One of the podcasts I listen to on a regular basis is How I Built This from NPR. Guy Raz interviews founders and entrepreneurs about how they built their companies. Every episode has been great.
But one of my favorite episodes was Sara Blakely, founder of Atlanta-based Spanx.
I had three big takeaways from her startup story.
#1 – Work on the idea, don’t just talk about it.
When she got the idea for Spanx, she didn’t talk incessantly to her friends and family. She went to work.
“Ideas are most vulnerable in their infancy,” she said. If you share too soon, you’ll end up spending more time defending your idea than actually pursuing it.
Today, ideas are everywhere. We all have them.
I have an Evernote folder full of great ideas, any one of which could be a big thing or a solid company. These ideas may be important but they don’t really matter.
When I first got into business, I was infatuated with ideas. I loved the idea-sessions. I loved meeting with people who had a great idea.
Now, I’m a little worn out on great ideas. I’m not as excited to meet with someone who has a great idea, because they are so common.
We love to talk about our ideas, but what’s impressive is people who work on their ideas.
#2 – Launching and building are very different.
Sara Blakely had a great idea, but that didn’t mean people knew about it or even understood it. She was confident in her product, but she still had to convince people to buy it.
I hate the word because it’s overused and misused, but what she did was hustle. She worked hard launching and marketing her product, not just making something great.
One of her early clients was Nieman Marcus. “How did you get your product there,” she was asked. “I just called them,” she answered.
She was bold and demoed her product to execs in the ladies room.
When her product made it to the floor, she paid her friends to go in and buy it. She went into the stores and moved them from the hosiery department to up front by the registers.
She mailed some to Oprah. She ended up on QVC.
Sure, a lot of luck and good fortune was involved, but luck seems to follow those who work hard.
#3 – You don’t have to figure out how to scale right away.
Sara Blakely did things early on in her company that weren’t scalable. They wouldn’t work at a company 10 or 100 or 1,000 times bigger.
But that didn’t matter. She didn’t have a scalable company…she had a new company. She had a young idea and the beginning of something important.
If she spent all her time mastering the art of scale, she wouldn’t have been able to get her company off the ground.
Too many times, we’re worried about scaling when we should be worried about launching. We try to scale prematurely, and we overextend ourselves.
In another episode of How I Built This, the founder of Airbnb talks about visiting listings in New York City, offering to take better pictures of the property than the ones already posted online.
The CEO showed up with a camera in order to talk to customers.
The company was brand new and there were only a handful of users. There’s no way this idea could scale, but what he learned in that time and through that experience shaped the company for years to come.
I really enjoy How I Built This and I really resonated with the ideas Sara discussed in her interview.