Think Like a Billionaire: Don't Seek Validation from Others

Sara Blakely, the inventor of Spanx, literally stared from the bottom. Here's how she built a billion-dollar empire without a single business class.

Sara Blakely: So, as an entrepreneur I'm such an advocate for everyone to think like an entrepreneur. Whether you want to start your own business or not, it's incredibly helpful no matter what. 

And so thinking like an entrepreneur inside of organizations or if you are starting your own business, I always say—I love to tell the people around me to do this: Close your eyes and take a minute and think about how you would be doing your job if nobody showed you how to do it. What surfaces? 

Because if you think about it we're all on autopilot. We're doing things the way either someone else showed us how to do it or we saw and learned from watching. And real change only happens when you do it different than everybody else. So all the time I put myself through mental exercises where I'm like, “Wait a minute, I know everybody's been doing it this way for a really long time, but is that the best way?” And I just want to see what comes up.

I also come across ideas and inventions by going throughout my day looking at objects and saying, “Now how could that be better?” And why did the person who first created gum—gum to me is so fascinating.
As someone who started a brand with $5000, had to get an idea out there that didn't already exist (the footless pantyhose) I love to think about people who first introduced things to society, and I think about the guy who did gum. 

Can you imagine! I thought I had it tough, this guy is walking around going, “You just chew it, you just put this wad in your mouth…” and people are probably like, “And then what?” “Don't swallow it, you just chew it.” Like that's a pretty hard sell at first. And I think that gum had no flavor in it when it first came out, so that's even crazier to me.
But everything from the pencil to the fork to the chair we sit in to the car that we drive: somebody originally had a thought and brought it forward it to society. 

So get off autopilot, look at everything every object in your life, the way that you do things; when you get up and brush your teeth, is there a better way to brush your teeth? Is it the right way to be doing it? And see what comes.

I started Spanx with $5000 in savings from selling fax machines door to door in Clearwater Florida for seven years. And I started it out of the back of my apartment. I had never taken a business class. I had never worked in fashion or retail, but I was determined to make this one particular undergarment for myself and women that filled a much needed void in a fashion. 

And it was the most challenging the first two years to get it made, because no one took me seriously. I heard the word no for two solid years. 

I actually was calling all the hosiery manufacturing plants and I ended up taking a week off of work and drove around North Carolina in person begging these people to help make my prototype and my idea.

And so there were many, many times in those first two years: When I wrote my own patent, I went to Barnes & Noble and bought a book on patents and trademarks. I created the packaging on my friend's computer after work. I thought of the name Spanx sitting in traffic in Atlanta and went home and trademarked it with my credit card for $150. 

But all of this time I was doing it I wasn't sharing it with anybody. None of my friends or family knew what my idea was, and that was really important to my journey because I didn't want to share the idea just for validation, because I wanted to make sure that I spent anytime I had pursuing it instead of defending it and explaining it. 

And I think so often, so many times, people have an amazing idea, I mean you have a million dollar or a billion dollar idea in your life, and the first thing you want to do is turn to your right or left at work and tell a coworker, tell your friend, tell your husband, your wife and out of love and concern you get a lot of feedback that stops that idea right in its moment that it happened.

But for me because I wasn't using a support system in those times that I had doubt, I ended up really—I listened to a lot of inspirational and motivational lectures. And so I would second-guess myself, I’d put those tapes in, I’d drive around, I’d have to give myself pep talks. 

I mean it was a real back and forth for me to keep believing in myself when no one else was.

 

What's the difference between a successful entrepreneur and everyone else? People who build an empire from a product or idea are the ones who take themselves off auto-pilot and ask: is there a better way to do this? That one question is how Sara Blakely, the founder of Spanx, went from being a door-to-door fax machine saleswoman in Florida, to the owner of a billion-dollar fashion brand. Here, she shares a mental exercise that helps foster entrepreneurial thinking, and explains why pursuing your idea is so much more important than having people validate it. Basically, here is a lesson in lighting a billion-dollar fire under your ass. Sara Blakely is also the creator of The Belly Art Project, which works with Every Mother Counts to make pregnancy and childbirth safe for women everywhere.


Your genetics influence how resilient you are to the cold

What makes some people more likely to shiver than others?

KIRILL KUDRYAVTSEV/AFP via Getty Images
Surprising Science

Some people just aren't bothered by the cold, no matter how low the temperature dips. And the reason for this may be in a person's genes.

Keep reading Show less

Harvard study finds perfect blend of fruits and vegetables to lower risk of death

Eating veggies is good for you. Now we can stop debating how much we should eat.

Credit: Pixabay
Surprising Science
  • A massive new study confirms that five servings of fruit and veggies a day can lower the risk of death.
  • The maximum benefit is found at two servings of fruit and three of veggies—anything more offers no extra benefit according to the researchers.
  • Not all fruits and veggies are equal. Leafy greens are better for you than starchy corn and potatoes.
Keep reading Show less

A landslide is imminent and so is its tsunami

An open letter predicts that a massive wall of rock is about to plunge into Barry Arm Fjord in Alaska.

Image source: Christian Zimmerman/USGS/Big Think
Surprising Science
  • A remote area visited by tourists and cruises, and home to fishing villages, is about to be visited by a devastating tsunami.
  • A wall of rock exposed by a receding glacier is about crash into the waters below.
  • Glaciers hold such areas together — and when they're gone, bad stuff can be left behind.

