From Athlete To Entrepreneur: An Interview About Why The Tech Industry Attracts So Many Sports Stars

NFL Logo is seen on the goal post padding before an NFL preseason football game between the Detroit Lions and the New York Jets at Ford Field in Detroit, Thursday, Aug. 13, 2015. (AP Photo/Rick Osentoski)

The relationship between the sports world and business world has long been intertwined. Wealthy business owners competing for ownership of sports teams, athletes endorsing big brands and business professionals flaunting court-side seats are all staples of the complex relationship.

This entanglement between industries continues to evolve as athletes get more involved in actual business activities like investing in companies or becoming business leaders after sunsetting their sports career.

In decades prior, many athletes ventured into the business world through ownership of restaurant franchises and service-based businesses. More recently, the sports and business relationship among athletes evolved into more of a focus on technology-related companies.

There are numerous examples to point to. Kobe Bryant with his own $100 million venture fund to invest in technology startups, Cristiano Ronaldo investing in check-in app Mobbito or stars from the Golden State Warriors dropping millions into tech firms, all represent a burgeoning trend.

One of the brightest examples involves the biggest name in basketball, Lebron James. James co-founded the tech and media company Uninterrupted and was an early investor in hardware tech company Beats Headphones, which was later acquired by Apple.

There’s no doubt that athletes see the massive business opportunity in tech companies. I wanted to understand how successfully transition from sports to tech, so I caught up with Jason Fox, a former NFL player turned tech entrepreneur, to get a better insight into what’s going on with this trend.

After playing six years of professional football for the Miami Dolphins and Detroit Lions, he founded EarBuds, a real-time social music platform. The service allows users to listen to songs with friends anywhere in the world and share music preferences while communicating in the mobile app.

Fox comes to the discussion with a unique view of why the technology sector is attracting so many sports figures.  

Mark Hall: Thanks for joining us, Jason. For those who aren’t familiar with your story, give us a brief intro on who you are and where you come from.

Jason Fox: I grew up as an average kid from Fort Worth, TX. I loved sports, country music, and family. I went on to the University of Miami to play football and then had the opportunity to play in the NFL. As much as I loved football, I knew I had a passion for business and decided to combine that with my love for music. 

Hall: What inspired you to make the leap from the sports arena to the business world, and specifically into the tech world?

Fox: The NFL was amazing and six years is a good run, but during that time I was always preparing for the next step. Whether it was getting started with my MBA or diving into my friends’ businesses to understand how they did it, I was always working toward what was next. The idea of Earbuds actually came when I was a player, and I watched Cam Newton warming up across the field jamming with his headphones on. I thought man, I wish I could tune into that! Now I am making that possible.

Hall: What experiences are you hoping or expecting to gain as a tech entrepreneur?

Fox: It is amazing how much overlap there is between sports and being an entrepreneur. The main thing I have learned is how critical it is to build the core foundation; the right team, the right processes, and everyone working together towards a common goal. I have always known these things in sports, but I am learning even more now that I am growing a business. I am excited to gain these skills and hopefully help other athletes get past the learning curve quicker.

Hall: Which do you find more challenging and stressful, game days or investor pitches?

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