There's been a lot of buzz around Joy Mangano lately, the famed creator of the Miracle Mop, a widely recognized household product.
That's probably because she's the inspiration behind Joy, the new film directed by David O. Russell (American Hustle, Silver Linings Playbook)--starring Jennifer Lawrence and Bradley Cooper. While Mangano's trials have earned her recent fame in Hollywood, she's had to weather more than two decades of business ownership to get there.
Against the odds, she found success with the invention of a self-wringing mop, which she marketed through the television sales giant QVC. Now, more than 25 years later, her company, Ingenious Designs, has topped $150 million in annual revenue. (To date, she's generated about $3 billion in her career.)
It all started back in 1991. "At that time, it appeared to be insanity," Mangano recalls, "to stand there and say, 'I have an invention. I'm a single, young mom--and I'm going to go after this.'"
Fast-forward to 2016--when, on January 9th, Mangano relaunches her signature products. This time, she's partnering with such major retailers as Macy's, Target, Bed Bath & Beyond, and the Container Store.
Joy is a partly fictional film, but it borrows heavily from Mangano's emotional experiences and business journey. Some of her hardships depicted in the film are based in truth. In one scene, the entrepreneur discovers that her mold makers have stolen her patent.
"When people in the businesses around [you] smell success, they can capture it and take it away if you're naive enough, if you're not strong enough," says Mangano, referring to her early suppliers.
"Many people don't have that fight in them," she continues. "This is the moment when you have to say: 'I'm going to really, really take a position here.' It's almost an out-of-body experience. I have to become somebody else in mentality."
The infomercial titan and business icon offers some key takeaways about starting and running a business based on your own inventions:
1. Selling on TV is a more personable approach, but retail gives you a different kind of reach.
The relaunch of Mangano's product line signifies a somewhat unsettling shift for the entrepreneur.
"For 25 years, I've been standing in front of America," says Mangano. "I was able to narrate and be the storyteller of my product. Now, it'll be on the shelves--where I'm not there to grab it and tell consumers myself about the features and benefits."
Those who've seen Joy may recall a pivotal scene where the inventor, played by Jennifer Lawrence, levels with the head of QVC, played by Bradley Cooper. "Who showed you the mop?" she asks. "Who sold it to you? Who taught you how to use it?" Her insistence is what convinces him to take a chance on the mop in the movie.
Now, in lieu of her voice, Mangano will be relying on packaging to tell the same story. She hopes that a warm, purple theme--complete with chalk drawings on the wrapping--will convey the depth and true identity behind her products.
She adds that as customers are increasingly flocking to the internet (and away from television), embracing traditional retail, rather than selling exclusively through HSN, was an important business move.
2. To successfully market your brand, identify and understand your core consumers.
Mangano is quick to praise the changing landscape of entrepreneurship in America--especially as the internet continues to create more channels of commerce. But with great promise comes greater competition.
"The path has changed dramatically," she says. "You can find a product, and be aware of all the other products out there in just seconds. That's a very attractive method for companies and consumers. At the same time, it also creates a lot of competition."
Mangano has been able to stay afloat primarily because she identifies her target customer (someone looking for a simple solution to domestic problems) and markets her brand accordingly.
3. The journey to entrepreneurial success is a lot longer than two hours.
When asked if she would change anything about Russell's adaptation of her business story, Mangano laughs. "I would have made it five hours," she quips.
Joy has seen considerable financial success; it was the third best-selling movie of the 2015 holiday season, bringing in $17.5 million in box office sales during the first weekend. It's worth noting, however, that film critics have been more lukewarm. Variety's Justin Chang, for instance, writes:
Despite another solid performance from Jennifer Lawrence, anchoring Russell's sincerely felt tribute to the power of a woman's resolve in a man's world, it's hard not to wish Joy were better--that its various winsome parts added up to more than a flyweight product that still feels stuck in the development stages.
Mangano brushes off the negative reception and likens it to a fussy customer.
"It [the film] was such a love letter to me, to women, and to anybody who has a dream," she says. "If you get it, you get it."
4. Women entrepreneurs can get ahead (even in spite of themselves).
The odds of reaching success for a woman in business may be better than they were in the '90s, but it's clear that society still has a long way to go. Women-owned companies make up just one-third of all businesses in the U.S., according to a 2014 Kauffman report.
That may have something to do with a woman's failure to believe in herself.
"It's common for people to start questioning themselves," says Mangano. "As a female, I'm going to offer the advice I gave myself: You look at your strengths, you look at your goals, and accept that you are who you are. Be true to that."
She also peppers in some tough love for entrepreneurs: "Don't be afraid to have a reality check. Taking risks is OK, but you must be realistic."