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Cold-calling helped Sara Blakely build a $1 billion business

Margie Manning

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Scott Omelianuk, editor in chief of Inc. Magazine, interviewed Spanx Founder Sara Blakely at the Synapse Summit.

Before Clearwater Beach native Sara Blakely hit it big with women’s shapewear company Spanx, she spent seven years off and on cold calling for Danka, a St. Petersburg office imaging company.

She learned very quickly that to sell products, she had to explain how they would solve a customer’s problem.

“Sell the problem you are solving, not the product. People are far more emotionally connected to that to your product,” Blakely said during a keynote presentation at the Synapse Summit.

Blakely’s keynote was a highlight of the summit, a two-day celebration of innovation and entrepreneurship produced by Synapse Florida.

In a mainstage interview with Scott Omelianuk, editor in chief of Inc. Magazine, Blakely talked about launching Spanx 20 years ago and growing it into a $1 billion business.

She was able to do that by zeroing in on her “why,” or the reason she wanted to build the company.

“The why for me is to elevate women, to honor the women who came before me that didn’t have the chances that I had and even the women around the planet right now that still don’t. That’s what gives me my courage.”

Blakely’s “why” helped her stand out in an industry of commodities.

“I took on billion-dollar companies. I didn’t have the most experience. None. I didn’t have the most money. I had five grand in savings for this. I didn’t have any connections in the industry. But I cared the most. I really believe that was a big competitive edge.”

She was a solo-preneur when she started Spanx. That meant she didn’t have to answer to anyone else, she could follow her intuition and instincts, and she could avoid conflict. The downside was that it could be lonely.

“I tell people as soon as you can afford to hire your weaknesses do it. When you are an entrepreneur you are every department and you realize really quickly what you enjoy and don’t enjoy and what you’re good at and what you’re not good at. As soon as I could afford to hire someone to do more of the operations side of the business, I did,” she said. “As an entrepreneur one of the biggest gifts you can give yourself is to stay in your lane.”

Blakely has become an advocate for women through Spanx and through the Sara Blakely Foundation.

“I would like to balance out the feminine and masculine energy on the planet,” she said. “I would like to encourage and support as many females as I can to start their own business, to fulfill their own potential, to encourage them and support them in leadership positions. I believe it’s about the balance. We will all be better served on the planet.”

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