Entrepreneurial Athletes Grind

Marshawn Lynch Takes ‘Do What You Love’ to the Next Level

While in the midst of a prolific playing career in the NFL, Marshawn Lynch generated headlines in 2016 by claiming he hadn’t spent any of his lifetime football salary—around $50M—instead, he lived off of endorsement income from deals with Skittles, Nike, Progressive and others. As one of the most visible personalities in the NFL, that income amounted to about $5M annually, according to Business Insider.

This sensibility made Lynch unique are as a pro athlete: Because he wasn’t depending on his salary, he had more options as his 30s approached—he didn’t have to keep playing the game for the wrong reasons. (Lynch retired at 29, only to return for a couple seasons with his hometown Oakland Raiders). Lynch’s financial approach, by itself, would merit inclusion on our 30 Most Entrepreneurial Athletes list. But of all active athletes, Lynch has set himself up to have one of the most interesting post-careers in the modern investing landscape.

Across sports, Marshawn earned a reputation as a savvy investor, someone who knows where mainstream attention is going to go.

“Marshawn is one of the smartest entrepreneurs I know,” said Hingeto CEO Leandrew Robinson in an Ad Age interview last year, commenting on Lynch’s gift for apparel opportunities in his capacity as founder of Beast Mode Apparel. Lynch is probably the only player capable of getting the relatively player-unfriendly NFL to bend—the league allowed him to sell Raiders jerseys that included a Beast Mode patch on them, an unprecedented allowance.

Lynch has also placed a few bets for the future. Lynch was an early adopter of the esports phenomenon, helping to seed gaming team NRG esports in 2017 alongside investors like Alex Rodriguez, Jennifer Lopez and Twitter COO Anthony Noto. He also has a gift for programming—his appearance on Running Wild with Bear Grylls is must-watch television, and he’s weaponized his sly, sardonic humor on Conan and ESPN.

But above all, Marshawn knows Marshawn, and tends to lean into what he knows best as an entrepreneur. “It doesn’t matter how big the check is,” said Beast Mode CEO Bryan Shaw told Ad Age. “He rides his BMX bike to work every day, so he got a deal with SE Bikes. He only works with stuff he’s passionate about.”

This piece is part of our monthlong series featuring the 30 Most Entrepreneurial Athletes. For other entries in the series, head to our 30MEA page.

Entrepreneurial Athletes Grind

Ronda Rousey Is Still Dominating

Almost as soon as Ronda Rousey arrived in the UFC in 2012, she became the sport’s most visible star. A medalist in the 2008 Olympic judo competition, Rousey brought the nascent women’s UFC division a new dimension of prowess. Her two-and-a-half-year undefeated run still stands as the record, and her dominance in the UFC became a pop-culture interest, something that no one in the men’s UFC division could hold a candle to until recently.

Eventually, Rousey’s MMA career wound down to the tune of a few unexpected defeats. But Rousey had her eyes set on a larger cultural impact before she was done with the UFC.

While Rousey has found success in other arenas—acting, for one—the reason we’re celebrating her as an entrepreneurial athlete has a lot to do with her agreement to join WWE. When Rousey was revealed as a WWE roster wrestler at last year’s WWE Raw, it represented pro wrestling’s renaissance coming full circle.

In the past, WWE has made stars like the Rock—who went on to become the highest-paid actor in America—but its recent star power has diminished, save for Brock Lesnar’s flighty relationship with the company. Rousey’s involvement with WWE and its newly thriving women’s division gave WWE leverage at an important time. This fall, two WWE programs will begin two huge rights deals with Fox and USA. Rousey, whose wrestling persona quickly became a fan favorite, is at the center of the WWE’s return to pop cultural relevance. 

Not everyone would have taken this step.—Rousey’s move to WWE was the ship that launched a thousand think pieces. But her risk will turn out to be prescient as more stars from the athlete community explore the jump. While there’s talk of Rousey taking a planned leave from the company, her contract extends to 2021. By then, she’ll be considered a pioneer not just in sports but in entertainment as well.

This piece is part of our monthlong series featuring the 30 Most Entrepreneurial Athletes. For other entries in the series, head to our 30MEA page.

Entrepreneurial Athletes Grind

Venus Williams Sees the Bigger Picture

Over a 21-year career in pro tennis, Venus Williams has made about $41M in prize money. And, across that career, she’s put that money to work, founding an apparel line called EleVen and an interior design company called VStarr Interiors. (VStarr recently announced a business venture with AirBNB partner Niido). She’s also become an active angel investor. Venus—whose younger sister, Serena, also appears on our 30 Most Entrepreneurial Athletes list—also utilizes her prominent position in the sport to be an agent of change, best evidenced by her successful 2013 campaign to secure pay equality at Wimbledon. (Ava DuVernay made a doc about this effort for ESPN called “Venus Vs.”)

