Nike Founder Phil Knight Reveals Deep Truths About Success

nike change creator

In life we are all businessman and businesswomen in some shape or form. Even if you’re not actually working in business.

Have you ever sold anything? Whether you know it or not, you have been doing sales your whole life.

You might have dressed up nice and been on your best behavior to impress a date so they would like you. Did you get the sale?

Maybe you wanted to go on a vacation to one place and whomever you were going with had other ideas so you had to convince them your idea was better. Did you get the sale?

In our current and crazy system you have to money to put food on the table. So you either sold yourself to an employer and convinced them you were worth their money. Or maybe you created a product and sold that to someone?

You get the idea.

What really sucks is when you put in a ton of time and effort and get little return or no return at all.

It can be draining but the good news is there are reasons some people get huge returns and others don’t.

The better news is you can totally get bigger returns in your life if you’re willing to do what it takes.

Taking Cues

“Life is growth. You grow or you die.”

― Phil Knight, Shoe Dog

As an entrepreneur I’m always eager to learn from other people who’ve done things I admire.

I interviewed Taddy Blecher a while ago and plan to have that cover story released during November of 2017. He’s a total rockstar and winner of the Skoll Foundation Social Entrepreneur Award.

When we spoke he mentioned the story of Phil Knight, the founder of Nike.

If Taddy found value in Phil’s story I thought I just might too. I decided to take the cue. If you want to check it out, and I recommend you do, you can grab it here – Shoe Dog by Phil Knight.

I know, there is no better way to expedite your success than to learn from people who have done things you want to do. Being focused on social entrepreneurship I just never thought about Phil Knight.

So, I was intrigued.

Everyone has different experiences and perspectives, which makes learning exciting. You never know who’s perspective will actually resonate with you best. While everyone has different experiences, many times you will find fundamental common denominators.

nike change creator


Damn, I Suck At Sales

How did Phil Knight get into selling shoes of all things I wondered? How did he turn that into what we know today as Nike?

People tend to be products of their environment and Phil grew as a track guy. He loved to run. Lacing up his shoes and getting into a meditative state. He loved it.

After college Phil and his buddy decided to put work off for a year and travel the world. Something we all talk about but most don’t do. He borrowed money from his dad who, to Phil’s surprise, was all about it.

Quick tip, travel is one of the best ways to find inspiration and get educated. Ninety percent of the entrepreneurs I interview found their idea because of a powerful travel experience.

Their first stop was in Hawaii where the sun was warm and the beaches were awesome.

On day one, they decided to stay there, haha. So much for traveling the world.

To do so, they needed to get some form of income so they got jobs selling encyclopedias. This gave them flexible hours so they could surf and pay the bills.

There was just one small issue. Phil was an introvert and he sucked at selling. He couldn’t sell an encyclopedia for shit.

Maybe people just didn’t want them he thought. So, he got a new job selling securities and thought that might be a bit more lucrative.

After some effort there he realized he just sucks at selling in general and it wasn’t for him.

Japan Here I Come with Big Brass Ones – No Risk No Reward

Soon enough he decided it was time to move on and long story short he ended up in Japan.

The place where Tiger shoes were made by Onitsuka.

He decided to call them up and somehow weaseled his way into a meeting with them because, as a runner, he was fascinated with their shoes and had never seen a manufacturing facility.

They showed him around, he was in awe, and they finally brought him to a conference room to chat.

Then, they asked what company he represented in the United States.

I love the big brass ones Phil had here because he didn’t represent anyone. He made up the name, Blue Ribbon, on the spot.

He also was a Stanford graduate who did a large research project about the athletic shoe industry in the United States. He decided to use those learnings to explain the opportunity they were missing in the US market.

He asked if they could send him samples of the shoes. They agreed!

How many of you would have had the gall to fly to Japan, get in front of a leading shoe manufacturer, make up a company and convince them to send you samples? Seriously?

Let’s be clear, that is not the only time Phil took a big leap of faith. He did this every step of the way during his effort to build Nike, it was part of who he was and how he thought.

A guy who later had a wife and kid, had a company with zero equity. Banks actually kicked him out and would not lend him money anymore. He could have lost it all at any moment which caused a lot of sleepless nights.

Yet he kept taking big leaps. Let that behavior and mindset sink in.

Huge risks are the only way to huge rewards.

Wait a Minute, I Rock at Sales!

When Phil came back from Japan he was eagerly waiting for those sample shoes.

I think something like a year went by and whenever he would email Onitsuka, they would reply, “little more days.” He figured it was a lost cause, the gig was up.

But finally the day came that he got a package.

Custom designed shoes for Blue Ribbon, the fictitious athletic shoe company based on the West Coast of the United States. He was pumped up like a kid on Christmas.


blue ribbon phil knight


Now what does he do?

He had to go and sell them, to validate his product. But where should he go sell them?

He decided the best place to find people who want running shoes was at track meets. He would go talk to the coaches and see if they would want them for the team.

As we now know, he’s not the best at selling things.

But something was different this time. The first coach he spoke to actually jumped all over the shoes. So did the next one.

Holy shit, Phil was selling the crap out of the shoes.

What happened?

In the words of Phil Knight:

“Driving back to Portland I’d puzzle over my sudden success at selling. I’d been unable to sell encyclopedias, and I’d despised it to boot. I’d been slightly better at selling mutual funds, but I’d felt dead inside. So why was selling shoes so different? Because, I realized, it wasn’t selling. I believed in running. I believed that if people got out and ran a few miles every day, the world would be a better place, and I believed these shoes were better to run in. People, sensing my belief, wanted some of that belief for themselves. Belief, I decided. Belief is irresistible.”  ― Phil Knight, Shoe Dog

What really stood out was when Phil said, “belief is irresistible.” I’ll always have that stuck in my mind.

The Big Lessons To Walk Away With

Running was close to who Phil was, his authentic self. It was his calling.

He believed in the product he had and as a runner he spoke authentically about the benefits of the shoes. That truly showed when he spoke to the coaches.

We all might say, yes I know this. But take a minute to deeply consider the full situation.

Phil pursued something close to his heart which made him charismatic, courageous, and able to overcome failures.

Aside from being a reflection of who he was he also knew what was going on in the minds of his audience. A huge benefit.

Does Phil only sell running shoes today?

No, but that is where he started and built his base. Then, only then, did he expand when the time was right.

Start niche, take small steps. Grow into your bigger vision.

“I’d tell men and women in their midtwenties not to settle for a job or a profession or even a career. Seek a calling. Even if you don’t know what that means, seek it. If you’re following your calling, the fatigue will be easier to bear, the disappointments will be fuel, the highs will be like nothing you’ve ever felt.” ― Phil Knight, Shoe Dog: A Memoir by the Creator of NIKE

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