If you’ve ever worn Spanx, you have Sara Blakely to thank. The foot-less pantyhose — created so women could look better in pants — were the brainchild of the Florida-born entrepreneur. The company was started with $5,000 she’d saved, according to her official bio, from selling fax machines door-to-door — never poo-poo the power of on-the-ground sales — and is now a billion-dollar company. Blakely is one of the five new guest sharks who will be on the Shark Tank panel this season.
Learning just a little bit about Blakely, it’s easy to see why she found success, at least in retrospect. A Forbes profile done back in 2012 revealed Blakely had to overcome a fear of flying, fear of heights and stage fright and still somehow sell her then one-of-a-kind product. That year, 2012, was important for Blakely, at least for her status in the business world. At the age of 41, she’d become the youngest woman on the magazine’s World’s Billionaires list without money from a spouse or an inheritance. That’s the kind of background that will get you a seat on Shark Tank.
Despite her apparent phobias, Blakely has courage most people would envy. According to a CNBC profile from last month, she got Neiman Marcus to give Spanx a test run by bringing the buyer into the bathroom, where Blakely changed into the garment with the other woman with her in the stall. The Neiman Marcus rep was so impressed with the product, she decided on the spot to give Spanx the go-ahead.
But Blakely quickly decided that she wanted to give back after Spanx became a phenomenon. She founded the Sara Blakely Foundation in 2006 to support women’s causes. In 2013, she joined other business leaders such as Bill Gates and Warren Buffett in signing The Giving Pledge, which is a promise to donate at least half her wealth to charity.
Ironically for an entrepreneur due to appear on Shark Tank, Blakely built Spanx without outside investment. At the time that she made the Forbes list in 2012, Spanx had no debt, was privately owned and Blakely owned 100 percent. That’s not a bad return for a woman who made her startup money by selling fax machines door-to-door.
Season 9 of Shark Tank starts on Sunday, October 1, on ABC.
[Featured Image by Mike Windle/Getty Images]