Williams has also invested in a way befitting her beliefs in social change. She seeded a robo-investing application called ElleVest in 2017, a company with a mission centered on serving female investors. With her capital, she’s also been able to get in on some of the sports world’s most tried and true moneymakers. Alongside her sister, Venus has equity in the Miami Dolphins and UFC, the MMA league that recently secured a $1.5B commitment from Disney and is still growing, financially and culturally.

Venus rounds out her portfolio with real estate in Florida and California, as well as long-term endorsement deals with American Express, Systane and many others. While Williams’ portfolio might scan as more conservative than other members of the 30 Most Entrepreneurial Athletes, Venus is serving her fans a look at where the smart money goes, while also exploring ways to further social causes that are important to her. The Williams sisters’ legacy continues to extend far beyond tennis—through her entrepreneurship, Venus has her hands in the future of sports culture.

This piece is part of our monthlong series featuring the 30 Most Entrepreneurial Athletes. For other entries in the series, head to our 30MEA page.

Entrepreneurial Athletes Grind

Serena Williams Is on ‘Another Level’

The athletic achievements of Serena Williams are so substantial and her impact on sports and pop culture is so dramatic that to list all of it, in order, couldn’t possibly do each individual accomplishment justice. She’s won 23 Grand Slam finals, the Open era record, and there’s no reason to think she won’t win like, six more. So, as far as context, I’ll keep it super 2019: of all the athletes in the American athletic community that megastar designer Virgil Abloh could choose to outfit for performance, he only chose one.

Who do you think that person was?

To frame Serena in the context of her impact on sports, though, is to only get part of the picture. She’s a savvy entrepreneur and businessperson, a sensibility which extends into her apparel line Serena—she’s been a New York Fashion Week staple since 2004. She was an early investor in Mayvenn, a hair product company that recently received a big capital infusion. She has a real estate portfolio—Paris, Bel Air, West Palm Beach, Manhattan—that’s likely larger than she’s giving on. She’s on the board of SurveyMonkey, a company with a billion-dollar valuation. For as fiery a competitor as Serena is on the court, she’s savvy and subtle keeping her own business.

But the thing that stands out most about Serena—besides that her desert island album is Green Day’s Kerplunk—is her work ethic. Take it from her husband, Reddit CEO Alexis Ohanion, who spoke about Serena’s drive and how her effort compared to other tech leaders in an interview with The New York Times:

“I thought I was the hardest-working person on the planet. I thought we were the hardest-working industry,” Ohanion said. “That’s what we tell ourselves. It’s all malarkey.”

“I’ve had this front-row seat over the last three years to greatness. It’s a humbling experience seeing really what high-pressure situations actually look like professionally, seeing just what it takes to actually be that great. It is a work ethic on another level.”

There’s no reason to believe Serena’s tennis career will end soon. Everything about her legacy so far is singular. Her sport’s usual career-enders—age, competition level, injury—haven’t slowed her down. Likewise, her career as an entrepreneur has no end in sight.

This piece is part of our monthlong series featuring the 30 Most Entrepreneurial Athletes. For other entries in the series, head to our 30MEA page.

Entrepreneurial Athletes Grind

Marcus Stroman Stands Tall

Over the past several years, Toronto Blue Jays’ pitcher Marcus Stroman has been developing into one of baseball’s most dangerous hurlers. Racking up 40 wins in his young career, the Blue Jays’ ace’s stats have been impressive ever since he made his debut and has quickly become one of Toronto’s rising stars that has made the baseball world pay close attention.

Athletically, his coming out party came after the 2016 season when he was named MVP of the World Baseball Classic. Stroman made three starts, racking up an ERA of 2.35 in 15 ⅓ innings pitched which included an impressive six hitless innings against Puerto Rico in the championship game.

However, Stroman’s success on the diamond stands for so much more, as evidenced by his lifestyle line HDMH—Height Doesn’t Measure Heart. Stroman built HDMH to inspire undersized, underdog athletes, a position Marcus knows well.

“There’s a bunch of undersized athletes out there,” Stroman told Yahoo! in 2015. “I’m trying to just get that message out there. I’ve seen it, people get discouraged because someone will say that they’re too short to play a position. Or too small to do this, or too small to do that.”

