Athletes are continually trying different ways to get the leg up on their competition - carbo loading, nutritional supplements, shaving their um, body – anything to finish a second faster, go the extra mile or rack up one more point before the buzzer sounds.
Kevin Plank, 37, recognized this competitive attention-to-detail and he managed to turn a business launched in his grandmother's basement into a multimillion dollar clothing empire.
Plank is the CEO of Under Armour, an athletic apparel company known for tight-fitting, sweat-wicking clothing, and this year, the company has set its sights high: Its goal is to bring in over a billion dollars in revenue.
As a mediocre football player at the University of Maryland in 1995, Plank was looking to give himself any advantage over his competitors. He decided to start with the sweat-soaked T-shirts he wore to practice.
"I was pretty short and slow, so my incentive was giving me that little edge and advantage," he said. "So much of sports is about the last inch and the last minute of the game."
Plank began making snug-fitting, "compression" t-shirts using a sweat-wicking, synthetic fabric. He did not invent the fabric, he simply created the shirts and asked some of his pro-football friends to try them out.
"I thought it was going to be easy," he said, recalling how he figured he could send out a few shirts and "be on easy street in no time."
However, he said, "the fact of the matter is it just doesn't work like that."
Plank based his business out of his grandmother's basement. He racked up $40,000 in credit card debt, and thousands of miles on the road, not to mention a ton of hard work.
"We were always smart enough to be naive enough to know what we could accomplish," he said.
Plank survived the early years of Under Armour, and the tight-fitting t-shirts became mainstays in football locker rooms. The shirts even appeared on star physiques in various football flicks such as "Any Given Sunday."
And then there were the ads: the loud, aggressive angry ads that starred Plank's former college football teammate turned pro-football player, Eric Ogbogu. The ad features Ogbogu and other football players with their muscles bulging, drums pounding, skin shining with sweat beneath the tight-fitting tees. There's not a soggy cotton T-shirt in the bunch.
Plank boasts he hasn't worn cotton in over 13 years. "Cotton grew up as our enemy," he said.
According to Ogbogu, the ad campaign and its logo, "We must protect this house!" were just the testosterone infusion the company needed.
"It really changed the game," he said, pointing to a statue of himself that Under Armour commissioned to commemorate the campaign.
"At that point I had guys in the NFL who kind of saw me with the shirts on, and kind of snickered a little bit because they saw me with the tight-fitting shirts on," he said.
Ogbogu said that as the commercials aired more often, people began to take notice. "They started to see what it's about, they started to really get into the brand," he said.
"Everyone started to see the brand as a true contender in the game," he said.
Plank maintains an intense fitness regime, and he invites employees to participate in one of the company's daily corporate workout sessions.
"Everyone that wears Under Armour can look like me," Ogbogu jokes.