Nike was founded in 1964 by Phil Knight together with his track coach, Bill Bowerman. The company possesses an immense corporate culture and history and when you consider the company’s humble beginnings, it’s pretty amazing to see how Nike has grown and innovated over the years. With this in mind, here are 5 valuable lessons everyone can learn from the founder of Nike, Phil Knight.
1) You’re Never Ready So Start Now
In the book Shoe Dog, Phil had just graduated and wanted to travel the world before he takes on life. He borrowed money from his dad and travelled the world, one of the places he visited was Japan. He was there with a different motive, he had a “crazy idea” which was to import Japanese running shoes into the US.
Phil had no idea on how to do business with the Japanese and no idea what shoes to import until he found Onitsuka Tiger. He met up with 2 of his dad’s friends and they gave Phil a crash course on how to communicate with the Japanese. The next day, he called Onitsuka and told them he is a distributor from US and visited the factory without any idea on what to expect.
The Japanese businessmen welcomed him and gave him a tour of the factory and eventually leading him into the office.
When asked about what company he was from, he startled and came out with the name “Blue Ribbon Sports”. He was a track runner and he recalled about the trophies he won in his room each tagged with a blue ribbon.
Unsure of the sales of running shoes in the US, he received another question about this and muttered “1 billion” where till this day, he had no idea where the number had come from.
The Japanese was impressed and gave him the deal to distribute Onitsukas in the US and as much as it may not sound honest, sometimes being confident and getting over the fear of “not being ready” and learn along the way opens up to many opportunities. It’s better to apologise if you’ve not done a good job than not getting started and wondering if you’d do a good job.
2) Fail Fast
Phil had many setbacks as he grows Nike. His coach and partner, Bill Bowerman, always attempt to come out with a better pair of shoes for track runners by using any raw materials he could find at home.
Most of his creations are not up to his standards but he learned along the way as he fails. With every failure, he knew better what kind of material would suit a running shoe best to increase performance.
Many times in the book, Phil had to make decisions that are outside of his comfort zone and initially, he had many doubts and wasn’t sure if the decisions he made would make or break the company. Many people would let this fear stop them on their tracks but Phil wanted to fail as much as possible and as fast as he can so that he could learn from all the mistakes as early as possible.
As simple as it sounds, failing is really demoralising and hurts the ego but ironically, with each failure, brings you closer to your goals and success.
Especially if you’re young, you have lots of time to fail, not because you are a failure but because you are learning and building the foundations to success.
3) Dare To Risk
In relation to failing fast, a part of why Phil was so successful in building Nike was because of the calculated risks he took.
The amount of times he had to get out of his comfort zone to take risks and not knowing what the consequences will be was immense but it was necessary.
Some of the risks he took from the beginning was borrowing money from his dad to buy the shoes from Onitsuka and as he grew, he borrowed money from the bank to buy more shoes so he can sell more and repeat. This was really risky as he did not have any liquidity and cash flow.
Other risks he took which helped grow Nike exponentially was taking a chance on athletes such as Tiger Woods, Kobe Bryant, Michael Jordan and many more.
I’ve always believed that all the financially successful people or people who have made an impact in this world took countless risks. In order to do big things, big decisions have to be made and no big decisions come without a risk.
As long as the risks you take does not break you if you fail and you accounted for the available margin of error, I believe risk is essential for growth.
4) Do Something You Believe In
From the start, Phil knew he wanted to do something related to shoes. He sold shoes because he realised it wasn’t selling. He believed that if people go out and ran a few miles every day, the world would be a better place.
During the partnership with Onitsuka, they wanted to cut Phil off and buy over Blue Ribbon Sports and threatened to find other distributors if he did not want to sell his company. This didn’t stop Phil as he worked together with Bowerman to come out with the first pair of Nike.
It gained traction so quickly that he needed to go overseas to find more factories that could manufacture the same shoe Bowerman created.
That shoe was the Nike Cortez which the sole was inspired by the waffle maker where Bowerman dabbled with and also a shoe I proudly wear whenever I can.
Having a belief or a passion can help you persevere through the tough times because you believe in the things you are doing and as for Phil, he believed he can change the world by selling his shoes and changed the world he did.
Last of the 5 valuable lessons from the founder of Nike himself but definitely not the least is to persevere.
He had a tough time building Nike as legal battle with Onitsuka and perhaps the one he was most worried with, the fight with the US government as he was charged unfair import taxes came and banks refused to loan him money due to his lack of cashflow.
Another great downfall he had was the lost of his son, Matthew. Though it was not during the beginning or the growth of Nike that he lost his son, it was the lack of interaction between him and his son as he was busy building Nike. It was something that Phil didn’t want as he always wanted to be a great dad, but he persevered through, wanting to build Nike up to where it is today and perhaps patch up with his son but didn’t had the chance to.
At the end of the day, Nike is able to thrive like it is today because Phil didn’t give up on his dreams to make the world a better place. A place where people now go out to run a few miles everyday.
Some of my favourite quotes from the book are
So why was selling shoes so different? Because, I realized, it wasn’t selling. I believed in running. I believed that if people got out and ran a few miles every day, the world would be a better place, and I believed these shoes were better to run in. – Phil Knight
The cowards never started and the weak died along the way. That leaves us, ladies and gentlemen. Us. – Phil Knight
I hope you’ve enjoyed this article about the valuable lessons from the founder of Nike and if you’ve learned a thing or two from this article do comment and share this article with your friends!
If you’d like to read the book, you can buy it here. Or if you’ve read it, comment down what other valuable lessons you have learned from the founder of Nike himself!
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