What NBA star Andre Iguodala is learning as a tech investor
The Golden State Warriors swingman talks about assisting fellow NBA players in investing in tech.
Terry CollinsStaff Reporter, CNET News
Terry writes about social networking giants and legal issues in Silicon Valley for CNET News. He joined CNET News from the Associated Press, where he spent the six years covering major breaking news in the San Francisco Bay Area. Before the AP, Terry worked at the Star Tribune in Minneapolis and the Kansas City Star. Terry's a native of Chicago.
Andre Iguodala is on a mission to change how his fellow NBA players get in the game of investing their millions -- particularly in tech.
The Golden State Warriors swingman and 2015 NBA Finals MVP has become quite tech savvy as well, becoming an investor in several companies along with his business partner, Rudy Cline Thomas. On Monday, they shared their methods during a question-and-answer session with startup owners at LinkedIn headquarters in San Francisco.
Iguodala said he joined the Warriors in 2013 not only because it was a team on the rise, but also because of its proximity to Silicon Valley tech companies, especially startup investing. Now he wants his basketball peers to seek similar interests.
"I'm just trying to get my colleagues to understand that there is a space for us outside of our normal investing," he said. "You normally see [players investing in] the barbershop. You see the music companies. You see a lot of real estate. You don't see many go outside of their comfort zones.
"We want to change that."
Iguodala has absorbed himself in the Silicon Valley tech scene like a sponge since joining the Warriors four seasons ago. He's not the only pro basketball player deep in tech. Iguodala's teammate Stephen Curry has invested in a online coaching service, an app and a social media platform, among others. L.A. Clippers All-Star Chris Paul co-created Game Vision, and app that uses games it claims will increase court vision awareness.
And there's recently retired L.A. Lakers great Kobe Bryant, who is running a $100 million venture capital fund investing in tech, media and data companies with Jeff Stibel, a longtime entrepreneur and investor who previously ran Web.com.
As for Iguodala, he considers tech magnates Marc Andreessen and Ben Horowitz from noted venture capital firm Andreessen Horowitz as his buddies and confidants. He also credits Jeff Jordan, a partner at the firm and a former CEO of online restaurant reservation site OpenTable, with helping him and Cline Thomas navigate through the Valley.
"For him it was like, 'If you guys are serious, I will take the initial steps.' He just wanted to know how serious we were and what it really meant to us," Iguodala said about Jordan. "He gave us a lot of early exposure, especially in terms of what to look for with investing and what guidelines."
What did Jordan tell them to stay away from, asked Caroline Fairchild, LinkedIn's New Economy editor.
"If you don't know it, don't invest in it," Iguodala said. "More specifically, stick to what you know, what feels comfortable, understanding scale and the different metrics."
Iguodala and Cline Thomas say they have invested in about 15 companies in three years, including Bevel, a popular shaving kit catering to African-American men created by health and beauty startup Walker & Company Brands and sold in retailers like Target.
They said they were drawn to the company's charismatic CEO, Tristan Walker, who has served in executive roles at Twitter and Andreeseen Horowitz and considered an advocate for diversifying tech.
"We understood what he was trying to do with his product and his company going forward. It made perfect sense. We knew right away," Iguodala said about Walker. Iguodala was also the menswear director for startup Twice, an online site that buys and sells secondhand clothing. That site was sold to eBay in 2014.
Iguodala and Cline Thomas both say they hope their networking with venture capitalists helps erase some stereotypes about athletes.
"That's something we've had a lot of conversations about. How do we change the perception of how the athlete is seen? We want to be taken seriously off the court," Iguodala said. "You don't want to be just as a basketball player or a celebrity."
"Or a pitchman," Cline Thomas adds.
"Right," Iguodala continued. "That's the biggest thing, because the way we dealt with businesses in the past is a direct transaction: You pay me this amount and I'll take a picture or endorse your product.
"I think the landscape has changed as far as endorsements are concerned because consumers are smarter. They know what's authentic, what's organic and what's genuine."
And that's what also prompted Iguodala and Cline Thomas to help create the National Basketball Players Association's inaugural tech summit, which brought together current and former NBA players to network with key tech execs in San Francisco in July. Iguodala used his leverage as a vice president for the players' union to make it happen.
More than 30 players participated in the three-day event, they said. Many players came prepared like astute businessmen as they and the tech execs peppered each other with plenty of questions.
"The response was amazing," said Iguodala, converting some skeptics. "A lot of them, said, 'Wow, we didn't know what you meant?'"
Cline Thomas added, "Some players are already investing. All it took was some exposure."
The tech summit, they say, will now be an annual event.
"We have a specific agenda," Iguodala said. "To win."