From the NBA to entrepreneurship and investing, how my life took a decisive turn

Axel Toupane
May 15, 2018 · 5 min read
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April 2016, my season with the Denver Nuggets is ending. I just accomplished my childhood dream: play in the best basketball league in the world, the NBA. I felt relief, satisfaction, happiness, and pride at the same time. This achievement was the result of almost 10 years of hard work and perseverance, and at this rate I would soon have enough money to retire and never have to work again. This is what I thought. However, that vision of my post-career would be altered while I was having dinner with my best friend Bruno on the terrace of the restaurant les Deux Magots in Paris. I was only playing basketball when he suggested me to invest in his startup…

It was somewhat of a choc for me since I was only playing basketball since I graduated from High School in 2011. Professional athletes in Europe often get into a routine not compatible with college education, especially as a youngster that tries to make the pro team. I was sort of an expert in my field but a total rookie in the world of business. At that time, I had a million questions running through my head: How do I invest? How much should I invest? If the project doesn’t work out, am I sharing the losses? How do I know how much will I make from my investment? It really felt like I had a lack of knowledge and that I had to fill the gap.

From Basketball to GreenLux Car

Once I clarified those questions, I had the chance to go to the Cannes Film Festival with Bruno. It was an eye opener. His company Greenlux Car is a startup founded in 2013 that offers an application of private driver services with eco-friendly cars such as electric cars and hybrid cars. For this Film Festival, he signed a partnership with BMW to promote the new BMW 7 series and the BMW i8. During those 15 days, we were living all together with Bruno as the CEO of the company, Malik the CTO, and Freddy and Rui in charge of running the operations and the drivers. This is what startup felt like, small team, good atmosphere, team work, have a good time, and helping each other out. The goal for me was really to learn how businesses worked and to get introduced to entrepreneurship and I wasn’t disappointed. Between contracts negotiations, employees’ management, business meetings, networking, it was very intense and an invaluable experience that allowed me to strengthen my skills and my knowledge. Furthermore, one thing that I have learnt there was that no matter the project, what’s the most important is the team behind it because this is a great metric to evaluate the potential of a project.

After the festival, I came back to Paris with new skills and tons of motivation. I thought I wanted to retire and relax for the rest of my life once I was done with basketball but now I was seeing an incredible opportunity not only to be active and generate extra revenues, but also to get into a field where I could gain so much more and have an impact. What I really liked in the investment process in a startup was that it was not just a financial investment, I also had to get involved and make the project grow. At that time I also realized that athletes such as Stephen Curry, Angre Iguodala, and Kevin Durant from the Golden State Warriors in the Bay Area launched their own investment funds which inspired me to follow their footsteps. Other athletes such as Lebron James or Jaylen Brown also got involved in social entrepreneurship and one of them even publicly spoke at Harvard University. This really made me realize that I wanted to go further than just doing business but also to inspire others and have a positive impact on the society.

Athletes are built for entrepreneurship

I really believe that, us professional athletes, have a huge potential because of the values that we have been thought throughout our careers such as team work, discipline and work ethic, handle adversity, emotions, and stress, or nurture competitiveness. All these skills are invaluable skills that you can find in a startup environment as well. Add to those values and skills our public image and you have potentially great businessmen and business partners.

To reach my new objectives, I needed to learn, be informed, and get an education. During a conversation with my friend Bruno who is an ESSEC Business School alumni, he suggested me to take part of a summer school program at a top notch business school. This is when I decided to apply to HEC Paris and after I put my application together, I was successfully accepted. I am now looking forward to join the Luxury Management program this upcoming July.

My dad also played an important role in those decisions. He was always a role model for me and as a professional basketball player, by the end of his career he was playing, coaching, and also getting a degree at the same time. Probably not ideal for a professional athlete but extremely inspiring for me his son who observed him work when I was going to sleep and when I would wake up in the morning, surrounded by sheets of paper, with the noise of the printer, and the smell of coffee.

It was also time for me to optimize my time. As an athlete, I was locked into a routine of eating, practicing, and sleeping which also enabled me to have between 5 to 8 hours of free time per day. When I was younger I would watch TV, play video games, or do things I don’t even remember as of today. All this free time used more efficiently would now allow me to get prepared to go back to school but also to fill the knowledge gap, and try to understand the mechanisms and the codes of the entrepreneurship world.

As you might have expected, today I have invested in the startup of my best friend and I have also invested in different sectors. Investing doesn’t necessarily means investing millions, everyone has different streams of income, but for me it became clear that I would rather invest the money I would have otherwise spent on irrelevant things.

One thing that I understood and that I believe is key in life is that you need to put all the chances on your side. That gave me the motivation to join a great school such as HEC, which combined with daily research will allow me to have a better vision. What’s really exciting for me is that I found another way than sports to compete in something that I love and to challenge my desire to always get better. I hope this is only the beginning because I have so many projects running through my head that I want you to hear about very soon.

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