One meeting with a Neiman Marcus buyer was the gateway to becoming a self-made billionaire for Sara Blakely. Her disruptive line, Spanx, changed the way women from all over the world would dress. It all started with a pair of white pants and a little bit of frustration that led Blakely to cutting off the bottom of her hosiery. Today, you will find Spanx at Macy’s, Nordstrom and even their own retail store. MillionaireMatch got the scoop on how Blakely created a brand for all women.
Blakely worked for a company selling fax machines. Her days were filled with cold calling and in-person appointments. Day after day it was the same. One day, she realized she was in the wrong “movie” and that this couldn’t be her life forever. Blakely, who is big on visualization, made a huge decision that day. She decided that she would create a product that would be for millions of people to use, and that she would wait for the universe to present that idea. “I like providing people with something they didn’t know they needed, and changing their life,” Blakely said in an interview. “I pay attention to what things haven’t evolved and why,” she added. After purchasing a book from Amazon on how to create your own patent, Blakely got to work. The first prototype was held together by duck tape and paper clips.
A trip to North Carolina to find a manufacturer seemed to be a door closed shut. Blakely pitched her idea of Spanx realizing that one of the challenges was that she was pitching to men. Everyone said ‘no’. Two weeks later, she received a call from a man named Sam Kaplan who was encouraged by his daughters to make Blakely’s “crazy idea”. She then found herself in a pitch meeting with a buyer for Neiman Marcus who couldn’t quite grasp the need for this product. Blakely took the buyer, a woman, into the bathroom and showed her exactly how Spanx works. She got the deal and Spanx was in stores everywhere.
In her journey, Blakely has a few key things she feels made her successful and can help other entrepreneurs. “You gotta differentiate yourself. I always ask myself how am I different? Why am I different?” There wasn’t a product quite like Spanx, and it took the world by storm. When asked, very quickly explain the problem and why you are the best option. Blakely also says, “Soon as you can afford to hire your weaknesses, do it.” Two of her first hires included Head of Public Relations and Head of Product. Even though both hires came with no experience for the job, Blakely had a gut feeling they could do it.
When excited about a new venture or business, you may want to tell everyone you know. Many would advise hanging onto the idea a little longer. “The reason I’m not still selling fax machines is because I didn’t tell anyone for a whole year,” Blakely said. You don’t want the doubt from family and friends to kill dream before you take solid steps. The infancy stage of an idea is delicate. Once you are solid on your idea, got a foot in the door and generating money there is still work to do. Neiman Marcus first put Spanx in the store, Blakely made it her job to educate the staff and anyone who would listen about her product. “I feel like if I didn’t go to the stores to make this happen on the ground level, then I feel like my product, as great as it is, would have been shipped to the store and shipped back to me,” she expressed. She traveled from store to store for two years making sure her product was known.
Hard work, consistency and dedication is what made Sara Blakely a self-made success. As she says, “Failure wasn’t the outcome. Failure was not trying.”
There are many tools these days that allow entrepreneurs to run their businesses with ease. MailChimp is one of them. Founded in 2001, the marketing platform allows you to automate email campaigns. Ben Chestnut, co-founder of MailChimp, gives the scoop on how to run a creative business that was once a failed project.
Chestnut worked in web design in his early days and set his hopes on being a cartoonist among other things. With his parents being entrepreneurs, he decided to start his own business during a layoff. Chestnut had the option of taking another position, but felt the time was right to go off on his own. His intuition was right. First, Chestnut started an e-greetings business. It failed miserably, but the coding for that business lead him to start MailChimp.
“I realized that with design I could see customers interact with it immediately,” Chestnut spoke of his love for design. MailChimp became so successful that he was offered $1 billion in cash to sell the company. What did he do? Well, he didn’t want to see the hard work of his team and the creativity behind it to go to someone on the outside of this creative establishment. “I only hire weirdos and I let them fail all the time. It just makes sense to me,” he said.
Today, Chestnut and his co-founders still own 100% of the company. That is definitely something you don’t see often. And though many may say that email is dead, the company has continued to grow in revenue. Chestnut has learned a lot about running a creative business. “Too much order is horrible. You have to balance it out with disorder and chaos,” he said. He learned how to delegate as the company grew, but he was aware of how it changed the dynamic of the creative nucleus that he created. Delegation is both good and bad, but there must be balance. He doesn’t want to create an environment where everyone is a manager and new employees don’t feel they have the room to creatively fail. “A beautiful office space doesn’t make people creative,” he added. Though he would prefer bean bags and whiteboards for brainstorming around the office.
