Andre Iguodala of the NBA’s Golden State Warriors has taken a different approach from other athletes or celebrities who have jumped into tech investing. He hasn’t done splashy events or even announced his investment vehicle. And unlike others, he hasn’t promoted his investments or done big endorsements. Instead he and his partner have quietly built their savvy in startup investing, leveraging their proximity to Silicon Valley while learning from and then often investing alongside some of the region’s foremost investors.
Mr. Iguodala has invested in more than 15 startups in areas such as fintech, biotech, marketplaces and wellness, including Thrive Global, Walker & Co., Hello Inc., and Twice, which was acquired by eBay Inc. Iguodala and his former financial adviser (and now business partner) Rudy Cline Thomas first started investing in publicly traded stocks about seven or eight years ago. Looking to get involved in startups, Mr. Cline Thomas started attending conferences and eventually met Josh Kopelman of First Round Capital at one of them about seven years ago. Mr. Kopelman helped introduce the pair to Silicon Valley. That accelerated when Iguodala agreed to join the Warriors in 2013, which enabled him to build up connections in the venture community. Before the basketball season started, Mr. Kopelman arranged a dinner at Alexander’s Steakhouse in San Francisco for some people from his portfolio companies to meet Messrs. Iguodala and Cline Thomas, Mr. Cline Thomas said. Mr. Iguodala has also learned from big-name investors such as Jeff Jordan of Andreessen Horowitz and Topher Conway of SV Angel.
Along the way, he has immersed himself in Silicon Valley’s technorati circles. After speaking at an event at LinkedIn in San Francisco last week, he then stepped out to have dinner with former Twitter Chief Executive Dick Costolo. Mr. Iguodala says his investment approach is to focus on the founders and their prospects for building the product or company into a success. “I have an initial meeting to try to vet out an initial feel of the person and see what they’re trying to accomplish,” Mr. Iguodala said. And instead of focusing on a product, he looks at founders’ long-term goals for insights. “The question you always ask is where you plan to be in 10 to 20 years. What other markets do you plan to go into?” Mr. Iguodala said. “That’s where the business comes together.”
One startup, Andreessen Horowitz-backed Walker & Co. immediately resonated with him, because of its specific focus health and beauty products targeting African-Americans. “I understood what he was trying to do with his company, and it made sense right away.” He likes to make suggestions to his CEOs, getting involved beyond being just a “pitch man.” “The landscape has changed as far as endorsements,” he said. “Consumers are smarter, and they know what’s authentic or organic.” Mr. Iguodala has also encouraged other NBA players to get into tech investing.
Last summer he and Mr. Cline Thomas held an NBA Tech Summit in San Francisco with the NBA Players Association for players to learn about tech companies and investors. “I try to get a lot of my colleagues to understand that there is a space outside of the normal investing,” he said. “Normally you see the barber shop, music company, real estate.” He acknowledges he’s not your typical NBA player. “I’m in a book club,” he said. “I’m not normal. I do nerdy things.” Mr. Iguodala’s approach to improving his basketball skills also translates into his tech investing, said Mr. Cline Thomas. “The reason I knew he’d be attracted to tech is his approach to problem solving, where it pertains to his game. Game by game, he’s figuring out ways to get better.”
While tech investing may not be a typical game for athletes, several have publicly jumped in. Mr. Cline Thomas says as many as 30 are investing or trying to invest now. Carmelo Anthony of the New York Knicks formed M7 Tech Partners in 2014 with Stuart Goldfarb, the former executive vice president of NBC. M7 has invested in 21 companies, including Lyft, Vivino, Zirtual and Luxe, according to Dow Jones VentureSource. Kobe Bryant, formerly of the Los Angeles Lakers, in August announced a $100 million fund with partner Jeff Stibel.
Mr. Iguodala says he isn't just looking to make money or make “sexy” investments. “This is a long term play,” he said. “It’s something I want to continue to do 20, 30 years from now.”