5 Things to Learn from Seth Berger of And1 [Basketball, Business]

I was a big fan of And1 for a long time. I really wanted to intern for them, but they never bothered replying.

Thus, while And1 as a company has sucked for nearly 10 years, Seth Berger, the company’s founder, gives me some inspiration as I look into producing a basketball training wearable. His interview with Wharton (UPenn), where he graduated from, gives a lot of insights into the sports business and And1’s mistakes. Even though the interview is nearly six years old, I highly recommend it – most (if not all) of his insights have stood the test of time.

1) …in terms of knowing when it’s the right time: I don’t think we ever knew. I also think we got lucky with a few things that happened: Michael Jordan retiring, Lattrell Sprewell making a great playoff run just after they had signed him…. When the ball bounces, you say in hindsight, “Oh; that was the right time.” But when you’re sitting there, you’re crossing your fingers saying, “I really hope this is the right time.”

2) I heard over the radio that Michael Jordan had retired from basketball. Jordan at the time [was] a dominant player in basketball, so immediately retailers had hundreds of millions of dollars of Jordan clothing that they wanted to replace, because they thought no one was going to buy it.

Actually, the first time Jordan retired, his sales [dropped]. Since his second retirement, Jordan has continued to grow. But for the first couple of years after Mike stepped out, it created a huge opportunity for us when consumers and retailers wanted something different. If Mike had not decided for whatever reason to retire, you wouldn’t be interviewing me today.

3) When you start to grow as a business, [you want to] keep growing and be as big as you possibly can be. That conflicts with continuing to be true to who you are as a company and servicing the same consumer.

As a basketball brand [targeting young males], we started to feel like there was only so big that we could get. So we started to do other products. We did a slip-on shoe. We did a training shoe. We started to do training clothing. I really feel that it diluted our brand. We started to alter our logo so it wasn’t so basketball-only. The idea was, “Hey, we need to enable more consumers to feel that they can buy our product.”

I actually think that started our slide down when we really should have said, “Look, you know what? If we can be a $200 million, $300 million, $400 million, $500 million company, and it might take us 10 years to get there, that is as big as we can be.” That is doing the right thing for the consumer versus saying, “I want to be a $500 million company in two years. We need to expand our product line.” You forget why the consumer likes you.

4) Nike is probably the only brand in the footwear and apparel industry that has done a really good job of being true to itself as an athletic brand and yet somehow being able to bridge the fashion gap. Adidas tried it; they failed. Reebok did it; they failed. Under Armour is going to try and I hope they succeed, because Kevin is a good friend of mine. But I am not so sure.

5) [On when to start a company] But once you get used to the good life, you won’t go back. So if you are thinking about starting a business, start the day you graduate. You don’t need experience. You don’t need money. You don’t need someone else to tell you that you can do it. Just go start it before you get used to making all that money.

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