How a Fearless Startup is Taking on Under Armour and Nike
Start with what people need and work backwards.
PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images
For thirty years, Nike has been a giant in shoes and apparel. They are experts in marketing, innovation, messaging and understanding their customers--one of the best examples on how to run a company anywhere in the world.
Even right now, they're unveiling new NBA jerseys and stealing headlines. Because even if you love or (in most cases) don't love the new Minnesota Timberwolves jerseys, you're still talking about Nike's new contract with the NBA. Sorry, Adidas.
Who would dare start a company to compete with Nike?
Kevin Plank did. In 1996, at the age of 23, he started with an idea. Why not? Why can't a shirt be more than a shirt? What if it could wick moisture and keep athletes warmer, cooler, dryer in extreme conditions?
We take that for granted now because we all own at least one of those shirts. I'm wearing one right now. But twenty years ago, a shirt was just a shirt. And thus, Under Armour was born.
The Right Time Does Not Exist
In 1996, Nike was an $8 billion company. Their net income was up a whopping 81 percent. It could not have been a worse time to try and take on Nike. But Under Armour did with one shirt. That's it.
In 2016 Nike's revenue was $32.4 billion. They are estimated to be a $94 billion company. That's a lot of growth in twenty years.
What happened to that small, Maryland-based t-shirt company? Under Armour's 2016 revenue was $5.4 billion. Their estimated value to date is anywhere between $14 billion and $28 billion depending on who you ask.
And even if it's at the low side, even when analysts predict slower growth, they are still undoubtedly a success. With one innovative product they carved out a space for themselves against one of the most difficult companies in the world.
What that should tell you--as an entrepreneur--is that you should never be scared off by large competition. It exists everywhere.
There's always a market for innovation, for something different, for something that changes the dynamic. Sure, eventually the bigger company will catch up with you. Nike makes shirts that wick now too. But if you can build a brand around one innovation, you can create a billion dollar company.
It Starts With An Idea
Twenty years after Under Armour, it might be happening again--this time in Fishers, Indiana. A company called Recovery Force is building garments that aren't just tight-fitting--they actually compress sore muscles on demand, improving blood flow and accelerating recovery.
"NASA and major companies have been trying to do this for years, but have come up short," says Matt Wyatt, the company's CEO. "Recovery Force has not only achieved this, but has significant intellectual property around doing this anywhere on the body."
The company didn't go the venture capital route, but has quietly raised over $10 million since 2014 through private individuals and some small investment firms willing to bet on the team and technology. Wyatt himself has had a long and successful career creating new, innovative medical devices.
Turning an idea in to a company is never a sure thing. It takes patience, being able to recognize what will matter to consumers in the future, defining how you can create value and being able to raise enough funds to grow and scale. But it starts with one simple idea and the passion to succeed where others have failed. Why not?