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How I Built Nike: Phil Knight’s 4 Business Lessons for Young Entrepreneurs

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Phil Knight

Everybody knows what Nike is, but not so many know how it was built or who built it. Phil Knight, the once-young entrepreneur who left his lucrative accounting job to pursue his dream of having his own shoe company is the man behind Nike. I was lucky enough to read Knight`s autobiography “Shoe Dog,” and today I`m going to share the top business lessons that I believe every entrepreneur should follow to succeed.

Here are 4 business lessons I learned from Phil Knight:

1. Mix what you like with what the market needs

I recently watched an interview between multimillionaire Tom Bilyeu and the internet celebrity, and former monk, Jay Shetty and I caught this quote, “the entrepreneurial success is to ask: What are you good at, what do you like, what the market needs and how to make money off it.” All the big guys in the business world – Jobs, Buffet, Gates…etc, have used the same principle time and time again, and when I read Shoe Dog, I saw that he did the same thing.

Knight was good at running,  wanted to be an entrepreneur, and saw a gap in the market. America needed better running shoes so he went to Japan, made a deal with one of their top shoe companies and became their West-coast distributor. Problems later emerged but he had already known his calling and his Oregon-based company “Blue Ribbon” became the one we now call “Nike.”

“Don’t tell people how to do things, tell them what to do and let them surprise you with their results.” – Phil Knight

2. Team up with better people

One of the smartest moves Knight made in his life was teaming up with his coach, Bill Bowerman. Who better to approach about selling running shoes than your well-known track coach who has ties to every shoe store in Portland?

Also, Bowerman wasn`t just a good track instructor, he was also a great businessman with a great personality. He was an alpha leader, a great networker and above all, Bowerman had a thing for running shoes. He used to sneak into his players` lockers, steal their footwear and hand them back with some minor modifications that made them run better and faster.

Bowerman`s skills had bigger demand later on when both Blue Ribbon and Onitsuka Tiger drifted apart. Now that he and Knight had to manufacture their shoes, it was Bowerman`s technique of molding rubber soles with a waffle iron that they used for making the first generation of Nike shoes, and America loved it.

3. Have a 100% conviction you’ll win

Passion and conviction are the salt and pepper of every successful business. Without a firm belief in your ideas, you won’t be able to sell them to both customers and investors.

The first question Knight received when pitching the CEO of the Japanese shoe manufacturer Onitsuka Tiger was, “Mr. Knight, what company are you with?” A difficult question to answer especially when you don’t have a company and still live with your parents. But Knight had a conviction that America needed better running shoes.

Knight had seen it before when the Japanese cameras invaded the markets back home, and he knew people would do the same with imported running shoes. Due to this, his entire pitch was all about passion and possibility which was enough to sign the partnership papers with them.

“Dream audaciously, have the courage to fail forward, act with urgency.” – Phil Knight

4. Don’t sell…show

When he was young, Knight tried selling encyclopedias door-to-door and failed miserably. He saw no need for selling them, they were heavy to carry, and because it felt like a burden to Knight, nobody bought from him.

Years later, he had to repeat the same cycle but this time with shoes. Blue Ribbon was still not conspicuous, and he had to meet with every store owner in the Pacific Northwest to get them to try his new shoes. Again, everyone Knight met said the same thing: “The world doesn`t need another track shoe.”

He had to find another way. Phil Knight came up with a new idea, instead of pitching his shoes, he attended as many track meets and races as possible and asked the runners, coaches, and fans to wear them and see if his shoes were better than their Adidas shoes; the market`s number 1 brand at the time. And guess what? They loved it and all of a sudden, Knight was all booked.

Successful people understand that you must love what you sell – or at least believe it has value. The more passion you have the better your sales numbers will be. Now that you’ve read Phil Knight`s top lessons, I want you to leave a comment with the number-1 lesson you’ve learned in business either from books or, preferably, from your experience. It`ll be more than interesting hearing from you.

Which one of these business lessons will you begin incorporating? Let us know which one and why in the comments below!

Marwan Jamal is a fitness and health blogger at healthline.com. He’s a great fan of the gym and a healthy diet. He follows the trends in fitness, gym, and healthy life and loves to share his knowledge through useful and informative articles.

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