From Athlete To Entrepreneur: Kevin Brown of Friction Labs On The 5 Work Ethic Lessons We Can Learn From Athletes


Set high goals and celebrate! We set quarterly goals for our company, which are not easy to attain. Everyone has to play their part for it to come together, and when it does we go out and have a good time. Work hard play hard may sound cliche, but the cadence of work, accomplishment and celebration reminds everyone why we work so hard.

I had the distinct pleasure of interviewing Kevin Brown.

Kevin is co-founder and CEO of Friction Labs. He lives in Denver with his amazing wife and pretty awesome kids Merit and Diem. He’s obsessed with climbing and getting better at most things most days.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! It is a great honor. Our readers would love to learn more about your personal background. Can you tell us the story of how you grew up?

I grew up in Hartland, Wisconsin in a small town surrounded by dairy farms. Life was simple, we went to school and in the summer we rode our bikes and swam in the lakes. The neighborhood I lived in had a big hill just outside of my house. We all watched the movie Rad, a BMX movie. The next day we built a rickety bike jump and set it up on the hill. I bombed down the hill on my heavy wanna be bmx clunker and when I hit the jump, the bike barely moved but I launched and slid chin first down the hill. As I walked up the hill my mom saw me covered in blood and spent the next hour picking gravel out of my chin. The next day I hit the jump and managed to barely land. Turns out none of my friends would do the jump after my crash.

What or who inspired you to pursue your career as an athlete?

I loved football from the first time we played. Herschel Walker, Brian Bosworth, Mike Singletary and Lawrence Taylor were all posters on my walls. But my main inspiration came from reading Arnold Schwarzenneger’s Education of a Bodybuilder book. He showed how you could get strong and that being strong was part of being an athlete. Ever since then, being an athlete and being fit has been an important priority in my life.

None of us can achieve success without some help along the way. Was there a particular person who you feel gave you the most help or encouragement to be who you are today? Can you share a story about that?

Tom Taraska was the head football coach at my high school. He moved me up to the varsity team my sophomore year. It was a tough year, everyone was bigger than me and knew what they were doing. He kept encouraging me and challenging me. By the end of the year, I was starting to get some playing time. He had two sayings that have always stuck with me, win the war of attrition- in other words, work hard when it’s time to work hard and rest hard when you get a chance to rest…you only have so much energy so use it when it matters. Never take a play-off- if you’re in the game, always give it your all, if you’re too tired raise your hand and get a sub, but NEVER take a play-off. This thought has stuck with me my whole life, whether it’s been going after a deal, working through a challenge in production or scaling our business, we NEVER take a play-off.

Can you share the funniest or most interesting mistake that occurred to you in the course of your sports career? What lesson or take away did you learn from that?

I thought rest didn’t make you better, only work would make you better. One day between two-a-day practices, instead of relaxing and being ready for the second practice, I went for a run with a girl in the middle of the heat of the day. My coach saw me and told me I needed to rest. In our second practice, he worked us over until I could barely see straight. I was so tired I could barely think. After practice he said, you can’t play your best unless you rest, rest is important. That too has stuck with me. I’m more comfortable charging than relaxing, but I’ve learned that to be my best, I need to rest and relax between the important work in order to show up at my best.

As an athlete, you often face high stakes situations that involve a lot of pressure. Most of us tend to wither in the face of such pressure and stress. Can you share with our readers 3 or 4 strategies that you use to optimize your mind for peak performance before high pressure, high stress situations?

  • Whether in sport or in business, the most important thing for me is to show up with confidence if there is any hope for a great performance. For me, confidence comes from looking back on tough situations that forced me to rise up and play my best. I think of some great moments I’ve had to remind me, I can do it.
  • As a kid we would listen to music to get amped up and it worked in the moment, but once you left the music it seemed like some of that would fade. I learned over time I find better focus in being alone and quiet before big moments. Deep breathing, getting centered, identifying what the goal is to accomplish and not allowing distractions.
  • Short memory. In the moment of your best performances, you’ll still make a small mistake from time to time, but you CAN’T remember that stuff. Just dismiss it and keep charging. Focusing on the stumble at the start of your presentation will erode your confidence and cloud your focus of the task at hand. Remember the success and forget the stumbles along the way.

Can you tell us the story of your transition from athlete to a successful business person?

Fortunately being an athlete goes hand in hand with our business. We make products so athletes can perform their best. The level I hold myself to as an athlete is the same high standard I hold myself to in business. The teamwork it takes as an athlete is the same in business. My favorite aspect of team sports is the constant focus on improvement, we bring that same spirit to our business with a mantra of “in pursuit of perpetual improvement.” We accomplish that through regular book clubs and quarterly initiatives.

What are some of the most interesting or exciting new projects you are working on now?

A major focus for us is how we can run our company in a more eco-friendly way. We’re moving our packaging to truly compostable packaging. We’ve also figured out how to produce our chalk in a more dense form so we’re shipping less air, which will allow us to use a smaller packaging footprint as well. We have a few new products coming out towards the end of the year as well.

