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Wednesday, August 28, 2013

10 lessons from Sara Blakely for Nigerians

The week has been sort of a lazy week. It used to be easier for me to get home take a brief nap and get up to work till late; once the boys had gone to bed. I haven't been very successful at this lately. The "naps" have been just it, goodnight nap! It was so bad yesterday that I didn't even know when my husband walked in to the room. I must have been talking nonsense because he claims we had a mini conversation when he came in. I have no recollection of this conversation. I woke up at 2 a.m, but couldn't function so I went back to bed.

I have mustered all the energy within me to stay up tonight. So let's get on with today's post. How many of you caught the Sara Blakely interview on CNN? It was my brother in-law, Tosin who told me it was on and asked if I was watching. He knows I like such things and this one was really captivating. Unfortunately, I was on the road, as usual. But as I got back, I searched for her on the internet, watched her interviews and read  up about her. Hers is a remarkable story and her personality makes it even more interesting. It's worth reading up on and sharing. She's the world's youngest self made female billionaire at the moment. If you missed the feature, follow the link below;

Sara Blakely - Spanx

A couple of reviewers have done their "10 lessons from the Sara Blakely story". Most of them are from the American perspective. I am going to try to bring it home!

10 lessons from the Sara Blakely story;




1. Believe in your dream

To be honest, even I would never have imagined how such an invention would be the next big thing. It just sounds so ordinary. To think that, just tweaking an existing product to make it more comfortable would make that much of a difference is simply amazing.

She mentioned that even the lawyers thought she was pulling a candid candid camera stunt on them when she came to talk to them about her idea. Lol!! She could have allowed this to discourage her, to make her feel this was stupid, but she kept on. She called up several companies to help build the prototype and none of them was interested but she kept going because she believed in the idea. Eventually she got someone to do the prototype.

Sometimes you might have an idea and hear things like, "that can't work in Nigeria", "why would anyone buy that", or "that's so stupid", if you believe enough in your idea, by all means do something about it!

*By the way, I saw a spanx at a lingerie store in Lekki yesterday. I am not into body shapers, but I just wanted to buy it because of Sara!

2.  Keep it simple

Innovation does not always have to be novel or out of this world. Look around you. There are everyday things that exist but could be better. Sara just wanted to be able to wear her white pants and feel great and comfortable without cellulite on display and she went on to create a lasting solution to that.

Perhaps there's something bugging you, it's probably bugging several others too. If you've found a fix, share it without shame.

3. Timing is important

Don’t share too soon. Sara said she kept her idea secret from her family and friends for a while. In her own words “Ideas are the most vulnerable in their infancy. Family and friends often express concern or doubts (out of love) that can stop people dead in their tracks. Share once you’ve invested enough of yourself in it, to the point when you know there is no turning back. If you share too soon, ego has to get involved and you will spend more time explaining and defending your idea rather than pursuing it. But definitely tell the people that can help move your idea forward.”

4. Convert your friends and family first

Her mother, grandmother and other friends and family were the first to test her product after she made the prototype. I have said it before on this blog, if your friends and family do not know anything about what you do, there is a problem.

You might say, oh, they don't believe in me, they think I'm a failure, they don't take me seriously, yada yada. If you can't convert them, how are you supposed to convert the world?

5. Never underestimate the power of Media

Face it, you need the media and not just social media here. TV, radio, magazine and so on. I know you must be thinking, where am I supposed to get the money for that. Let's borrow a leaf from Sara, she took a long shot and sent her product as a gift to Oprah with a hand written note to say how much she inspired her!

A lot of us feel too big for "famzing" as we have named it these days. I agree, there's a thin line between stalking and "famzing" and really, if you don't do it right, it can get annoying. But there's no harm in following strong media personalities on twitter, re-tweeting their tweets, sending them messages when the time is right (Not just on twitter!) and so on. There is no shame in this matter, you have to throw away shame!

*famzing - Derived from the word familiar, describes a person who unashamedly tries to get noticed by a person or join their circles.

6. You can figure it out, you have the ability

One of the things I learnt during my MBA is that if you don't know, you can always find out, by asking an expert or doing research yourself. These days, life has been made a lot easier with greater access to information than ever before - almighty Google is your friend.

The ability to process information and apply it to your advantage is one of the skills you need to be a successful entrepreneur. Sara knew nothing about Patents nor did she know anything about manufacturing undergarments, but she did not let this stop her.

7. Do not spend what you do not have

She had $5,000 which is an equivalent of about 1.3million naira in Nigeria. If you had that money, what would you do with it? Many of us would probably rent an office space, brand a car, hire staff maybe and then hope for a miracle. Lol!!

Money is a resource that is not unlimited. Start-ups should never compare themselves to large, established companies. To cut cost on the patent, Sara took time to read up and write most of the patent for her product. Be true to yourself, only you know your true financial position.

8. Patience is key

It took a whole year to fine-tune her idea and another year to get her first big sale. Many of us want everything now. You spend money you do not have to set up a fancy office, so you look good on the outside and then put yourself under unhealthy pressure to recoup your investment. Even worse, you go and borrow money to keep up the facade.

9. Sell like your life depends on it!

The only way to get anywhere is to come up with ideas and then sell them. STRONGLY. How many companies have you visited with your proposal? How many sales pitches have you made? You don't mean business, until you mean business.

Notice how many phone calls Sara made before she got invited by Neiman Marcus. Was she nervous? Yes she was, as nervous as hell as she tells us in her story, but she went still with her lucky red back pack (Even though her friends begged her to get a Prada)!! The rest is history.

Oh and by the way;

10. WE NEED ELECTRICITY!!! 

I put this here for our politicians and representatives. I still find it so difficult to comprehend how we are borrowing money to go to space when something as basic as electricity is still a day dream!!! Its absolutely ridiculous.

Until this becomes our countries absolute priority, I don't see how enterprise or any other thing can thrive as it should.  In the mean time as our dear Sound Sultan sang - "Go buy candle" hehe (this is an example of "famzing" by the way. I tweeted at him three times today already. Tomorrow, it'll be another celebrity)