This week’s Shark Tank sees Sara Blakely, the billionaire founder of Spanx, joining the show as a guest investor.
But did you know her amazing backstory?
At 46, Blakely is America’s youngest female self-made billionaire — but her huge success came only after she previously worked selling fax machines door-to-door and as a ride assistant at Walt Disney World.
Born in 1971 in Clearwater, Florida, she studied a communications degree at Florida State University and initially planned to be an attorney but changed her mind after getting a low score on the LSATs — the Law School Admission Test.
That’s when she took her job at Walt Disney World in Orlando, Florida, where she stayed for three months while also working as a stand-up comic in her free time.
She then went on to become a door-to-door sales person trying to shift fax machines for office supply firm Danka. A natural salesperson, she soon started working training others in the company.
Her job as a salesperson proved to be the seed that sowed her billion-dollar empire, as she came up with the idea for Spanx after being forced to wear pantyhose as part of her job.
While she liked how the pantyhose would shape her body and got rid of pantylines, she disliked how hot it was to wear in Florida’s warm climate and having the seams on her feet while wearing shoes with open toes.
Spanx were born after she cut the feet off a pair of pantyhose to attend a private party while wearing white slacks. She found that the bottoms reportedly rolled up her legs, but knew the idea was a good one.
She spent $5,000 developing her idea over the next two years before trademarking the name Spanx for $250 and writing her own patent to save on legal fees.
She came up with the name because it had a “k” sound in — which featured in two of the biggest brand names at the time, Coca-Cola and Kodak.
Her big break came when she had a meeting with a Neiman Marcus buyer and changed into a pair of Spanx in the ladies restroom to show the buyer how well they worked. It led to her product being hosted in seven Neiman Marcus stores, with Saks, Bloomingdales and Bergdorf Goodman signing up as stockists soon afterwards.
According to Forbes, mom-of-four Blakely is currently worth $1.18billion and still runs the company day-to-day.
Shark Tank airs Sundays at 9/8c on ABC.