The Female Founders of Unicorn Companies ClassPass and Spanx Share These 5 Traits, Do You? by@annicalin

The Female Founders of Unicorn Companies ClassPass and Spanx Share These 5 Traits, Do You?

Payal Kadakia (founder, ClassPass) and Spanx founder, Sara Blakely share 5 common traits that drive their success. They represent a new age of female executives who aren't satisfied with the status quo. Both Payal and Sara identified opportunities from inconveniences they were experiencing in their lives. They always remember their “why”** A true why and a vision that will propel them forward and get people on board. They practice authenticity leadership, and are not afraid of showing authenticity.
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Annica Lin

♤ User Acquisition & Growth ♤ Marathoner & Fitness Enthusiast ♤ TEDx Speaker

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Both Payal Kadakia (founder, ClassPass) and Sara Blakely (founder, Spanx) made the news by successfully selling their companies with unicorn status. They represent a new age of female executives who aren't satisfied with the status quo. Instead, their mindset and ideas turned their businesses into unicorn companies and disrupted the industry. So what are the 5 common traits of Payal and Sara that drive their success?

1. They followed their calling


"When it's the darkest time of your life, it is usually the most fertile time for a change."


Payal is a life-long dancer. She was not content working at her corporate job. For fulfillment, she devoted most of her after-work hours and weekend dancing. But finding an online class was a challenge, even with 30+ open browsers. She cannot be the only person wanting to do ballet and cannot be the only person frustrated in the search. The first ideation of ClassPass was born.


Sara was a door-to-door fax machine salesperson for seven years. She had experienced people who ripped off her business card or shut the door regularly, and that was when she came up with the idea for Spanx. She was not satisfied with the pantyhoses in the market because she could not find a body-shaping pantyhose to wear with her cream-colored pants and open-toed shoes. Frustrated and disappointed with existing products, she decided she was the woman to launch a product to solve the problem. Spanx was born.


Both Payal and Sara identified opportunities from inconveniences they were experiencing in their lives.  They saw a problem that needed solving and had the courage to pursue their callings. Sara shares with us, "When it's the darkest time of your life, it is usually the most fertile time for a change."

2. They always remember their “why”


A true why and a vision that will propel them forward and get people on board.


Both Payal and Sara identified problems and could not find products to solve them, so they came up with their products. But that is not enough. The current ClassPass model has been iterated over a number of times from the original idea. She had launched a few different products, but none could fully solve the problem. Each time, she had to go back to her why and encourage her team to start over. They needed to pivot and refine the product with market feedback without losing sight of their mission. Eventually, the product showed promising signs of market adoption.


For Sara, the path was challenging from the start. She could not convince hosiery mills to make this idea of a footless, pantyhose-shaper concept. Everyone hung up on her. It took her two years before a mill was able to share in her vision and agree to partner with her. Payal and Sara went back to their why to seek clarity when in doubt. A true why and a vision that will propel them forward and get people on board.

3. They don’t have a limited mindset


"Failure is a data point, not an endpoint."


Fear of failure limits our potential because it makes us unwilling to try new things. Having the right mindset established the foundation of Payal and Sara's success. Sara's dad framed the no-limit mindset and encouraged her to embrace failures since she was a kid. Her dad reframed failure for her. Failure didn't become about the outcome; it became about not trying.


Throughout the journey of creating ClassPass, Payal pushed through limits by testing new business models and expanding into new markets. In her book, "LifePass" Payal reframed failure as "Failure is a data point, not an endpoint."

4. They practice authenticity

Sara was not afraid of showing her feminine leadership, empathy, vulnerability, and authenticity during her 21 years of building Spanx. Authenticity is a vital component to Sara's success and one she recommends other entrepreneurs maintain. Being genuinely authentic throughout the journey has served her well.


Payal was trying to separate her corporate life from artistic dancing life because she was afraid that coworkers would look at her differently. But she decided to invite 200 people from her entire corporate office to her dance show one day. Afterward, she received validation and support from her office. It paved the journey of creating ClassPass.

5. They are resilient


"Resilience is like a muscle. The more you gut through something and not let it get you down or defeat you, the stronger your resilience muscle becomes."


What shows more about resilience than spending two years finding a mill to produce the product for Spanx and pivoting companies several times before the idea of ClassPass. Sara said, "Resilience is like a muscle. The more you gut through something and not let it get you down or defeat you, the stronger your resilience muscle becomes."


During the pandemic in 2020, ClassPass quickly pivoted the business into a video at-home workout model to continue encouraging customers to work out at home and provide revenue to its studio clients.

According to a report by PitchBook, during the pandemic in 2020, venture capital funding in the U.S. grew by 16% overall, but it dropped 3% for companies founded by women while companies with female founders performed 63%better.

I hope that this article can foster more female entrepreneurship by looking into the common traits of successful female entrepreneurs. After all, we might just need courage and take the leap of faith to start our own business.

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