If you're a baseball fan, when you hear the name Ryan Howard you probably think about his 382 career home runs, three All-Star team appearances, and his National League MVP award in 2006.
But if you're an startup founder, when you hear the name Ryan Howard you should think of him as a partner in SeventySix Capital. Partners Wayne Kimmel, Jon Powell and Howard just closed their latest fund to invest in entrepreneurs who launch sports
So how did Ryan go from baseball superstar to VC? Good question. Let's find out.
Is working with entrepreneurs something you came to near the end of your career, or earlier...?
It's something that's always been inside me.
Every athlete gets to that point where they realizes their career will come to an end. Lots of people wait to figure it out, but I wanted to be more proactive in the sense of planning for life after baseball.
The VC world is something that has interested me for a long time. I've always been a people person. I've always wanted to help people. I've always tried to make an impact. What better way than to help young entrepreneurs who want to realize their dreams... and who have hopes of changing the world?
That has always appealed to me.
Wanting to be part of a VC team is different than actually pulling it off, though.
Absolutely. I found out about SeventySix Capial through a mutual friend from CAA, my old agency. I set up the meeting with Wayne and John. Actually it was multiple meetings. We took the time to get to know each other... and over time it felt very organic.
We're like-minded and we all want to move in the same direction: Helping smart, nice entrepreneurs change the world.
You're known as an athlete; has it been hard to gain credibility in the business community?
Not really. Athletes, actors, musicians... people branching out past their primary profession is becoming commonplace. That kind of crossover is very common now.
A lot more athletes are starting to think that way. A lot more athletes are starting to be more proactive about life after whatever their sport may be, and about using it as a platform for their life after sports.
Plus, many of the people I talk to in this world don't necessarily know me as a baseball player. I'm in their world; I'm in the entrepreneur's world. That's the conversation we have. And even if they do know me from baseball, what I did on the field doesn't matter. We're talking business, not sports.
Being a VC means seeing tons of pitches. What do you look for?
First, I look for passion. I want to see how passionate they are about their business. I want to see whether this person is willing to go the extra mile, to put in the work, to put in the overtime.
In that way it's just like sports: You have to have the discipline, the want, the desire... and you can't let anybody tell you no. You have to be able to hear "no" and keep going.
Beyond that, obviously the financials and whether the deal makes sense for both sides is important.
But most importantly, I want to know if the person is actually a good person. For lack of a better term, you don't want to work with assholes. You're building a team. If we come together, we become a team. We're not just investing money. We're investing ourselves. We're putting ourselves into your company to help you and help your company grow.
If you could give quick advice to entrepreneurs about pitching, what would it be?
Make sure everything is dialed in and buttoned up. Sometimes people don't have a clear plan. Sometimes you can't understand their plan. And sometimes they simply aren't prepared.
In short, don't come half-ass, especially considering the amount you might be asking for.
I know some entrepreneurs who see early pitches as like presenting a rough draft. They just think it's practice.
Sure, you can get better with practice, but every time you pitch you should be prepared to do the best job you possibly can. You never know who you're going to meet... and who might have wanted to invest in your company if you had been prepared.
And you need to be confident. After all, it's your baby. If you don't believe in it, if you can't display confidence in yourself... how am I supposed to feel confident about you?
If you don't feel confident, you either haven't figured out your business yet... or you're simply not prepared.
You're particularly interested in sports-related technology. That includes, oddly enough, gaming.
(Laughs.) You're right. eSports is blowing up right now. To be able to go in and sit down and really talk to John Fazio at N3rd Street Gamers (pronounced "nerd street"), to see the operation... that was really cool.
Gaming is an awesome space. It brings people of different walks together that may not come together under different circumstances. Video games create communities.
That's an interesting story, one that highlights how quickly the world evolves. I used to get yelled at for playing video gams. (Laughs.) Now you can get a college scholarship to play video games.
It's also an example of why I love the VC world. There are no opportunities to be found if you just want to sit back. If you aren't constantly looking for the next big thing, you quickly get left behind.
That makes it fascinating, and challenging and... and I couldn't have found anything more fun for a second career.