The Barry Glacier gives its name to Alaska's Barry Arm Fjord, and a new open letter forecasts trouble ahead.

Thanks to global warming, the glacier has been retreating, so far removing two-thirds of its support for a steep mile-long slope, or scarp, containing perhaps 500 million cubic meters of material. (Think the Hoover Dam times several hundred.) The slope has been moving slowly since 1957, but scientists say it's become an avalanche waiting to happen, maybe within the next year, and likely within 20. When it does come crashing down into the fjord, it could set in motion a frightening tsunami overwhelming the fjord's normally peaceful waters .

"It could happen anytime, but the risk just goes way up as this glacier recedes," says hydrologist Anna Liljedahl of Woods Hole, one of the signatories to the letter.

The Barry Arm Fjord

Camping on the fjord's Black Sand Beach

Image source: Matt Zimmerman

The Barry Arm Fjord is a stretch of water between the Harriman Fjord and the Port Wills Fjord, located at the northwest corner of the well-known Prince William Sound. It's a beautiful area, home to a few hundred people supporting the local fishing industry, and it's also a popular destination for tourists — its Black Sand Beach is one of Alaska's most scenic — and cruise ships.

Not Alaska’s first watery rodeo, but likely the biggest

Image source: whrc.org

There have been at least two similar events in the state's recent history, though not on such a massive scale. On July 9, 1958, an earthquake nearby caused 40 million cubic yards of rock to suddenly slide 2,000 feet down into Lituya Bay, producing a tsunami whose peak waves reportedly reached 1,720 feet in height. By the time the wall of water reached the mouth of the bay, it was still 75 feet high. At Taan Fjord in 2015, a landslide caused a tsunami that crested at 600 feet. Both of these events thankfully occurred in sparsely populated areas, so few fatalities occurred.

The Barry Arm event will be larger than either of these by far.

"This is an enormous slope — the mass that could fail weighs over a billion tonnes," said geologist Dave Petley, speaking to Earther. "The internal structure of that rock mass, which will determine whether it collapses, is very complex. At the moment we don't know enough about it to be able to forecast its future behavior."

Outside of Alaska, on the west coast of Greenland, a landslide-produced tsunami towered 300 feet high, obliterating a fishing village in its path.

What the letter predicts for Barry Arm Fjord

Moving slowly at first...

Image source: whrc.org

"The effects would be especially severe near where the landslide enters the water at the head of Barry Arm. Additionally, areas of shallow water, or low-lying land near the shore, would be in danger even further from the source. A minor failure may not produce significant impacts beyond the inner parts of the fiord, while a complete failure could be destructive throughout Barry Arm, Harriman Fiord, and parts of Port Wells. Our initial results show complex impacts further from the landslide than Barry Arm, with over 30 foot waves in some distant bays, including Whittier."

The discovery of the impeding landslide began with an observation by the sister of geologist Hig Higman of Ground Truth, an organization in Seldovia, Alaska. Artist Valisa Higman was vacationing in the area and sent her brother some photos of worrying fractures she noticed in the slope, taken while she was on a boat cruising the fjord.

Higman confirmed his sister's hunch via available satellite imagery and, digging deeper, found that between 2009 and 2015 the slope had moved 600 feet downhill, leaving a prominent scar.

Ohio State's Chunli Dai unearthed a connection between the movement and the receding of the Barry Glacier. Comparison of the Barry Arm slope with other similar areas, combined with computer modeling of the possible resulting tsunamis, led to the publication of the group's letter.

While the full group of signatories from 14 organizations and institutions has only been working on the situation for a month, the implications were immediately clear. The signers include experts from Ohio State University, the University of Southern California, and the Anchorage and Fairbanks campuses of the University of Alaska.

Once informed of the open letter's contents, the Alaska's Department of Natural Resources immediately released a warning that "an increasingly likely landslide could generate a wave with devastating effects on fishermen and recreationalists."

How do you prepare for something like this?

Image source: whrc.org

The obvious question is what can be done to prepare for the landslide and tsunami? For one thing, there's more to understand about the upcoming event, and the researchers lay out their plan in the letter:

"To inform and refine hazard mitigation efforts, we would like to pursue several lines of investigation: Detect changes in the slope that might forewarn of a landslide, better understand what could trigger a landslide, and refine tsunami model projections. By mapping the landslide and nearby terrain, both above and below sea level, we can more accurately determine the basic physical dimensions of the landslide. This can be paired with GPS and seismic measurements made over time to see how the slope responds to changes in the glacier and to events like rainstorms and earthquakes. Field and satellite data can support near-real time hazard monitoring, while computer models of landslide and tsunami scenarios can help identify specific places that are most at risk."

In the letter, the authors reached out to those living in and visiting the area, asking, "What specific questions are most important to you?" and "What could be done to reduce the danger to people who want to visit or work in Barry Arm?" They also invited locals to let them know about any changes, including even small rock-falls and landslides.

Cephalopod aces 'marshmallow test' designed for eager children

The famous cognition test was reworked for cuttlefish. They did better than expected.

Credit: Hans Hillewaert via Wikicommons
Surprising Science
  • Scientists recently ran the Stanford marshmallow experiment on cuttlefish and found they were pretty good at it.
  • The test subjects could wait up to two minutes for a better tasting treat.
  • The study suggests cuttlefish are smarter than you think but isn't the final word on how bright they are.
Keep reading Show less
Quantcast