“Shark Tank” Celebrates a First With Sara Blakely, Barbara Corcoran and Lori Greiner

Credit: Mitch Haaseth/ABC/ Sony Pictures Television

Becoming a billionaire or millionaire takes some smarts, but you don’t have to be book-smart brilliant to be successful. One thing Shark Tank’s leading ladies will tell you is that success takes drive, motivation, passion, creativity, persistence — and often a really good idea. ABC’s multi-Emmy-winning series Shark Tank (airing Sundays 9/8c) will celebrate Women’s Entrepreneurship Day with a series first. The Nov. 18 episode will be the first time that women outnumber men on the shark panel as real estate mogul Barbara Corcoran, “the queen of QVC” Lori Greiner and self-made billionaire (hello, Spanx!) Sara Blakely are all in the tank. Instead of me gushing on how inspiring, funny, generous and awesome these ladies are, I’ve whittled our conversations down to the best “shark bites” and bits of wisdom we all can benefit from.

Her Early Days … “My troubles in school began in kindergarten, and by seventh grade, I still wasn’t reading. I just couldn’t learn to read, and I couldn’t learn to write, but little by little I got there, and I can read and write today. School was torture for me.’’

She Credits … “I had a phenomenal mother. She loved every one of her 10 kids and treated us equally, and she told me I had a wonderful imagination. ‘Don’t even worry about school,’ she said. ‘You’ll fill in the blanks.’ She was right. I do have a wonderful imagination, and I’ve made my living with that, really, so it all worked out. … Between my father’s two jobs, he was our playmate, so we learned the sense of fun. We had something special going in our family. … What I had was two parents who really loved me, and where does most of your confidence really come from long-term in life? I just believe it’s about the love your parents give you.”

Learning How To Negotiate … “I had 22 jobs before I was 23, and I did very well in every job. I mean, they weren’t important jobs. They were all menial, hourly jobs, but I was always well thought of. ‘You work hard. You’re good. You’re nice.’ I got all this great feedback. I’ve worked since I was 11. I don’t think I would have had those jobs if I was a great student. I could study for 10 hours and not get a passing grade, so I didn’t bother. I just gave up on it. … I learned how to finesse, how to cover mistakes. I learned how to negotiate.”

Her Personal Crusade … “I learned so much because of [my] learning disability, so I like to make that story public, because I know for every 10 smart kids in class, there’s one kid that’s thinking he’s not so smart. I like to just get the message across — there’s all kinds of smarts. Book smarts isn’t necessarily what gets you through life and makes you a fortune. People smarts, a winner. Street smarts, another winner. Fast on your feet is another kind of smart. Book smarts are good for certain occupations, and you can do very well in life and get the accolades that you’ll collect as you go, but it doesn’t necessarily mean you’re going to be the king of the jungle.”

What She Wished She Knew In High School … “I wish I knew that the popular, pretty, smart girls don’t necessarily run the world. The plugger and the worker run the world. I wish I had known that my acne would go away by 21 — it seemed like a long haul to have acne. I wish I had known that life changes, and the nerd sometimes wins.”

Her Favorite Investments (Not Necessarily The Most Successful) … “Daisy Cakes, because [the founder is] a ball of sunshine. … Cousins Maine Lobster — two drop-dead gorgeous guys out of Maine. Great businessmen, making a ton of money for themselves and for me. So much fun to work with. … Grace & Lace because of the tragedy of [the founders] losing their first child and how they turned it into a victory by creating the brand as a result of it. They have my respect for their optimism and for turning their life around, which I don’t think I would have had the strength to do.”

As A Kid …
“I was always inventing games, so everyone in our neighborhood would come to my house for the game that day, and I would invent it for everyone to play, so I had a very active imagination. I always had little businesses. I would start a haunted house. I threw a skating party and had everybody come to it. I would draw things over the weekend with several friends, and then we’d go door to door and sell our drawings. I also loved to challenge people to do things they didn’t think they could do, including myself. So, I had created this game in town called Adventure.”

Her First Job … “I was the cabana pool girl at a local hotel. I grew up on Clearwater Beach in Florida, and I did it for three days. … After three days, I started a business because I had identified that there wasn’t anything that people could do with their children, so I went home and I made a flyer that said ‘Parents, enjoy the sun while your kids have fun with Sara,’ and I quit my job as the cabana girl, and I went up and down the beach and introduced myself to families. … I charged $8 a child. And I did it every day from 1pm to 3pm and made so much money and never asked for permission. It was just unbelievable to think I ran a business like that for three summers.”

A Better Way To Business … “When I started Spanx, a lot of people … Men told me, ‘Business is war. Good luck. I hope you’re ready to go to war.’ And I just remember I went home to my apartment that night and thought, ‘Why do I have to go to war? There’s got to be a different way. There’s got to be a better way,’ and I approached my business journey very differently. So I feel it’s important to share that with other people, that there are other ways to go about business.”

The Importance Of This Upcoming Episode … “As a female entrepreneur, the statistics are pretty dismal still. We have a long way to go. Only 2 percent of funding goes to female entrepreneurs, and for women of color it’s 0.2 percent. I’m a female inventor, and there aren’t enough female inventors out there either. Only 8 percent of patents have a woman as the primary patent holder. So I’m using my journey and my story to kind of shed some light and serve as an example to other young women and girls.”

Words Of Wisdom … “When I was in school, I found that the school didn’t address the whole person, and I started listening to Wayne Dyer. … It was the first time that I realized that someone was teaching me how to think instead of what to think. … I feel like the inner work that you can do on yourself is just as important or more important than feeling like you have to be at the top of your class and ace everything. I was a terrible test-taker, and I had trouble with reading and comprehension my whole journey at school, so that was always something that just didn’t come naturally to me. I’m sure I had an undiagnosed learning disorder. But I’m a bigger believer in paying a lot of attention to teaching children not to care what other people think about them so much. How to overcome failures, how to find courage, how to visualize where they want to go in their life and how to set goals.”

What She Loves About Shark Tank“While I am an inventor and was creating my own products and running my own company, I was also always helping others along the way. Once I went on Shark Tank, it was a great opportunity for me to give back and help aspiring entrepreneurs grow their businesses and companies in a bigger way. I can really relate to the entrepreneurs that step into the Tank since I was once in their shoes. I love being able to help people make their dreams come true!”

The Importance Of This Upcoming Episode … “It’s important to inspire and give courage to women, to know that they can do anything they set their minds to. Having three women who have created their own destiny on the panel together is representative of this and, I think, encouraging to all women. I’m very much a supporter of gender equality. I think we should always be equal. Sharing responsibilities in life, sharing responsibilities in business. Being 50/50 partners together in this world.”

What Shark Tank Has Taught Her … “I’ve learned that it’s really important to determine not only if their product or business is a good or viable opportunity that I believe can become a huge success, but it is equally important that the entrepreneurs themselves are hardworking, good, ethical people that I would want to be in business with. … I’m very hands-on with my entrepreneurs, and I’ve learned that the quality of person is just as important as the quality of the business or product.”

Her Favorite Investments (Not Necessarily The Most Successful) … “That’s like picking a favorite child. My Shark Tank entrepreneurs are like one big family, and I truly love them all. I can share humbly that the top three most successful products in Shark Tank history are my Scrub Daddy, Simply Fit Board and Squatty Potty.”

A Perfect Day For Her Would Be … “Being on vacation, typically by a pool, with great food, good wine, playing games and having a great time with people I love!”


Images: Credit: Mitch Haaseth/ABC/ Sony Pictures Television