10 Success Lessons From the Founder of Nike’s Story (Shoe Dog Book Summary)

Nike billionaire phil knight's rule for success

I’m so excited about this. 

Phil Knight, the founder of Nike, one of the most successful start-up stories of all time, has finally released a book. It’s called Shoe Dog. It’s a memoir and fairly quick read.

Nike has to be one of the most well-known global brands for the last few decades.  Steve Jobs gave a speech in 1997 and talked about how amazing Nike’s brand and marketing is. He marveled at Nike’s marketing strategy to be able to rise above others in a commodity industry. Even to this day, Nike still holds a top spot in the market; that’s very difficult to do.


Nike started with a few hundred dollars borrowed to $35 billion in sales a year. This book explains the story. I’ve already read a ton of books by billionaires but this one has become one of my favorites.

Here’s what I learned:

1. He Wasn’t Some Genetically Gifted Prodigy

You Can Be Successful Despite Humble (And Broke) Beginnings.

I know it’s obvious to some that this is possible. And it seemed obvious to me. But part of you sometimes deep down still don’t think it’s actually possible. Phil’s story helped me destroy that inner doubt.

He came from Oregon, which was a place that didn’t have many success stories.

He started his journey when he was 24 years old. He went to a state university, Oregon State. He went to Stanford Business School. He served a year in the U.S. Army.

At 24, he was still living with his parents and he said he still felt like a kid. He had never been with a girl. He drove an old car with a color his friends called “puke green.”

We must shatter this belief that we need to be rolling in money and expensive cars by our mid twenties or we’re not “good enough.”

Like everyone else, he wanted to be successful. But he didn’t know what that meant. Money? A wife? A house? He knew he was taught to aspire to these things but deep down, he was searching for something else.

He wanted to leave a mark on the world. He wanted to win. But he was never the best at anything.

He was a good but not great athlete. He tried super hard to be the best at Track & Field but always came out inthe middle of the pack. He was looking for work he enjoyed but came across jobs he didn’t like.

He viewed play as the secret of happiness. He wanted to find a way to make his work into play in some way, no matter how improbable, if he couldn’t do it as an athlete.

Even though this happened over 50 years ago, I related a lot to him. I’m shocked because we assume that our heroes were succeeding big time in life at our age.  But he was just as lost and floundering with life as many of us at our age. The one difference was he clung on and executed on his crazy idea.

It’s all about patience. It takes time, sometimes decades, to become a rockstar. I think social media has made it worse because it’s allowed young kids to get rich quickly and rub it in the face of the rest of us. It’s important to remove that jealousy and realize that quick success isn’t always the best medicine in the long run.

Like Phil, we:

  • want to enjoy our work
  • are confused who we will become
  • feel far behind in dating success.
  • are confused as to what “success” means to us
  • are unsure of our future destiny or occupation
  • want to be successful and make a difference in the world
  • still feel like a child despite academic achievements
  • juggle with what happiness is to us

The introduction of this book really paints a picture of his life. It reads like a fictional story. It’s well-written, but the interesting part is that it’s real life, not a made-up story.

I was constantly amazed at the 24 year old version of Phil because of how normal he was. He wasn’t like Bill Gates or Warren Buffett or Mozart, who were doing incredible things from birth.

I noticed a lot of billionaires were great salesman. He didn’t like selling yet.

He wanted to travel the world and experience new places before he got old.

“Before I died, became too old or consumed with everyday minutiae, I wanted to visit the planet’s most beautiful and wondrous places. And its most sacred. Of course I wanted to taste other foods, hear other languages, diver into other cultures, but what I really craved was connection with a capital C.” -Phil Knight

The one differentiating factor was that he was obsessed with his idea to get into the Japanese shoe business. He studied everything about exports and imports.

He saw the economics behind it. He saw how Japanese cameras had overtaken the German market. He thought it could happen with shoes. It was simple but had huge potential.

It’s a great reminder that nowadays, we are competing with other countries, not just out local market. 

2. Chase Your Crazy Idea. Don’t Stop No Matter What.

“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.

Half a century later, I believe it’s the best advice-maybe the only advice-any of us should ever give.” -Phil Knight, net worth $28 billion

Phil truly chased his crazy dream and put the blinders on to haters until the end. Don’t ever stop. Some people stopped during his chase and likely regretted it.

When his idea was just an idea, his friend came along with him to his first trip to Japan to start his business venture. Along the way, they ended up getting sidetracked by the girls and lifestyle in Hawaii and staying for months longer than they planned. His friend ended up staying and getting married to a Hawaiian rather than come along for the ride at Nike.

