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Joy Mangano Rolls Out Her Blueprint For Your Million-Dollar Idea

The home shopping queen and inspiration for the new film Joy starring Jennifer Lawrence has built a billion-dollar empire–here’s how

Ideas often spark to life as quickly as they fizzle out–a moment of inspiration dulls down to an inert procrastination or, worse, crippling fear. Even still, following through with your innovation is only the start of a relentless struggle to keep your vision in tact–and for Joy Mangano, any good idea is worth a fight.

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Over 23 years, Mangano has become a fixture on shopping networks like QVC and HSN selling upwards of $3 billion worth of products including the non-slip Huggable Hangers, the odor-neutralizing sticks Forever Fragrant, and, most importantly, the Miracle Mop, a self-wringing mop with 300 feet of continuous cotton string as the detachable and washable mop head.

The Miracle Mop, first introduced on QVC in 1992, has become Mangano’s keystone product: the one that set in motion her empire of household must-have and the one at the center of Oscar-nominated writer/director David O. Russell’s new film Joy.

Joy, which reunites Russell’s Silver Linings Playbook/American Hustle triumvirate of Robert De Niro, Bradley Cooper, and Jennifer Lawrence as Mangano, is loosely based on Mangano’s life, going from a single mother to home shopping darling and a multi-million dollar success story–all with the wring of a mop.

“That’s what David O. Russell does so well–he takes the ordinary and makes it extraordinary, but still it’s so relatable and therefore has so many touchpoints for people,” says Mangano. “I had a gentleman walk out [of the movie] and say, ‘I wanted to do something–I put it aside, and I’m now gonna do it.’”

That American Dream saga gives Hollywood another inspirational tale to tell, and Mangano an opportunity to rollout her blueprint for other would-be inventors with million-dollar ideas.

The initial idea for Joy was hatched about 10 years ago when Mangano was asked to participate as a judge on the show Made in the USA. During dinner one night, the show’s producer Ken Mok said that he wanted to make a movie of Mangano’s life. It was a declaration she didn’t take seriously until a few years later when Mok called Mangano with a room full of film execs and influencers on his side of the line to make good on his promise. Fast forward to the film concept landing in David O. Russell’s Midas hands and so began the intensive, and surprisingly therapeutic, dive into Mangano’s past.

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“I definitely don’t need therapy in life because I have gone through every little corner of my life,” Mangano says. “It’s like he’s the most amazing kind of best friend you could have. He knows more about me than anybody else in the world.”

Russell has described Joy as a “cinematic fable,” i.e. many plots and characters were of his invention. Mangano’s ex-husband wasn’t a struggling Venezuelan singer and Bradley Cooper’s role as QVC exec Neil Walker is actually a mashup of several execs Mangano dealt with. But what Russell captures so faithfully and Jennifer Lawrence plays so masterfully is Mangano’s grit. The Miracle Mop is merely a McGuffin to the true heart of the film: a woman taking control of her life and, through no small effort, her brand.

“For my life to inspire such an amazing, cinematic masterpiece that [Russell] made is such an honor,” Mangano says. “When I look back, some of the greatest people in the history of the world have created things where paths have never been with such resiliency.”

Joy, 2015Photo: courtesy of 20th Century Fox

Things didn’t quite pan out as Mangano had hoped during the Miracle Mop’s big debut. She sold 1,000 mops to QVC on consignment and sales were conservative, if not utterly disappointing. Mangano felt it wasn’t the Miracle Mop itself but how it was being pitched to homes across America by QVC hosts. Convinced she do a better job, Mangano persuaded the powers that be at the network to give her a shot on camera with her own invention.

She sold 18,000 mops in 20 minutes.

“It’s the authenticity behind it. We have the smartest consumer ever, and they want to know about what they’re buying. Whether it’s a Huggable Hanger or Miracle Mop, a My Little Steamer, or Forever Fragrant, they know that every feature and benefit about that product, I’ve been involved in,” Mangano says. “As my career has gone on, it’s continuing to be consistent with that message of not handing it off. People relate the product right back to me. Who can better tell the story and make a business work than the person who has the passion behind it?”

That courage in her convictions has led to some staggering numbers: Mangano currently holds more than 100 patents and trademarks, she’s sold $10 million-plus in products in a single day, and her Huggable Hangers hold the record for the best-selling product in electronic retailing history at 678 million sold.

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“You have to make a decision: Am gonna be the person that takes the risk? Am I gonna be the person that says I’m gonna start this business and I’m gonna follow through with it no matter what the obstacles?” Mangano says. “I kind of equate it to a woman having a baby. You go into the hospital and you’re having a baby, you can’t say half way through, ‘I’m not gonna do this anymore!’ You have to have the courage to finish. I view everything in life that way.”

So how is Mangano able to make lightning strikes a common occurrence? It’s her genuine understanding of her consumer base and the innate ability to see the world through product.

For Mangano, innovation should never be “for innovation’s sake”–it needs to answer a need and, in her case, it has to answer it for everyone.

“It’s easy to design expensive products,” Mangano says. “But there’s that product democracy that I believe very strongly in to make something affordable for almost anybody that would want to use it.”

Part of that product democracy is her firm stance on quality. When she was first pitching the Miracle Mop to department stores as the only mop a consumer will ever need, she was often met with incredulity: why would a retailer want a consumer to buy one great mop when there’s more money in having a consumer replace lesser mops time and time again?

Making retailers, let alone product developers, understand an idea that seems to muddle the view of bottomlines has been a struggle for Mangano beyond the Miracle Mop: her odor-neutralizing line of products Forever Fragrant had a sticky march to premiering on TV with practically everyone in her corner certain that no one would understand the idea.

“Everybody said, ‘no, no–you don’t want to do an odor-eliminator that will last more than a couple of months.’ I’m like, ‘no, if it can last two years, do you know how much the consumer’s gonna save? So forget that I’m not listening to you,’” Mangano says. “When I launched Forever Fragrant, everybody said the consumer’s not gonna get it. I stood up on stage in front of 100 million homes in America and proceeded to have the biggest day ever. We broke a record. The customer did get it. They were ready for it. They understood the innovation. We never saw [the HSN sales counter] go over 99,000–we didn’t know if it could actually go to the six digits of 100,000 and we proceeded to go over 150,000 in six hours–it was amazing. That’s a moment that I can’t even describe because all throughout that time, I was thinking ‘they got it, they got it!’ They always get it.’”

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Mangano’s connection with her customers, who are largely women, is of near psychic levels–she knows what they need before they do mainly because she’s one of them: budget-savvy moms looking for quality products that will ease the everyday stresses of life.

“I so love the consumer. I so care about them, and I really think they feel that. When I’m designing a product, I’m always dreaming about what they’re gonna think about, how they’re gonna react, what they’re gonna love about it. It’s just in my fiber to feel for them,” Mangano says. “I am live [on TV] standing up in front of America–it is the real deal. It is really talking right to them. How many times have you picked up a product with packaging and you’re like ‘I don’t get it–what does this really do?’ Nobody should ever buy anything where they’re still confused about it. For me, it’s making it clear so that the purchase is an informed purchase and they will come back if you give them, first and foremost quality, and then right behind that value.”

Joy hits theaters nationwide on Christmas Day.

About the author

KC works covers entertainment and pop culture for Fast Company. Previously, KC was part of the Emmy Award-winning team at "Good Morning America" where he was the social media producer.

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