Techball: sports, technology, and investing come together on the court

Last week, I joined the Players Technology Summit, “an exclusive and intimate gathering of world-class athletes, entrepreneurs and investors.” A month earlier, I spoke at the NBA Summer League to a curious group of players and league officials. One thing was crystal clear — the worlds of sports, technology, and investing (my favorite worlds) are intersecting. Quickly.

Gone are the days of a player’s investment portfolio primarily concentrated of their buddy’s car washes or night clubs. Investing in technology startups has grabbed the attention of some of the most prominent athletes globally.

From multiple conversations with players, managers, agents, coaches, general managers, reporters, here are a few observations.

Students of the game

Insatiable curiosity is a telltale sign of a potentially great investor. And the genuine desire to learn of every player I’ve connected with has been immense.

Players Tech Summit 2017: An all-time great learning from all-time greats

At the inaugural Players Tech Summit last year, NBA champ Steph Curry jotted down page after page of notes throughout a marathon 8 hour day of talks, at the prolific pace of his pregame 3's. In private conversations, questions and discussions spanned from use cases for blockchain to innovations in telemedicine to applications of computer vision to cap table structures. From Celtics rising star Jaylen Brown recounting his VC internship leading to his first Y Combinator demo day to Finals MVP Kevin Durant sharing how his 2015 injury gave him time to learn about things outside of basketball, athletes are ready to invest the time and cycles in learning about the tech game.

Pace and space

Athletes, and any celebrity or prominent figure, have no shortage of inbound deal flow — zealous entrepreneurs hounding them to invest in or promote the latest and greatest startup. That isn’t necessarily a good thing.

Jeff Jordan, Andreessen Horowitz general partner, who first met with Andre Iguodala and his business partner Rudy Cline-Thomas in 2013 shared the following advice:

1. Only invest money you can afford to lose.
2. If someone keeps asking you for money, be suspicious. The best companies — you’re asking to take your money.
3. The more you see, the smarter you’ll be. Get your deal flow going and see a lot before you write your first check.
Players Tech Summit 2018: Andre Iguodala interviewing Jeff Jordan

Great advice for any investor — athlete or not. Today’s athlete-turned-investor is aware that patience and discipline pays off, and Iguodala and Cline-Thomas’s yearly Players Tech Summit has become the perfect platform to learn, build a network, and get deal flow going.

Veteran leadership

Iguodala spoke of how important it was early in his career to be surrounded in the locker room by veterans like Elton Brand, Aaron McKie, and Kevin Ollie and reminisced on his important first lesson in investing from Cline-Thomas — namely, that the banks and advisors were going to take his money whether they made him any or not. Now, Iggy has become the guru and mentor to other players interested in the world of tech investing.

It’s on you. Cut out the Fortnite, or the hour of social media, because before you know it, your career is over
— Andre Iguodala to the next generation of players

A veteran and legend of another game, 3-time Olympic gold medalist Kerri Walsh Jennings shared why she started p1440 to save the sport of beach volleyball and provide a platform for personal development, health, wellness, and community for young athletes.

Players Tech Summit 2018: Veteran leadership — Elton Brand and Kerri Walsh Jennings

Surrounding yourself with the right network of mentors is an easily transferable tenet from sports to investing.

Home court advantage

Obligatory selfie with KD

As a diehard Clippers fan, it pains me to admit this — but once again, the Warriors are dominating this game. Both Iguodala and Durant openly admitted that the draw of direct access to Silicon Valley played a huge role in their free agent decisions. And they’ve smartly leveraged this position to build promising investment portfolios. Iguodala’s portfolio includes Casper, GOAT, NerdWallet, and The Players Tribune. Curry’s includes Brandless, Pinterest, and TSM. Since joining the Warriors, Durant is already in Coinbase, Lime, Postmates, and our own Zenreach. They’re co-investing alongside Silicon Valley titans like Marc Andreessen and Ron Conway.

In Silicon Valley, I’m surrounded by innovators and creatives. Being around so many open people opens up what you believe can be possibilities in life. — Kevin Durant

The good news for the rest of the League and other athletes out there is that tech investing is not a winner-take-all market. Iguodala and Cline-Thomas are building a platform to connect more athletes to the forefront of technology and investing. The Summer League, which in many ways has become the “annual trade show” for the NBA, is taking key steps to expand beyond the key networking event to talk all things basketball to much more. All with the goal of bringing together the worlds of sports, technology, and investing.

NBA Summer League SVB Venture Technology Panel 2018