How Sarah Blakely Built a Billion Dollar Business

Sarah Blakely founded SPANX when she was 27 and with only $5,000 of savings. She has never raised money and bootstrapped her was to becoming a billion dollar business in just over a decade!

Today she employs over 100 people and turns over more than $250m in revenue.

It all started when she came up with the idea while selling fax machine. She took her idea and went around to possible manufacturers to see if she could get a production run made.

She kept her day job selling fax machines and worked on the Spanx prototype nights and weekends. While looking for a manufacturer to produce it, she spent months knocking on doors of North Carolina factories and getting them slammed in her face, she said.

“Who are you?” they would ask. “Sara Blakely,” she would say.

“Who are you with?” they’d ask. “Sara Blakely,” she’d say.

“Who is backing you financially?” they’d ask. “Sara Blakely!” she’d say.

Finally, she said, one guy “took pity” on her. After initially rejecting her, he’d reconsidered. He said he had daughters.

In the early days of Spanx, inventor Sara Blakely didn’t have the money to hire a patent lawyer, let alone a full team to support her new business. Her office was her Atlanta apartment. Her fulfillment center was her bathroom, filled with Jiffy envelopes of her product.

This caused a problem for her when Oprah Winfrey came calling, wanting to add Spanx to her famous Favourite Things episode back in 2000, Blakely had a problem. The Harpo production team wanted to film Blakely, then 27, at a staff meeting in her workplace. Not having a workplace she found an empty office down the road and corralled some local friends and faked a workforce for the camera.

Sarah’s hustle paid off when she found herself meeting a buyer at Neiman Marcus’ corporate HQ in Dallas. She flew there with a pair of Spanx and started to pitch her product. Two minutes into her meeting, she could tell she was losing the attention of Neiman Marcus’ buyer. She whisked her into the bathroom for a little show and tell, trying on her own product — slimming, shaping footless pantyhose — under a pair of white pants.

Her gumption and willingness to literally put her own ass on the line worked. Neiman Marcus agreed to stock Spanx in seven regional stores. While most people would have stopped here, Blakely continued to hustle and dispatched friends in each of those seven cities to buy pairs of Spanx!

1998: Sara Blakely starts SPANX while selling fax machines with $5,000 in savings.
1999: Spanx’s first year revenue tops $4,000,000.
1999: Blakely gets her product distrubted into Neiman Marcus.
2000: Oprah names SPANX her favorite product of the year and sales take off. Sales hit $10,000,000 in revenue.
2001: SPANX is featured on QVC and sells over 8,000 units in under six minutes.
2013: Sara Blakely becomes a billionaire.