5 Tips on Creating a Successful Business Like Nike

When you think of household names that paint an immediate picture in the minds of people, Nike is one of them. The sportswear brand has been widely worn, with endorsements from everyone, from top athletes, celebrities, jocks, to everyday people. For a business as successful as Nike, an important question begs to be asked: how have they been able to achieve such massive, widespread, long-lasting success, and what lessons can we learn from their journey?

In his book, Shoe Dog, Phil Knight, the co-founder of Nike Inc., shares some valuable insights that provide answers to the above question. In this article, we’ll be drawing five lessons from Phil’s book, on creating a successful business as creators and business owners in today’s world.

Let’s dive in!

Before we do that, here is a brief history lesson…

How did Nike come to be? 

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Bill Bowerman (late) and Phil Knight, Co-founders of Nike.

Nike, Inc. was founded in 1964 by Phil Knight and Bill Bowerman, who was Phil’s former sports coach at the University of Oregon. The original name of the company was Blue Ribbon Sports, but it was later renamed to Nike after the Greek goddess of victory. 

The idea of the sportswear company was born from a chance partnership. In 1962, Knight visited Onitsuka, a factory in Japan, and loved the quality and speed of their shoes so much so that he made a deal with them to sell the company’s signature shoe, the Onitsuka Tiger, in the United States. 

After showing the sneakers to Bowerman, his teacher, the duo formed Blue Ribbon Sports and became business partners. Bowerman focused on improving the shoe’s design and tested it out on athletes, while Knight focused on the business side of things. In 1971 the business underwent two significant changes: first, the duo ended their business partnership with Onitsuka, and then they changed the name of the company from Blue Ribbon Sports to Nike.

The company struggled financially for a while until they signed a deal with basketball superstar Michael Jordan, which revolutionized their entire business. They offered him a 15 million dollar five-year contract, and the new Air Jordan brand. Knight notes that “signing with Jordan was the best decision [he’d] ever made in [his] life.”

Michael Jordan with his Legendary Air Jordan 1s

Since then, Nike,inc has grown in leaps and bounds, thanks to a combination of factors: more celebrity endorsements from the likes of Tiger Woords, Lebron James and Christiano Ronaldo, the acquisition of smaller companies, like Converse, and strategic business decisions. 

To learn more about the history of the company, check out this article: The History of Nike: Timeline and Facts

Now that we know a little bit more about Nike and its history, here are five tips we can learn that can help us thrive as creators.

1. Persevere in the Face of Challenges

Running a successful company is full of challenges, and Nike is no exception to this rule. They have had their fair share of legal battles, employees leaving the company, supply delays, and threats of acquisition. At one point, the Bank of California refused to give them loans, which left Phil with difficult choices to make as to the survival of his business.

However, they didn’t lose heart in spite of all these problems and continued doing everything they could to realize their vision. 

As creators and business owners, know that your path may not always be the smoothest one. In fact, it might be a lot more difficult to start creating than deciding to do nothing at all. Having to deal with low sale numbers, low engagements, imposter syndrome, logistical issues, failed partnerships, etc. will be very hard. In spite of this, never give up, even when the problems you face show up en masse. 

As Phil said in the book:

“There are many ways down Mount Fuji, according to my guidebook, but only one way up.”

2. Work With People Who Share Your Vision

Nike is a visionary company and has been very open about what their vision and mission for the company is. Their mission is to bring innovation and inspiration to every athlete in the world.

Phil Knight was able to stick through the multiple problems he faced in the early days of Nike because of this vision. He believed in running and he believed in the brand. He believed his shoes were better running shoes than the ones being sold in the market, and was fortunate to find Bill Bowerman, the late co-founder and coach who shared this same belief. The employees they brought on board also shared this belief, which was why some of them could forgo paychecks in the early days inorder to help drive the vision forward. 

On belief, Phil quickly realised that it trickled from the top down. Because he firmly believed in the vision of the company, and boldly exhibited this belief, it was easy for the rest of the team to subscribe to it as well. On this, he wrote:

“People, sensing my belief, wanted some of that belief for themselves. Belief, I decided: belief is irresistible.”

He also talked about the fact that many of the employees had personal visions of their own that fit into the company’s overarching vision. For example, an early employee, Jeff Johnson, wanted to help all the oppressed runners in the world and give them a community. He shared this with the team, and of course, Nike cosigned it. This vision fuelled Jeff so much so that in ten months, he’d sold 3,250 pairs of shoes – an amazing achievement! All because he had a vision.

How does this relate to you as a creator? Well, in your business pursuits, you’ll need people who see what you’re trying to do as more than just a job. Who buy into the vision of your work. That way, setbacks, delays, and disappointments won’t faze them, and they’ll stay longer in the company. Not to mention the amazing joy you will share when you succeed. So when looking for employees or team members, choose people who share your beliefs and align with the company values. 

3. Ignore Skeptics; Focus on the Users.

There will always be someone who will tell you: “Oh, that’s a great idea, but I’ve seen it somewhere before.” 

In his book, Knight shares that during the first months of his company, he was rejected from some sportswear stores because they thought that people would not need “another track shoe.”

What did he do in response? He shifted his attention to the end users of his product. 

