Shoe Dog

I just finished Shoe Dog and I loved it. Some reflections:

  1. There’s something so elemental about selling a shoe. It’s basic, it’s a necessity to survive, and it’s something everyone understands. I started my career in technology and have spent a lot of it trying to sell what I build to others. And in some ways, I feel like I’m at a loss. I wish I had started my career selling something like shoes. I think I’d have a better understanding of human nature that way.

  2. Nike’s story is a good case study in understanding leverage. It began with their partnership with Tiger where Nike was dependant on them. It evolved to Nike making their own shoes based on factories that still had some leverage over them but less than Tiger. It is now turned into a multi-country empire where Nike can pit factories (and countries) against each other and secure the best deal.

  3. Phil Knight started small. He played the long game. It took close to two years for his first order from Tiger to come through. He sold Tigers for eight years before selling Nikes. It took another eight years to go public. It took another decade for them to really be a staple in culture. I guess what I envy about this approach is that incremental progress can be measured in sales. They sold more shoes each year and that was their motivation. For my own startup, it feels a lot more binary where I need to create something (that takes a lot of time) and then spend more time getting it to customers in limited doses. The scaling side of it is relatively straightforward. Again, there’s just a nice simplicity to selling shoes.

  4. I’m not someone who thinks a lot about brand both in what I build and what I purchase. I’m a very utilitarian person. But in reading this book, I have to say that a strong brand can be everything. In some ways, it is the ultimate moat because you can’t copy it. To me, it is incredible that Nike can release commercials without explicitly talking about their products except with the logo at the end. This was revolutionary in the 80s and it still is today. There are so few companies out there that really make me feel some way after watching their commercials.

  5. His story reinforces the importance of team. His lieutants were moreorless co-founders and they made such a huge difference. One lesson to be drawn: sometimes these people start with you in the outset and sometimes they come along later.

  6. He thanks his wife, Penny, at the end but I really think he should have dedicated more area for her. It seems like Phil was an absent father and that that was a necessary tradeoff to creating Nike. He’s aware of that, it seems. This doesn’t sit well for me; my parents were always there for me and always made time for me. Maybe they didn’t/don’t always understand me but they were available. It’s a longer topic but I couldn’t be like Phil. I’d give up my opportunity to make history so that I could be there for my kids, if I ever have them.

  7. Phil’s relationship with my dad is like my relationship with my dad. There is part of me, buried deep in the little boy behind a harder shell, that craves his approval and weighs his opinion so much. I want to impress him and I want him to be proud of me. He always tinkered around in the garage (still does!) and maybe that rubbed off on me. He never committed; they stayed side projects. But I think there’s a part of me that wants to finish what he started. I’m tearing up as I type this last point out but like Phil, I am shaped by my dad to the core.

  8. The advice he starts the book with is a quote I will go on to treasure and hopefully reflect in my life:

    Let everyone else call your idea crazy…just keep going. Don’t stop. Don’t even think about stopping until you get there, and don’t give much thought to where “there” is. Whatever comes, just don’t stop.

Written on May 30, 2020