I told my youngest daughter this morning that I am trying to write a quick article about a different Billionaire each week. This week I was planning to write about either Warren Buffet or Sarah Blakely. I asked my daughter to choose between these two for me, and since she is familiar with the ‘Spanx’ brand, she chose Sarah Blakely.
My daughter is 14 and she is familiar with the Spanx brand. I have not really heard of Spanx before this year, or if I have, never thought much of it. That is until one evening when my girlfriend and I were pondering applying for a patent on a goofy sock idea we had (that’s another story). While searching for information about patents I stumbled upon the story of the creation of Spanx and it’s founder, Sarah Blakely.
Here are some things that strike me about the meteoric rise of Ms. Blakely and the Spanx brand:
Ms. Blakely scored low on the LSAT. Boy can I relate!
She went to work for Danka selling fax machines door-to-door. This sounds like a brutal job to me, but I’m sure this experience provided the spark and sales skills she needed to start her own successful enterprise.
To build a prototype of her idea, she went to hosiery manufacturers in North Carolina. She promptly discovered that the female undergarments industry was dominated by men who never actually tried the garments out they were making (at least none that would admit to doing so). She stumbled upon a complete lack of female influence in the production of undergarments for women!
Her Dad taught her it was OK to fail, and apparently even encouraged it. Robert Kiyosaki (‘Rich Dad, Poor Dad’ author) is constantly harping on the Public Education System for not allowing kids to feel comfortable with failure. Many people who are afraid of failure may never try to do something hard or new, and thus may never realize big success.
Ms. Blakely worked full-time at Danka while she was working on Spanx business and only quit in 2000 when Opra featured her product on the Opra Show.
In the ideation of the ‘Spanx’ Brand name, she wanted to create a name that had a hard K sound in it, like successful brand names Coca-Cola and Kodak.
Spanx first year revenue was $4 million. Second year revenue was $10 million. Then she signed a contract with QVC and sold 8,000 units in the first six minutes of operation!
Forbes estimates Ms. Blakely’s net worth at $1.08 Billion today.
I’ve decided to choose one Billionaire I’m interested in each week and to write a bit about them in order that I might learn something about how they attained their financial wealth and success. Of interest this week is the media magnate, David Geffen.
According to Wikipedia, Mr. Geffen was born in New York to Jewish Immigrant Parents. His Mom apparently owned a clothing store in New York. His parent immigrated to the U.S. during the Great Depression. He was born into a tough environment with tough financial characteristics: Jewish Immigrant parents, New York City, Great Depression – oy vey. His mother called him ‘King David’; she told him, ‘you have golden hands, you can do anything you want’. Parents can and do make a difference. My Mom always told me I could do anything I put my mind to, so we at least have that in common…
A college drop-out (college apparently has nothing to do with financial success, kids), Mr. Geffen lied about having a college degree just to land a job in the mail room at a talent agency, William Morris Agency (WMA). Landing this mail room job was a significant hack. Because he worked in the mail room, he was able to intercept, and modify, a letter from UCLA to WMA stating that he had not attended college at UCLA.
While working in the mail room at WMA, Mr. Geffen became friends with another college drop-out, Elliot Rabinowitz, who partnered with him in later ventures. Note to self, never underestimate the talent of people working with you, even if they are in the mail room.
Geffen soon dropped out of WMA to form his own Talent Management Company where he managed Laura Nyro primarily at first, and then became a talent manager for musicians like Crosby, Stills and Nash. It was his discovery of Jackson Browne that instigated his creation of Asylum Records.
He later sold Asylum Records after purportedly tiring of supporting the personal and professional lives of the artists he represented. He then was asked to become instrumental in merging Asylum Records with Elektra.
He fell in love with Cher and lived with her for 18 months (and he was gay)! At the same time, he had the top three selling record albums. Talk about crushing it!
“Start with what you know. You never know where it will take you.”
He then went on to form Geffen Records, signing big names such as Dianna Ross, Elton John and John Lennon. He sold Geffen records.
He went on to form the film production company, Dream Works, making hit after hit with Director Steven Spielberg and Producer Jeffrey Katzenberg (movie hits like Beetlejuice, Little Shop of Horrors, Shrek, Risky Business and Saving Private Ryan).
