Kobe Bryant brings his hoops history to the VC court

Retired LA Lakers great talks about how his 20-year NBA career prepared him to be a venture capitalist.

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Kobe Bryant discusses his venture capitalist activities since retiring from the NBA last season.


Although Kobe Bryant recognizes that venture capital is a "different ballgame" than his previous job in the NBA, he says that the disciplines he learned playing pro basketball for 20 years apply to his VC job.

Drawing frequently on the language of basketball as analogy, the retired Los Angeles Lakers great on Tuesday described during an onstage interview how his experience winning five NBA championships prepared him for his current occupation.

"I am used to having this patient approach cause when you start training camp, you're building the tools necessary to win a championship," Bryant said at The Wall Street Journal's WSJDLive global technology conference in Laguna Beach, California. "You have to have the patience.

"The way I am approaching the second phase of my life is the same way," he said.

Bryant was at the conference to discuss just that -- what he has been doing since he retired from the NBA at the end of the 2015 season. His new career involves running a $100 million venture capital fund with Jeff Stibel, a longtime entrepreneur and investor who previously ran Web.com. It primarily invests in tech, media and data companies.

He said his transition to VC started three years ago when he started looking at what he would do with his life after his basketball career was over. During meetings with investment professionals about making sound financial plans, he said he thought to himself, "How can I use the influence that I currently have to build something of value that won't dwindle over time and actually grow over time. I wish I had thought of it earlier. Hopefully it can be a great example for other athletes."

One of the companies his fund has invested in is VIPKID, an online education platform for teaching English to children in China via teachers in North America. He said he hopes his investment will help inspire children in China about the world and the opportunities that are available to them.

Other recipients of the fund's attentions are video game maker Scopely and online legal tech firm LegalZoom. Bryant said both companies have strong leadership teams behind them, "and as an investor, those are things that we look at."

As in basketball, teamwork is important in the business world, Bryant said.

"The core competencies are absolutely the same," he said. "You have to rely on others in order to have success as a group."

So how does Bryant approach his new job?

"Focus. You gotta go with things you understand, businesses that you know, things that you can really get your arm around, and not speak on things that you know nothing about," he said, explaining how he had to take a class on which things he could legally discuss and those he couldn't. "I had no idea. I came from an industry you can just shoot from the hip."

Bryant cited the influence of former Lakers head coach Phil Jackson with helping him grow as a player, so might we see Bryant at the helm of a large company in another 20 years?

"I know my strengths and weaknesses, and running a public company and giving good, standard, political answers is not my strength."