Phil Knight discovered he was an entrepreneur while sitting in a small business class at Stanford School of Business. “That class was an ‘aha!’ moment,” he said. “[the professor] defined the type of person who was an entrepreneur—and I realized he was talking to me. I remember saying to myself: This is really what I would like to do.”
With $600 (matched by another $600 from his partner Bill Bowerman), Phil Knight founded the company that would become the sports powerhouse Nike. For those born after 1980, it simply isn’t possible to remember a time when Nike wasn’t synonymous with sports. But in its early years, Nike had difficulty making payroll and selling enough shoes to pay for the next shipment of inventory. Sounds like a lot of other small businesses we’ve heard of.
Despite its humble beginnings (Knight’s first sales were made at track meets, from the back of his Plymouth station wagon) and thanks to great product, well-timed celebrity endorsements, and a lot of luck, Nike is now one of the most successful companies of the past 30 years. Here are a few things Phil Knight has said about his rise from small business owner to CEO of the world’s premier sporting goods company:
“At first, we couldn’t be establishment, because we didn’t have any money. We were guerrilla marketers, and we still are, a little bit. But, as we became No. 1 in our industry, we’ve had to modify our culture and become a bit more planned.”
“A brand is something that has a clear-cut identity among consumers, which a company creates by sending out a clear, consistent message over a period of years until it achieves a critical mass of marketing.”
“Ultimately, we wanted Nike to be the world’s best sports and fitness company. Once you say that, you have a focus. You don’t end up making wing tips or sponsoring the next Rolling Stones world tour.”
“It doesn’t matter how many people you offend, as long as you’re getting your message to your consumers. I say to those people who do not want to offend anybody: You are going to have a very, very difficult time having meaningful advertising.”
—Phil Knight, Founder of Nike