Former LSU defensive end Lewis Neal went from being undrafted in the 2017 NFL Draft to being signed by and playing for the Dallas Cowboys. Neal knows that he is not guaranteed anything in the NFL and is prepared for life after football.
Neal owned a barber shop in college and is currently the co-owner of a financial investment firm as well as a cyber security company. It is the latter effort that Neal takes most pride in, always itching for an opportunity to talk about anything from patents in the cryptographic space to exposing weaknesses in blockchains.
I recently spoke with Neal about his entrepreneurial spirit and what caused him to be so proactive off the field at such an early age.
Why do you think it's important to start an off-the-field business while in the NFL?
Neal: Your personal brand is at an all-time high while you are playing professional sports. Starting while you are in the league gives you a head-start in your career after football.
You need to capitalize on all the free marketing you can for your brand while you are playing sports so those relationships and connections are there for when you are done playing. It will be ten times harder to do those things when you are done playing, because at the end of the day, people follow you as of now because you play sports. When you are done playing it will not be the same relevancy anymore for the majority of the NFL players.
The average millionaire has 7 streams of income, so we should not just focus on one which is just football. We should build an empire while our personal brand is still relevant so when you are done playing football people are going to continue to be intrigued by what you are doing, because you have built a brand outside of the sport as well. Also, by creating your own business while playing football, you are setting yourself up for guaranteed money, because we all know NFL money is never guaranteed especially in times like the off-season.
Who is assisting you and why is that assistance so important?
Neal: A few people assisted me along my journey which I am very thankful for. Benjamin Davis, the owner of The Gents Place here in Dallas, who is also working with Jerry Jones and Emmitt Smith. Ben is a great friend and mentor he has really been there and helped me learn things as far as business deals and advice.
It is very important to network and get you a team, because me having the support system and a team around me has helped me achieve some of the things I have achieved and also most importantly doing things the right way. They make sure I get into the best deals and stay away from the wrong deals.
Having a team around you as an athlete is huge, because I get to focus on what I love to do which is playing football, because I know I have a credible team around me that has my best interest and get things done. Never think you can do it alone as an athlete, because it can be hard, but having the right team around you can make it easier for you while you are playing.
What inspired you to become an entrepreneur?
Neal: I was inspired to be an entrepreneur because I was always into making my own way in life to help support me and my family. I do not like depending on anyone to feed myself and my family but me. So, I have always had the mindset to where I am going to own my own business one day.
That is also what inspired me to become an investor, because I wanted my money working for me instead of me working for it.
While I am still young, I have accomplished a lot as a rookie in the NFL, which is very rare. I am super thankful as well to be where I am at. But I also just want to inspire other young athletes to do the same. The success I have had is bigger than me. I believe it's came to me for a bigger purpose and that's to show others it can be done and to open other athletes minds up that they are more than an athlete.