Joy Mangano's ride from rags to riches all started with a mop, a special mop. "I was just was tired of bending down, putting my hands in dirty water, ringing out a mop," Mangano says. "So, I said, 'There's gotta be a better way.'"
Up from Nothing: Amazing Stories of Starting at the Bottom and Rising to the Top, Friday at 10 p.m. on "20/20."
Her better way was a "self-wringing" mop. At first she sold only a few mops at a time with her kids helping fill the orders. Then Mangano found success when mopping met TV shopping, on QVC.
"At first, it was demonstrated on TV without me," Mangano said. "And it didn't do so well. They wanted to return the mop. They said, 'You know, a mop is just not going to sell on TV."
Mangano persisted, and sold herself to the producers.
"Brave little me said, 'You get me on that stage and I will sell this mop because it's a great item,"
And QVC took her advice.
"I got on stage and the phones went crazy and we sold out every last mop," Mangano recalls.
She says it was "amazing."
A Mother With a Necessity to Invent
Today, she's a dynamo who's made a fortune marketing to the household products industry, and is now a celebrity on HSN, formerly know as the Home Shopping Network.
"As natural as it is for a parent to talk about their child, it is for me to talk about my product," Mangano says.
These days, her Huggable Hangers have become another TV shopping bonanza. "Now who would have ever thought in the history of home shopping that a hanger would be the single most successful product?" she tells "20/20." "We're rounding near a 100 million hangers."
If you thought a hanger was just a hanger, well think again. Mangano essentially re-invented a household staple. She made her hangers thin to maximize closet space and she made them colorful and velvety so clothes won't slip off of them.
For 20 years now, Mangano has been racking up mega-sales with why-didn't-I-think-of-that kinds of inventions. And she's had the creative knack since her teens, when she was working for a veterinarian.
"I realized that many dogs and cats were hit by cars at night and I said, 'There's gotta be a way to protect them,'" Mangano said. "Now way back then, when I was 16, I invented a fluorescent flea collar but I was too young to really know what to do. A year later a major pet company came out with a fluorescent flea collar and I said, 'The next idea I'm going to follow through with it.'"
She stopped thinking about patents long enough to fall in love with Tony Miranne, a fellow business student in college. They married and quickly had a family. But the romance didn't last. At 33, Mangano found herself divorced, raising three children under the age of 7, in a small two-bedroom home.
"I remember her going out on Saturday nights to work as a waitress," said Mangano's daughter Christie. "But you never really think, you know, 'Oh, how hard is my mom working?' Even though we drove the beat-up car."
"There were many points where I would lay in bed and say, 'I don't know how I'm going to pay that bill,'" Mangano said. "I pulled this survivor side of me out and I have to tell you it has a lot to do with having the children. I was waitressing, taking jobs to get income to come in at the same time I was developing the Miracle Mop."
The mop changed everything.
Got an Idea? Just 'Go for It'
Today Mangano is CEO of Ingenious Designs, a multimillion-dollar company she built while becoming a household name on the Home Shopping Network.
The woman who once struggled in a small ranch home, is living on Long Island's North Shore in a 42,000-square-foot mansion with 14 bedrooms and 13 bathrooms. But you won't find her sitting by the pool very often. Her kids say she's just too busy, always thinking up new products.
"We were on vacation in the Hamptons and she sees this person come out, holding pies and these two pies, you can't get in the car," her son Bobby daughter Christie recalled. "He's trying to get his keys and she came up with a bakery box that she launched a year later.
Among Mangano's 100 employees is Tony Miranne, her ex-husband, who is executive vice president of sales.
"Joy truly possesses the inner drive to achieve what she wants to achieve," Miranne said. "She's 24/7, eat, sleeps and drinks achieving; It's a great success story."
Mangano tells 20/20 "Obviously, the product is king. Behind that, the determination and the ability and the knowledge to know where to take risks, where not to, where to be smart and what to give up and what not to give up.
And Mangano encourages others to follow through on their ideas too. "If it's anywhere near a realistic goal, I say, 'Go for it' because, look at me! I mean, in a million years, I never thought that I would be in this place, in this situation 20 years ago. All because of a mop that started it. It truly is the American dream.