Sara Blakely, Founder and CEO, Spanx | Summary and Q&A

April 17, 2018
Stanford Graduate School of Business
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Sara Blakely, Founder and CEO, Spanx


Spanx CEO Sarah Blakely talks about using humor, embracing hustle, and trusting her intuition in her journey to success.

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Key Insights

  • 🀳 Self-doubt and rejection are common challenges for entrepreneurs, but confidence and perseverance are vital in overcoming these obstacles.
  • πŸ†˜ Embracing vulnerability and using humor can help leaders connect with customers and employees.
  • πŸ‘¨β€πŸ’Ό Delegating tasks to focus on one's strengths and hiring people to handle areas of weakness can contribute to business success.
  • πŸ₯Ί Starting small and reinvesting profits can lead to more control over the company and faster growth.
  • πŸ‘Ά Trusting one's intuition and taking risks are essential in inventing and innovating new products or ideas.
  • βš–οΈ Balancing masculine and feminine leadership styles can create a more inclusive and productive workplace culture.
  • ❓ Mentorship and support from experienced individuals can be beneficial for aspiring entrepreneurs.



I love that you guys have to stay here. So I really don't have to be that funny. It's like you cannot leave the room and I did enjoy meeting John. And in the back before we started, I just have to say, he asked me what my husband did and somehow the conversation came out that he used to be a rapper. [LAUGH] And then I made ... Read More

Questions & Answers

Q: How did Sarah Blakely overcome self-doubt and rejection while trying to get Spanx off the ground?

Blakely explains that self-doubt was a major challenge in the early stages, especially when faced with rejection from manufacturers. She had to continuously pick herself back up and stay confident in her idea.

Q: What inspired Sarah Blakely to keep going in the early days?

Blakely mentions that her less-than-ideal life circumstances, such as working as a door-to-door fax machine salesperson and not being able to pursue her dream of becoming a lawyer, fueled her drive to succeed.

Q: How did Sarah Blakely approach leadership and delegate responsibilities?

Blakely identified her strengths and weaknesses early on and focused on the aspects of the business that aligned with her skills and interests. As the company grew, she hired a CEO to handle day-to-day operations while she focused on inventing and promoting Spanx.

Q: Why did Sarah Blakely choose to start small and not seek outside investors for Spanx?

Blakely explains that she wanted to maintain full control of her company and make decisions based on her own vision. She started small and reinvested profits back into the business for growth.


This video features Sarah Blakely, the founder of Spanx, as she discusses her journey as an entrepreneur and the challenges she faced. She talks about the importance of self-confidence and belief in oneself when pursuing a new idea. Blakely also shares her experiences as a CEO and the decisions she made in order to focus on her strengths. She emphasizes the value of staying true to oneself and embracing femininity in leadership. Additionally, she discusses the power of humor and vulnerability in business and the impact it has on her employees. Blakely also touches on mentorship and the role it plays in empowering women. Finally, she shares personal stories of facing her fears and the importance of embracing failure as part of the journey.

Questions & Answers

Q: What was the hardest part about getting Spanx off the ground?

The hardest part about getting Spanx off the ground was the self-doubt and the challenge of explaining the concept to manufacturers who were predominantly men.

Q: What kept you going in the early days of Spanx?

In the early days, my life circumstances and the desire to make a change kept me going. I reflected on my failed attempts at other career paths and realized I didn't want to go back to my previous life.

Q: What led to your decision to step away from the role of CEO and then return to it?

As an entrepreneur, I initially took on multiple roles within the company. However, as Spanx grew, I realized that I needed to focus on my strengths and hire someone to handle the day-to-day operations. I eventually stepped back in as CEO when the timing felt right and I had a strong management team supporting me.

Q: Why did you decide to never take money from outside investors for Spanx?

I never needed outside funding because Spanx was profitable from the beginning. I believe in starting small and growing fast, so I didn't see the need for external investment. I reinvested the money I made back into the business.

Q: Do you plan to run Spanx forever?

I operate on gut instinct, so I will know when the time is right to step away. However, I am still passionate about the company and have a strong management team to support me. I will continue to stay involved in my own way.

Q: How do you constantly come up with new product ideas?

I am constantly observant and curious about how things can be improved. I pay attention to what hasn't evolved and ask myself questions about potential improvements. My ideas often come to me in random moments, and I log them all in my notebook.

Q: How did you approach Spanx with a degree of feminism?

I approached Spanx with a feminine leadership style, which was different from the traditionally masculine approach in business. I focused on vulnerability, intuition, and connecting with customers on a personal level. I wanted to break away from the traditional authority-based marketing and create a more authentic connection.

Q: Can you share a meaningful experience mentoring young women since founding Spanx?

I have mentored and supported various women through education and entrepreneurship. One example is a group of women in Atlanta who are doing social impact-type businesses. It has been rewarding to watch them succeed and cross the $1 million mark. I also work with organizations like Grameen America to support female entrepreneurs living below the poverty line in the US.

Q: Why is humor important in business, and how has it impacted your employees at Spanx?

Humor helps create a culture where employees are not afraid to fail or make mistakes. It brings levity and allows people to laugh at themselves. At Spanx, we have a comedy module in our training boot camp, and I use humor in marketing and leadership. It helps connect with customers and creates a more energized and innovative culture.

Q: How do you stay grounded amid your success?

Success just magnifies who you already are, so it's important to stay true to yourself. I don't subscribe to the idea that I need to put on a facade to be taken seriously. I embrace my vulnerabilities and share unfiltered moments on social media. I believe in being authentic and not pretending to have a perfect life.

Q: What impact did stand-up comedy have on you as an entrepreneur?

Stand-up comedy taught me the importance of timing, word choice, and delivery. It helped me understand the power of one word or comma in a joke. While I didn't pursue a full-time career in comedy, it made me more aware of the power of humor in business and marketing.


Sarah Blakely's journey as an entrepreneur and CEO offers valuable insights. The hardest part of starting a business is often self-doubt and the challenges of explaining your concept to others. Confidence, self-belief, and perseverance are crucial in overcoming obstacles. Embracing vulnerability, authenticity, and femininity in leadership can create a powerful and innovative culture. Humor can be a valuable tool in business, fostering connection, and diffusing tension. Mentorship and supporting other women are important aspects of Blakely's mission to elevate and empower females. Finally, embracing failure, facing fears, and staying true to oneself are key to maintaining grounded amid success.

Summary & Key Takeaways

  • Sarah Blakely shares her experience of starting Spanx with $5,000 and facing self-doubt and rejection in the early stages.

  • She emphasizes the importance of confidence, intuition, and perseverance in pursuing an idea and bringing it to fruition.

  • Blakely discusses her approach to leadership, including the use of humor in the workplace and showing vulnerability to connect with customers and employees.

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