Video: SPANX Founder, Sara Blakely on CNBC's Squawk Box

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We're gonna get back to Washington right now, to Becky and Warren because they have a very special guest with them, Becky. And ask about an undershirt, because I'm wearing one. Shhh." "Oh, I already heard, because you talk to everybody about it. I already heard you talked her ear off too. We're gonna get to that, because you guys definitely want to hear about this. We are back at the 15th annual Fortune Most Powerful Women Summit. We DO have a very special guest. This is an entrepreneur who turned her invention into a must have in every woman's closet. She is now at the helm of a billion dollar business. Joining us right now is Sara Blakely. She is the founder and inventor of Spanx. Also our guest here is Warren Buffet, Bertha Hathaway Chairman and CEO. By the way, Sara also recently joined Giving Pledge, and we're gonna talk more about that in a moment, but Sara - for people who don't know you - you've got an amazing story. How - I mean Spanx, this is something that every woman has. How did you come up with this idea?" "Actually, my own butt was the inspiration, because as a woman I couldn't figure out what to wear under my white pants. So I, I don't know if Warren's had the same problem, but a lot of women do. And, I felt I was a frustrated consumer that had no business background and no retail experience, but I knew there was a void between the traditional underwear and the heavy-duty girdle. And so, that's sort of the moment that happened, was so that I could wear these pants that hung in my closet." "You made your own." "I made my own." "So how'd you do it?" "I just cut the feet out of the control top panty-hose one day and realized that that worked better than anything I could buy on the market, as far as smoothing and getting rid of any blemishes or panty lines, but they rolled up my leg all night under my pants. So, I went home that night and said 'I've got to figure out a way to keep this comfortably just below the knee'." "I mean, it sounds so simple. It sounds so obvious." "I know." "It was something that had never been done before. And, for anybody who thinks 'Oh, you were somebody who was sitting around with a lot of spare time on your hands' or that you were born with so much good in your mouth. Tell me a little bit. I mean I think that you are the epitome of the American Dream, because you are working at the time. Were you selling fax machines door to door at this point?" "Yeah." "For how many years were you working." "I sold fax machines for 7 years. It was basically my only job pretty much out of college. And, you know, it was cold calling living. I got kicked out of businesses all the time. For years. And I, you know, did that until I cut the feet out of panty-hose. And, so I had $5000 set aside in my savings. And when I came up with the idea, I just went on the internet and started researching hosery or shape-wear. Where does this stuff get made? How does it get made? And that started my journey of, you know, Spanx. I found out that most of it was made in North Carolina. So, lucky for me, it was close enough to where I was living I could drive there on weekends and take vacation days and go during the week." "But, this wasn't an easy thing, and I think your background - someone selling fax machines door to door really helped. You know a lot." "I did know a lot. And someone who grew up wanting to be a lawyer, but basically bombed the LSAT twice. And then ended up at Disney World. And I tried out to be Goofy, but you have to be 5'8" and I'm only 5'6", so they wanted me to be a chipmunk. I mean, I was not on a very good trajectory. And then, you know, they hired me to sell fax machines, because pretty much they would hire anyone that was willing to try that. And, you know, I am, I feel very much like I embody the American Dream. I feel so lucky to be a woman in this country, and to be given this opportunity. And I have all these 'pinch me' moments, because not long ago I was selling fax machines, and now I'm sitting here with you and next to Warren Buffet. It's like, 'How did this happen to me?' You know?" "Warren, you talked about Fred Smith earlier, and history in prosthetics." "Yes, you know, let me say - She is just like Fred Smith. She's the reason you have to be published on America. They both saw a need, and they took kinda common ingredients to solve it, you know, sitting in front of everybody else. But she was thinking about what can you do to make, in this case, women's lives better. Now I've got her own back here. So goodness, anything's gonna happen now." "What are you holding in your hand?" "I have here a gift which promises to transform my whole public persona." "Right." "I may go change while we're doing this. And then you'll see a new Warren." "Andrew, this is what you mentioned. He's holding right now one of those undershirts that you were talking about." "So I'm wearing one of yours - Sara, now I'm not gonna take my shirt off, but I'm wearing - I am wearing one of her undershirts right now." "That's Spanx." "No, it's not a - she makes -" "You don't have the pants on." "I don't have the pants, ok - " "How does your butt look?" "Thank you. She makes men's undershirts now. She