If you know Kevin Plank or spend any time at the Under Armour headquarters, then you have probably heard of his famous whiteboards. Both inside Kevin’s office and out, there are whiteboards all over, many of them displaying key principles that he believes in.
The messages on these whiteboards aren’t designed for inspiration, but rather make up the “guardrails” that his team should follow to channel Kevin’s way of thinking.
Kevin Plank is seen as having an intense head coach mentality — from direct eye contact to the military analogies, no one wants to disappoint the coach. “Winning is part of our culture,” says Plank.
Over the past couple of years, Under Armour has spent tons of money investing and buying into three top makers of activity- and diet-tracking mobile apps; more specifically, close to an eye-popping $1 billion. By taking this leap, the company has become a force in the health and fitness community, obtaining 150 million users. But the key factor here is the data of those users. According to Plank, he sees those users, and their data, as a driver that impacts everything from product development to marketing and merchandising. However, many observers think that these are slippery slopes for Plank and his company. Many of which believe that getting any type of return on investment quickly may be farfetched; Plank spent $710 million in acquisitions.
But Plank is staying optimistic, and he claims that the key to Under Armour’s success is that he’s never fixated on the reasons why something can’t happen.
Kevin Plank’s journey with his company started back when he played Division 1 college football. As he noticed that the cotton undershirts of football players would slow them down when drenched with sweat, he set out to find a better solution. After prototyping a product designed from fabric for women’s undergarments, the moisture-wicking, formfitting alternative was a hit. Soon after, he landed his first big sale to Georgia Tech.
After creating a whole new market of performance apparel, Under Armour has grown into what it is today. The company currently sponsors some of the world’s most popular athletes: Jordan Spieth, Stephen Curry, Lindsey Vonn, and more.
Under Armour currently has nearly $4 billion in revenue and is home to over 13,000 employees. While that may sound successful, Plank is still very much an entrepreneur and envisions things to get much larger in the coming years. While the company has conquered Adidas in the U.S. sportswear market, Kevin has his eyes set on one day leapfrogging Nike.
Under Armour’s mobile fitness platform, Under Armour Connected Fitness, is where Plank has his focus. According to him, the platform will “fundamentally affect global health.” He plans to achieve this in a wide variety of ways, but one of which involves a partnership regarding biometric fitness devices. That places Under Armour in direct competition with Fitbit and Apple in the wearables market.
In 2013 and 2014, Plank and his team would go on to acquire three companies: MapMyFitness, MyFitnessPal, and Endomondo. But one question was the main focus: will any of this lead to trumping Nike and its dominance? One key piece to the puzzle involves the loads of data acquired by Under Armour’s fitness apps.
With the data obtained from Connected Fitness apps, the company is able to take design cues from its user base of over 150 million people. And the data at their fingertips is pretty remarkable; Under Armour can track running pace, distance, frequency of runs, and much more.
One example of how this data relates to product development involves insights learned from MapMyFitness analytics. According to their data, they learned the average run is 3.1 miles. That being said, when it came to the design of the Speedform Gemini running shoe, the company added “charged foam” padding that is ideal for that kind of run.
While Under Armour has a lot going for them, it won’t be easy tackling tech giants like Fitbit, Apple, and even Google. But Kevin Plank likes their chances. That is largely in part due to the unique appeal of Under Armour’s locker-room aesthetic, including a brand voice that can transfer well to many different connected products. But with $710 million on the table, they would be lying if they said there wasn’t any risk. However, Kevin Plank claims that Under Armour has more fitness data than even the leading tech companies, so that’s a step in the right direction.
If things go well, Connected Fitness “becomes a force multiplier that takes us from shirts-and-shoes company to true technology company,” Plank says. “If I’m wrong, it costs us some money.”