Thursday, I attended an event I have titled, "Conversation with Kevin." Kevin Plank, CEO of Under Armour right here in Baltimore accepted the Mother Mary Elizabeth Lange award at a Wine Tasting, and he was all smiles throughout the process. Mr. Plank was asked, "How did you get started?" by Brian Boles, former Director of Development for St. Frances Academy, and his answer surprised me.
"I never started out to become the CEO of a corporation. I just wanted to make the best football t-shirt possible.” He stated jokingly.
“I hated the way my t-shirt felt under my pads and wondered why no one had created something better for me. I knew that there should be something better and it was just the simple process of sketching out something and taking it to a local tailor to create and recreate. From there, I just asked my teammates to try it out and give me feedback. That t-shirt became my football tee, short sleeve and long [sleeve]. And, football players wanted it. Then, baseball [players] wanted it. Then, lacrosse and then lacrosse girlfriends wanted it, and that’s how we grew Under Armour. Setting small attainable goals and reaching them no matter what. We always finished whatever we started. We finished the football tee. Then, we finished the baseball tee. Then, the lacrosse tee. And we just kept going from there.”
I learned three things from Kevin Plank that night:
Identify your football tee. By that, I mean, in business, what is your product? What have you created or selling that is better than anything anyone else is selling. You have to be laser-focused on creating the best product that you can create. If you do that, then you will be successful.
Set attainable goals. By that, I mean find your small group of people that you want to purchase your product and market to them. That group could be single moms under 35 or teenage football players or dads who are getting back into the dating scene, whatever the market, you have to be specific to them so you can reach your goal. Marketing to just those people will narrow your focus and help you complete your goal. “My goal was to sell football tees to football players.” By marketing to football players, Mr. Plank was able to achieve that goal in record speed. Entrepreneurs have to maintain their focus on their market if they want to reach their goal.
Accept criticism with the spirit with which it is given. During the conversation, Kevin stated that he was given some advice by Jeff Besos, founder of Amazon.com, about accepting criticism. “Jeff Besos told me that whenever he hears criticism, the first thing he does is stops and asks himself is the person, right? Which is not a bad thing, because if you can be humble enough to learn more about yourself, you can make anything possible.” Kevin was right, as a writer, I find often find myself criticizing something or someone, but I hate criticism of myself and my writing. But, being open to hearing the opinion of another person is what living is about in the end. Being humble enough to recognize that your creation is not perfect is what invention is all about.
After the conversation, I began to think, “What’s my football tee?” What’s the one thing that I want to create (or recreate) better than anyone else? For me, I believe that writing is my football tee. Writing is the one thing that I can do better than anyone else. It is the way that I can express myself and heal the memories of my childhood. As it happens, my writings are beautiful to young adults. That’s my attainable goal. To write short stories for young adults, mainly girls, who need independent reading material, narrows my focus as to who I am writing. And, to write the BEST stories possible, market them to my distinct audience
So, that's what I am working on; however, I pose the same question to you. What's your football tee? What small, attainable goals have you set for yourself? Can you accept criticism of your product with the spirit with which it was given?