“I think it’s had a pretty positive impact already. I’ve interacted with some fans and young athletes through Twitter and Instagram. They seem to like it, and it seems to give them a bit of motivation and inspiration to be better.”

While Height Doesn’t Measure Heart has been around a minute, look for Stroman to become an increasingly prominent baseball star in a league looking to market its most exciting personalities. 

This piece is part of our monthlong series featuring the 30 Most Entrepreneurial Athletes. For other entries in the series, head to our 30MEA page.

Entrepreneurial Athletes Grind

Steve Nash Is a Legend in Two Games

As a player, Steve Nash defied convention. An undersized, relatively unheralded Canadian point guard out of Santa Clara who remade his game over and over, the multi-MVP Nash is the forefather of the pace-and-space era that now dominates the NBA. Naturally, his investment portfolio is atypical of what you might expect from a pro athlete. And when it comes to members of the 30 Most Entrepreneurial Athletes who are making waves in multiple sports, none has a higher profile than Nash.

Nash made news this year for partnering with Apple on a basketball analytics and training app called HomeCourt. But Nash was one of the first prominent pro athletes of his generation to dip his toes into European football. Alongside Phoenix Suns owner Robert Sarver, Nash is a shareholder in RCD Mallorca, a pro team in La Liga’s Segunda División. Nash has become such an effective marketer of soccer in America that it wouldn’t be too surprising if younger fans knew him for that instead of his storied hoops career.

WHAT’S NOW: While HomeCourt is entering a crowded space of instructional fitness and voice apps, it has a big advantage: It comes prepackaged on Apple phones. Nash also has a history in the venture capital space, partnering in 2010 with Michael Duda to launch Consigliere Brand Capital—which is now the marketing agency Bullish.

WHAT’S NEXT: HomeCourt will be an interesting company to watch for the next 18 months. Besides Nash, prominent investors include Mark Cuban, former Sixers GM Sam Hinkie and Jeremy Lin, suggesting a potentially high level of visibility in such a crowded space. Right now, RCD Mallorca is in eighth place in the Segunda; if they ever reach the highest level, it’s worth noting that La Liga’s two most valuable teams, FC Barcelona and Real Madrid CF, are valued at around $4B each.

This piece is part of our monthlong series featuring the 30 Most Entrepreneurial Athletes. For other entries in the series, head to our 30MEA page.

Entrepreneurial Athletes Grind

Nastia Liukin Wants to Empower Young Athletes

Since rising to prominence with an all-around gold medal at the 2008 Summer Olympics, Nastia Liukin has never left the picture. She built a second career as an entrepreneur and philanthropist while remaining visible in her sport: She founded the Nastia Liukin Cup, a prominent junior and senior gymnastics event, and is a commentator for national gymnastics broadcasts. With her social media app Grander—a platform Liukin founded in 2016 for young female gymnasts—she’s hoping to give young female athletes in any sport the mentorship they need.

No matter what your hustle is—whether it’s social media or a small business—Liukin advises an approach that instinctively feels right. “You have to go in a direction that you love and that’s also authentic to yourself,” Liukin told ONE37pm podcast host Kal Elsebai in a conversation last year. “For me, it was super important to find the right group of people that were going to help bring that vision to life.”

While Grander’s user base is currently young female athletes, Liukin hopes to expand Grander across different categories. “Instagram is great, but beyond liking, retweeting or posting something, there’s no real connection,” Liukin said. “So we created [Grander] to really create a global community to inspire the next generation of female athletes, entrepreneurs, founders, scientists, lawyers. We’re starting with athletes in gymnastics, but we’re going to hit all the verticals. It’s a place to connect but also to be inspired.”

The growth of Grander represents an interesting intersection that’s getting more attention lately: Platforms that connect athletes not only to their fans but also to other athletes (including potential mentors). The increasing popularity of MasterClass-style tutorials is another consideration; applications in this space are racing to configure the right balance for their offerings. 

“We’ve made such tremendous progress in the last six months,” Liukin said. “Building a team of employees around you that not only shares your vision but you can trust and are as committed as you are—that’s been the pivotal moment for us.”

Entrepreneurial Athletes Grind

How Justin Forsett Invented His Own Second Act

A playing career in pro sports—especially in a violent sport like football—can be a fleeting vocation. But with individual entrepreneurship becoming more mainstream, many former athletes are showing their young fans that in order to achieve ultimate success, it’s important to have passions and business ideas on the side. Former Baltimore Ravens great Justin Forsett is a prime example of someone pivoting into an entrepreneurial role after retiring from sports, thanks to a product he invented back in his collegiate playing days at the University of California at Berkeley.

