University of Maryland football player Kevin Plank was obsessed with addressing his problem and unmet need. He became frustrated by the weight of his soaked cotton T-shirts worn underneath his pads. He was not offered a scholarship, having to make the team as a walk-on. He was looking for any way to become lighter, faster and more competitive.
He believed that if he could find a solution, his teammates and other players would also want to wear it. Kevin was confident in his ability to convince people to act. “I was always the guy who was good at putting a group of people together to believe in one common vision or idea”.
When Kevin was 15, he and his two older brothers went to a Grateful Dead Concert with the idea to sell knotted bracelets. His brother Colin sold two before he began to give them away after feeling guilty how much they were charging. Scott stuck with it making $70. Kevin came back to his brothers with $580 in his pocket asking if there were more bracelets to sell.
Kevin was always in front of people motivating them to get on board with his vision. He worked with a local tailor to identify the right material and create shirts which are now branded with the Under Armour insignia. He felt comfortable with the funny looks from teammates after asking them to try on the shirts he created. He kept iterating the shirt until the beneficiaries believed it solved their problem. This is when Kevin was able to focus on what he loved more than football and shirts that don’t hold sweat: People.
“My first goal was getting athletes to believe in the fact that they need an alternative to a basic cotton T-Shirt. The way you do that is with a great product, but you also do it with influencers.” He would ship shirts to his former teammates playing in the National Football League asking them to wear them and get their teammate to wear them. It was 1996, there was no online social media, smart phones or YouTube to make something go viral. Kevin did it one person at a time selling 500 Under Armour shirts and generating sales of $17,000 in his first year.
To make a dream, big idea or breakthrough innovation happen, it may take motivating many if not hundreds of people as in the case of Kevin’s big idea. Kevin leveraged his five enablement competencies, mastering enablement people skills and enduring grit. Kevin was able to use these abilities to convert people’s skepticism and resistance into influencers and brand advocates. He would tailor each conversion as an appeal to each individual’s wants and desires to get them to believe in his big idea. He was able to win over the people often required to make a dream or big idea happen:
Stakeholders – beneficiaries, decision makers, technical advisors, influencers, investors and those that are impacted.
Supporters – coaches, advocates, advisors, co-aspirers and moral supporters
Providers – people you need to acquire services or products from, such as Kevin’s tailor, professional services such as legal, accounting and banking.
Social Circles – family, significant other, friends, people at work or school, people that share your passion or live in one of your many communities.
While Kevin sold only 500 shirts in his first year in 1996, he was able to get some influencers to wear his shirts. USA Today published a photo of Oakland Raiders quarterback Jeff George wearing a mock turtleneck with the Under Armour logo. While anticipating a breakthrough, Kevin only received 3 calls that day. Kevin described one call, “It was from my mother telling me I still had to get stuff out of my room at home. It taught me that there is no such thing as an overnight success. You have to get up and put your work boots on every single day”.
How do you motivate and inspire the people to make your dream, big idea or breakthrough innovation happen? Kevin was able to get the stakeholders by using his former teammates as influencers. He was able to convert people into supporters that offered him feedback and became his brand advocates. He was able to get providers to fit him in between their big customers (or paying customers) and provide discounts (he had little money) by getting them to believe in his vision. He was able to shrug off the strange looks from his social circles often converting them into enthusiastic believers.
Kevin Plank learned while selling knotted bracelets to adults at a Grateful Dead Concert as a teenager that he could motivate people to act. It inspired the 23 year old to pursue his big idea and become a billionaire as the founder of Under Armour. He learned that by getting people to believe in one common idea or vision, you can make almost anything happen.