Life lessons from a Shoe Dog: What we learnt from Phil Knight, Nike’s Co-Founder.
You definitely know the name, “Nike”. You grew up seeing the name “Nike” around; on shirts, sport-wears with our very own entrepreneurial-minded ‘Aba boys’ inventing their own merchandise line of Nike wears too, you might even own a couple of Nike sneakers (maybe fake, maybe not).
As such, it becomes quite hard to imagine a world where there was no ‘Nike’ with her iconic ‘swoosh’ logo, unforgettable ‘Just Do it’ mantra, and her numerous endorsements with some of the world’s biggest athletes and sport figures.
It seems as though Nike has always existed since biblical times (okay maybe I’m exaggerating a teeny tiny bit but you get my point).
Nike’s rise to fame makes for a pretty interesting story.
Nike was the up-start when brands like puma and Adidas had already established their stake in the sports wear world so, how did Nike go from underdog to being the world’s most popular and valuable sportswear brand?
You see, the story of Nike’s rise to global fame is almost inextricably linked with that of the man who created Nike, Phil Knight.
At the age of 24, Phil Knight was in a slump of sorts, he’d just finished college and he was back home living with his parents, asking himself the question that every young person does at one stage or the other “What do I do with my life” when as he puts it, during his morning jog ,he settled on a crazy idea he had been toying with since when he was in college, Phil had always been fascinated by running, he was part of his college’s track team and why he wasn’t Olympic stuff material, he was good at it and he enjoyed it.
His aforementioned crazy idea was to import Japanese running shoes into America as Japanese products were already undercutting other brand’s product with their superior quality and lower prices, In fact, he had written a paper on it .
So in 1962, Phil set off, traveled to Japan with zero funding, no particular experience with corporate sales and with only one good suit to try to convince any Japanese sportswear company to use him as an exclusive supplier in the United States, Phil got a meeting with the executives of a Japanese sportswear company called “Onitsuka Tiger”, and when asked the name of his company, he came up with one on the spot, he called it “Blue Ribbon Sports”, as luck would have it, they bought his pitch and he became their supplier.
When he got back to the United States, he formed a partnership with his college track coach “Bill Bowerman” who invested a bit into the company (and later created the first Nike shoe), got the shoes and he started selling the shoes at college campuses using his automobile and at the same time he worked as an accountant to have funds to invest in his business.
Overtime, he opened stores to sell the shoes from and hired other employees to help out.
By 1971, the partnership with Onitsuka Tiger had gone sour, so he decided to have Nike start making their own shoes, and changed the company’s name to Nike (based on the recommendation of an employee), hired a college student by the name of Carol Davidson design a logo and she came up with the swoosh logo we all know and love.
Some 48 years later and we all know how the story plays out, Nike is a billion dollar brand and the undisputed champion of sports-wear, in retrospect it makes for a good success story, but it was never an easy story.
Setting off to start a business in 1962 was an almost ridiculous proposition, you didn’t have venture capitals around every corner, the concept of “entrepreneur” was not even a mainstream thing back then, and banks were not really keen on giving loans out to young people. All in all, the whole proposition was inherently risky and seemed stupid to most of the people around him as they told him.
If there are any lessons to learn from Phil Knight, it is that it is not only enough to recognize opportunity but to also act on it while the time is right, if he had dawdled too long with his idea, another person would have beat him to it.
Secondly, in life find your tribe and make the right partnerships, as Phil knight himself put it, partnering with his college coach was one of the best moves he made, it made it easier for Nike to break into the sports scene.
And finally, you owe it to yourself to believe in your vision even if no one else does, this can be summed up in three words,
Just do it.