Kevin Plank, like so many successful entrepreneurs, saw a problem and began tinkering with ideas that would solve it. He hated how the cotton t-shirts he wore under his pads as a football player at the University of Maryland would soak up sweat, stay wet, and weigh him down. So he began tinkering. He bought some synthetic material and asked a local tailor to sew several prototypes. Then he began asking his friends test the shirts and see if they made a difference.
Interestingly, Plank’s first business had nothing to do with athletic wear. Rather, he started Cupid’s Valentine, selling roses for Valentine’s Day. He was able to save $17,000 from this success, which he used to seed Under Armor in 1996 (along with about $40,000 in credit card debt). Today the company is worth more than $5 billion—that’s the kind of success that just about any small business owner would love to have.
Like many of the entrepreneurs we’ve profiled over the past two years, Mr. Plank is heavily involved in philanthropy—giving to the V Foundation, Ronald McDonald House, and the Boomer Esiason Foundation, among others. Here are a few things he’s said that might inspire other small business owners working to solve their customers’ problems:
“The competitive flair that built our country—entrepreneurship—is one of the most undersold resources that we have as a nation.”
“There’s an entrepreneur right now, scared to death, making excuses, saying, ‘It’s not the right time just yet.’ There’s no such thing as a good time. I started an apparel-manufacturing business in the tech-boom years. I mean, come on. Get out of your garage and go take a chance, and start your business.”
“Great brands are like great stories. And every story has a beginning, a middle, and an end. And our job is to make sure that every chapter of our stories makes sense to the one in front of it and make sense to the one after it. There is no such thing as an overnight success. You have to get up and put your work boots on every single day.”
“You need to put your hands around the throat of your business, and you need to run it. There’s no other way.”
“The companies that win are the ones that communicate the best.”
“I never knew exactly what [Under Armor] was going to look like, but more important, I got up every single day and never believed it couldn’t happen.”
“Find out if your product can sell. And if it can sell, do it faster and do it better than anyone else.”
“It begins with one entrepreneur and one idea and… their ability to communicate and their ability to build a great team.”
—Kevin Plank, Entrepreneur and Founder of Under Armor