I took my family to Paris, France for the 2016-2017 New Years Eve celebrations. We were essentially just there for the weekend, but it was a fabulous weekend – one that I will never forget. The sites and food were unforgettable. For New Year’s Eve, I treated my family to an 8 course French Meal and Wine/Champagne Pairing at the Hotel Raphael in Paris very close to the Champs-Elysées. My kids and I were definitely not used to fancy food such as this, but it was a beautiful and tasteful introduction to food as art (as opposed to American style ‘fast food’). Here’s a video of my dessert (thanks Alison ;):
In Paris, we were delighted to see the Eiffel Tower, The Arc De Triomphe, The Palace of Versailles, and to listen to Vivaldi’s Four Seasons, and other beautiful musical pieces, performed by a Chamber Orchestra at the Église de la Madeleine Roman Catholic Church. I left Paris with a profound appreciation for the art and beauty that abounds in this wonderful city, from her cuisine to her architecture, to her music and her people. The French seem to have a genetic disposition toward an aesthetic appreciation of life, which I find hard to come by in the United States. The french term, ‘Joi De Vivre,’ comes to mind when I reflect on our weekend trip to France.
According to Wikipedia: “It ‘can be a joy of conversation, joy of eating, joy of anything one might do… And joie de vivre may be seen as a joy of everything, a comprehensive joy, a philosophy of life, a Weltanschauung…'”
I happened to catch a Netflix Documentary this evening called “Chef’s Table, France,” Season I, which was a story about an amazing French Chef, Alain Passard. As I watched the story unfold about how Chef Passard became a Chef, identifying his career path as early as 14 years old, how he found a mentor and soon bought his mentor’s restaurant, which he named ‘Arpege’, I was completely drawn in by Chef Passard’s sense of life purpose, mastery and pursuit of excellence in his craft. It is not often you find or learn of someone who absolutely loves what they do for a living. I hung on his every word in this documentary and even took notes, hoping to graph some of his sense of aesthetics and Joi de Vivre into my own life and professional career. Here are some of Chef Alain Passard’s quotes and anecdotes I noted from the Netflix Documentary, ‘Chef’s Table, France’:
“When you close your eyes at night, what’s important? You’ve spent the day taking risks. You’ve made some people very happy.”
Chef Passard relates that what you create is just as important as how you create it, which he refers to as ‘Gestures’ or ‘Hand Gestures’. The way you move your hands to create something of value is important and takes hours and years and decades of practice. Chef Passard’s Grandmother was an amazing cook; his mother sewed and his father was a musician. His Grandfather was a sculptor who worked with wood. He learned the importance of hand gestures early in his life and applied them to his craft. He works bread dough like it’s fabric. He sews Duck and Chicken together to create a unique dish. With regards to the hand gesture, he says: “In cuisine, in music, in sculpture, in painting, it’s everything. Either we like the gesture, either we like the hand, or we do not. And this hand, if we want it to be more beautiful, we must work seven hours, eight hours, ten hours in the kitchen every day. This makes the hand more precise, and more elegant.” He goes on to say that a 14 year old does not have the precision of hand that a 30 year old cook has. He says, “I am never happier than when I put my fingers on a new gesture or a new flavor. It feels wonderful.”
“You really become a cook between 40 and 50 years old.”
Can the same not also be said about other professions as well?
When Chef Passard started his restaurant, Arpege, he says that the one and two star ratings came fairly easily, but the three star rating was very difficult to attain. Three Stars is the highest rating for a restaurant. Maintaining three stars is apparently extremely difficult to do, but Chef Passard’s mentality is to pursue higher and higher standards, never stopping or resting upon his current achievements. The search for excellence is never ending, but it’s something he loves. I was struck how there was no mention of the pursuit of money in this documentary, it was purely the pursuit of passion, excellence, and the art of food. In fact, there came a point in Chef Passard’s professional career where he was losing his passion for cooking meat, so he decided to take a year of introspection to find his passion again. He reinvented himself and his restaurant as primarily vegetarian while still maintaining their three star rating. He found a new hand. A new outlook.
“My only ambition is to love what I do more each day. Just the idea of a job well done. No outside projects, needs, or dreams. If this story exists today, it’s because I love my job more than anything.”
I’m trying to build-up my business vocabulary and acumen. Why? Because I am pretty comfortable as part of the technical team of an organization. When you’re comfortable, you’re not growing. For over twenty years I’ve worked in back-office cubes building technology for organizations. I now want to have a larger focus, a better grasp of a company’s big picture – and no, I don’t need another degree (MBA), and associated student debt, to get me there. I want to be a successful entrepreneur one day. To that end, here are some words I am committing to memory, because to walk the walk, you gotta talk the talk:
Entrepreneur: ‘A person who organizes and manages a buiness undertaking, assuming the risk for the sake of the profit.’ — Webster’s NewWorld Dictionary
To be an entrepreneur, you have to take a risk if you want to realize a profit. There’s no getting around the risk part, by definition.
Capitalist: ‘1. A person who has capital; owner of wealth used in business; 2. an upholder of capitalism; 3. loosely, a wealthy person.’ — Webster’s NewWorld Dictionary
Grant Cardone introduced me to the term ‘Capitalist’. I never thought of becoming a Capitalist until I heard him mention it as a desirable characteristic. Sell or be sold.
