Earning

Billionaire entrepreneur Sara Blakely: Tips for coming up with your 'best ideas' and starting a successful business

After founding Spanx, Sara Blakely's net worth is now more than $1 billion. Blakely recently took to MasterClass to share some of the secrets of her success.

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Founder of Spanx Sara Blakely.
Paul Morigi | Getty Images

In 1998, then-fax-machine-seller Sara Blakely was preparing to go to a party when she realized her underwear selection did not work for white pants. So she cut the feet off her control top pantyhose and invented what we now know as Spanx.

Blakely turned the idea into a business and its products quickly became iconic. Blakely is now, personally, worth more than $1 billion, according to Forbes.

For those keen to replicate her entrepreneurial success, Blakely offers a series of 14 videos on MasterClass teaching "bootstrapping tactics and her approach to inventing, selling, and marketing products that consumers love," according to the site.

Here are four lessons from Blakely's classes about how to create a business that's poised for success.

'Solve a problem'

"Most entrepreneurs get started," Blakely explains, because they aim to "solve a problem or make something better."

To find a problem to solve, as you go about your life, start taking a critical look at the products and services you use, she suggests: "Why does this exist? Why is it done this way? Why hasn't anything in this space evolved in a while? Could there be a better way?"

Blakely suggests having a notebook in which you start writing down "everything that bothers you" and then "what you think the solution should be." After a few weeks or months, when you've accrued many pages worth of ideas, look back through to see if there are trends.

 "If an idea will resurface multiple times," says Blakely, "those are the ones you really want to pay attention to."

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Carve out your 'think time'

As you work to hone in on what your product or service will be, or even as you work to start developing the business itself, "it's really important to find out for yourself, when do you get your best ideas?" says Blakely. And where: "For me, it's in the car."

Though Spanx HQ is only a six-minute drive from her house, Blakely has created what her friends call a "fake commute." That is, she'll drive around town for an hour before work, just to get in her best thinking time. It's when she's driving and the radio is on that she's "flooded."

"That's when I solve problems. That's where ideas come to me," she says.

Start before 'you've got it all figured out'

"One of the most common misconceptions of entrepreneurs is that we had it all figured out before we even took the leap," says Blakely. "That is not the case at all. We figured it out along the way."

Blakely herself had never gone to either fashion or business school. But when she had her idea for the footless pantyhose, she dove into researching and developing it regardless.

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Not knowing how things were traditionally done in these industries was an asset, she believes, because it meant she wasn't held back by traditional guidelines about how to go about building her business. Inevitably, she would end up doing things differently, and maybe even in a way that was better, at least for her product.

"The main thing I've learned from being an entrepreneur is you just learn as you go," she says. "If you're waiting until you've got it all figured out, you're going to be waiting forever."

'The only failure is to not try'

"Growing up," says Blakely, "my father used to encourage me to fail." Her father used to ask her and her brother at the dinner table, "So what did you guys fail at this week?"

This mindset, she explains, fundamentally changed her perception and understanding of failure.

"Instead of failure becoming about the outcome," she says, "it simply became about not trying." As a result, she now knows that, especially when it comes to diving into something new, it doesn't matter how successful she is at it.

"Truly," she says, "the only failure is to not try."

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