Today was a refreshing day at the Under Armour headquarters in Baltimore, MD. Around 100 local middle school girls gathered around female professionals from well-known brands such as Proctor and Gamble (Cover Girl makeup line), Northrop Grumman, Wells Fargo, and the US Department of Energy to learn about STEM careers and the steps to take now to pursue such a career.
I opened up the day with a presentation highlighting “Ten Tips to Take on the World” – speaking to 10 actions (based on personal anecdotes) to help all of us realize our potential – both professionally and personally. What was the most inspiring for me, however, was a few of these that I spoke to were highlighted later in the day by a couple of ladies from the Under Armour Innovation Lab. Until today, I didn’t know the story of Under Armour (UA), and certainly didn’t realize the original founder (Kevin Plank) is still the CEO, which is admirable and rare for a public consumer products company. After learning his story, I realized that 5 of my Tips — Imagine, Solve, Try, Collaborate, and Trust — are embedded in the initial launch and fostered culture of UA.
Kevin’s original motivation to launch Under Armour was driven by his frustrations with overly sweaty t-shirts during his University of Maryland football practices. He imagined a shirt that better absorbed the sweat. Surely there was a solution.
Finding problems is easy, but discovering solutions is what sets the entrepreneurs apart. Kevin noticed that under garments tended to whisk away sweat better than his cotton t-shirts. What about using a similar material for a new athletic shirt? A solution was born.
One of the mantras common to both engineers and entrepreneurs is that you have to try, try, and try again. Kevin tried 7 material prototypes with his colleague athletes before landing on the best material for his shirt.
Unlike many athletic product lines, Under Armour started first with clothing, and is now exploring shoes, as opposed to the other way around. Rather than focusing on their internal resources, UA decided to think outside the box and look to consult with another company on making a completely different type of shoe — a seamless one that is. By collaborating with peers in the market, they have come up with a shoe one woman claimed never a runner was motivated to run 7miles!
Starting a company, designing a new product, even speaking out to question a process within a company all take a certain element of risk and are often scary. However, you simply need to trust your abilities and your support system, similar to how Kevin Plank started, living in the basement of his grandmother’s house, trusting that there was a big enough need for the UA product line — and now he has a $2B company to show for it!
I wasn’t familiar with the UA story, but was certainly inspired as an entrepreneur, and thus a fitting location to inspire the girls at the event today.