuit as Bill), or NRA actors & musicians (if there are any)? Is this a two sides are presented forum of ideas? I am curious to get feedback from Ted goers. Because it seems impressive but we have the tendency to want to be in the room with celebrities. 

  • Also a fan. And a vote for TED.

  • Do the TED talk.

    Please, please do it. I watch those talks all the time. They are inspiring and informative and I would love to see you do one because you already inspire and inform me.

  • ElleX

    Excellent blogpost! 

  • Anonymous

    “if YOU ARE thinking too much about money while building your business then either you are not very passionate about the business or you aren’t helping people with your business.”

    I think this is far more than just about business and success.  It’s about life and satisfaction.

    I’m not a entrepreneur.  I’m a salary guy, and engineer.  I make things.  When I’ve worked on some pretty cool stuff with dedicated people, I never thought about the money.  But when I start thinking that they’re not paying me enough – I start focusing on the money – I know that something else is very wrong.  Bad sign.

    When the work – whatever it is – is satisfying, the money doesn’t matter. 

    So if your thoughts keep drifting to money, especially feeling like you deserve more of it, take that as a sign that something else is missing – and it’s not money.

  • As a lily among brambles.
    so is my love among the young women.
    Solomon 2:2
    Women have to look good, so men can say things like that and celebrate life.

    If you wear sweats and flip flops, don’t talk to me.

    That said:
    When I was a young socialist, I read Buckminster Fuller, who used to say: “You have to decide if  you want to make money or to make sense”. If you were a broke “pasionaria” that made you feel better about yourself. Now I’m glad I discovered the two things aren’t mutually exclusive. Hope I’m not too late.

  • Chris Murphy

    I went to high school with Sara (I graduated from Clearwater High School in 1987, she graduated in 1988).  I think what she has done is awesome.  Way to go Sara!

  • Looks = “Look the part” (whatever is appropriate for the deal).

    Lots of excellent points James. And I totally agree that when people say “Oh, you’re lucky”, they are generally haters and fail to understand positioning yourself for success and then having the persistence needed to achieve success.

  • Venus

    Such a great post james, I am now keen on knowing about her background/ childhood  too and I want you to do TED

  • Barry Ohman

    Spanx . was
    founded by , Sara Blakely who  has
    forever changed the way a Lady will dress by inventing a one-stop solution to
    some of your most common undergarment concerns by  eliminating visible panty lines,  controlling a Ladies tummy, thighs, hips, and
    rear; and erasing visible bra lines.   With
    Spanx undergarments, they control a Ladies waist, tummy, hips, and rear with no
    unsightly “muffin top”. They stay in place, won’t ride up or pinch,
    and, best of all, they are invisible under Ladies clothing.

  • Laura G.

    I saw her on Donnie’s show, too– it was an inspiration for me.

    Love all your points, and I don’t want to be lumped in with the “if she can do it, everyone can do it” category, but don’t you think there’s SOME level of luck involved, too? I mean there were mainstream body-shaping garments before she came along…

  • Mark

    Nice message she is sending! Don’t get in shape and lose a little weight. Just pack your fat ass into a sausage casing. Really?

    • Joe Spankme

       How about that picture of Oprah. Spanx working overtime! Don’t stand to close in case the Spanx gives way. Ka-Boom!!

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