What do underwear and the youngest female billionaire have in common? | Ripplestarters
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What do underwear and the youngest female billionaire have in common?


After failing the LSATs twice and feeling defeated, Sara describes it as if she was stuck in the wrong life. Then one day everything changed. Wearing hosiery on a daily basis while selling fax machines door to door, she noticed a problem that no one else had solved yet. So she decided to set out to fix it.

With her commendable confidence and drive, she changed the way women wear their clothes with one item - undergarments. It wasn’t easy and she faced many challenges, but determined, she passed with flying colors and has earned the title of youngest female billionaire in the United States. Here are five things we can learn from her.

1. Sell in person

Something Sara learned from her cold calling days. She couldn’t get anywhere with manufacturers over the phone. So she took off work and booked a trip to North Carolina, just showing up on manufacturers’ doorsteps. After a few visits and many failed attempts, she finally got a yes. If she kept calling from home in Florida instead of walking in those doors, her voice would have never been heard.

2. Ideas are most vulnerable in their infancy

A common phrase we all hear in the startup world is that “it’s not about the idea, it’s about the execution”. But Sara explains why she kept quiet for a different reason. She notes, when you share your idea with people, ego is instantly brought into the mix. You spend all your time explaining it, defending it and not pursuing it. After one year of secrecy, Sara shared with close friends and family. She was met with responses like, “if it’s such a good idea, why hasn't somebody else already done it?” and “you’re going to spend your savings on this and in 6 months the big guys are just going to knock you out of the water". She admits, if she had heard that from the beginning, she would probably still be selling fax machines.

3. When you think you’ve “made it”, you’ve really only just started

Sara feels the biggest mistake entrepreneurs make is when they hit their first big deal or land their first big client, and become overconfident. When Sara landed Neimen Marcus, she says that’s not when she felt she made it, it's when all the work just started.

4. Be bold

One of the biggest challenges she had after landing Neimen Marcus was that Spanx was sold in hosiery, and her customer was in the shoe department or ready to wear department. She decided she had to get it out of the department it’s supposed to be sold in. So she went to Target and bought some standing racks. Next, she returned to Neimen Marcus with her new purchase and moved all the Spanx beside the cash register for women to notice when checking out. The best part? Everyone thought it was approved by someone higher up, so the employees just left it there.

5. Stay confident

Sara didn’t share her idea with anyone for a year to protect her from all the criticism that might've come before she actually got to prototype it. From lawyer, to patent officer, to manufacturer, she was constantly pitching to men. Most of them didn't understand the need for the idea nor did they have much interest in it. But she got where she did because of the ones that were consistently impressed by her confidence in the product.

Hear the full story of how Sara used undergarments to build a multi-billion dollar business on NPR’s "How I Built This" podcast with Guy Raz.

Photo Credit: NY Mag