Monday, February 17, 2020

Remembering Kobe, the Entrepreneur

Last month, we lost Kobe Bryant, his daughter, and seven others in a tragic helicopter crash in California.

We all know Bryant as one of the greatest basketball players of all time, and since his passing I have learned more about how he was perhaps an even greater father figure for his daughters. But here we want to recognize Bryant for the entrepreneurism that he diligently pursued with the same “mamba” mentality that earned him many achievements on the hardcourt.

First of all, I could spend paragraphs here analyzing how Bryant’s book, The Mamba Mentality: How I Play, can be turned into fuel for entrepreneurs. If you have not yet read it, do so. For now, given the limited lines I have available, I’ll present you with some of his philosophy.

Bryant explained once that the difference between basketball and entrepreneurship is that in entrepreneurship there is no competitor “directly in front of you;” instead, as an entrepreneur, the challenge is to be constantly creative in a way that impacts the market you are trying to dominate. “But even more so,” he said, “when you play basketball you’ve got to take time off, in order to avoid injury. In business and creativity there is no off switch. Your brain is constantly working.” I think every entrepreneur can attest that the brain is always ticking. (But the picture of Bryant shooting hoops in his pajamas with a cast on one hand makes me wonder whether he ever actually rested, on the court or otherwise!)

Bryan began plotting his post-basketball life as an entrepreneur years before his 2016 retirement from the Los Angeles Lakers. He set his sights on, among other things, becoming a successful investor. He gobbled up TED Talks, podcasts and books about investing, entrepreneurship and startups, sometimes calling his mentors in the middle of night from his treadmill to discuss his ideas and questions. He would go on to co-found a $100 million venture capital fund focused on investing in media and technology. That fund now has more than $2 billion in assets under management.

Bryant also wanted to get into media production, so he studied films to teach himself the mechanics of story and character development. In 2015 he partnered with Alibaba, the Chinese online retail giant, to collaborate on a social media platform, Kobe-branded products, and the release of his Showtime documentary Muse, on which Bryant served as an executive producer. 

He also founded a multimedia company called Granity Studios (formerly Kobe Studios), which would go on to produce a number of successful projects. Particularly notable among these is a short-film adaptation of his poem, “Dear Basketball,” which won an Academy Award for best animated short. Beyond film, last year, Granity published “Legacy and the Queen,” a young adult novel based on a story concept by Bryant himself about a tennis-playing girl who goes on a magical adventure. Bryant also created a kids podcast, “The Punies,” focused on children who play sports together and learn life lessons along the way.

Bryan applied his athletic knowledge and background in an effort to build up the athletic performance of others by co-founding the Mamba Sports Academy, which aims to “update the way men, women and youth approach human performance.” The Academy has hosted players from the NBA and WNBA, offered football conditioning, and hosted Brazilian jiu-jitsu tournaments, volleyball camps, and sports performance conferences.

These are only some of Bryant’s off-the-court achievements. When Bryant died in January, he was not even four whole years removed from his playing career. So when we think of his accomplishments over a 20-year NBA career, and what he was able to do in the short time since then, we have to wonder what he would have accomplished in his remaining life as an entrepreneur — and for us, what we could have learned from him. RIP Kobe.

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