April 3, 2018 / 11:07 AM / 2 years ago

As seen on TV: How inventor Joy Mangano designs a better life

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Is the plot of your life worthy of a big-budget Hollywood film?

Joy Mangano. Bryan Kasm/Handout via REUTERS

For most of us, the answer is probably no. Then there is Joy Mangano.

The inspiration behind the movie “Joy” starring Jennifer Lawrence was not always the reigning queen of home shopping, with over $3 billion in sales of products like the Miracle Mop. At one time she was a divorced Long Island mom of three young kids, just scrambling to make ends meet.

The author of the recent book “Inventing Joy,” the HSN executive chatted with Reuters about how to design a better life for yourself.

Q: Did you have an inventor’s mindset, even as a kid?

A: I loved learning, but I was a skinny little girl with glasses and braces, so honestly those early school years were a little tough. The first person who displayed some real empathy towards me was my third grade teacher, Miss Haffercamp. She told me I was fantastic, and that really left an imprint on me.

Q: Your journey as an inventor did not really start until after your marriage ended?

A: I grew up in an Italian family on Long Island. As soon as you left school, you got married and had children. You were a mom, and that was it. So ending my marriage was the hardest decision I ever made and the saddest.

I realized my life was entirely up to me. It absolutely slays you. So I said, ‘I have to turn into Courageous Joy!’ From then on, everything I did – working odd jobs and making money wherever I could - was to create a solid foundation and positive environment for my kids.

Q: At what point did you realize you could make a living at inventing?

A: I started toying with a few different things, like designing a fluorescent flea collar. Then the Miracle Mop was something I thought could be phenomenal.

But that didn’t happen for a while. I sold some to hardware stores, and to Amway, and to K-Mart, but it wasn’t enough to be sustainable.

The movie captures perfectly what happened next: When Jennifer Lawrence is standing on stage at QVC for the first time, and the phones start ringing off the hook. My whole world exploded. The product grew wings and just took off.

Q: When extreme success hit, how did you handle that?

A: I was unaware that with success come a whole lot of obstacles. Not just legal obstacles, but even run-ins with gangsters. You can’t make this stuff up!

After I got an order for 60,000 mops that first time, I had to develop a long-term strategy and bring in a financial controller. You can’t do everything yourself; you have to put together a team and focus on what you do best.

Q: Where did you invest that sudden wealth?

A: In the beginning, every single penny went back into the business. That was critical, because I was building a brand. Now, I’m more of a home lover, so I tend to invest in real estate. I also own a restaurant on Long Island, Jema, because I believe in diversification. That one is a labor of love.

Q: Any role models who have given you useful advice for this wild journey?

A: One man is Tony Curto, who as my attorney was with me when we sold the company. In business you have to find someone you trust implicitly, who you know is completely honest, and he was that for me. He would remind me to pay attention to life, and not just business. Sometimes I found it hard to do that.

Q: What advice would you have for other budding entrepreneurs?

Joy Mangano. Bryan Kasm/Handout via REUTERS

A: Go for it, but you don’t have to go crazy and sell your house or anything. When I started I took very little steps, and it was an extremely slow process. I didn’t have much money, and didn’t risk my family’s well-being.

Q: Your kids are now in the business too, so any words of warning for them?

A: When you become successful, everybody thinks you are going to sit back and bask in that glory. Not true – the opposite happens. So you really better love what you do, because if you become successful, you are going to get even busier.

Editing by Lauren Young and Tom Brown

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