Posts Tagged ‘entrepreneur’

Shoe Dog

Sunday, July 1st, 2018 | Books

Shoe Dog is a 2016 memoir by Phil Knight, founder of Nike.

Most of the story focuses on the early days, from just before he founded Blue Ribbon Sports in 1964 to when he took Nike public in 1980. It feels like a true entrepreneurs story, grinding it out from selling trainers out of the back of his car, through the almost-bankruptcies and endless crises and eventual triumph.

It paints Nike in a good picture. They innovated, brought new shoes to the market, changed the industry. But then, any memoir is likely to do that. If you read Grinding It Out, Ray Kroc comes over as lovely guy. But I guess I want to believe because I genuinely love the stuff Nike makes. I’ve tried running in other people’s shoes and they’re not as comfortable.

When I bought my Nike holdall, it came with a label saying “we’ve been there since the beginning. For as long as we’ve been making shoes, we’ve been making bags.” I’m sure this is 100% true and not just a strategy to ward off buyer’s remorse. But it is weird that Knight didn’t mention bags anywhere in his book, even though he did talk about the launch of their apparel launch long after he had started selling shoes.

If you’re interested in the story of Nike, or you like tales of entrepreneurship, this is a good read. Otherwise, you’re probably not going to get much out of it.

The Virgin Way

Saturday, September 5th, 2015 | Books

The Virgin Way: How to Listen, Learn, Laugh and Lead is a 2014 book by Richard Branson in which he dispenses advice.

Some of it reads like a Toastmasters manual. He encourages readers to make notes constantly, and develop their listening skills. Cndense your message down to be short and to the point. Twitter is a great format for this. Keep emails short. Make a pitch document one A4 sheet at the most. Do the same thing with presentations.

Avoid “that said” as it destroys any argument you have just built up. Avoid “no comment” either as it just annoys people.

Be your own customer. He often goes around the Virgin businesses both to talk to his staff but also to play at being a customer and often to make phoney complaints to see how they are handled.

I disagree with him on some things. He is not a big fan of mission statements. I like them because they keep you on purpose. Also, I think the mission statement they came up with for Virgin Mega Stores was nonsense. He said keep it real but theirs was actually full of jargon.

He also cited Kodak as a case of when they were not forward thinking enough because they did not embrace digital. This is probably true. As Steve Jobs pointed out if you do not cannibalise your own market, someone else will. However, Kodak was really killed by the rise of camera phones, something it was difficult, if not impossible, for anyone to predict in advance.

Luck is also a tricky subject. I agree with the phrase “the harder I practice the luckier I get”. However, as Branson himself admitted it is difficult to know where the luck ends and the skill begins. Capital breeds capital so once you have been lucky one, it is a lot easier to be lucky again. That is not to say it doesn’t involve hard work as well though – it is probably both.

He discusses Netflix’s policy of not tracking holiday. I am not sure I would like this as an employee as it kind of admits there is no work life balance outside of the office and forces you to strike an awkward balance between getting your fair share and not taking too much. However, I could definitely be sold on the idea.

The core of The Virgin Way is people-centred. Put your staff first, be fun and develop a great culture in which people are empowered to take a lead. Have lots of staff parties.

Stay nimble and small. Collaboration tails off after you get more than 20 people in a team, so try nd keep projects down to that. Whatever you do, do it with passion.

The Virgin Way

Like a Virgin

Saturday, July 28th, 2012 | Books

I’ve recently finished reading Richard Branson’s new book, Like a Virgin, “They Won’t Teach You at Business School”.

My first question was, if Richard didn’t go to business school, how does he know they don’t teach this stuff? But, for the moment, lets take him on his word that they genuinely don’t. Once I got passed my own sarcastic comments, I settled down for an enjoyable read.

The book is structured in many short sections of only a few pages each, dealing with specific topics in no particular order, some related to a specific area of business and management, some on what Virgin has done and what lessons can be learnt, and some were Richard answering emails people have sent him asking for advice.

I really liked this format. Having sections that only lasted two or three pages meant that I could easily dip in and out of it. If I had five minutes to do some reading, I did’t need to worry about getting lost in the middle of a chapter. Though it also had the problem that when I was reading in bed, every end of a section was followed by a “oh, I’ll just read the next section, it’s only two more pages” until it was late into the night!

In many ways, Virgin really have turned business on it’s head. I once heard them described as a brand based capital house and where other companies have sought to dominate the one market they are best at, Virgin have built an empire out of going into many different, diverse markets, and staying small. This fits well with Richard’s personality, who clearly suits the cheeky personal marketing approach that they take, and there is a lot to be said for it.

Ultimately, there are no hidden secrets in the book, which is almost certainly a good thing (as any book promising you to uncover the “magic” is probably nonsense) but reinforces what we really should know already – be nice to your customers, invest in your staff, get your name out there and don’t take yourself too seriously. Definitely worth a read for budding entrepreneurs, if only as a gentle reminder.