makes two kinds. These two are - one is more of a regular undershirt, but then there's one that has a little bit of umph. It sort of pulls you in a little bit." "Now you're talking." "So,  anyway. I'm wearing the regular one, Sara, at the moment." "That was good, Andrew. You're hired." "But there's a serious point here. I mean, really. Sara has just begun to think about things, and she'll come up with more things. Other people will be inspired by Sarah. They'll come in - America really works, and this is one where the growth you talk about it going to come in the economy. I mean Washington has it's place, but it's much more important that you get Fred Smith and Sarah Blakely." "Now, Sara, you came up with a great idea. You had an enormous amount of gumption, and you did your own research. You had $5000, but getting from there to here was still a pretty impossible task. I mean, you went out and did this by yourself. What'd you do next?" "Well, initially I did it by myself. I mean, I had no money for, to do it any other way. So, you know, the first two years I was very involved in every aspect of selling it, marketing it. You know, trying to wear all the hats, because I couldn't afford to hire anyone. And then I always say that when I could afford to hire my weaknesses or the things I didn't enjoy as much, which are usually the same thing, I did. And I hired a fabulous CEO, and she's been with me for 11 years. And so, that was a very critical moment for Spanx to recognize, okay this is where - these are my gifts for the company and here I need to find someone who can really manage the day-to-day and the operations, and we've been a good team." "That takes a lot of self-awareness and confidence to say 'I'm the creator, the founder, the inventor. I built this up, and yet there are some things I can't do.'" "Yeah, I mean for sure I recognized that, and I was actually eager to hire my weaknesses. And I find that a lot of entrepreneurs, you know, we tend to get in the way sometimes of our own growth, because it's rare that the person who invents it, first gets the idea, is the one who's supposed to operate it, grow it year over year in a, you know, sort of business type background. Hey. So, I recognized it and it paid off." "I want to talk about a couple of the other things that you did, because I think one of the very unique ways that you approached the business was not doing things by the rule book." "Yes." "By going directly to some of these factories in North Carolina, by some of the - how did you. First of all, did you know there was a book you were supposed to be following?" "No, I - That was my greatest gift, actually. I think I always say what you don't know can become your greatest asset, if you will let it. If you have the confidence to say, you know, I'm gonna do it anyway. Even though I haven't been taught, or, you know, somebody hasn't shown me the way, and I actually talk about that a lot now within Spanx. I always bring it up with the team and say 'If nobody showed you how to do your job, how would you be doing it. Just take a minute and go to that mental space.' Because 9 times out of 10, they'll come up with a better way. But we're all on auto-pilot. A lot of times we're just doing something the way someone else showed us. So the fact that I'd never taken a business class, I had no training, I didn't know how retail worked.. I think I probably was not as intimidated as I maybe should have been had I known all the research. I mean, I went into an industry that had been on a 15 year decline. I didn't know that. You know, within a few weeks after I made my invention, I called Namen Marcus on the phone. I didn't know any other way. And then, I ran into all of these people that have their own products, and they would say 'How in the world did you get into Namen Marcus?'. And I would say, 'I called them'. And they would literally look at me like - 'What are you talking about?'" "Because they'd been sitting at trade shows, right?" "Yes, and I said 'Why? What are you doing?' - 'Well, we've been going to trade shows for six years. Setting up a booth, and hoping the Namen's buyer comes by so we can get our shot. And I didn't even know there were trade shows, so that example throughout the whole process of Spanx just worked in favor in a lot of cases." "Let's fast forward to the giving collection. You now are in a position to be able to - you've got to be a billionaire to sign the Giving Pledge. You have to have at least a million dollars and agree to give back at least half of that in your." "She really does look like a billionaire." "Thank you." "But, How did you get to the point where you said 'Okay, this is what I want to do next.' And what are you focused on with those charities?" "It wasn't a hard decision for me, because I've known since I've been a little girl I wanted to help women. I've had gratitude since I was young for being a woman born in the right country. That's something I had nothing to do with. I was just given this great opportunity to fulfill my potential because of where I was born, and so when I invented Spanx it felt like 'Okay, this is the platform of how I get to where I ultimately want to be.' And when I got the call from Bill Gates, and he explained to me what the Giving Pledge was, and