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Sara Blakely didn’t have a business degree.
She hadn’t started a company before. She wasn’t especially familiar with the process of making clothes.
But what she did have was $5,000 in savings and a passion for the product she was pitching to manufacturers.
It was the late 1990s, and Blakely wanted to transform the intimate-apparel industry, rendering the old adage beauty is pain irrelevant.
Today, Blakely is the founder and owner of Spanx, a company with about $400 million in annual sales.
So what bridged the gap between the inexperienced 20-something then and the self-made billionaire today?
According to Blakely, it was her ability to bring a fresh perspective to the industry.
She told Business Insider:
“It’s fascinating what people can do if you don’t get hung up on, ‘I don’t have the specific training’ or, ‘I wasn’t taught this in school.’ Break through that because if you approach things with a fresh eye and you don’t know how it’s always been done, chances are you’re going to do it differently and better.”
For Blakely, that meant focusing on the way her body felt in undergarments, and not how they were technically “supposed” to be designed.
Here’s Blakely again:
“I would put the product on and I would say, ‘Something isn’t feeling right, right here,’ and I would be relentless about it. And after maybe 10 times of asking the same question, they [the manufacturers] would go, ‘Well, the yarn is spliced there and there’s a motor movement there,’ and I would be like, ‘OK, don’t do that.'”
At first, Blakely said, the manufacturers were completely resistant to the idea of change. Eventually, however, they stopped responding to Blakely’s ideas with an automatic no and started responding with “Let’s see.”
Bottom line: Just because you don’t have technical knowledge about a field or an industry doesn’t mean that you can’t break in. In fact, your relative lack of familiarity may be an advantage.
You might be more sensitive to how customers experience the product – and what they’re looking for in a new one.
Alana Kakoyiannis contributed additional reporting.