Why a Former Nike Director Left His Dream Job to Start a Small Business Back Home

Gabe Williams Throwing Sneakers

Leave a big-name global company to start a small business back home? Gabe Williams just did it.

Gabe Williams is no stranger to taking chances. He took a chance as an MBA student at TCU, when Elliott Hill — then-president of geographies and integrated marketplace at Nike — visited the university for his daughter’s college tour. TCU’s career office got word of his visit and gathered a group of MBA students to deliver presentations to Hill and Nike recruiter Ernest Adams in hopes of a possible career.

Each student had five minutes. During Williams’ turn, he decided to share about a recent mission trip to Haiti — and he cried.

“I was like, ‘I blew it. You don’t cry in business,’” Williams recalls.  

As it turned out, he didn’t blow it — he got a job, working as a strategic planning analyst for Nike, helping open brick-and-mortar stores and develop Nike’s Integrated Marketplace strategy. Good work led to promotions, and eventually, Williams was leading Nike’s marketplace strategy in the west region, working in Los Angeles and managing $100 million in retail investment capital for the North America Marketplace concepts team.

And then, he left.

“My wife and I were sitting around one night … I go, ‘I have a hard time believing that my life is all about creating wealth for myself and my family and living in this bubble we’ve created.’ I couldn’t get around it,” Williams says. “What if I started a business that’s very similar to Nike in many regards? Athletic footwear brand, but we gave back to the communities that supported it?”

So, last year, Williams moved back to Fort Worth and started Davi — an athletic sneaker company that launched via Kickstarter at the end of August.

Launching the company took patience. Late night Googling, phone calls and LinkedIn research landed him a manufacturer in Vietnam. He’s also employed freelance designers to design the shoes. The Trinidad, for example, is the work of Randi Bugros, who hails from there.

Williams also made sure to connect with the local entrepreneurial community, crediting folks like Jonathan Morris, owner of Fort Worth Barber Shop, and Riley Kiltz, CEO and founder of Craftwork Coffee Co. — Williams offices at Craftwork’s Magnolia Avenue location.

But Williams says there’s a bigger mission associated with Davi, and it’s part of the business plan. The name “Davi” is Portuguese for “David” — a reference to David and Goliath, and the idea of an individual “stepping into this moment that outsiders looking in thought was impossible,” Williams says.

“There are so many parallels that can be drawn between what a shoe carries and what a shoe does for you in life,” he says. “It’s foundational; we all wear them. They take us from one place to another.”

Among Davi’s first marketing materials was a video titled “Reasons Why.” No shoes, no products. Just local people — like Morris and other familiar faces like musician Abraham Alexander — telling viewers the message of the company.

“I felt like, as I went through my life, there’s always something that prevented me from stepping out and into something bigger than myself,” Williams says. “It’s because of things I’ve listened to my whole life — ‘I’m not this or that.’ With the video, I wanted to create a declarative moment with real people saying ‘no’ to the limits others have placed on them — this is what we’re building our brand around.”

Sales are currently entirely online. Williams says he hopes to have pop-up shops and eventually open a brick-and-mortar. The plan, he says, is to stay hyperlocal: Focus on Fort Worth, and when it’s time to scale, be hyperlocal in whatever city the company expands to.

Either way, he’s happy to take a chance and be part of Fort Worth’s entrepreneurial circle. After all, Williams says, “There is something special happening in this city.

5 Fashion Rules That Are Totally OK to Break, According to Gabe

Gabe Williams is the type of guy who doesn’t own a suit. “It’s just never been me … I own a blazer, that’s about it,” he says. There are plenty of fashion rules he’s not afraid to break. His top five:

1. Formal wear in formal settings.
“Don’t be afraid to be yourself in formal situations. Wear T-shirts everywhere — to church, a funeral, a wedding, job interview. It’s OK.”

2. Mixing black with other dark colors.
“Black goes with everything, even brown and navy. Don’t be afraid to pair brown shoes with black pants, or a navy blazer with black button-down.”

3. Showing off brand names.
“Don’t be a brand billboard. Throw out the giant logos. No one really cares.”

4. Repeating outfits.
“See an outfit you like, buy one for every day of the week, and don’t be afraid to make it a uniform. Requires less thought in the morning.”

5. No black on black.
“I wear black on black on black —all the time.”