Phil Knight is the founder of Nike and one of the world’s richest people, but did you know he is also a Certified Public Accountant? Knowing how to manage the financial side of a business naturally has some benefits. Phil Knight published his memoirs in 2016. What can we learn from this great entrepreneur?
In his memoir, ‘Shoe Dog’, Phil Knight tells the story of Nike’s origins starting from the 1960s when Knight decides to travel the world at the age of 24 after graduating. He has what he calls ‘a crazy idea’ — importing Japanese running shoes into the US – and when visiting Japan, secures US distribution rights to the Onitsuko Tiger running shoe brand. He then teams up with his former track running coach and launches the business that became Nike in 1964.
Nike is now worth an eye-watering $86billion or more. Its iconic ‘swoosh’ logo coupled with innovations in shoe technology keep the image of the Nike brand in high regard to this day. Throughout his memoirs, Knight offers grains of wisdom. Here are three lessons that businesses, especially startups, can learn from him.
Three takeaways for startups
1: It takes time to build
Knight first borrowed money to import shoes from Japan in 1962 but it was only in 1972 that the brand got more widespread recognition, a full decade after Knight started out. Although business moves much faster now, building a stable company, especially one that sells physical goods, can still take time – not only for sales but also for innovation, development and building trust in your brand.
2: Talk to the enthusiasts
A runner all his life, Knight was part of the scene and knew coaches, runners, and their teams. His ‘user research’ came naturally – he drove to track competitions and schools and talked to the enthusiasts. This enabled Nike to create shops that celebrated runners, and to be innovative in product development. Never underestimate the value of going to the people that care and know about your product category and learning from them. Build trust by being enthusiastic and genuinely trying to improve upon their situation.
3: Be an ‘enabler’
Knight describes the work of his core Nike team as full of purpose, and his early team were typically people looking for something outside of 9-to-5 work in legal and accounting firms. He quotes General McArthur: “Don’t tell people how to do things, tell them what to do and let them surprise you with their results.” But he also says that “My management style wouldn’t have worked for people who wanted to be guided every step, but this group found it liberating, empowering.” Knight shows that the right people don’t need to be managed, but rather enabled, to achieve amazing things in business.
Knight’s closing thoughts
Knight didn’t set out to build an empire or disrupt shoe markets. He wanted to make running better by improving their tools (shoes) and health. He had many struggles along the way, yet took Nike to a successful initial public offering in 1980 and nearly forty years later the company’s shares still outperform the market.
As well as his passion for running and financial acumen, Knight’s determination and tenacity obviously played a big role in his success. The present-day Knight says “The cowards never started, the weak died along the way — that leaves us.”
Read the full story 4 valuable lessons for startups from reading “Shoe Dog” by Sebastian Martin, an Innovation coach and writer from Munich, published in the Startup.
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