With no experience in the garment industry, Sara Blakely needed to figure out how and whether her idea for SPANX could work. Her successful, and in many ways prototypical experience offers a readymade guide to the prototyping process.
What You'll Learn
How to identify a need
How to build a successful business
The importance of supporting working parents
How to make a prototype
Sara Blakely's image was originally posted by David Shankbone and the image has been changed. This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International license.
1. Be the Consumer: Identify a Need in the Marketplace
Insider knowledge is a double-edged sword. The players in any industry need to keep on top of the jargon and emerging, market-driven trends. But industries can quickly become echo-chambers, endlessly tweaking a product that no longer fully serves the consumer. Better, says Sara Blakely, to think like a consumer. She should know. With her company Spanx, she singlehandedly turned the ladies’ undergarment industry on its head.Explore your frustrationsStudy all existing solutions firsthand. Ask: Which of my needs is not being met?By isolating the need that is not being met, you create a new lane in the market.Gather feedback earlyGo to the front lines to test your proof of concept. Conduct small, local focus groups.
2. Catch Lightning in a Bottle: Key Requirements for Building a Successful Business
There’s no “just add water” recipe for a successful business. But there are a few non-negotiables. Your chances of success are much greater if you have the right product, price, distribution, and brand name. With all of these pieces in place, Sara Blakely launched and sustained an astronomically successful company that completely disrupted the women’s undergarment industry, which had been in freefall for at least a decade.ProductTrust your gut. When you know your solution could be better, make the change.When the change is driven by your core commitment to consumers, they’re likely to respond favorably.NameIterate on the brand name, before launch. A breakthrough can happen at anytime.The goal is to create a name that stands out. Try to elicit an emotional reaction.Distribution and PriceAs a new entrant to the market with limited resources, take a defensive position.Price and place your product in a market where you can survive early exposure.
3. Maximize Your Workforce by Supporting Working Parents
If your company isn’t going out of its way to accommodate employees with children, you’re leaving a lot of talent on the table. Many new parents, regardless of talent or experience, recuse themselves from the workforce because companies don’t offer progressive policies for working families. By being an exception to this rule, your company can gain an employee-friendly reputation that will attract top candidates (with or without children) long into the future.Commit to building a supportive community that reflects your work-life balance values.Supports for working parents include: flexible schedules, nursing rooms, paid maternity leave, paid paternity leaveWork-life balance benefits make your company more attractive and help expand your talent pool.A demonstrated commitment to work-life balance supports employee productivity and retention.
4. Pause Autopilot Thinking: Develop a Prototype for Your Unique Solution
Prototyping, when it’s done right, is always a matter of starting from scratch. It’s about cobbling things together from materials at hand and boldly going into the unknown. This was especially so for Sara Blakely before she founded Spanx. With no experience in the garment industry, she needed to figure out how and whether her idea for sheer, hosiery-based undergarments could work. Her successful, and in many ways prototypical experience offers a readymade guide to the prototyping process.Obsess over every detailWhenever possible, take a do-it-yourself approach. Use everyday materials to build early prototypes. Seek professional help when you know what you want to create but have reached the limits of your abilities.Explain to your manufacturer what you like about existing products on the market. Help them help you. Be specific about how these components inform what you want to create.Gather your own impressions first. Test early prototypes yourself in real world situations. Then,...