1. What is the book about?
Shoe Dog by Nike founder and chairman Phil Knight traces the journey of Nike from the time it was a startup all the way to its IPO. The journey captures the tribulations, triumphs, tragedy and trials (an actual one too) of an entrepreneur in the 1960s & 1970s running a cross border business. The story is a throwback to an era when banks were conservative and venture capital was in its nascent stages and businesses growing 100% per year had to get creative about raising money.
With starting capital of $1000, Nike, grew to a $140 million business by the end of the 70s and when it went public it was valued at $387 million ($1.2 billion today). Phil describes the 18-year journey from a personal and professional vantage point in a story with numerous subplots, a host of different characters who were misfits for an athletic company but their passion connected them and built Nike. There are surprises at every turn of the page but they resulted in setting up the most recognized athletic brand in the world, present in almost every corner of the world and does over $30 billion in sales.
The writing style is unique, for example the author’s personal feelings during an episode are described in quotes from other books or speeches given by leaders & coaches: “The cowards never started and the weak died along the way. That leaves us, ladies and gentlemen. Us.” or “don’t tell people how to do things, tell them what to do and let them surprise you with their results”. As the book is written from the eyes of the author the numerous plots depicted in the book felt (to me) as a movie and I finished it the book in 4-5 hours.
There is an epilogue at the end which bring the book from the heydays of its IPO to the current day and its gives an insight into what it took to build a company that has touched the lives of hundreds of millions (if not billions).
2. Who wrote this book?
He started with a $1000 and made it into $387 million!
The book is written by Phillip Knight, the founder and Chairman of Nike. His journey starts from a thesis paper he wrote in college, then he does a world tour including a stay in Calcutta (modern day Kolkata) before heading back to his home town in Oregon. It is written from the Phil’s perspective so the episodes give an account of what he felt and the logic behind his actions which weren’t always in the correct side of the divide but were necessary in his duty as an entrepreneur.
3. Why did I read this book?
Bill Gates recommended this book as one of the must read books of 2016, has also given his own book review and his reasons for why this book should be read. That inspired me to pick up this book.
After reading it I agree with Bill’s review that unlike other entrepreneurial biographies that show the protagonist as a superhuman. Phil’s gives a real-life view into how large companies started like as messy, confused business model that were often at the brink of collapse but were saved by a bit of pluck. In many ways Phil’s biography is a cross between Call Me Ted and The Virgin Way as shows that building large businesses has serious pitfalls, sudden triumphs, interesting hires and the constant requirement of capital to fuel the growth. How these moving parts collude and collide is a similarity between all 3 biographies.
4. Why do I recommend this book?
We stand at a very important moment in the history of Indian business. A single indirect tax regime is being implemented (GST), there is a push for cashless payments, the stock indices are at all-time highs but banking and venture capital isn’t catching up.
An entrepreneur entering this market sees unlimited opportunity but limited capital controlled by fearful money managers. To them the Phil’s journey will give inspiration
“The cowards never started and the weak died along the way. That leaves us, ladies and gentlemen. Us.”
5. Who do I recommend this book for?
Nike was a startup too!
Any entrepreneur new or old will find inspiration in this book. If you are going to be in the consumer products space this book will resonate with you at many levels. The learnings on how to hire, how to pick & treat your business partners, how to expand with limited capital and above all why the art of negotiation is the core skill for an entrepreneur will provide valuable insight for all entrepreneurs.
6. Interesting Trivia
- Nike was originally called Blue Ribbon Sports
- Phil spent time by the Ganga prior to starting his business. Steve Jobs did too and on Jobs’s advice Zuckerberg did too.
- Phil picked the name Nike at the very last minute and the name came to his first employee in a dream
- Phil’s account was closed by two banks because they assumed his rapid growth was a fraud and one of them went asked the FBI to investigate!
- Phil (like yours truly) was a door to door salesman, I outsold him J.