“What have you failed at this week?” A question that America’s youngest self made female billionaire was asked often while growing up. Sara Blakely, the founder of popular women’s shape wear Spanx, recalls frequent conversations about the subject with her father.
“My dad growing up encouraged me and my brother to fail. The gift he was giving me is that failure is (when you are) not trying versus the outcome. It’s really allowed me to be much freer in trying things and spreading my wings in life.”
The 41 year old Florida native was selling fax machines door to door when she came up for the idea for her product. She’d recently auditioned at Disney World to play the Goofy character, but because of her height, they wanted her to play a chipmunk instead. She also failed the LSAT twice, squashing her aspirations of becoming a lawyer. During her time going door to door, she realized there was a huge void in the undergarment market, and worked to create a prototype that suited her needs. Wanting more support than regular underwear, but not a full-on girdle, Blakely began cutting the feet off of control top pantyhose and modifying them to suit her needs.
The result? A multi-billion dollar idea. Although it was not easy, Blakely credits much of her success to her lack of knowledge in the fashion industry. She feels that not knowing “what can’t be done” within an industry is key in the success of a new business.
“What you don’t know can become your greatest asset if you’ll let it and if you have the confidence to say, I’m going to do it anyway even though I haven’t been taught or somebody hasn’t shown me the way. The fact that I had never taken a business class, had no training, didn’t know how retail worked, I wasn’t as intimidated as I should have been.”
Armed with just $5,000 and an idea, Blakely made history. She researched what she could, hired out what she couldn’t, and moved forward creating a product that women fell in love with the world over.
Many of the most successful entrepreneurs credit success to early failures. Do they have failure in common, or an unwillingness to give up? Either way, learning how to take your licks and keep moving forward is a key element in the success of many different types of ventures. Whether launching a business or embarking on on a self improvement project, moving forward after a failure is the only sure way to know you’re heading for success.