From the court to the boardroom. Kobe Bryant just announced a $100M venture capital firm called Bryant Stibel with his long time investment partner, Jeff Stibel. Bryant told the WSJ:
“If you would have asked me 10 years ago, I would say I need to win now. Age tends to give you perspective. The most important thing I enjoy now is helping others be successful.”
Kobe’s move into tech investments is important for two immediate reasons. First, the media has told stories of former pro athletes being unable to retain or manage their wealth once they left the league. (Players Antoine Walker and Allen Iverson both are rumored to have blown through at least $100M in career earnings each, for example.) Kobe’s move into VC has the potential to trend – if he can do it, others might get interested and start making smart bets on growing companies, too. Secondly, Kobe adds to the diversity in venture capital that is sorely needed. With a non-traditional, non-technical founder background (or really, any startup background), Kobe brings fresh perspective to the table. While investment lingo can be learned, work ethic and instinct are intrinsic traits in successful athletes. Fans either love or hate him, but Kobe has proven to possess an otherworldly drive to succeed that has enabled him to become one of the most legendary players in the game.
While Kobe is in the spotlight as of late, he’s certainly not the first athlete to explore what Silicon Valley has to offer. Just take Shaquille O’Neal for instance: many might not know Shaq was a pre-IPO investor in Google. He was mentioned in the New York Times back in 2004 along with names like Tiger Woods and Arnold Schwarzenegger as the world debated “one of the hottest companies in Silicon Valley and what could be the hottest deal on Wall Street this year”. Last year, Shaq told Esquire he also had a hand in Vitaminwater when Coca Cola bought the company. Shaq notoriously even let over 150 teams pitch their startup ideas to him during SXSW 2013.
Steve Nash, the famed Lakers point-guard who entered the league with Kobe in 1996, started Consigliere Capital. His portfolio includes Birchbox and StellaService. Meanwhile, Knicks star (and now 3 time Olympic Gold medalist) Carmelo Anthony launched his own VC firm way back in 2014 called M7 Tech Partners with longtime NBC exec Stuart Goldfarb. Melo said he would focus on wearable technology and connected devices.
Stephen Curry, Golden State’s high profile MVP is no stranger to the tech space. While he’s known for his basketball prowess and much hyped Under Armour sneaker releases, he also co-owns two tech startups: Coach-Up and Slyce. Coach-Up is a Boston-based, VC funded startup that matches athletes with private coaches. Meanwhile, Slyce, founded with former Nike employees Bryant Barr and Jason Mayden (previously Nike’s Innovation Director for Digital Sport and Global Design lead for Jordan Brand), helps athletes and influencers better interact with fans. Slyce came about when Curry’s own social interaction on various platforms deteriorated as his follower count went up and he looked for a better way to optimize his interactions.
Stephen’s Golden State teammate Andre Iguodala started out in investments, but then began working within startups when he was appointed the menswear director at Twice, sold to eBay in 2015. According to Fast Co, Iguodala was essential to the success of last month’s inaugural NBPA (National Basketball Players’ Association) Technology Summit, a three-day event held in San Francisco to “integrate NBA players with tech companies to create post-career relationships and opportunities.”
Why are athletes coming out more and more in support of investments and technology? Technology has been something current athletes have had the opportunity to use and grow up with as part of modern culture. But now, it’s an even bigger part of the game. I previously wrote about how technology is transforming professional basketball both on the court and with regards to post-game analysis and injury prevention. (You can read that article here.) But the league is embracing technology in various other ways. For example, the NBA is hosting its first ever Basketball Analytics Hackathon in New York City on September 24th, 2016. The Hackathon aims to help young engineering talent develop novel solutions to the rapidly growing world of basketball analytics.
Perhaps none of these athletes’ new interests should come as a surprise. The world’s most dominant athletes are notoriously win-focused and biased towards perseverance, a trait needed in a successful startup entrepreneur. While still an NBA powerhouse, in a moment of foreshadowing, Kobe notably remarked, “The most important thing is thinking longevity. You can’t settle for the season; it’s bigger than that.”
What do you think about professional athletes dabbling in the venture capital and startup scene? Comment below or join the conversation on Twitter. #smartshinyobjects