Guest ‘Shark’ and Spanx Founder Sara Blakely Says This Question Helped Her Become a Success

Billionaire business woman Sara Blakely is known as an international success. Founding her apparel company Spanx in 1998 in her 20s, the entrepreneur made Time Magazine’s coveted Top 100 list in 2012. Blakely also appeared on ABC’s hit reality show Shark Tank as a guest investor in 2017 and 2018. As a savvy company owner, Blakely previously revealed some insight she gained from her father that she claims helped her reach her goals.

“Shark Tank’s” Mark Cuban and Sara Blakely | Eric McCandless via Getty Images

Spanx success

Forbes reported that Blakely, once a fax machine salesperson, started her company in 1998 with a mission to create a product that would be in high demand. “I like providing people with something they didn’t know they needed, and changing their life,” Blakely said.  After a frustrating experience with a pair of white pants, Blakely became inspired to cut off the bottom of her hosiery and create a prototype with duct tape and paper clips.  

After coming up with the product, Blakely had to go through a few names before settling on the now-infamous moniker. “The word ‘Spanx’ was funny,” she said. “It made people laugh. No one ever forgot it.” After facing a myriad of rejections on the groundbreaking shape wear, Blakely nabbed a sit-down with a buyer from Neiman Marcus, and thus her empire began. Spanx earned $4 million in sales in its first year and $10 million in its second year, according to Inc.

Since launching the company in 1998, Blakely now has over 200 products that range from slimming apparel and bathing suits to active wear, bras, and even menswear according to Heavy. Blakely also has a full personal life with a husband and four young kids in tow.

Failure can lead to success

Blakely credits her her parents for keeping her grounded and guiding her personally and professionally. She revealed one question her father would always ask her that she feels ended up helping her find her true calling.

“I used to sit at the dining room table as a kid and my dad would ask me ‘What did you fail at this week?'” Blakely shared. “If I tried out for a school play and didn’t get it, he would high-five me. He always encouraged me to fail.”

While the advice may sound backward to some, the guest shark realized her father’s intention in his approach. “I didn’t realize at the time how much this advice would define not only my future, but my definition of failure,” Blakely said. “I have realized as an entrepreneur that so many people don’t pursue their idea because they were scared or afraid of what could happen. My dad taught me that failing simply just leads you to the next great thing. It was pretty unconventional parenting, but I realize now that if I hadn’t failed, I wouldn’t be where I am today.”

Not mourning a law career

Her father’s take on failure came in handy when Blakely had pursued a career as an attorney. “I tried to be a lawyer and failed the LSATs twice,” she said. “It was one of many tests that showed me how some of the biggest failures in our lives just nudge us into another path.”

With a list of credits to her name such as the Time 100 list, the Spanx founder is also the first self-made female billionaire to sign the Melinda and Bill Gates’ and Warren Buffett’s Giving Pledge, making a promise to donate at least half her wealth to charity. Taking a seat on the Shark Tank panel during Seasons 9 and 10, she partnered with several female-run companies such as Alice’s Table and The Kombucha Shop.

Evidently, Blakely’s father helped steer her on the path to success. Forbes reports that Blakely’s net worth is estimated at $1 billion (that’s “billion” with a “B”!).