He admits that entrepreneurship is a stressful journey, with turns and twists. “Most entrepreneurship is survival-making a living,” Chestnut said. He admits to being the happiest along this unexpected journey. To keep up with the changing times, his team releases a new version of their platform every four weeks. This may add to the stress, but it brings out the creativity he deems to be important for a newsletter platform.
The company continues to grow and add features like the abandoned cart tool which has helped spike business for e-commerce. Sellers have seen a jump in sales with this one feature. In addition, Mailchimp added a product recommendation feature. This has helped push sales up over 30%.
If you haven’t jumped on the bandwagon, be sure to check them out at mailchimp.com. There’s also their mascot Freddy, who you can find on the site having fun and sometimes with quirky messages as you build your new online campaign! Good luck!
Silicon Valley is not the only place for startups to launch anymore. Los Angeles has become the home of many such as Happy Returns, Earny and Dollar Shave Club. With the presence of tech companies in Los Angeles, incubators and venture firms have grown as well in the city of angels. And that’s where the company Science comes in which handles acquisitions as well as development and funding stages for startups, and it’s based in Los Angeles. Peter Pham is one of four founders. MillionaireMatch got the scoop on how this founder has helped raise $400 million dollars.
Science is still pretty new being founded in 2011, yet has an impressive portfolio. Already, the company has led six companies to acquisition including Dog Vacay and FameBit. “We’re always thinking about what’s next,” Pham said regarding looking out for new sprouting companies. Pham is experienced with being on both sides of the table, as the entrepreneur and the advocate. He helped lead the Dollar Shave Club to a $1 billion acquisition with Unilever. “We tell entrepreneurs to treat us like founders,” said Pham. Having that close relationship with investors is key.
Pham knows from experience. Before Science, he had companies that were successful and some that failed. “We were too early. We didn’t execute the product at the time of the launch. In that nine months, I learned a lot,” he said about his last failed business. “Raising money is okay if you execute on it. We failed on the execution,” he said. That wasn’t the only reason things did not work out. “ We fell in love as co-founders and then we fell out of love as co-founders. Things went really sideways,” he continued explaining the fail in partnership. He soon found himself unemployed. He ran into an old friend who had once talked about creating a company. Lucky for him, he was also not working on a project. Pham and Mike Jones began to lay the groundwork for launching Science.
With much experience from his past attempts, Pham understands what makes a good product when entrepreneurs come into pitch. Pham likes to know, “Would you recommend it to a friend? Would you tell a friend to also download the app? We live in a world where Facebook and Twitter give people the ability to have a voice and be loud about how much they love or hate a product. You have to deliver on a great product. Then you can focus on growing,” he explained. “Startups die because they aren’t generating revenue or they run out of venture funding,” Pham said.
Pham and his co-founders made the interesting choice of opening up shop in Santa Monica. “L.A. is an interesting market where a lot of folks haven’t gotten there yet,” Pham said regarding raising money. “There’s so much innovation in the L.A. area, but there is no money,” he said. As a result, Pham keeps one foot in Silicon Valley in one in Silicon Beach. Pham added, “We’ve been there. We’ve seen it. We’ve raised the money.” Pham also mentioned how hard it gets to raise funds after series C.
To check out more information on Science and to scope out the next big startup in their portfolio, head over to www.science-inc.com.
Controversy, failure and hard decisions are part of building a business. They say it’s not how many times you get knocked down, but how many times you get back up. A serial entrepreneur, Naveen Jain, is one resilient businessman that knows the highs and the lows of innovation and leadership. Jain is the cofounder of Moon Express and CEO and co-founder of Viome. He rode the wave of the dot-com bubble and burst. Seen as a thought leader, MillionaireMatch got the inside scoop on how Jain goes from success to more success.
“As entrepreneurs, when you focus on things that are financially oriented meaning you want to start a company to make money, to me making money is like having an orgasm. When you focus on it you never get it. You have to enjoy the process,” Jain said. Many times you won’t be making a lot of many at the beginning, if any at all. You may even have to leave your nicely paid job to give full attention to your startup, so it’s important to be passionate about the problem you are solving.