White Space: Hmm. This one is kind of tough to define. You won’t find this defined in your average home Dictionary (mine is Webster’s NewWorld Dictionary, which I’ve had since College). Essentially, in the context of business, this term refers to potential opportunities in the market where there might not be as much competition; a place where new businesses might have room to operate. Here’s a 2010 HBR article that helps further define the term.
I first heard this term from listening to a Gary Vaynerchuk talk. I highly recommend positioning yourself to hear Gary V. talk shop at some point if you can. It’s all about the hustle.
Revenue Per User (RPU): According to Investopedia, RPU is ‘[a]ratio used to express the profitability of a company on a per-user basis. RPUs are calculated by taking overall revenue and dividing by total number of users.’
Real Rate of Return (RRR): According to Investopedia, RRR is ‘[the] annual percentage return realized on an investment, which is adjusted for changes in prices due to inflation or other external effects. This method expresses the nominal rate of return in real terms, which keeps the purchasing power of a given level of capital constant over time.’ For example, if you make 5% return on an investment, and inflation is said to be at 3%, then your RRR is really 2%.
Again, I picked-up this term from listening to Nathan Latka’s Podcast mentioned above.
Affluenza: According to Merriam-Webster Dictionary online, this is defined as ‘extreme materialism and consumerism associated with the pursuit of wealth and success and resulting in a life of chronic dissatisfaction, debt, overwork, stress, and impaired relationships <Affluenza is particularly rampant in the United States, where we place a high priority on financial success and material possessions. — David Hawkins, Breaking Everyday Addictions, 2008>.
I’m afraid of crowds. Crowds of people freak me out. Being trapped in a crowd, the ensuing claustrophobia, the potential for a stampede, the ‘mooing’ sound echoing in my brain. God forbid I have to talk to anyone in the crowd, or worse, they address me for some God forsaken reason. I see crowds, mobs, hordes of people as stupid. If the individuals in the mob were smart, they wouldn’t find themselves stuck in the crowd, packed in a stadium, or stuck on a crowded metro station, or mobbed in a high school hallway. The truth is, however, avoiding crowds in this day and age of chronic over population is nearly impossible. There’s no getting around getting caught in a crowd from time to time. The only way around my fear of crowds is to get over my own fear; my fear is the only thing I have some power over.
Fear can be a good thing. Fear exists for a reason. It’s baked into our DNA to help keep us alive. But an over sensitivity to our fear can also hold us back from truly living. Ironic isn’t it? For example, some of us are afraid of becoming too successful. I know, because I am one such person. I don’t know why I fear too much success. Somehow, I must have gotten screwed-up in my childhood or something. Today, I recognize this fear as I try to deal with it, overcome it, and welcome any and all successes I can get my hands on. I’m learning to overcome my fear.
I’m generally afraid of heights too. Driving across the Bay Bridge in Maryland makes my hands sweat. I can’t help thinking of what it must be like to accidentally drive off of the side of the bridge whilst trapped inside of my car. Would I survive the impact with the water? Would I be able to escape from inside the car once the car went below the water? These thoughts are pretty terrifying. Even so, I have driven across this bridge dozens of times, sweaty hands and all, and have never once had any kind of accident, much less plunged to the murky depths below…knock on wood.
Facing fear, recognizing our fear, rationalizing our fear, and keeping calm in the midst of it is an important skill. It’s a skill that I feel must be practiced, as a calm, steady response in the face of fear is not necessarily baked into our DNA. It seems like our biology is programmed to fight or take flight in the face of a fearful situation, so acting ractional and calmly in the face of it is to defy millions of years of evolution, and as such, requires practice.
Why bother though? Why not just avoid fearful situations all together if they make you too uncomfortable. I believe that controlling your fear is strength; it’s power. It’s a power that can lead to great success in many kinds of situations. It can also mean the difference between life and death.
Most days, I do not encounter fear. Yesterday, she briefly visited me, but I would not back down. It was a simple situation and I took solace in that. Me, my skateboard, an empty street, and my driveway. I saw my daughter conquer the driveway on her skateboard in a matter of minutes the week before, and I wanted to challenge my 46 year old body to accomplish the same feat. I was scared of breaking an arm or a leg or a hand. My wheels could get stuck in a crack sending my 230 pound frame crashing to the concrete. So I took the challenge in small steps. First, I rode five feet down the driveway, then ten feet, then fifteen feet. I did not crash and I did not die. I live to ride another day.
The funny thing is, my fear of riding my skateboard down the driveway into the street is not conquered. I will be a bit scared to ride it the next time too. I will probably have to face that stupid fear each time I ride my skateboard because I’m a 46 year old old dude who can’t skate. But each time I face that fear, and have a successful ride, it feels awesome. My daughter ain’t got nuthin’ on me, and fear is losing it’s grip on my life.