The next time you see a group of kids selling cold drinks on the side of the road, Kevin Plank ’96 urges you to stop.
“Take five minutes and stop and buy a cup of lemonade,” he said yesterday at the third annual EnTERPreneurship Conference hosted by the University of Maryland Alumni Association. “Help them encourage them on their journey as well. It is the greatest gift we have.”
Plank, the founder, CEO and chief brand officer of sportswear manufacturer Under Armor, participated in a keynote address with university president Darryll J. Pines at the event, where the more than 250 attendees connected and they learned from other Terp entrepreneurs in the discussion panels. , a networking luncheon, and a resource fair hosted by local organizations offering business and legal advice, financing options, and mentorship.
The EnTERPreneur Awards were also presented to David C. Quattrone MBA ’05, co-founder and chief technology officer of Cvent, which offers technology for meetings, events and hospitality; Lauren Foundos ’06, founder and CEO of Fortë, a fitness class streaming service; and Pramod Raheja ’91 and Evandro Valente ’03, MS ’06, co-founders of the unmanned aerial vehicle company Airgility.
Plank’s own journey from a Terp entrepreneur is the stuff of legend: As a Maryland football player, he developed sweat-wicking synthetic fabric jerseys that were cooler, drier and more comfortable for his teammates. Since he launched Under Armor in 1996 from his grandmother’s basement, he has built the company into a multibillion-dollar powerhouse. Here is other wisdom he has gained over the years:
learn the systems
One of Plank’s best experiences at the University of Maryland was seeing how to interact “with a large system,” he said. That means understanding how you fit into a bureaucracy and structure and taking what you can of every opportunity there.
“There are lessons in everything. It’s going to an orientation and not just sitting in the crowd, but thinking, ‘I’m going to stand back and shake hands with this person.’ It’s those little things of making those connections.”
Combine insight with passion
Plank despised how his cotton jerseys felt during practices and football games. “We’d go into halftime and the team would spend five, 10 minutes taking off their shoulder pads, changing their jerseys just to dry them and thinking, ‘This is crazy’ and ‘How come nobody has a better alternative?’ ” he said.
Plank found one with his innovative t-shirts and said, “I was lucky enough to be able to have an idea that matched my passion, which I was then able to apply for a job, more importantly, a calling or a mission that allowed me to pursue and build . something.”
adapt to change
The Internet and e-commerce, not to mention the creation of “influencers” who help shape consumer behavior through social media, have been a sea change since Under Armor’s inception, Plank said.
“The way we talk to the consumer is very different today,” he said. “There is no such thing as a 60-second commercial, in general. It’s figuring out how we can make the sandwiches in seven seconds that will intrigue you in an Instagram story.”
“This is metabolism,” he said. “We are all still students.”
Connect with customers
Data and algorithms can have great predictive power over what customers want, Plank said, and brands need to dictate “the pace of what’s hot.” At the same time, however, lasting loyalty to a brand like yours only comes from an attractive and inspiring image that can make a young child more confident when working out or trying out for a team.
“It is our job to make sure there is a superpower,” he said. “That’s when we’ve really won. And it’s not just a marketing story that you’re making up, but it’s really affecting us.”
Despite the increase in complexity and demand in a large public company since the days of selling T-shirts out of the trunk of your car, Plank said the temptation to romanticize the old days is a waste of time: “Everything I can do is think about living right now,” he said.
“Being present is the most important advice I can give to anyone,” he said. “Wherever you are, stay there. That’s great advice for a parent, that’s great advice for a boss. And build that person, build that organization that you always wanted.”
Find hundreds of Terp businesses in the Alumni Association’s new Terp Referral Exchange business directory.