At 27, Sara Blakely had “bombed the LSAT twice”, auditioned to be Goofy at Disney and turned down, and started selling fax machines door-to-door. Then she discovered that, as a consumer, there was “a void between the traditional underwear and the heavy-duty girdle.” She cut the feet out of control-top pantyhose and made her own modifications to create Spanx, a revolutionary shapewear product.
In an interview with CNBC, Blakely recalled that her father would often ask her the same question at dinnertime –
“How have you failed this week?”
Blakely was taught to interpret failure not as a sign of personal weakness but as an integral part of the learning process. “What he did was redefine failure for my brother and me,” she told CNN’s Anderson Cooper, “Instead of failure being the outcome, failure became not trying.”
When coming up short is viewed as the path to learning, when we accept that failure is simply feedback on what we need to work on next, risk taking becomes a lot easier. It’s this mind-set that prepared her to endure the risk involved in starting her own business.
Her embrace of failure has helped her become the youngest self-made female billionaire in America.
Listen to how Blakely, now 41, grew her undergarment empire without any outside investment, debt, and literally put her own ass on the line in a meeting with Neiman Marcus’ buyer.
How I Built This is a podcast about innovators, entrepreneurs, and idealists, and the stories behind the movements they built.