On today’s run I finished Shoe Dog, the story of Nike as told by its founder.
Shoe Dog is a wonderful story for anyone who wants to start a business and feels a lack of confidence about it.
Plus Phil Knight is a wonderful storyteller. Great read all around
The tale starts with 24 year old Phil going round the world to seek direction in life. He has an idea to start a shoe company but his old man says that’s dumb.
He thinks Japanese shoes could be big in USA, but World War 2 was just a few years back
The trip winds up in Japan where Phil convinces a shoe factory to give his company, Blue Ribbon, exclusive rights to sell their shoes in western USA.
Ok where do we send the shoes?
Errrr … I’ll get back to you on that
He runs home to create Blue Ribbon.
AFTER it’s already the sole distributor of Tiger shoes.
His former track coach becomes cofounder.
A few months later, the shoes arrive. Phil has a full time job at this point because faffing around with shoes won’t ever work
Sales double every year, part time employees grow, and still Phil keeps his day job. No way this will ever work out.
All the money goes back into buying more and more shoes. Each shipment bought on credit.
They begin to make suggestions. Improving shoes. Getting the factories to produce special shoes with Blue Ribbon designs.
And sales keep doubling and loan size keeps growing and evermore they are constantly on the verge of bankruptcy.
Their supplier throws Blue Ribbon to the curb.
Blue Ribbon can’t sell any other shoes. Contracts.
Nike is born. As a side project almost. A diversification.
They produce the most popular shoe yet. Customers are begging to buy them.
By now Nike is working with multiple factories, selling millions per year, shoes flying off the racks.
And still they are always mere moments from bankruptcy. Even the bank gets tired of their bullshit and stops giving them loans. Throws them out.
They get institutional VC
And the story keeps going like that all the way to successful IPO.
Full of pains and problems and terminal hiccups the company miraculously skirts by.
With luck with perseverance with hard work.
And my favorite part is that the founder is never quite sure it’s gonna work.
That last part echoes how I always feel about the stuff that I do.
Shoe Dog shows that it’s okay to not feel like you’re crushing it. It’s okay to doubt yourself. Just keep going.