See This Guy: Kevin Plank


What are the odds that a troublemaking kid from Baltimore would become a universal business disruptor? 

Kevin Plank built Under Armour from underdog into a legitimate challenger to Nike in less than 20 years. Not to say that it was easy. And it certainly wasn't expected -- by anyone other than him.

Sure, the entrepreneurial instincts were apparent; he had an annual business that sold roses for Valentine's Day and was able to save $17,000 (the eventual seed money for Under Armour).

But before conquering the world, he needed a serious attitude adjustment.

A self-described "knucklehead" during his teenage years, he was clearly headed down the wrong road. Bad grades and a drunken brawl got him kicked out of high school.

But his grit and energy kicked in early enough to overcome his self-inflicted obstacles.

As a walk-on player for the University of Maryland football team, he eventually became Special Teams captain. And during a mid-Atlantic heatwave in his senior year, he grew increasingly frustrated by having to change his sweat-soaked t-shirts over and over during practice. That led to a simple thought, one that would eventually create one of the most innovative companies in the world

There has to be something better.

So the year he graduated, he set up shop in his grandmother's basement to design moisture-wicking shirts and apparel. He traveled back and forth from Maryland to New York City to find the right fabrics for his design. And when his rose-business seed money ran out, he did what any great entrepreneur would do: maxed out his credit cards.

Kevin sold shirts out of the trunk of his car. In fact, he put over 100,000 miles on that car, driving to re-connect with old teammates, many of whom were playing in the NFL.

But with the average pro football career lasting three years, he knew his window was small to get them his new gear.  So off he went, to locker rooms around the country to introduce athletes and equipment managers to a product they'd never seen before: a sweat-wicking t-shirt that regulates body temperature and supports your muscles.

His first big sale of gear -- to college powerhouse Georgia Tech -- saved the company from failure, as his money had just about run out. 

Under Armour's first year sales: $17,000.

2016 projections: $5 Billion.

Out of sheer will and confidence in his creation, Kevin Plank built the most innovative athletic performance gear company in history -- and made himself one of the richest men in America.

Not bad for a guy with no apparent future as a teen.



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John Lavallo57 Posts

John is Columbia Business School MBA with expertise in marketing, business leadership, and law. John is a successful entrepreneur who took his first company public. He currently resides in New York City.