4 Business Lessons from the World's Youngest Female Billionaire

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What’s the secret to success? For almost every entrepreneur who’s made it big, there’s one major factor that carries them through: stick-to-itiveness. Just ask Sara Blakely. The former door-to-door fax machine salesperson refused to take no for an answer when developing her product, Spanx.

Sara’s great idea of a comfortable body-shaping undergarment and her streak of doggedness wider than the Mississippi recently landed her on the cover of Forbes Magazine. With no formal business training or experience in fashion or retail, she has the honor of being the world’s youngest female self-made billionaire ever to make the Forbes World’s Billionaires list.

On a recent broadcast, Dave spoke with Sara about that never-say-no attitude and her company, which today is a household name with sales of nearly $250 million annually. What can you learn from her experiences? Here are a few takeaways from her amazing success story.

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1. Never Say Never

After coming up with the idea for Spanx, Sara spent an entire year cold calling hosiery mills to get them to manufacture a prototype. Her progress after 12 months? Zip. She finally took a week off of work to meet the factory reps face to face, but ended up with the same answer: no thanks.

Everyone told me it was a really bad idea, and they didn’t understand it,” Sara says. “They just didn’t get it, but I kept pushing on. Finally, a mill owner in North Carolina called me back … He said, ‘I’m going to give you a shot.’ Apparently, he ran it by his daughters.”

2. Don’t Quit Your Day Job

Just 27 years old and with only $5,000 in savings, Sara was in no position to quit her job while going after her dream. Instead, she worked evenings and weekends for more than two years researching and planning the launch of Spanx. When orders started coming in, she sat up nights stuffing Spanxs into padded envelopes. She didn’t jump ship until she was financially ready to do so.

3. Stay Debt Free

Is it possible to start a successful business without going into debt? Absolutely. Both Dave and Sara are great examples. Sara began with her $5,000 in savings. She watched every nickel, hawked the product herself, wrote her own patent from a textbook she bought at a bookstore, and designed the packaging with the help of her friends. She’s never accepted a cent from an outside investor. And today, she continues to own 100% of the company, which remains debt free.

4. Do Your Research

Before developing Spanx, Sara spent hours and hours going from fabric store to fabric store, trying to come up with the perfect material. She also was no stranger at the library, where she spent weeks researching every hosiery patent ever filed.

When it came to finding her company name, the research paid off again. “The minute the name Spanx came to me, I changed the ‘k’ to an ‘x,’” Sara says. “My research showed that made-up words always do better than real words for products, and they are easier to trademark.”

Sara is living proof that with lots of hard work and perseverance, anyone can be a success. “I didn’t give up, because I saw my own rear end in those white pants and I knew it worked,” Sara says. “I thought, This has got to happen.”

For more stories on entrepreneurs and leadership, download our EntreLeadership Podcasts, which include lessons from Dave, plus interviews with key business leaders from across the nation.

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