Business Lessons from the Youngest Female Billionaire

Friday, March 09, 2012

Forbes released their annual Billionaires issue this week with a cover story on Sara Blakely, the founder of Spanx and, at 41, the youngest woman to make the billionaires list. I typically save links to these kinds of articles for my Splendid Sunday roundups, but today I wanted to share some of the things that stood out to me from this story.

Some people dream of being billionaires, others couldn't care less. Regardless of how much money you'd like to make owning a business in the wedding industry, there are several things that Sara can teach us about good old-fashioned entrepreneurship:

Make Do With What You Have First
Sara started Spanx with $5000, never took outside funding, and operates with zero debt. I have nothing against raising venture capital if you really need it, but most companies actually don't need it. Having to work with less forces you to be more creative and it typically forces you to make smarter choices. When you can't throw money at a problem, the solutions you come up with tend to be more effective because they require you to think critically about how you approach every angle of an issue.

Advertising Isn't For Everyone
Advertising can be a smart investment, but too many people treat it as a sacred cow. It's not. Spanx has never advertised. Instead, they spent that money on other marketing ventures that paid off very well for them. If you see a true ROI from your advertising dollars, then by all means, keep advertising. But don't keep spending if you aren't seeing the return.

Don't Quit Your Day Job
At some point, people have to make the leap to full time. In the meantime, they also have to put food on their table and pay their mortgage. There is no shame in working a day job and working on your own business idea during your time off. Sara worked on her business at night and didn't quit her day job until two weeks before Spanx was slated to air on Oprah's Favorite Things Show. Remember, you have to what you need to do in order to make your business (and your life) work for YOU.

Check Your Ego At the Door
When you own a business, you cannot be above doing the work. This seems like a no-brainer, but I've met far too many people who put their ego before their income and are unwilling to do the work to actually make the revenue happen (which unsurprisingly leads to far fewer cashed checks). One of the things I loved about this article was the fact that Sara unapologetically talked about showing up at the department stores that carried her line in the early days and talking customers into buying them.

What stood out to you from this piece?

PS: The Forbes article on Sara was written by Clare O'Connor, a writer who currently covers the highest end of the luxury market for Forbes and who is quickly becoming one of my favorite journalists because of her well-researched and thoughtful articles as well as her humor. You can follow Clare on Twitter here.

You May Also Like


Speaking + Training


Press + Accolades