Do you think your experience as an athlete gave you skills that make you a better entrepreneur? Can you give a story or example about what you mean?

To be an athlete means committing to perpetual improvement. Every practice, every drill, every game are chances to improve your skills and abilities. It’s similar in business. Every person on our team can get better, when they get better our team and company perform better.

We have monthly book clubs that focus on skills we need to improve on. We work with each person to identify a critical skill they can improve on and then work to improve that skill. The commitment to perpetual improvement takes effort and every year it causes us to grow.

Here is the main question of our interview. Entrepreneurs and athletes share a common “hustle culture”. Can you share your “5 Work Ethic Lessons That Entrepreneurs Can Learn From Athletes”?

  1. Practice like you play. Athletes who practice hard, perform well. They’ve put in the hard work, they know how to perform even when they are tired or the conditions aren’t great. The same is true in business. When a new person joins our team, we role play with them and make it harder than most of their customer interactions so when they do work with our customers, it feels easy and they deliver an awesome experience.
  2. Get better every day. We have a culture that believes we are in pursuit of perpetual improvement. If we do well, we always ask how we could have done better. If we win or lose a deal, we talk about what went well and what didn’t. We are always looking for some way to get better, a bunch of 1% improvements shows a huge improvement over time.
  3. Play to your strengths, improve your weaknesses. We lead with what we are good at and rely on those abilities to grow the company. We also look for ‘what do we suck at?’ Improvement in our weaknesses is the biggest opportunity for long-term improvement.
  4. Communication is the foundation of a successful team. Every week we meet to talk through how each area of our business is performing and share all of the financials, even how much money is in the bank. Every person on our team needs to know and understand how their individual contribution plays out in the company’s success. This keeps us aligned and working together towards a common goal. It’s easy to get in a silo and think about just your job, when everyone is challenged to think about how their work impacts and compliments the rest of the team’s work, everyone raises their game.
  5. Set high goals and celebrate! We set quarterly goals for our company, which are not easy to attain. Everyone has to play their part for it to come together, and when it does we go out and have a good time. Work hard play hard may sound cliche, but the cadence of work, accomplishment and celebration reminds everyone why we work so hard.

What would you advise to a young person who aspires to follow your footsteps and emulate your career? What advice would you give?

Seek out, find and earn mentors. So many of the moments of success we’ve had with Friction Labs came from guidance and advice from many of the mentors I’ve sought out. Don’t ask someone to be your mentor, earn it. Hustle to get their attention, and when you finally do ask direct questions they can easily provide guidance on and take the guidance and turn it to action. When you’ve done what they advised, give them a brief update on your outcomes and thank them for their time. If you are thankful and take action, most people who have had success can’t help themselves but make some time for you.

You are by all accounts a very successful person. How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?

I think I’m still working towards success. Anything I’ve learned and maybe more useful are the mistakes made along the way, I’m happy to share with anyone looking to get on the path as an entrepreneur.

In our business, we challenge everyone on our team to be a better version of themselves every quarter. We do that with book clubs and one-on-one coaching. I have a lot to learn and anything I’ve picked up along the way I use to push our team and anyone who will listen forward.

In our community, we partner with youth organizations and climbing gyms to expand climbing’s access to all kids regardless of socioeconomic background through our quarterly Cause Good Events.

You are a person of influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be?

We want to help underserved kids get access to sports and life that is focused on health. For me, sports, and specifically rock climbing, have brought me so many friends, joy and purpose. I see a lot of my friends in their 40s and they stop focusing on health, they lose some purpose. If we can connect with kids, turn them onto the joy of healthy life with purpose, I think we could cause a lot of good and benefit a lot of people.

Can you share your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Why does that resonate with you so much?

“Hard choices easy life, easy choices hard life.” I have an image of this in my bathroom and see it every morning. The hard choices like waking up early to work out and read, and eating nutritious food. These things take effort and work, and the reward is amazing! Your body and mind grow and evolve so you can do things you didn’t think were possible. And the flip side of easy choices is hard life, it’s easy to eat fast food or have a few beers after work instead of going for a run…and the reward is a crappy night of sleep and steps in the wrong direction. Make the hard choices and have an easy life.

We are very blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why?

Tim Ferriss! His book the Four Hour Work Week turned me on to not only how I could become an entrepreneur but also why I wanted to. His books and podcasts have educated and inspired me. If I could take him to breakfast and say thank you and maybe ask a few questions, it would be a dream come true.

This was great, thank you so much for sharing your story and doing this with us. We wish you continued success!



Edward Sylvan CEO of Sycamore Entertainment Group
Authority Magazine

Edward Sylvan is the Founder and CEO of Sycamore Entertainment Group Inc. He is committed to telling stories that speak to equity, diversity, and inclusion.