What We Can Learn from the Story of Serial Innovator and Entrepreneur Joy Mangano
Producer David O. Russell’s most recent movie, Joy, begins with a title card appearing on the screen announcing this dedication: “Inspired by the true stories of daring women. One in particular.” That one particular woman is Joy Mangano, the “Queen of HSN”, who is a serial entrepreneur and innovator with more than a hundred patents to her name and is most famously known for her first invention, the Miracle Mop.
While the movie, starring Hollywood heavyweights Jennifer Lawrence (as the title character), Bradley Cooper, and Robert De Niro, is an entertaining and feel-good, inspirational film, the movie is not a truly accurate representation of Joy Mangano’s rags-to-riches life story. While the movie’s general premise closely aligns with Mangano’s life story, Jennifer Lawrence told TIME, “that the movie is only 50% inspired by Mangano.” As for the other half, Lawrence says that it comes from producer David O. Russell’s “imagination and different daring women that have inspired him.”
The accuracy of the big-screen adaptation of Mangano’s life is not what’s most relevant here. More importantly, we can glean so many lessons about business acumen and innovation in business from her life story. Here are some of the most acute takeaways and innovation lessons from her life story:
While it’s definitely a myth that entrepreneurs/innovators are born not made, Mangano started innovating at a young age. As story will have it, at age 12 she tinkered around with her family’s toaster to get it to not only toast but also roast. Moreover, while working at a vet’s office as a teenager, she came up with the idea of fluorescent collar for animals to wear at night to increase their visibility to cars. She did nothing about this great idea and when Hartz, a large pet products and supply company, brought a similar product to market the very next year, Mangano made a promise to herself that the next time she had a great idea, she would bring it to market first.
Innovation Lesson No. 1: Don’t sit on great ideas. There are many categories where being first-to-market gives you a substantive advantage. While teenage Mangano did not have the knowledge or the financial wherewithal to get legal protection for her idea, this example still serves as a lesson for today’s innovators. As discussed in the business growth book Robert’s Rules of Innovation: A 10-Step Program for Corporate Survival, a key innovation imperative is Idea Management. As to which, “The IP attorney is essential to the care and feeding—protection—of your idea(s). Patents are important tools for both offensive and defensive strategy.”
After her divorce in 1989, Joy Mangano was struggling to pay the bills working two jobs as a waitress and an airline-reservation manager while living with her three kids in Long Island, NY. It was also in 1989 that her idea for the Miracle Mop (her first product for which she is most famously known) was born. As Mangano says in an interview with ABC News, “I just was tired of bending down, putting my hands in dirty water, ringing out a mop. So I said, ‘There’s gotta be a better way.” Mangano’s better way was a self-wringing mop, which later got named the Miracle Mop.
Innovation Lesson No. 2: The best ideas can often be found right in front of you; necessity can sometimes breed invention.
In 1990, she borrowed money to make the prototype of the Miracle Mop and was fulfilling orders from her home with her kids helping her package orders. That first year, she managed to sell a few thousand mops from home and then took her product to QVC. As she explained to ABC News, “At first it was demonstrated on TV without me…and it didn’t do so well. They wanted to return the mop. But Mangano begged the QVC producers for a chance to sell it herself on air—and that chance paid off (she sold 18,000 mops in 20 minutes). “I got on stage and the phones went crazy and we sold out every last mop.”
Innovation Lesson No. 3: Sometimes it’s more than having just a great product; it’s the person that can make the product. When they put Joy Mangano on the air, she really resonated with viewers and as a result, her product also resonated with viewers. Oftentimes, for an innovation to succeed, you have to realize that the power of the brand lies within you as a person. Mangano started her on-air career at QVC and then sold her company, Ingenious Designs LLC, to HSN in 1999. She still is the face of the network, hence her nickname “Queen of HSN, and remains one of their most successful sellers.
While the Miracle Mop is Mangano’s most famous invention, it is definitely neither her only invention nor her most successful one. Mangano’s most successful invention is actually Huggable Hangers, which is HSN’s number one seller and has sold over 700 million to date. Impressively, Mangano also holds more than a hundred patents to her name.
Innovation Lesson No. 4: Always be innovating. Out of the over 100 patents Mangano has to her name, some have been blockbuster hits and others have been failures. As such, one should always be innovating!
 Note: The movie “Joy” was released in U.S. theatres on Christmas Day 2015. It is still playing in some theatres and is expected to be released on Amazon on May 3, 2016 and made available on Netflix and at Redbox on May 31, 2016. To watch the official trailer, click here.
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