During his playing career, which featured a Pro Bowl season in 2014-2015, Forsett unveiled ShowerPill, a body hygiene product athletes could use after working out. The best way to describe it is as a shower replacement product. Forsett developed it because he worked out several times a day and was tired of taking so many post-workout showers. He’s been honing ShowerPill ever since.

ShowerPill recently made its public retail debut in stores and will be carried in 1,800 Targets nationwide, a program that started at the end of December.

“When I got the news, I can honestly tell you I was more excited to hear that than to hear when I got drafted in 2008 to the Seattle Seahawks,” Forsett tells us. Forsett spoke with ONE37pm about his invention and what it’s like to go into business with your close friends.

Tell us about ShowerPill. How did you pitch it?

I created this product a few years ago with a couple of my teammates. Long story short, I was training three or four times a day as a professional athlete and I could not take three or four showers. It was just impossible. So I wanted to create a solution for those times when a shower was optimal but not possible. I created this product called ShowerPill, which is an antibacterial wipe, a disposable washcloth that you can use to wipe down and clean off after workouts, practice, soak sessions, Pilates, you name it. If you’re traveling, it’s that on-the-go shower when you need it.

You went into business with two of your teammates at Cal Berkeley. How did you guys nail the work-life balance?

Going into business with teammates was a seamless transition because in order to build a great business, you need a solid team. Being football players and being on the same team together, we understand what it takes to develop a good team with our chemistry. By developing and setting a standard and a culture, we understand communication and trust.

Being transparent is key. We have those relationships where we can be openly honest with one another and push each other to do our best and no one’s feelings are going to get hurt. We have this meeting every Monday that we call “Tell the Truth Monday.” We got it from Pete Carroll, who was my coach in Seattle. On Mondays we watched a film of Sunday’s game to get together as a team. Now, normally, you watch the highlights of the game or the review of the game in individual groups, so the running backs watch it with the other running backs, the receivers watch it with the receivers, etc. But with “Tell the Truth Monday” with Pete Carroll, he would watch the film with everybody. So you could see if the running back made a mistake or the offensive lineman—everybody was held accountable. That was so key for us, for that organization to grow and win the Super Bowl and be as dominant as they are. The accountability and the transparency were there.

We do the same thing as a business. We have “Tell the Truth Monday,” where we look and say “OK, what are our strengths? What are our weaknesses? How do we grow from here? Are you being accountable in this area of the business?” And we feel that because our relationship is so strong, and it comes from a real, genuine, authentic place, we’re able to push ourselves and push each other more than a regular person would do. If you just go into a regular nine-to-five, you don’t have the prior relationship.

How does it feel seeing your product available for purchase in major stores such as Target?

It’s pretty cool, a pretty big accomplishment, a milestone for us. They just put our products on their shelves at the end of December. We love Target—it’s a huge brand. To be on their shelves, you know, it’s an honor. 

What’s the future of ShowerPill, in your eyes?

I really believe that we’re going to grow at the rate of fitness. As people become more fit and health conscious, they’re going to be on the go. Everybody’s on the go now, traveling. They’re trying to fit in workouts throughout the day, so while they’re trying to fit in workouts with a small amount of time, I want to be able to create those personal-care products for their needs. The ShowerPill body wipe is just our initial product into the market, but continue to look out for us as we continue to create some really dope products.

This piece is part of our monthlong series featuring the 30 Most Entrepreneurial Athletes. For other entries in the series, head to our 30MEA page.

Entrepreneurial Athletes Grind

Andre Iguodala Leads the Way

Of all active pro athletes, one could arguably claim that Andre Iguodala has the most formal business résumé of anyone on the list of the 30 Most Entrepreneurial Athletes. He’s been in the pitch room at Andreessen Horowitz and—alongside his business partner, Rudy Cline-Thomas—he’s invested in dozens of startups. He’s been an advocate for athletes taking on riskier and more lucrative investments, hoping to evolve from the real estate and car dealership investments that were popular for previous generations.

Iguodala’s status as a three-time NBA Champion in the heart of Silicon Valley has led to a rush of activity in the past few years. Through F9 Strategies LLC, his business partnership with Cline-Thomas, Iguodala is primed to lead a new generation of athletes by example.

WHAT’S NOW: Iguodala has investments in direct-to-consumer businesses like the mattress startup Casper and the shoemakers Taft and Allbirds. He’s a phone call away from the offices of Andreessen Horowitz, perhaps the most reputable venture capitalist brain trust in Silicon Valley. Last year, he announced a media partnership with Cheddar—a talk show built around his business sensibility is in the works.

