From what began with some scissors and a pair of pantyhose, entrepreneur Sara Blakely’s “Spanx” idea has transformed into a lucrative global business. And it’s only gone from strength to strength, with the underwear company having expanded its product range and generated an estimated $400 million in annual sales.
Yet, as with any entrepreneur’s journey, a business idea doesn’t typically become an instant success overnight. With years of experience as a company founder, Blakely recently revealed some key tips she’s learned which would prove useful for any entrepreneur wanting to follow in her footsteps.
“The best advice I would give a female founder looking to launch a female-centric company or product, is to start with the ‘Why?’ and continue to lead with ‘Why’,” the founder and owner of Spanx recently told business magazine Fast Company.
On top of that, Blakely says it’s important to be “very authentic in your message, stay vulnerable, be yourself through the process.”
With initiatives around the world looking to close the gender gap and promote female leadership, it appears that female-led businesses are seeing an upward trend. According to American Express, four in every 10 companies based in the U.S. are now majority-owned and operated by women, which comes in at a sum of 12.3 million businesses in 2018.
As with every entrepreneur, Blakely faced obstacles during her career, but as she tells Fast Company, she makes sure that she embraces each challenge and sees it as an opportunity to develop.
“The biggest hurdles for me as a woman in business were also my greatest strengths — and that was being underestimated.”
“Many times in the journey, being underestimated made it harder for me to get the men and the manufacturing plans to take my ideas seriously or to even give me a chance — but it was also a real competitive advantage for me growing the company,” she said.
“I continued to really embrace the ‘being underestimated’ as a woman and I’ve been able to stay true to the feminine principles in leadership and throughout growing Spanx.”
As part of her business strategy, Blakely said she likes to connect with her consumers, so as a business, Spanx likes to look at it “through the lens of: How can it be better? Does it already exist? Let’s create something she didn’t know she needed and now she can’t live without.”
And this desire to embrace her feminine principles isn’t just incorporated on a business level for Blakely. In 2006, the founder launched an eponymous foundation that aims to donate millions to charitable organizations, particularly those looking to empower women and girls.
The foundation has donated to the likes of the Malala Fund and the Oprah Winfrey Leadership Academy; and in 2013, Blakely became the first self-made female billionaire to sign the Giving Pledge, which saw the entrepreneur promise to contribute at least half of her wealth to charitable causes.