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Invaluable Business and Marketing Lessons From A Sports Entrepreneur

A 25yo entrepreneur went broke trying to launch his sportswear business.
But today, his brand sells more than $5,700,000,000 per year. Here’s his story with invaluable business and marketing lessons.

It all started in 1997 in Georgetown, Washington DC.
Kevin’s walked to the post office with his head down as he expected to receive a rejection letter.
A legal threat. Or perhaps worse. His business was over.

Things were different a year ago. He still remembered how excited he was launching his business out of his grandmother’s basement.
Or rather out of Business marketing of his car. Because for 1 year, he had been on the road. Trying to sell sweat-resistant shirts to university athletes.

But he got $0 sales. On top, he had $43k in personal debt after spending all his savings and a $40k in credit card debt. While his manufacturers were asking for their money. As a last-ditch attempt, he gambled in Atlantic City. But he lost everything. He was broke.

With a heavy heart, he opened his PO box.
As he opened his first letter, his jaw dropped, Georgia Tech had agreed to buy his shirts worth $7k!! And in a few days, Arizona State University followed with an order worth $10k. And his brand “Under Armour” took off!

Giants like Nike and Adidas were already making billions in the sports apparel industry.
But Under Armour started from 0, competed with them and grew so fast that even Nike and Adidas later copied their product.

Here is why Kevin had such tremendous success

1. Kevin understood the problem well (niche).
When he played football for Maryland university, he hated changing his sweat-drenched cotton t-shirts.
And he knew others did too. There had to be something better he thought.

2. He found a solution to the problem! He searched for a fabric that would absorb the moisture and ensure a dry and comfortable feeling.
And he scoured the fabric stores in Maryland and the garment district in NYC until he found the perfect blend that did exactly what he wanted.

3. Then, he got it validated by his potential customers. He got sample t-shirts and tested them on fellow football players.
They laughed at him initially as the shirts felt silky and smooth like lingerie. But soon, they were amazed by the results. So, what next?

4. Kevin knew his network was his best asset. Being an ex-Football player, he had numerous contacts in collegiate and professional sports leagues. He drove around giving away sample t-shirts to all of them. It helped him spread the word and that's how he got his first sale!

5. Kevin never sought VC money From the beginning, he was convinced he should control his business 100%.
Giving away equity in the early stages could clip his wings and not allow him realize his full potential. But, the question remained: how to finance his startup?

6. He counted on his customers to fund his journey Instead of individuals, he focused on University teams early on.
Why? Higher sales from uniforms for the whole team and the recurring revenue helped him get further profits on bulk purchases.
But how did he manage to convince those teams?

7. Through state-of-the-art apparel lines!
Heat Gear — the original line
ColdGear — for harsh winter
TurfGear — for artificial turf protection
All Season Gear — for any season
And his products became popular as “Performance Apparel” All athletes were dying to try one!

8. His obvious next step: Gain Exposure. Kevin knew his superb product could easily convert anyone into a buyer.
So he focused all his energies on getting exposure/ traffic. He already was using the word-of-mouth strategy to the fullest.

8. He banked on Sporting partnerships to extend the reach In 1998, Under Armour became the official apparel supplier for NFL’s European teams.
And the results were impressive. Kevin pushed on. Under Armour outfitted 8 MLB teams, 24 NFL teams, 4 NHL teams etc and made $1m sales!

9. Then a movie skyrocketed his sales, Kevin sent a few samples to an LA casting director making a football movie.
It turned out to be “Any Given Sunday”, starring Al Pacino, Cameron Diaz and Jamie Fox.
A major sales boost! and movie placement became an important strategy for UA.

10. Logical next step: Influencer marketing Taking a cue from market leaders like Nike and Adidas, Under Armour started investing in sponsoring elite athletes and celebrities. And their partnerships today include celebrities like Michael Phelps, Stephen Curry and Dwayne Johnson.

11. And the Competition became fierce… Under armour grew like wildfire. But Kevin never patented the performance wear tech. Result?
By 2004 Nike had “Pro Performance” gear Reebok had “Play Dry” gear And the giants started challenging UA on its own turf. But UA kept growing

12. And they set their eye on a segment that lagged behind.
Under Armour never got much traction with women athletes. So they started an ambitious campaign in 2014: “I will wear what I want” Results: +28% sales of women’s apparel +42% web traffic

Today Under Armour sells more than $5.7 billion worldwide. It started from nothing, competed with longer-established behemoths and carved out a market for itself. All thanks to Kevin Plank’s vision, resilience and never-die attitude!


Start with a specific problem and be obsessed with it.
Seek customer validation and feedback ASAP.
Bank on your network and word-of-mouth strategy early on
Focus on boosting conversion in the beginning
Then work on scaling up exposure (influencers, ads)
If you enjoyed the story of Under Armour and learned a few business and marketing secrets and you’re into the creator and digital writing landscape, join Createx Digital , a creators community where you can you sell your digital goods and services, get paid for writing depending on views or charge users to read your posts or articles.
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