Despite having doubts about himself, fears, and existential angst, he moved forward.


Because he saw that history is one long procession of crazy ideas. The things he loved most, books, sports, democracy, and free enterprise, all started as crazy ideas. 

“Here’s to the crazy ones, the misfits, the rebels, the troublemakers, the round pegs in the square holes… the ones who see things differently — they’re not fond of rules… You can quote them, disagree with them, glorify or vilify them, but the only thing you can’t do is ignore them because they change things… they push the human race forward, and while some may see them as the crazy ones, we see genius, because the ones who are crazy enough to think that they can change the world, are the ones who do.” -Steve Jobs

This reminds me of “Crazy Jack”, the founder of Alibaba. He’s now a billionaire but he did some crazy stuff when he was getting started. Everyone thought he was crazy when he told them his vision of the Internet’s potential when it first came about.

While this is all in good spirit for the right type of pursuit. I’m wondering if this advice is too far. What about the megalomaniacs who have crazy ideas of harming others? What about the crazy people who think they can sing but are really tone deaf?

It may be difficult to draw the line. There’s definitely potential success stories that fail because they were too practical and not crazy enough to succeed. That’s what you want to avoid though when you’re looking to advance the world or create a game-changing business.

What I do know is that at 24, Phil Knight decided to chase his dream with an intensity of an athlete’s single-minded dedication, purpose, and focus.

He was going to make it work. There was no maybes about it.

During his journey, there were times when things got tough and he had the urge to give up, go home, and get a normal job. An example was when his friend decided not to continue traveling with him, but he couldn’t bear traveling along. He resisted this urge and kept moving forward with his crazy idea.

3. The Journey Matters More Than The Destination

This is a classic self-help principle.

But if you’re not familiar, let me refresh:

Oftentimes, people chase money or fame. After decades of work, they get there and realize they aren’t much happier when they reach the destination.

They realize that what they enjoyed most was the journey and progress to reaching the goal.

It’s nothing new. Songs like The Climb, sung by Miley Cyrus, have been written about this. But I think the average person glosses over this and doesn’t really understand the significance.

Pointing back to the quote I mentioned from Phil Knight in #2, he definitely alludes to it by saying “don’t give much thought to where ‘there is.'”

Phil gives an analogy of an oval track in his book. He’s a runner and you know that with such a track, there’s no destination. You just keep going around.

It’s not the destination that’s important, but the act itself. 

You define the finish line. Whatever pleasures or gains you derive from running, you find them within. It’s how you frame and sell it to yourself.

It’s interesting how many successful people come to a similar conclusion overtime. This reminds me of the once drug addict Hip Hop mogul Russell Simmons. He writes about how he came to a similar place in his book Super Rich.

There’s a lot of science behind this, which I’ve discussed in my previous content.  The main thing to know is that materialistic and superficial things have scientifically been proven to have rapidly diminishing effects on our happiness once we have a certain amount.

What Phil is talking about here is a state of flow in work your love. A great book on this is Flow by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi. Having said that, there’s many other levers you can push up to increase your present day happiness that don’t require money.

4. Don’t Let Obstacles Stop You

Phil’s story shut me up.

He had more obstacles than me. Countless more.

He wanted to go on a backpacking trip through Asia before arriving in Japan to convince a business there to work with him as a young kid. This was in the 60’s when 90% of people had never been on an airplane and they were less safe. His dad’s predecessor died from an airplane crash.

Everyone he knew didn’t make it more than 100 miles away from where they were born because of transportation limitations.

And World War 2 and Pearl Harbor was still fresh in people’s minds. People were still suspicious of the Japanese yet he wanted to fly to their country and partner with them. His grandma was highly against him going. She kept mentioning how the Japanese had recently tried to kill Americans and how many still thought the war was still going on.

On top of that, Phil’s dad wasn’t rich and 25 out of 26 businesses failed during that era.

His dad was well aware of this. And he was exceptionally rigid. His dad always did the same thing day in and day out. He didn’t like change.

Despite all of this, his dad surprisingly let him go because his one regret was not traveling more when he was young. This decision lead to the birth of a multi-billionaire dollar company, Nike.

Never before has there been a better time to get wealthy. Transportation and communication has gotten much more affordable and convenient. We have more access and resources than ever before.

And this was just the beginning. Phil faced countless business surprises that left Nike on the edge of going out of business, including his Japanese partner screwing him over.

5. You Don’t Have To Be Perfect. In fact, You can Start Off Horrible.

Phil wasn’t perfect. I was astonished at how bad he was at stuff at the age of 25.

