This Start-Up Story is a Must Read for Every Entrepreneur

Forget all the phony internet garbage about how glorious the life of an entrepreneur is. Ignore the Instagram pictures of Ferraris and private jets with the word “hustle” written over it. If you want to understand what it’s like to start a business, you need to read this book.

Phil Knight is incredibly successful. He is worth more than $24 billion. The company he started is worth more than $86 billion. But the story of how he built Nike into the world’s leading sports brand is priceless.

“There were many ways down Mount Fuji, according to my guidebook, but only one way up.” Phil Knight

The success of Phil Knight and Nike is truly exceptional. What’s not exceptional is the story of how he built his company from the ground up. The challenges that Knight faced in starting and building his company are common to every entrepreneur.

“The cowards never started and the weak died along the way. That leaves us, ladies and gentlemen. Us.” Phil Knight

That’s why this book is so powerful. If you’re dreaming of starting a business to become an overnight success, this is your wake-up call. If you’re already an entrepreneur and you’re struggling through the daily grind, this is your second wind.

“When you see only problems, you’re not seeing clearly.” Phil Knight

Shoe Dog: A Memoir by the Creator of Nike is, by far, the best business book I have ever read. Maybe it’s because I’m a year and a half into a business startup or maybe it’s because of the detailed, personal perspective that Knight weaves into the story, but this book demonstrates how difficult it is to build a great company.

Knight’s success can be attributed to two main character traits. He was deeply passionate about shoes and he was persistent. He had what Angela Duckworth now defines as Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance.

“Grit is passion and perseverance for long-term goals.” Angela Duckworth

Phil Knight’s journey from a crazy idea of importing Japanese running shoes to building a successful, global brand is anything but a short story. Knight faced cash flow problems, lawsuits, unfaithful partners, government investigations, media scrutiny, employees leaving for the competition, and the loss of endorsing athletes. He tackled all these challenges because he believed in his company, his team, and what they stood for. He continued to push forward despite the overwhelming difficulties he faced.

“History is one long processional of crazy ideas.” Phil Knight

This is the story of an overnight success that took more than 18 years. If you’re starting a company or building a business, you probably know it won’t be successful overnight. But how many of us would give up after 2, 3, or 5 years of continuous struggle? For Knight and his team, they battled for close to two decades to get Nike off the ground.

“Whatever comes, just don’t stop.” Phil Knight

In the end, passion, desire, hard work, family, and lifelong friendships allow Knight and his team to overcome all odds. This is an incredible, well-written story that should be mandatory reading for all entrepreneurs.

Getting Comfortable with Making Mistakes

Many people put off the dream of starting their own business because they are afraid to fail. The truth is, about half of all new businesses will fail in the first five years. But that also means that half will succeed. If you’re thinking about becoming an entrepreneur, consider the six points that I wrote about in an article called, Don’t Ever Start a Band: Six Things to Consider Before Becoming an Entrepreneur.

  1. Check your motivation
  2. Understand your skills and experience
  3. Have a solid plan
  4. Hire the right team
  5. Build a support network
  6. Prepare to strap in

Starting a business is difficult but not impossible and a fear of failure shouldn’t stop you from pursuing your dreams. You’re going to struggle and make mistakes but you’re going to learn what you’re capable of as well.

Founding a company has been one of the hardest but most rewarding experiences of my business career. Like many, I ignored the warnings, the statistics and the naysayers and dove head first into the start-up life and I love it.

Being an entrepreneur means getting comfortable with making mistakes but, as Theodore Roosevelt said in his famous Man in the Arena speech, it’s better than becoming one of those “cold and timid souls who neither knows victory nor defeat.”

What do you think? Have you put off pursuing a dream because of a fear of failure? What can you do to overcome that fear? Do we unnecessarily limit our potential by not being comfortable with making mistakes? How do we change that and prevent becoming “cold and timid souls?” Let me know in the comment section below.

3 Steps to Depart your Comfort Zone


A ship is safe in harbor, but that’s not what ships are for.” ― William G.T. Shedd

Near the end of the Cold War, I made seven patrols as a young Naval Officer on the nuclear submarine, USS Tennessee. One of those patrols was over the holidays. Being deployed over Christmas and New Year’s Eve was not a lot of fun. It was tough to be away the things that brought me comfort: my home, my friends, my family, my favorite foods, and the holiday traditions I love.

In fact, most of my time in the Navy was spent outside my comfort zone. The nature of the job demanded it. Months away from home, days without sleep, cramped quarters, tough technical issues, difficult leadership situations, and the stress of knowing a mistake could have deadly consequences was just part of the job. The funny thing is that I would do it again in a heartbeat. The reason is that being out of my comfort zone demanded that I be my absolute best at all times. The experience I gained in those tough years was critical to helping me develop as a leader. The truth is getting outside your comfort zone is the best way to grow as a leader.

I think the quote from William Shedd should be rewritten to say, “A leader is safe in his comfort zone, but that’s not what leaders are for.”

As we approach the time of year where we start to think about goals and resolutions for 2015, we should challenge ourselves to think about how we can depart our comfort zone in the new year. Here’s 3 simple steps to plan your escape from your comfort zone:

1. Define your comfort zone. Think about how you spent your time in 2014. You probably don’t realize how much time you actually spend in your comfort zone. Which employees or departments did you spend the most time with? Who did you go to lunch with regularly? Which customers or vendors did you visit the most? What strategies did deploy most often? Which peers were you most comfortable around? What technologies did you study the most? What management blogs or websites did you visit most often? What meetings do you regularly attend?

2. Define where you are uncomfortable. Think about potential blind spots, weaknesses, or areas where you are less comfortable. Which departments or employees are you less familiar with? Who are the peers that you have less in common with? Who are your toughest customers or vendors that you may have been avoiding? What are the big strategies you have been uncomfortable to implement? What technologies or industry trends are you the least familiar with? What’s happening in your business that scares you the most as a leader?

3. Develop a plan to spend more time outside your comfort zone in 2015. Getting outside your comfort zone means spending less time in familiar seas and spending more time in uncharted waters. The best way to make the shift is to write down what you are going to do differently. List the activities in your comfort zone that you will consciously spend less time on in the new year. List the uncomfortable areas where you will spend more time in. Make this combined list a part of your goals and resolutions for 2015.

Getting outside your comfort zone will challenge you and push you to be your absolute best. It will create new experiences where you will develop faster as a leader. It is important to make a conscious choice to escape the things that make you most comfortable if you want to continue to grow. The best way to depart the comfort zone is to create a plan and stick to it. It will be tough, but the personal and professional growth will be well worth the effort.