I'm taking an entrepreneurship class for my MBA, and someone turned me on to this great new podcast from NPR called, How I Built This. Guy Raz, who you'll recognize as the host of The TED Radio Hour and All Things Considered: Weekend Edition, interviews successful entrepreneurs, innovators and idealists and unlocks the mysteries behind their success. It's a refreshing, surprising, and sometimes very emotionally beautiful podcast as these men and women share their success stories.
Episode 1 features Sara Blakely, founder of the underwear company Spanx. Her idea for panties that wouldn't show a seam line through pants popped into her head while working as a door-to-door salesperson selling fax machines. Her first prototype was nothing more than a pair of pantyhose with the legs snipped off, and she wrote her own patent application after buying a "how-to" book at Barnes & Noble. Today Forbes ranks her as number 93 on the list of the world's most powerful women.
-Pay attention to your "felt needs." If you experience frustration, chances are others do too, so find a solution that works and try to sell it. This is the core of entrepreneurship. Sara's problem? Panty lines. Her solution? Use thin leggings material.
-It's not over just because you got your product into a store. There's a lot of legwork necessary to make sure it sells and stays in the store. Sara got Spanx into stores pretty fast, but they weren't selling because their placement was not intuitive for her customer base. She made it her full time job to stand in the department store telling people about her product, and even went so far as to move the display to a more prominent location without asking management's permission.
-If you get permission to give a minute pitch, get on a plane or do whatever it takes to make it happen. When Sara was finally given the chance to pitch to Neiman Marcus, she dropped everything and went. If you can't do that, you may never get a second chance.
-Always be ready with an elevator pitch. When you have an idea or product, you need to develop a 60 second pitch clearly explaining the problem, the solution, and why your product is different than anything else on the market. You never know when you'll have a chance to pitch to potential backers.
-Don't give up if you know your product is valuable, but others won't give you the time of day. We all love overnight success stories, but most of the time what looks like a catapult to fortune and fame took years of hard work behind the scenes.
-Figure out why people don't hear your pitch very well. In Sara's case, it was a gender barrier. Men just don't have experience wearing panties, so when she pitched to men, they couldn't see the problem. When she finally pitched to a female buyer at Neiman Marcus, she had to take her into the women's restroom and show her an example of how the product works to actually convince her to place the products.