Adventure Entrepreneurs: How the founders of Nike, Virgin, and Patagonia Used Adventure to Start Their Businesses

11. September, 2017

When most people think of Nike, Virgin, or Patagonia, they think about multi-million dollar companies that are recognized globally. Very few people are aware of the journeys that led to the staggering success of these companies.

Yes, Nike has built heritage in the world of sports and fitness. It is the brand that comes to our mind when we think about developing a workout regime or finding the right gear for our travel adventures. But, what was it that inspired Phil Knight, an ordinary college grad to start selling shoes at the back of his car?

Richard Branson, the founder of Virgin, is the only entrepreneur who has built eight separate billion dollar companies, all in different industries. What sparked his interests?

Speaking of Patagonia’s founder, Yvon Chouinard, what motivated him to go from a climber to a billionaire?

Reading the success stories of these inspiring entrepreneurs, you realize that all three of them had something in common. Passion for travel and adventure played a huge role in the journey of Nike, Virgin and Patagonia’s successes. As you might have noticed, adventure is at the core of our DNA, so we’re super inspired by these big shots. Let’s dig a little deeper into the success stories of these idealistic companies and gather some inspiration.

 

Nike was founded while the founder traveled around the world.

Phil Knight’s inspiration to start what later became Nike blossomed on a world-tour. Phil was on the lookout to delay the inevitable call of the professional life. Filled with wanderlust, he traveled around the world, all the while seeking a way to make a living without having to give up his love for sports.

What started as a college project to devise a small business plan became a reality when Phil visited Japan. During a college project, Phil had implored the idea of getting high-quality/low-cost running shoes from Japan to be sold in U.S.A. Nothing more became of Phil’s idea until he decided to make the leap in Japan.

We believe traveling renders an absolute confidence that makes everything seem achievable.  While in Japan, Phil scheduled a meeting with Tiger – a Japanese running shoe manufacturer and a subsidiary of the Onitsuka Company. He presented himself as an American distributor representing Blue Ribbon Sports (a name Phil came up with at the moment), interested in selling Tiger shoes to American runners.  Phil placed his very first order soon thereafter and started selling shoes from the back of his car.

The rest is pretty much history!

 

Richard Branson is the ultimate adventure entrepreneur

Richard Branson is known worldwide for his adventurous spirit and daredevil personality. If you look at Richard’s success story, you will realize how being adventurous and open to new possibilities can change your life, for better.

Branson struggled with school, dropped-out at the age of 16, and started his first business venture, a magazine called Student. A few years later he started selling mail records to students who used to buy the magazine from him. His idea flourished, and he opened his recording label with the name of “Virgin records.”

Richard had become a millionaire at the age of 23, but his venturesome attitude paved the road for him to become a billionaire. Richard was heading to the Virgin Islands to meet his girlfriend, but the flight was canceled due to some reason. Since it was the last flight, Richard was left with only one option, to charter a private airplane. Running short of money, Richard picked up a blackboard and wrote: “Virgin Airlines $29”. The tickets soon sold out and the idea to start “Virgin Airlines” was born.

In 2013, the ever-adventurous Richard later focused his efforts towards space tourism. He partnered with Scaled Composites and incepted The Spaceship Company, which developed a suborbital space plane.

Richard Branson’s story stands true to the saying that “life is an adventure.”

 

Patagonia’s founders didn’t want to start a company, they just wanted to go on adventures.

Yvon Chouinard, Patagonia’s founder, was passionate about climbing right from his childhood.  He became a member of the Southern California Falconry Club when he was 14 years old. Nothing was stopping Yvon from indulging in his passion for climbing after he learned how to rappel down the cliffs at the falcon aeries. During his 20s, Yvon spent more than six months every year climbing gigantic peaks and gallivanting across North America and the Alps.

Yvon learned how to blacksmith and started making climbing equipment to finance his mountain adventures. Yvon forged pitons during the winter months, spent the summer climbing the walls of Yosemite. He then used to head for the high mountains of Wyoming, Canada, or the Alps, and back to Yosemite in the fall.

Yvon supported his passion for adventure by selling gear from the back of his car. Soon there was enough demand for his gear, which forced him to use machinery to forge the equipment. In 1965, Yvon went into partnership with Tom Frost, an avid climber and an aeronautical engineer with a keen eye for design and aesthetics.

In his book “Let My People Go Surfing: The Education of a Reluctant Businessman” Yvon Chouinard wrote, “We took special pride in the fact that climbing rocks and icefalls had no economic value in society.” He took his philosophy and passion and embedded it in Patagonia, which grew to become the top provider of outdoor gear and clothing.

Nike, Virgin, and Patagonia found their passion in travel and adventure. They leveraged their passion and turned it into their success stories. What did you learn from their stories?

If you want to read more about these guys’ adventures, we can’t recommend the following books enough:

“Shoe Dog” about Nike – Find it on Amazon here.

Losing My Virginity” about Virgin – Find it on Amazon here.

“Let My People Go Surfing” about Patagonia – Find it on Amazon here.

And if you’re not ready for big adventures like these guys, then check out our post about microadventures.

Nikolaj Astrup Madsen I am the founder of Refuga. I'm danish, but I'm traveling the world while building Refuga and whenever I have time I go for a run in the mountains. I hope you will join me on this journey!

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