book: Shoe Dog
in Shoe Dog, Nike founder and board member Phil Knight offers a look behind the curtain of the enormously successful brand. he covers its trajectory from a cash-strapped startup to the wildly popular, multinational, multibillion-dollar company we know today.
one fact that makes this book so interesting is the fact that, although Nike is an innovator, it is not a tech company. nobody lumps Nike in with Apple, Amazon, and the like.
i also found it inspiring that Knight pursued a path with something he loved: running. he was truly answering a calling and not chasing a career.
in case you need more than just my testimonial, Bill Gates named this book one of his top five favorite reads of 2016. i believe that the book’s success draws on the fact that Knight is candid and honest throughout. he shares anecdotes about his family, the hurdles he faced, controversies that put Nike under fire, and much more.
it’s not just about his professional life; he shares his personal life too. whether you’re planning to start your own business or simply interested in Knight’s journey, i highly recommend checking out Shoe Dog.
“I wanted to build something that was my own, something I could point to and say: I made that. It was the only way I saw to make life meaningful.”
after school, Phil Knight opted out of working for a big, already-established company and decided to hit the ground running with his own grand ideas. upon graduating in 1962, Knight followed his vision of cheaply importing high-quality athletic shoes from Japan to the United States.
Knight was under constant pressure from his father to go down a more traditional, less risky path. although he was determined to forge his own success, Knight did always seek respect and approval from his old man. although he did lend Knight money when the entrepreneur was building his company from scratch, the true moment of approval came later down the road. i won’t spoil it for you.
now, building Nike (formerly Blue Ribbon Sports) from the ground up wasn’t a cake walk (i’m not apologizing for these loosely shoe-related puns). as you can imagine, Knight faced issues with bankers, crushing blows to his plans, relentless competitors, and much more.
in fact, Knight’s budding brand wasn’t turning a profit in its first few years. why? because he reinvested all of it back into more product to sell.
one thing that Knight did early on that impacted his company for the better was getting a trusted mentor by his side. when Knight received his shoes from Japan, he sent two pairs to Bill Bowerman, his running coach at the University of Oregon, to get his opinion on the quality. Bowerman didn’t just give his testimony; he offered to become Knight’s business partner and head up product design. the confidence Bowerman had in Knight inspired Knight to push on.
“God, how I wish I could relive the whole thing. Short of that, I’d like to share the experience, the ups and downs, so that some young man or woman, somewhere, going through the same trials and ordeals might be inspired or comforted. Or warned. Some young entrepreneur, maybe, some athlete or painter or novelist, might press on.”
failing, funding, time, and other woes
“The cowards never started, the weak died along the way — that leaves us.”
it’s probably no surprise to you that building an empire takes time. it took Knight a couple of years of selling shoes out of his car before he started to turn a noteworthy profit. even then, it was ten years later that the Nike brand gained broad appreciation.
most books i’ve read on entrepreneurship don’t dive too deep into the struggle of funding a growing business. growth often means putting money into your business without knowing your exact cash flow — and it’s scary. even if you’re turning a profit, funding growth is uncomfortable to put it lightly, but it must be done.
and Knight doesn’t just talk business in Shoe Dog. he opens up and talks about the difficulty of balancing the executive life with his home life, especially when his children were young. i really respect that Knight didn’t sugarcoat this part of his story. it’s hard to be a busy businessman and an even busier family man. it’s not always rainbows and sunshine. in fact, maybe it rarely is when you’re under pressure like Knight was.
“See an open shot, take it.”
i can’t think of any reason not to like this book. Phil Knight has built an incredible empire all on “good”.