Shoe Dog: A Memoir by the Creator of Nike cornicles the founding of Nike, written by Phil Knight, and begins with his time after finishing his MBA at Stanford and follows his decisions to go to Japan to seek manufacturers to supply his vision to bring running shoes to the masses in the United States.
The story is beautifully written and is a breeze to read. Deeper, however, it also offers timeless lessons preached by Minimum Viable Strategy principles. Those lessons are regarding the daily operational grind it takes to “win” in industry as well as taking a measured approach to business growth, though at the time Knight did not have much of a choice to the matter.
What is so incredible as a modern startup employee and MBA student familiar with how companies grow through large investor’s infusions of capital to fund sales, the purchasing of inventory, and overall operations growth was that Nike did everything completely Off the Balance Sheet. Essentially, Phil Knight in the first decade of the business lived loan-to-loan from the bank. Knight would take out a loan from his bank, purchase a small order from his Japanese manufacturer, turn that inventory to sales, and use the Gross Profit to go to his bank again, take out a slightly larger loan plus those profits in order to make a larger purchase.
Thus, Knight was living loan to loan and, had anything gone astray or had he a few very poor sales cycles, the entire business could have collapses. The thought of this scenario, an entrepreneur living loan-to-loan and putting it all on the table without the backing of investors to me, in the year 2017, is incredible. There were no Venture Capitalist firms at the time, as Knight says, investing in non-tech companies, as most were located in Silicon Valley investing in tech-centric firms, not shoe companies.
This single takeaway from the book (there are many) makes it a worthwhile read, in addition to the beautifully written language which allows it to stand as a literary accomplishment regardless of the lessons. For the lessons of grind, of the long view, and how “life was like before VC firms” are all reasons we recommend reading this book.