Edward C. Baig
Published 3:30 AM EDT Sep 19, 2019
Even before he retired from the Los Angeles Lakers following the 2015-2016 season, Kobe Bryant had big plans for his post-NBA career.
Some three years earlier, the hoops superstar ran a fast break into the court of venture capital, as a co-founder of Bryant Stibel & Co., whose funds now have access to more than $2 billion in resources under management.
“I understand the importance of building value and being smart with your finances,” Bryant told USA TODAY, all-too-mindful of the many horror stories of fellow retired athletes who’ve gone broke.
With a main focus on tech, media, data and companies believed to have the potential to become “unicorns” (or privately held startups valued at over $1 billion), Bryant Stibel has made a range of investments, several in businesses with familiar consumer brands.
There’s Tile, for example, makers of the kind of lost-item trackers that Apple is rumored to be developing. There’s Epic Games, the company behind the hot Fortnite craze. And there’s Cholula, whose own claim to fame is hot sauce.
About a third of the 19 active companies in the Bryant Stibel portfolio is worth more than $1 billion. Overall, Bryant Stibel has invested in 28 companies, with three – Dell, Alibaba and National Vision – having gone public.
Bryant Stibel most recently partnered with Permira on a $1.7-billion fund called Permira Growth Opportunities, open to institutions and high net worth investors. (The company’s other two funds are “evergreens” that are closed to outside investors.)
Bryant Stibel has also invested in the attorney advice firm LegalZoom, The Honest Company (Jessica Alba’s wellness brand ranging from diapers to cleaning products), and an emerging direct-to-consumer line of natural body care products called Art of Sport, designed to help athletes reach their peak performance.
Along the way, Kobe Bryant has recruited athletic pals, luring in the likes of former quarterback Peyton Manning and current NBA star Steph Curry.
“Really just having the halo of Kobe Bryant attached to Art of Sport has opened doors across the board,” says Brian Lee, the serial entrepreneur who co-founded Art of Sport, as well as The Honest Company and LegalZoom.
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But while acknowledging the advantages having Kobe Bryant on the team brings, Bryant Stibel co-founder, brain scientist, and part-time USA TODAY columnist, Jeff Stibel says, “You should remember that for the first five years or so, we kept our relationship with Kobe confidential. We wanted the work to speak for itself.”
Golden State Warriors guard Curry, whose own sharp-shooting prowess isn’t just aimed at the hoop but as an entrepreneur of sorts with a bent for startups, says “Over the past year, we’ve (his company SC30) been honing our investment focus on venture and growth equity investment opportunities. Partnering with Bryant Stibel and Permira on the private equity side presented an incredibly unique opportunity that we are really excited about.”
While superstar athletes carry the obvious name recognition, not to mention bundles of money, it doesn’t necessarily mean they’re skilled in business, finance and investing.
But Kobe Bryant, for one, has been an active participant in the Bryant Stibel’s ventures. He’s a partner, and the former Laker has helped Art of Sport, for example, with marketing and other tactical decisions, and has even coined a couple of its brand names (Rise, Compete).
“My biggest strength is in storytelling for brands,” Stibel says.
“To put this succinctly, Kobe’s sport was basketball, Peyton’s sport was football, my sport is business,” he says. “We’re leveraging our partners in areas where they’re better than anyone. Being able to take what they do best–the hard work, the dedication, the ability to create winning teams – and morph that into lessons that entrepreneurs learn is invaluable.”
Kobe Bryant has tried to apply what he learned on the basketball court to business and investing. He preaches patience.
“A lot of time through the course of a game, you may notice a gap in defense or something you can take advantage of offensively. If you attack all at once you show your hand too early,” he says. “Team sports does a great job in teaching that and how to trust others.”
Bryant’s other piece of advice for anyone looking to grow their money is to invest in businesses you understand and can get your hands around. And to invest with the right people.
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