Sara Blakely: What I Learned From The Spanx Founder

What I Learned From Spanx Founder Sara Blakely

Episode 211: How To Get a Billion Dollar Idea

Sara Blakely is weird. I wish I could think like she does. I want to be weird like her.

“I look at any object and try to think of any use it has other than what people had planned for it.”

And then she acts on it. She sees a pair of pantyhose, cuts off the feet (why not?) and creates a multi-billion dollar company, Spanx.

She sees her 9 month pregnant belly and paints a basketball on it. And then inspires hundreds of other women to do the same. Creates a book out of it: The Belly Art Project, and donates the proceeds to charity.

“All my life I was taught how to deal with failure,” she told me. “My dad would ask us at the dinner table every night: how did you fail today?”


She got comfortable with failure at an age when every other kid wants to get an A+ at everything.

She got comfortable embarrassing herself. For two years she tried to be a standup comedian. “I wasn’t very good at it.”

Practice embarrassing yourself…

Ready. Fire. Aim.

She got a huge order from Nieman Marcus even though she didn’t have the inventory or the production ready.

She said, “YES!”. Then she figured out how to get the order filled.

Oprah listed Spanx as one of her “favorite things” of 2000. Oprah wanted to film her office. Sara had no office.

She said, “YES!”. Then she got an office and filled it up with people.

Say YES! Then make things happen. Don’t argue yourself into failure.

Excuses are easy. Saying “yes” and then executing is hard.

Get your thinking time.

“It takes me five minutes to drive to work,” she told me. “But I take 45 minutes. I use that time to think.”

It’s important to think. To be creative every day.

This is how she comes up with non-stop ideas to expand her brand, expand her products, and work on other projects.

I suspect this is the secret for how she always sees things differently. Being creative is a practice. It’s not lightening from above.

It’s taking the long route when you could’ve taken the short route.

Purpose = Infectious salesmanship.

While I was talking to Sara she used the word “empower” several times.

Spanx clothes gives women more confidence. Empowers women. The Belly Art Project empowers pregnant women.

It seems like there are three parts to a project that leads to master salesmanship.

– the higher purpose for it. This gets people excited.
– the actual product and its benefits.
– execution

Combine all three and people will get infected with your passion for your ideas. Sara was unstoppable.

Don’t volley.

Don’t engage with the people who want to argue with you. That’s time wasted when you can be creative.

Don’t invite ego in the door.

Once you’ve worked on your project, have passion for it, started it, be willing to take suggestions and listen to people.

Ego can kill a project and close the door on good opportunities.

Be aware of you mortality.

Sara was selling fax machines for five years before fully launching Spanx.

She could still be selling them if she never started.

If she listened to all the people who tried to dissuade her.

If she became afraid of the multi-billion dollar companies that could have easily squashed her. Except they didn’t. She was one person and they were billions. But they lost.

We are here only this precious small amount of time. Make every moment a work of art. Make every moment move you one step forward towards your dream and purpose.

Invent a new undergarment even if you had never made clothes in your life.

Get 100s of women to paint their pregnant bellies and then raise money for charity with the idea.

“EVERYTHING IS A CANVAS,” she told me.

Which makes everyone a potential artist. What a great way to look at life.

But I can’t!

Why not?

For anything you want to do, for anything that excites you, take the time to figure out the next step. Ready. Fire. Aim.

Just why not? Why not?

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  • Jessica Toussaint

    Wonderful as usual James. I often beat myself up and have feelings of wanting to hurt myself whenever I fail. What time striving to do now is to think less and be njfdr to myself. It’s oh so hard, but I’m doing it regardless. Do you have any advice you can give me in regards on how to forgive myself, especially when my actions have hurt others?

  • Mary Jo Stewart

    Great Podcast! Thanks for being persistent (in a non-pushy way!) and getting her on your show. She inspires.

  • Julian Marinov

    Great episode, a lot of inspiration comes from vulnerability!

  • Natsmavenus

    Very inspiring! Really enjoyed this podcast. Sara’s dad got her on a great fearless path by requiring that she and her brother have a failure ready to share with him each week. I’m gonna try that on my kid…and myself!

  • Julie

    Listening to this podcast was like walking through Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory. Every time the conversation turned, there was another gem of wisdom or inspiration. From using courage, gratefulness and purpose to drive yourself to overcoming fears, embarrassing yourself, the power of not knowing the ‘right way’, wow. I listened to it twice and am sharing it with everyone.

    • I’ve profited 104,000 thousand dollars in last 12 months by working from my home and I did it by wo­rking part-time f­o­r 3 or sometimes more hrs daily. I’m using work opportunity I was introduced by this company i found online and I am happy that i was able to make so much extra income. It’s so newbie friendly and I’m so thankful that i discovered it. Check out what I do…

  • SparksToFire_Jeff

    I cried several times with the beauty of Sara’s stories. Thank you James. Thank you Sara.

    • I profited $104,000 previous year by working from my home and I was able to do it by work­ing in my own time f­o­r several hrs a day. I followed a money making opportunity I stumbled upon from company that i found online and I am so happy that i made so much extra income. It’s so newbie friendly a­­n­­d I’m just so grateful that I found out about it. Here’s what I do…

    • I have profited 104 thousand bucks last year by freelancing from my house a­n­d I was able to do it by w­orking in my own time f­o­r 3 or sometimes more h /day. I’m using work opportunity I came across online and I am thrilled that I was able to earn such great money. It’s so beginner friendly and I am just so blessed that i discovered this. This is what i did…

  • Sinead O’Connor

    Great interview James but WTF are you doing advertising on your interviews…..

  • Flora Guttierez

    Sara Blakely has such an incredibly annoying manner of speaking. Jim, I feel sorry for you having to sit through that egotistical rant with the valley girl intonation. I don’t care how impressive her accomplishments were. Her speech is so annoying, I didn’t care one wit about her. In contrast Jim, your manner of speaking is so much more engaging.

  • Steve Homitz

    one of the best interviews you have done. I enjoyed it so much, I had to listen multiple times with the second time taking notes. Keep up the great work.

  • Really inspiring. Thank you for bringing her on board and I am thankful that you skip the inauguration for this James :)

  • TomC

    Thank you for an incredible podcast. Enjoyed every minute of it. Lots of great insight that will stick with me for a long time. Well done both of you!

  • Commentary2015

    Fantastic podcast! Absolutely love hearing Sara’s story. Her humbleness and humour is so inspiring

  • Steven Newton

    To answer a question from the podcast, suicide is the leading cause of childbirth-related death to women (the answer was in Stephen Fry’s BBC Documentary -The Secret Life of The Manic Depressive.)

  • I like to listen to a podcast couple of times before I comment.
    This was a gem.
    Blakely does not hold back and tells it like it is.
    I got a lot out of listening to this one.
    It should be used in schools to teach students about success
    Why are listening to podcasts not part of school curriculum?
    Who has better ideas today than podcasters like James Altucher?
    Maybe one day.

  • x32

    Very, very good words!
    This is why I still subscribed to your emails James despite all the “last chance deals” )))
    Thank you!

  • Anton Novoselov

    Great inside about vulnerability. Thanks.