The relationship between the sports world and business world has long been intertwined. Wealthy business owners competing for ownership of sports teams, athletes endorsing big brands and business professionals flaunting court-side seats are all staples of the complex relationship.
This entanglement between industries continues to evolve as athletes get more involved in actual business activities like investing in companies or becoming business leaders after sunsetting their sports career.
In decades prior, many athletes ventured into the business world through ownership of restaurant franchises and service-based businesses. More recently, the sports and business relationship among athletes evolved into more of a focus on technology-related companies.
There are numerous examples to point to. Kobe Bryant with his own $100 million venture fund to invest in technology startups, Cristiano Ronaldo investing in check-in app Mobbito or stars from the Golden State Warriors dropping millions into tech firms, all represent a burgeoning trend.
One of the brightest examples involves the biggest name in basketball, Lebron James. James co-founded the tech and media company Uninterrupted and was an early investor in hardware tech company Beats Headphones, which was later acquired by Apple.
There’s no doubt that athletes see the massive business opportunity in tech companies. I wanted to understand how successfully transition from sports to tech, so I caught up with Jason Fox, a former NFL player turned tech entrepreneur, to get a better insight into what’s going on with this trend.
After playing six years of professional football for the Miami Dolphins and Detroit Lions, he founded EarBuds, a real-time social music platform. The service allows users to listen to songs with friends anywhere in the world and share music preferences while communicating in the mobile app.
Fox comes to the discussion with a unique view of why the technology sector is attracting so many sports figures.
Mark Hall: Thanks for joining us, Jason. For those who aren’t familiar with your story, give us a brief intro on who you are and where you come from.
Jason Fox: I grew up as an average kid from Fort Worth, TX. I loved sports, country music, and family. I went on to the University of Miami to play football and then had the opportunity to play in the NFL. As much as I loved football, I knew I had a passion for business and decided to combine that with my love for music.
Hall: What inspired you to make the leap from the sports arena to the business world, and specifically into the tech world?
Fox: The NFL was amazing and six years is a good run, but during that time I was always preparing for the next step. Whether it was getting started with my MBA or diving into my friends’ businesses to understand how they did it, I was always working toward what was next. The idea of Earbuds actually came when I was a player, and I watched Cam Newton warming up across the field jamming with his headphones on. I thought man, I wish I could tune into that! Now I am making that possible.
Hall: What experiences are you hoping or expecting to gain as a tech entrepreneur?
Fox: It is amazing how much overlap there is between sports and being an entrepreneur. The main thing I have learned is how critical it is to build the core foundation; the right team, the right processes, and everyone working together towards a common goal. I have always known these things in sports, but I am learning even more now that I am growing a business. I am excited to gain these skills and hopefully help other athletes get past the learning curve quicker.
Hall: Which do you find more challenging and stressful, game days or investor pitches?
Fox: First off, both definitely get your blood pumping, but there is a key difference that I have found between them. Playing in front of 80,000+ people and millions more on television has prepared me to keep calm in big moments. With the NFL, if you lose a certain number of games, it is considered a losing season. In pitching investors, you can pitch several times without getting funding, but there is no set number of “hey that’s your 10th pitch, and you’re out”. You hear stories of people who do dozens of pitches until they find the right partnership. We have lucked out with finding great investors earlier in the process.
Hall: When you see big name athletes get involved in the tech industry, either as a founder or investor, how does it make you feel about your decision to make the leap?
Fox: I love it! At the end of the day, playing sports professionally is your job, but it doesn’t mean it’s your whole life. I have friends in several different professional sports that are grateful to be where they are but have ideas, plans, and passions that they are waiting to unleash when they leave their arena for the last time.
Hall: What should we expect from you and EarBuds in the future?
Fox: This will change the way people share music with each other. We are enabling everyone to share a very intimate part of their life while they experience it. Whether your commuting, working out or getting through a hard day; we have all used music to get us through these moments, and now you can invite others to be on that journey with you.
After this conversation with Fox and piecing together other research I’ve done in the space, I found a few key themes that apply to most successful investors and entrepreneurs, even beyond those coming from the sports world.
First, educate and surround yourself with the people and places that will help you succeed. For example, if you lack the necessary tech skill, augment that with people who have strong technical backgrounds. Second, become religious about the problem you are trying to solve, whether that’s blocking tackles every play or shipping a feature on your new app. Finally, don’t give up. Everyone gets rejected and takes a loss…but those losses do not define us. Business and athletics are both contact sports.
More details: forbes