WHAT’S NEXT: Iguodala will be an interesting figure to watch over the next few years as his basketball career winds down. His friendship with Andreeson Horowitz general partner Jeff Jordan—who sits on the boards of Airbnb, Pinterest, Instacart and others—will keep Iguodala at the forefront of the general investment community. As Steph Curry told Fast Company“You can pretty much ask [Andre] any question, and he’ll have a pretty educated answer.” As the American economy enters a potentially difficult time, it’ll be Iguodala showing other athletes where the smart money is.

This piece is part of our monthlong series featuring the 30 Most Entrepreneurial Athletes. For other entries in the series, head to our 30MEA page.

Entrepreneurial Athletes Grind

Al Harrington Is a Cannabis Mogul

When Al Harrington’s 17-year pro basketball career ended, he didn’t have a particular post-basketball calling in mind. He figured he’d stay around the game and see what happened.

“Naturally, I thought I would coach and try to help the younger guys,” Harrington tells us from his office in Los Angeles.  “And it’s not that I don’t still want to do that. It’s not that I don’t still love the game. It’s not that I found cannabis—cannabis found me.” 

In 2010, Harrington signed with the Denver Nuggets, and his time in Colorado left an impression on him. Early in that stint, his grandmother visited him, and she was feeling defeated by glaucoma-related vision problems. Having read up on cannabis in the Denver media, Harrington suggested on a whim that his grandmother, Viola, try cannabis. She was not initially a fan of the idea.

“She said, ‘Reefer?’” Harrington recalls. “‘There’s no way reefer gonna help my eyes. It’s not gonna do nothing but make me hungry.’” But his grandmother soon relented. 

“An hour and a half later she tried cannabis for the first time,” Harrington says. “I went to go check on her, and she was downstairs reading her Bible. And she was crying, and she told me she was healed. Those were her exact words: ‘I’m healed.’” It was the first time Harrington’s grandmother was able to read her Bible in three years.

“It humanized it for me,” Harrington says. “It was almost like a sign from God.”

Almost a decade later, Harrington is in charge of his own cannabis company, Viola Extracts, named for his grandmother. Recently, the company partnered up with the cannabis marketing group Vertical to increase distribution of Viola’s products where cannabis is legal.

“Our focus is really to help people,” says Harrington. “And at the same time, we’re trying to humanize this industry by making a lifestyle brand around cannabis.”

I feel like the messaging around Viola is different than many other big cannabis brands. What do you think distinguishes your company from all the newcomers coming into the space?

I think it’s very important for me to continue to use my light to make it shine on the people that are less fortunate. Because I had an issue in Michigan where the police illegally raided my location there. And they froze our bank accounts, and they did all these different things that if I wasn’t Al Harrington with the resources that I had, my business would’ve been over.

If I didn’t have money to fight the case and win the case, we would’ve pleaded and lost everything. And that’s really… it really sucks. Because I just feel like when these states decide to go with these programs, they need to start to police themselves and police the police and hold them more accountable. Because a lot of people put everything they have into these opportunities. And one mishap can completely destroy someone and everything that they worked for.

And especially for black people. At the end of the day, 85 percent of all drug arrests are still cannabis related. So they’re still policing the war on drugs. We’re still the ones going to jail. When I go and talk in different communities, it’s still being policed the same way. But you got people down the street making millions of dollars in a dispensary. So what we need to do, what I would like to do, is try to create an environment or an opportunity for black and brown people to actually get into this space.

What’s the best way to do that, for young entrepreneurs who want to get into the space?

In this industry, I think that experience is the best teacher. Because even when I was going through this, man, I had a lot of billionaires and mentors in my ear. And a lot of questions I would ask them about this space, they had no clue. Even with as much experience as they had, I had to go through it. You know what I’m saying? And I would just say for a lot of these kids or young entrepreneurs that are thinking about it, I would say go to the local dispensary and get a job. Go to the local grow and get a job if you can. 

I want to give people an opportunity to better themselves. Just because they made a mistake in the past doesn’t mean that defines them for the rest of their life. You can go legit. And we can just start to change and give people a better opportunity to better themselves without all the risk—which is [an] unwarranted risk now—because we do have a scenario where people can actually do this the right way and make some money and make a career out of it.

This is gonna be around forever. This is the new liquor.

This piece is part of our monthlong series featuring the 30 Most Entrepreneurial Athletes. For other entries in the series, head to our 30MEA page.