He would attend sporting events and speak to coaches, runners, and fans, and whenever he wanted to appeal to a particular sport’s audience, he would speak to the top athletes to find out what their needs were. By doing this, he ensured that his product would meet the design and functional requirements of his customers, increase their satisfaction, and ultimately boost revenue for the business. 

As a creative, your main focus should be the people who will be using your product, the end users. Not the competition, or the naysayers. For example, if you design templates, you should be speaking to students, office workers, to find out what they would like in a template and how your templates can make their lives easier. You can learn so many amazing things from the customer, and these should hold more weight on your product decisions than what the competition and the naysayers think.

4. Listen to Your Finances

An absence of liquidity was a big problem for Nike in its early days. They had assets but little to no cash, and this became a problem when creditors started asking for their money. This stressed the business greatly, especially in periods when their Japanese supplier would delay production. In fact, on one occasion, Customs sent them an import duties bill that was equal to the amount in revenue they had made the previous year. Imagine how crazy that must have been! 

To solve this, the company decided to spread its funding sources. In addition to getting funds from the Bank of California, they formed a secondary funding relationship with a Japanese trading bank. This bank helped them analyze their business model and make the required financial changes. This way, they were able to survive and have more cash on ground to run the business.

You can read more on this here.

Sometimes as creators, it’s easy to focus on the creative/executive part of the business. The posting on social media, the replying emails, etc. After all, that’s the fun part. However, in the process of running your business, try not to lose sight of the state of your finances. If possible, learn to audit your business monthly, so that you can know how much exactly you are making when all expenses are deducted and what choices to make that will help you either cut down costs, or gain more. 

SEE: A Smart Guide to Pricing your Digital Products

Keep an eye on your finances and take steps to improve your financial situation when you can, as it will save you a lot of trouble.

5. Be Innovative; Improve your Product.

Nike Co-founder, Bill Bowerman in the process of inventing.

The success of the Nike brand is significantly to how their shoes have evolved over the years. Bowerman, the designer of Nike, was described by Knight as a consistent experimentalist. He was constantly experimenting with new shoes and coming up with new ideas and designs to try. 

This is what Phil had to say about him: 

“He continued to use young men on his track teams as lab mice. During the autumn track season of 1965, every race had two results for Bowerman. There was the performance of his runners and there was the performance of their shoes. Bowerman would note how the arches held up, how the soles gripped the cinders, how the toes pinched, and the instep flexed. Then he’d airmail his notes and findings to Japan.”

Bowerman’s doggedness and innovation led to the creation of the “Nike Cortez,” a running shoe that quickly became a top-seller and remains till date, one of Nike’s most iconic footwear designs. He also designed the Waffle trainers, because he was obsessed with ensuring that the soles of the shoes runners wore were lightweight but also had a good grip, so they wouldn’t slip when on the field.

The Iconic Waffle Trainers

Nike’s innovative practices extended from their company and have also even benefited the entire shoemaking industry. When news regarding the condition of their warehouses made waves in the 90s, they worked to improve them. In his book, Knight gave more insight into this. 

“One of the worst things about a shoe factory used to be the rubber room, where uppers and soles are bonded. The fumes are choking, toxic, cancer-causing. So we invented a water-based bonding agent that gives off no fumes, thereby eliminating 97% of the carcinogens in the air. Then we gave this invention to our competitors, handed it over to anyone who wanted it.”

As content creators and business owners, the quality of your products will be your bread and butter. Good marketing practices, great design and storytelling can only take you so far. The product would market itself if it is good, so it is up to you to ensure that it’s the best version it can be.

If you are a writer, or content creator, read more books, learn more, and improve your skills so you can keep giving quality knowledge to your audience. More than just the product, pay attention to the other aspects of your business that would affect consumer perception. Make the process of acquiring goods as seamless as possible (which is why you should use Selar)!

It’s important to pay attention, and make adequate changes where necessary. This shows concern and a strong sense of responsibility. It will also benefit the lifespan of your business long-term.

SEE: How Coca-Cola Uses Storytelling to Sell Products

Key Takeaways

In this week’s #LearnwithSelar, we talked about Nike and 5 lessons we could learn from their journey:

  1. The importance of perseverance
  2. Choosing the right people
  3. Valuing the opinions of customers 
  4. Monitoring your finances
  5. Improving your product

In closing, we think the most important takeaway from Nike’s story is hidden in a slogan we are all so familiar with: “Just Do It.”

Many creators battle with the inertia of creating, choosing a different path, letting go of something that no longer serves them, or falling into something that will. It takes a lot of courage to start something new, and you might want to prepare for all possibilities. But as important as preparation may be, it doesn’t trump putting your plan into action and actually building something. Don’t deceive yourself into an endless loop of procrastination. Just do it!

It is like Phil said in the book,

“Let everyone else call your idea crazy... just keep going. Don’t stop. Don’t even think about stopping until you get there, and don’t give much thought to where ‘there’ is. Whatever comes, just don’t stop.”

What’s Next? 

We have arranged a few articles you can read if you would like to learn more about Nike, and their inspiring journey. 

High Performance Marketing: An Interview with Nike’s Phil Knight

18 Things We Learned About Nike by Reading Phil Knight’s Memoir

Bill Bowerman: The Legacy of Nike’s Co-Founder (Key Facts)