asked if I would meet with him and some other potential joiners. As soon as I heard about it, I just thought this is exactly the right thing to do. Women need help. I am so excited to have the opportunity to do it. I was making $40,000 a year not long ago, so certainly giving away half of what I have now, I can live off of, you know" "And be very comfortable." "And be very comfortable, so I'm fortunate to Warren Buffet and Bill Nolan, for even thinking of this concept, because philanthropy happens so many times in silos. Where people are really trying to make a huge difference. But to bring all these thought leaders in one room that have made their money in very different ways, to sit and brainstorm and discuss this topic is amazing for the world." "I know we have to go, but I do want to point out one other thing. I actually, I've shown your videos to our girls, because I think you're an incredible example of never giving up and never letting failure overcome you. You told me, at one point, about something your dad used to say to you every day that challenged you. What was that?" "Yes, growing up my dad actually encouraged my brother and me to fail. And so, we would come home and sit at the dinner table, and my dad would say 'Sara, what have you failed at this week'. And if I didn't have an answer, he would be disappointed. And I can vividly remember saying, 'Dad, I tried out for this and I was horrible.' And he would high five me and say 'Way to go'. And, the gift he was giving me that I wasn't aware of at the time was that, for me failure is not trying versus the outcome. So, it's really allowed me to be much free-er in trying things and spreading my wings in life." "And with amazing results. Sara, I want to thank you, so much, for joining us." "Joe, you have something you wanted to add." "I just have, so I was thinking, if you were still trying to sell fax machines. Does anyone.. I mean, that would be. I'm just so happy you're not trying to do that anymore. I mean, has one been sold this year? Do you know -" "We still have fax machines." "I know, but you know what I needed. And then the other thing I was thinking - Alright. You started this whole thing. Let's say you sell us your butt. I mean you were so quick to talk about, I mean Spanx to me sounds kinda, you know that word was gonna be kinda Austin Pow- You got it from a comedy strip? You got it from a -Go Spanx- You got it from a comedy club! Right? From a comedian or something? Right?" "No. I actually got it, I just dreamed it up while I was sitting in traffic in Atlanta-" "But you know, people think Spanx butts. I mean, that - it all fits in, right? Where you are spanked? You are spanked on your butt." "You are a quick study! You're putting it all together. Exactly right." "But you did a comedy meeting, right -" "Yes, I did. I did stand up comedy, just as another spreading my wings and being willing to fail. And I experimented with that. You know, so I met a lot of people in the industry. And I think a lot of my writing - I did comedic writing for several years - helped me on my marketing. But I knew I invented something in a really boring category. I mean, who cares? Shape-wear. Nobody talks about it, or thinks about it-" "But you knew." "By naming it something that people wanted to laugh about and talk about, it became news worthy." "Yeah" "And people are still laughing about it." "That's a good name." "So, what are you going to tell me if I ask - if I ask one more question, can I get away with it Dave? I'm waiting to see if I can. Okay, they're okay. I'm just gonna ask. When you went to London - this is just for Joe's benefit - When you went to London-" "I know" "When you went to London and you were first, again you were doing it for yourself. You were over there giving your own promotion and you went into this market. What happened?" "You really teamed up. Is this okay for market TV?" "It's okay. We're on cable." "Okay, so, when I did my international expansion package I was referring to, I jumped on a plane. Went over to England with my little lucky red backpack and cold called, herits and Harvey Knicks and Sulfages, and I also got an opportunity on the BBC. Which was a huge opportunity for me to explain my product to England. And so, the gentleman interviewing me, and so he starts out, so he's going 'Sara, tell me what Spanx can do for women in the U.K.' And I took a big pause, and I said, 'Well, it's all about the fanny. It smooth’s your fanny. It lifts and separates your fanny. And this man lost all of the color in his face. And I had no idea, but apparently fanny means vagina in England." "WOAH! I did not know. There you go." "So you can imagine, it was like my international experience was off to a great start." "Very nice." "That is uh, that is a story. Thank you, thank you for having us." "Somehow I feel responsible for this." "You are responsible for this. I was trying to say goodbye, but that story is too precious." "That's a bust. I didn't know we were going to pick it." "Sara Blakely, thank you very much." "Thank you." "Warren is going to be sticking around. Joe, we're going to get you one of these shirts. You're buff now, but you'll be more buff when it really sucks you right in."


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