Self-Made Millionaire Joy Mangano's Advice for Getting Started: ‘Have a Reality Check, and Really Look at Your Life'

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This story is part of the Behind the Desk series, where CNBC Make It gets personal with successful business executives to find out everything from how they got to where they are to what makes them get out of bed in the morning to their daily routines.

Contrary to popular belief, creating a household product empire that's brought in close to $4 billion in sales and inspiring an award-winning Hollywood movie may not be the pinnacle of success.

Just ask Joy Mangano.

Mangano, 65, invented the self-wringing Miracle Mop in the early 1990s and parlayed that into an entrepreneurial career spent selling home product inventions on television networks like HSN and QVC. In 2015, Oscar-winning actress Jennifer Lawrence portrayed the self-made millionaire in the movie "Joy."

To date, Mangano says, she's sold more than 10 million Miracle Mops — but despite her notoriety and track record, her ideas still often get shot down by suppliers, R&D labs and engineers alike.

"It's not like the lottery," Mangano tells CNBC Make It. "Once you have success, now you have to handle that success."

Today, Mangano is the creator and producer of USA Network's America's Big Deal, a live shopping competition series similar to "Shark Tank." She holds more than 100 patents, and has created other household products like Huggable Hangers and My Little Steamer.

Here, she talks about finding the motivation to fully pursue big ideas, where she gets her best inspiration and her advice for anyone who wants to become an entrepreneur.

On growing up as a child inventor: 'What's wrong with Joy?'

Growing up, I would take my parents' toaster and try to make it something else — and end up blowing it up. I dug up the back lawn to create an organic garden, because I read about it. I was always creating products and making them work better.

Everyone would say, "What's wrong with Joy?"

To a degree, I felt different. I had friends and was very social, but all of a sudden, when my mom's ironing board became something else, she'd be like, "Joy, what are you doing?"

I graduated high school a year early, and I said, "Before I go to college, I want to work in an animal hospital." At the animal hospital, I realized that we were working so late because so many dogs and cats were getting hit by cars at night. So, I invented a fluorescent flea collar.

I got a group of veterinarians together and showed them the creation. But I was 16, and working, and getting ready to go for college. I never followed through with it.

A year later, a major pet company came out with the first-ever fluorescent flea collar. That's when I said to myself, "I'm going to follow through with my next idea and bring it to market."

And that next idea was the first self-wringing mop.

On where her best ideas come from: 'That moment of watching somebody struggle'

[Once] I was sitting on a bench with my children outside a very expensive pastry shop. Somebody came out with two pies and they were struggling.

My first inclination was to go and help. But then my brain was like, "Wait a minute. There's got to be a better way to do something with those two pies."

From that moment of watching somebody struggle, I created a collapsible, removable-shelf bakery box that could hold 24 cupcakes or two pies. It folded flat to under an inch. As a mom, I used to put cupcakes in a shirt box with tin foil. Now, you can put all the cupcakes for the class in this box.

My brain is always working. I'll wake up in the middle of the night and write my designs on a pad. Things will be so clear. It's something that just comes very easy to me.

On her advice for anyone who wants to become an entrepreneur: 'Have a reality check, and really look at your life'

The first thing I tell entrepreneurs is: Have a reality check, and really look at your life. I don't want people selling their homes and putting their family at risk. The key is to take one step at a time.

I've [often] started with a product idea, but by the time I finished it, it was something very different. You have to able to go down that road and take a different path, if necessary.

Nobody's an expert. You don't have to be an expert to start an idea.

I don't think I've ever met anybody that didn't say to me, "Oh, I had a great idea about something at one time or another." Some don't even start on the idea. If they do, for one reason or another, they don't keep moving forward with it.

I can tell you 100% that you will not have success because you stopped. But if you keep going, you have the odds to be successful.

You also [need] courage to go from beginning to end. A lot of people don't have that self-determination to really stick by something, especially when the going gets tough.

At a young age, I realized I had to depend on myself, believe in myself and push myself forward. That doesn't mean I don't love the people around me — I always had a great friend who gave me that pep talk when I truly needed it — but I was the one who [needed] that desire, faith and belief to keep moving forward.

At the end of the day, I always say, "You can't look for your future in somebody else."

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Disclosure: USA Network is a division of NBC Universal.

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