On the same day Nike announced a massive change in its e-commerce strategy--it's pulling its products from Amazon--the athletic brand showed off a shiny new satellite office space on the border of the financial district of New York City. While at first blush the news might not seem related, both moves represent how the company is trying to rethink the future of the business.

The facility at Pier 17 will be the new home for Nike's digital studio s23NYC, a growing team of 65 engineers, data scientists, community managers, footwear designers, and more who are tasked with coming up with big ideas to reinvent the shopping experience. According to Ron Faris, an entrepreneur who leads the digital studio and gave a press tour to journalists on Tuesday, that all starts with putting the team in the right space. 

The 24,000-square-foot office boasts reclaimed basketball court floors, artwork from local artists, a picturesque view of the Brooklyn Bridge, and lots of airy, open workspace. In a first-ever for Nike, teams won't be siloed off into their respective departments. The footwear and apparel product design room, for instance, is open to whomever wants to use it. 

"You have to create a safe space for people to embrace failure in order to encourage creativity on your team, because the boldest ideas may not work," Faris told Inc. in an interview.

Before leading s23NYC, Faris was the founder and CEO of Virgin Mega, a small tech startup within Richard Branson's Virgin Group that Nike acquired in 2016 precisely to rethink Nike's consumer shopping experience. Although Nike already had a large team of in-house marketers and partnered agencies, Faris and his team were dedicated to experimenting with ways to better connect with sneakerheads--those passionate about buying, collecting, and selling sneakers.

Faris' team is behind the SNKRS app (pronounced "sneakers"), which alerts sneakerheads to merchandise drops and pop-up experiences, and has features that act like a Nike version of Pokemon Go, where fans can chase down and unlock exclusive goods. According to the company, the experiment has been a success: When discussing Nike's 2018 earnings, outgoing CEO Mark Parker said that SNKRS acquired more new members than any other digital channel for Nike, reported Quartz. The company announced in October that ex-eBay CEO John Donahoe will take up the CEO position in January. 

Once settled in to the new space, Faris's team is aiming to take what it's learned from SNKRS, product tests, and market research, and come up with more ideas to better interact with the rest of Nike's customers--whether they're yogis, skateboarders, or basketball players. One potential new idea: Faris said SNKRS could be applied to other fans of the brand, like runners who might use the app to unlock apparel tailored to their interests while they're on a local jogging trail. First up, however, the team is getting ready to launch an Instagram stories-like feature within the Nike app that will help measure customer engagement.

Farris, who has over 15 years experience leading creative teams, says the new space will facilitate a kind of collaboration that hasn't typically happened at Nike. For example, when his team goes through strategic planning, he invites the whole studio into workshops, and then pairs people up--a footwear designer with a QA tester, or an iOS engineer with a product marketer. He wants an unlikely combination of voices to help shape the roadmap and product features. As Nike ditches Amazon and doubles down on its direct-to-consumer retail strategy, listening to key voices--both of its employees and its customers--is going to be even more critical.

"That safe space really comes into place," Faris said, "giving and empowering everyone with a voice."

Correction: A previous version of this article misstated when John Donahoe will become Nike's new CEO; he takes up the post in January 2020.

Published on: Nov 14, 2019