Other billionaires or successful people I had studied seemed to have been doing incredible stuff from birth, like Mozart, Bill Gates, or Warren Buffett. They were genetically gifted at an early age.

As I’ve discovered in my studies, you don’t have to be exceptionally talented. In reality, successful people work harder, enforce their willpower to do what they don’t want to, and develop their skills persistently.

Phil literally landed in Hawaii, his first stop on his journey to Japan, and decided to stay there for a long time. He got a job as an encyclopedia salesman at night and spent the days surfing.

That is definitely not the mindset of someone who has a sense of urgency or driven purpose with his time.

What’s more intriguing is that I found out that he didn’t like selling stuff and wasn’t good at it.

Having studied a lot billionaires and millionaires, I realized that an strangely large amount of them spent years developing their skills as a salesman first. I had the idea that it was probably a good idea to get good at sales to get wealthy.

Phil’s story was a great reminder that you don’t necessarily have to be good at everything. He said he was good at telling the truth to people, which helped, but was never a smooth talker.

I still think sales is important to business. Great salesmanship isn’t what people assume. It’s not manipulating people to buy what they don’t want or need. The best type of sales is finding people dying for your product and showing them how great it is. 

There’s multiple paths to wealth, especially if you’re content with just being a millionaire rather than a billionaire. You don’t have to be a fabulous salesman. Partner with someone who is .

And look at Oprah Winfrey or George Lucas. They’re both billionaires and their specialty wasn’t sales.

He ended up getting a job as a securities salesman, which was easier for him. He managed to earn 6 months of rent in a short time. But he eagerly quit one day because he didn’t like it and wanted to pursue his crazy idea in Japan.

This point and the one about his humble beginnings have to be some of the biggest things I learned from this book. He started off really bad. 

When he made his first business deal with his partner, his voice was 2 octaves higher than normal, he was scared, he squeaked, and he quickly agreed to the arrangement.

Nowadays, modern society has almost made it so that many people feel like failures in their early 20’s if they aren’t making millions.

Phil Knight was still very confused about what to do and definitely not rich at 25. The one thing he did right was chase his crazy idea and never hold back.

While he was this age, he traveled the entire world and went to pretty much every well-known city in the world. I really encourage you to read the section where he describes his journey. It’s really well written and he descriptively describes some graphically poverty-stricken and dirty encounters, as well as beautiful, landmark moments.

Afterwards, he got a job as an overworked accountant with no work-life balance to make ends meet. His travels were paid for by his dad. And he hated his job and life. He thought about his friend in Hawaii and envied his position.

I really think many young people can draw parallels with Phil.

He got a CPA and became an accountant because he got advice that it was the “safe” thing to do. He had still never been with a girl at age 25. He wanted to travel more, but he didn’t have the money. He wanted to love his job, but he didn’t know how to move towards doing that.

All he had was his crazy idea with shoes.

Phil also had a huge drive to prove himself to his father and coach. It motivated his entrepreneurial mission. He liked earning more money, but he was never fueled primarily by money.

I can’t say that this motivation is the best type. It can leave you in a hollow existence when you’re constantly seeking external validation. Intrinsic motivation for your own sake is best. While I won’t use this motivation myself, I did note that Phil was partially driven by it.

When Phil was set to present to the shoe company in Japan, he ended up showing up in the wrong building. He ended up arriving 1 hour late!

I still think it’s incredibly important to always be early, or at least on time. I’ve been constantly late throughout my life and it’s always paid off horribly for me professionally. It’s something I’ve worked to fix over the years.

6. Partner With Incredible People

Phil partnered with one of the only men he always wanted to be praised by, his coach.

What’s interesting was his coach’s deep interest in shoes and their relationship.

His coach was one of the best in the country at track. He had more 4 minute milers than almost any other team. He knew how to motivate, lead, and push his teammates.

More importantly, this man was a fanatic about the best shoes. He would experiment with every tiny portion of the shoe to the point where he would try the most random ingredients as shoe material, like cod.

Imagine running in shoes made out of fish!

The point was that Phil partnered with one of the best people he could have. This coach was so scientific about shoes that he worked out the math that taking a couple ounces off your shoe weight amounted to 55 pounds removed in a mile run.

His coach’s deep interest in a better shoe fueled Nike’s success.

7. Take Risks

Throughout his story, it became very clear how insane it was for Phil to fly to Japan for a business venture only 20 years after World War 2.

Japan was a very recent enemy of the U.S.

In fact, he drove past thousands of miles of completely destroyed cityscape when he visited Japan. Buildings were burnt to a crisp from the bombs.