Speaking of problems, Jain believes that all problems can be solved. His current focus is creating solutions for the healthcare and education industries. Growing up poor in India, moving to the U.S. with nothing, and not speaking English, Jain has built an audacious mindset. “I look at how far I have come from when I got started,” he said. “The biggest hurdle in our life is really our mindset. We carry this mindset of scarcity rather than the mindset of abundance. We carry this mindset of what is instead not what it can be. As an entrepreneur, I don’t look at the thing and say is the glass half empty or half full. I simply look and say do I want to fill the glass or not. If I want to fill the glass, does it really matter if it’s half empty or half full?” Jain explained. “You focus on what you want the world to be not what it is,” he added.
Mindset is very important to the success of an entrepreneur. Jain has started several companies including Infospace and Intelius. Both companies were able to scale fast, but also met many challenges including lawsuits. “If you can create any company that can help a billion people, it will be a massive company,” Jain said. He explained that it takes less time today to affect a large group of people due to technology. Instead of it taking hundreds of years like a Macy’s, it may only take about 10 to 15 years. “You don’t have to last. You simply have to know how to solve the problem,” he said.
Jain offered additional advice to entrepreneurs. “Once you have become good at something, you can only improve it incrementally. You can make it 10 percent better or 15 percent better. If you come to an industry, and you know nothing about it you are able to change it 10 to 100 times. When you are worried about not knowing anything, that is your biggest asset,” he said for those new to the startup world. He admits that he is no rocket scientist, “It is the mindset of how you think about it.”
Moon Express is the first private American company going after access to the moon. Viome is an in-home test that gives an assessment of your health through metabolic and gut testing. These are two very different companies, but Jain’s passion has him working 18 hour days. He said as an entrepreneur, you may deal with self-doubt. That is normal. “Even if the idea doesn’t work, I’m going to die trying it,” he said. We believe that.
For more information on his latest companies, visit www.moonexpress.com and www.viome.com.
Not many people can say they are a self-made billionaire, but Todd Wagner surely can. The Gary, Indiana native went from having a negative networth to selling his company to Yahoo for $5.7 billion. MillionaireMatch got the scoop on this savvy entrepreneur.
Wagner grew up being into sports. Once he got to college, he decided to major in accounting and business. This is when he would meet his future billionaire partner, Mark Cuban. Wagner went on to law school at the University of Virginia, but soon realized he hated it. Instead of taking a new direction, he accepted a job in Dallas at a law firm. Still trying to cure his dislike for law, he decided to switch firms. It was clear now, he didn’t like law.
Wagner also took a stab at real estate development, but timing was a factor. The economy was bad, which left him doing loan modifications and bankruptcies. Wagner finally decided to part ways with the law firm. He recalled how his boss responded to him resigning, “Oh please you are going to be begging for your job back in six months.”
He took the leap into being a businessman and entrepreneur. He teamed up with Cuban to create Broadcast.com, an internet radio company. Getting investors was a challenge. “We couldn’t get any smart money to invest in us. We had no venture capital money in Broadcast. We couldn’t get any,” he said.
“Every step of that journey, I wasn’t qualified. I wasn’t where I thought I belonged,” he said. Wagner, like many entrepreneurs, made some mistakes along the way too, but he doesn’t see it as failure. “I only view failure as if you dwell on it,” said Wagner. “If you pivot to the next thing, it’s not failure,” he continued. The mistakes didn’t stop him. Wagner not having a business background didn’t stop the company from growing. “We went public on the NASDAQ,” Wagner shared.
His advice for building your team starting with the CEO, “It’s a lot of overlap. You want a CEO that can inspire. You want a lot of the same things in your employees, somebody that can inspire and lead. I always say that every has to sell.” Leadership is key for Wagner when it comes to creating the perfect team. Even if the idea is trendy, the team is what matters as well as how to carry out the idea. “Ideas matter, but execution is so much more important. Not every idea you have is going to stay in the original way you thought about it. I’m certain of that. I guarantee you it will change,” he said.
Wagner spends his time today focusing on philanthropy. Desiring to be more than a check writer for galas and luncheons, he launched the Todd Wagner Foundation and The Charity Network, which connects technology, charity and celebrities. He looks forward to there being more data behind charities and even award shows to celebrate those who are working for a great cause.
You can find out more about his platform at www.charitynetwork.com.