Scrum Ventures
Published in

Scrum Ventures

Meet the Team: Michael Proman, Managing Director

You have such a great background in sports. Did you actively pursue working in that field?

I’ve always had a love for sports dating back beyond my limited abilities as a D3 football player at Amherst College. That said, I didn’t think that having a connection to sports would differentiate me when I considered aligning this passion-point to a career, which is why I sought to emphasize my Mandarin Chinese linguistic and cultural skill-set.

By combining those two areas of focus, I was able to land an incredible internship with the NFL League Office — working on their international growth — back in the summer of 2001. At about the same time, Beijing was awarded the 2008 Olympic Games, and after spending endless hours email stalking Olympic partners (pre-LinkedIn) with the hope of getting an opportunity to work on the lead-up to this milestone, I ended up working with the Olympic Sponsor, Coca-Cola, for its global sports marketing department.

Ironically, I never made it to Beijing. Instead, with the support of Coca-Cola, I took a job in New York with the NBA since my then-girlfriend (now wife) was in the city. I’m happy to say that decision worked out!

Fast forward 15+ years, I couldn’t have found a better opportunity to join Scrum and help launch SPORTS TECH TOKYO, the largest global sports tech community in the world. I feel very fortunate to have a wonderful network of industry leaders involved in this initiative — many of whom I’ve known throughout my career.

Throughout my sports industry career, which cut across the brand, property, startup and venture communities, I’ve been lucky to have had such incredible experiences as carrying the Olympic Torch, attending numerous NBA All-Star and Finals games and traveling to more than 50 countries. But among perhaps the most unique and memorable experiences was going backstage at the July 4th Nathan’s Coney Island Hot Dog Eating competition and meeting Takeru Kobayashi (see vintage 2008 picture below).

You were able to leverage your NFL and China experience to go on to hold a variety of roles across the NBA’s global business development group. Tell us a bit about that and your career highlights that followed.

In looking back, I would never have attempted to start a company if I hadn’t worked at the NBA. Helping to build the league’s global footprint was like building a company. It was like a blank canvas that allowed me to think creatively since there was no playbook. The NBA also helped me develop a network of some of the smartest and most passionate executives in the business world. Today, many of my former friends and colleagues are in extraordinary positions and I’m just thankful to be riding their coat-tails every once in a while.

After leaving the NBA, I started OptionIt, a platform that enabled buyers and sellers to utilize options in a more ubiquitous way — creating additional flexibility and convenience that incentivized future purchases. This was essentially the business school experience I never got. It also enabled me to start working remotely, from home, back in 2008, which might be the only thing I can say I was doing before it was cool. OptionIt reinforced the importance of focusing on pain points and problems that exist in the industry and looking for solutions that address the needs of all audiences. Trying to find ‘win-win’ outcomes is still something I look for, whether it be in assessing early-stage companies or just diffusing a fight between my kids.

OptionIt was acquired in 2011, which was pretty special because it coincided with the birth of our daughter. After OptionIt, I got to spend substantive time with other early-stage ventures as an advisor/consultant, which took me outside the sports and entertainment bubble and broadened my network.

Through numerous executive-level roles, I purposely looked for balance in my work and personal life. To me, this is a massive career highlight: playing an active role as a dad and being part of my kids’ lives and activities. That’s something I’ll never sacrifice.

What do you enjoy most about working in VC?

Being on the VC side is fascinating because it gives me the opportunity to do what I do best: leverage my network to help support some of the most innovative ideas and passionate entrepreneurs. Most of the time, the only thing missing for startups is the right audience — customers, investors, advisors, etc. If I can help bridge the gap by making meaningful connections that accelerate growth, it’s rewarding on multiple levels.

I take tremendous satisfaction in helping our portfolio companies find great talent — most recently, helping introduce Zippin to their now Chief Revenue Officer, Gary Jacobus.

I also appreciate the insights and perspective that our mentors from our Studio programs have provided me. They help ensure that we’re being responsive to the opportunities and pain-points that exist in the industry. Maintaining relevance is critical and this group of industry executives always helps me re-center the conversation.

What’s your take on the importance of mentorship or what it takes to be a good leader?

I’ve been the beneficiary of some incredible mentors — most notably, my first manager at Coca-Cola, Peter Franklin. Peter exemplified everything you want in a boss and someone I try to emulate when supporting members of my team and mentoring those in the industry.

I’m also incredibly proud of the work we did with SPORTS TECH TOKYO back in 2019 — redefining what an accelerator can look like and the impact it can have on the industry. Through this program, I had the great fortune of meeting so many exceptional founders. Getting to know them on a personal level and getting to be a small part of their growth means a great deal to me.

I think that mentorship has evolved quite a bit in recent years and become much more about networking and shared experiences. I appreciate that this has created less of a “top-down” approach and more of an even transaction in which two or more individuals are connecting and exchanging learnings and insights.

You’ve helped nurture along so many SmartCityX achievements recently. What are features of the “city of the future” that you’re most excited about?

Solving real-world challenges and ensuring that smart city technology continues to take a people-first approach. We now literally live in a world of rocket ships and flying cars but what I get most excited about are the efforts that are making cities more equitable, inclusive and sustainable by using technology to address social change. It’s a narrative that’s playing out around the world, but certainly hits home for me — where I live, less than 5 miles from where George Floyd was murdered last year. We all have an opportunity and obligation to address the generational inequalities that have limited access to innovation.

How do you enjoy your free time? Are you still active in sports?

If you follow me on Peloton (I’m @ m7p7), my friends know that I’m a bit of a nut when it comes to personal fitness. Beyond saturating multiple towels when I’m on the bike, I’ve always been a runner, as it gives me an opportunity to decompress and think about absolutely anything (or in many cases nothing at all). We’ll see if that helps me complete the Twin Cities Marathon in October.

And if I’m not burning calories, I’m likely putting them on… I love to cook and don’t miss opportunities to eat. My latest culinary obsession is smoking meats on my Traeger — pulled pork or brisket have been my ‘go-tos’ this summer but always looking for new ideas.

The finished product: smoked pulled pork sandwich and Minnesota sweet corn

What is your vision for your work at Scrum Ventures?

What I appreciate most about Scrum Ventures and Scrum Studio is the startup mentality and our ability to leverage the institutional knowledge of the team to develop meaningful opportunities for our partners. We’ve built an organization that is so versatile, which is why we can innovate in a dynamic manner. With this in mind, I’m most excited about what we can develop in the future. We’re always thinking one step ahead of where the industry is today and I want to make sure this continues to be a point of emphasis moving forward.

--

--

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store
Scrum Ventures

Scrum Ventures

146 Followers

We are an early stage venture firm. With experience and networks in both Silicon Valley and Japan, we help our portfolio companies achieve global opportunities.