Fortunately, it paid off.

The shoe company he met with had young executives. They seemed to have somewhat put the past behind them, even though the hidden cultural subtext was obviously there.

Phil almost got lured into staying in Hawaii and having a safe job. That’s exactly what happened to his friend, who promised to go with him to Japan. They ended up overstaying in Hawaii and his friend decided to stay there because he met a girl.

Phil kept pushing.

He had the urge to stick with a safe, secure job numerous times, but he kept chasing his crazy idea.

He had the urge to return straight home after Japan, but his curiosity overcame that urge. He ended up traveling the most amazing, crazy, poverty-stricken, and dangerous places in the world.

Quite frankly, it seemed to me like it was partially because he just didn’t know how much he’d accomplish one day and therefore didn’t value his survival as much as he should have.

He got really sick and almost died from sleeping in a hammock above a poop hole in the ground during his travels.

8. Life Is Fragile

I learned that over 750,000 pounds of bombs were dropped on Japan, which ignited cities mainly made of wood. This killed millions.

I think death can be so tragic and life can end so quickly.

“There was never a good war or bad peace.” -Ben Franklin

It really reminds me of how precious life is.

So many people are on top of the world, and all of a sudden, they die for random reasons.

Seth MacFarlane of Family Guy was scheduled for the flight that would crash into the Twin Towers on September 11th. He just barely missed it, which saved his life.

There are plenty of incredible people who die from accidents, homicides, or illnesses at a young age, like Christina Grimmie, a well-known Youtuber and singer.

It really reminds you to appreciate and be grateful for life. If you were born during a time of war, you could have been screwed. It didn’t matter how much potential you had to become wealthy. It didn’t matter how talented you were. People were forced to serve in war. Others were casualties of battle.

One thing that I’ve been hearing from successful people like Barack Obama, Bill Gates, and Peter Diamandis is that the world is getting better in every way. It may not seem like it with sensationalist media spreading news of bad events.

But compared to previous centuries, there’s a trend for less violence, less war, less poverty, better entertainment, better transportation, and better standard of living. We’re generally moving in a good direction. A great book to explain this is Abundance by Peter Diamandis.

9. You Can Be The Underdog

I used to assume Walmart and Target were just random large-chain stores that rose together. I thought Adidas, Nike, and Reebok were on equal footing. I used to believe that Steve Harvey was just one of many comedians that got lucky.

That was before I read their books.

Walmart was a nobody small business and Target was the big dog. Nike was started by a 25 year old boy with a crazy idea who made a lot of mistakes starting out. And Adidas was the top dog while Nike was nothing.

10. Be willing to stand your ground when you’re right

…even if it means going to court.

At 36, Phil sued the Japanese supplier of his shoes for breaching contract.

This reminds me of a story in Richard Branson’s book The Virgin Way. He was being sued unjustly for a lot of money. Rather than cave in, he knew that he was not in the wrong. He stuck it out and won in court.

It seems that most billionaires have some time of court proceedings at some point, whether it’s because an angry customer wants to get rich off of you or the government thinks you’re too strong. It might be wise to admit defeat when you know you’re in the wrong. But not when you know you are right.

Conclusion & Book Review

I’m absolutely amazed at the story-telling, life lessons, and history of this incredible brand.

Simply learning about the reason why the company was called Nike and all the things that aligned really sends tingles down my spine.

I really thought the founder of Nike must have been some incredible genius, flawless individual, but I learned that he started out a 25 year old with a crazy idea and not much experience. It makes things a lot more relatable.

All those things combine to make this one of my favorite memoirs.

The descriptive story-telling was incredibly good. Maybe too good. 

I wondered if a ghostwriter wrote this, but even if he or she did, I don’t care because it didn’t detract from the authenticity and truth of the story. The only thing it could have done was overexagerate some of the moments, which is what made me wonder in the first place.

But even then, it’s not a big deal.

This was a great book, and there is no credit to any authors other than Phil on the cover. If he did write this, I am amazed at how well he writes.

I know all books go through publishers and editing, but I’ve read a ton of books, many from billionaires, and none have come out as well-written as this one.

I don’t do this often, but I’m giving this a 5 out of 5 stars. If you’re not into business or marketing, I can understand if you don’t agree. There are small nooks and crannies that can easily be missed if you’re not looking for them.

For a 400 page book, this should be a must read.

What are your thoughts on Nike products?

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By Will Chou

I am the the founder of this site and I am grateful you are here to be part of this awesome community. I help hard-working Asian American Millennials get rich doing work they love.

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