Q: From a business perspective what I find interesting about the Olympics is the reach of Nike. Their swoosh seems to be everywhere. — Ken
A: It is important to remember that every big corporation started out as a small business; a fact as true for Nike as it is for Ford or Ikea. As such, figuring out what they did right and what lessons can be gleaned from their growth is very interesting. Indeed, it begs the question: How did Nike get from being a little shoe importer to global player?
They did a few things very right.
Here are Five Small Business Lessons from Nike:
1. Follow your muse. After running track for the University of Oregon and getting an MBA from Stanford, Phil Knight decided to travel so as to put off getting the inevitable "real world" job. He wanted to figure out a way to combine his love of athletics with work.
While traveling in Japan, Knight decided, almost on a whim, to meet with representatives of the Tiger Shoe Company. He told them that he wanted to import Tiger shoes into the States.
When he got home, Knight began to import the shoes and Nike was born; Knight started his company by selling tennis shoes out of the back of his car at track meets.
It's not always true that if you do what you love the money will follow, but it is sometimes.
2. Stay focused on the goal. Every business starts small, and none started much smaller than Nike. But Knight and his partner, former Oregon coach Bill Bowerman, knew where they wanted to take their nascent company: They saw that America in the 1970s was becoming more health conscious and they wanted to be at the forefront of that trend.
Knight once said, "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."
3. Innovate. Maybe the single biggest reason for Nike's rise from obscurity to global domination has been its consistent ability to innovate. They began doing so as a small business with a corresponding small business budget, that is to say, hardly any budget at all.
Knight and Bowerman wanted to stop importing shoes and instead manufacture their own athletic shoes. As legend has it, Bowerman created their first breakthrough product, the "waffle sole" athletic shoe, by pouring a rubbery concoction into his wife's waffle iron.
The waffle sole shoe begat many generations of Nike shoes but, maybe more importantly, it created a culture of innovation.
That said, although the waffle sole show armed Nike with a new, innovative product, no one would have heard of Nike if they had not practiced Lesson No. 4 as well.
4. Never stop branding. Nike is one of the world's great brands for many reasons, but a main one is this: The company never stops branding. (The Nike Swoosh, by the way, was created by a graphic design student who was paid $35 by the then small business.)
By the same token, their catch phrase – Just Do It – became a household phrase. Why? Because, not only did it speak to people, but also, Nike never stopped using it.
Nike knows that the key to branding is repetition, repetition, repetition.