Kobe Bryant Brought Competitive Drive to His Investing Career

The Wall Street Journal By Marc Vartabedian and Katie Roof / Jan. 28, 2020

Kobe Bryant brought to investing the same dedication and tenacity that marked his basketball career.

Bryant Stibel, the venture-capital firm co-founded by the former Los Angeles Lakers player in the twilight of his basketball career, has made 29 investments, according to PitchBook Data Inc., the most prominent of which include a 2018 late-stage investment in Fortnite-creator Epic Games Inc., which was valued at that time at about $15 billion.

“The [Bryant Stibel] team reflected Kobe’s ethos: They were engaged, insightful and looking for massive wins,” said Stephen Stokols, a Los-Angeles-based entrepreneur and investor.

Mr. Bryant died in a helicopter crash Sunday that also killed his 13-year-old daughter and seven others.

Mr. Bryant, along with longtime entrepreneur and investor Jeff Stibel, in 2016 established Bryant Stibel, a $100 million fund backed by their own capital, to target technology, media and data companies.

Bryant Stibel couldn’t be reached for comment Monday.

Tech investing marked a second act for Mr. Bryant, stating in a CNBC interview in 2016 that he hoped people would remember him more for investing than basketball in 20 years.

“While other investors sometimes see challenges as risks, Kobe welcomed them with enthusiasm as opportunities to get better,” said Walter Driver, a co-founder, and co-chief executive of mobile game startupScopely Inc., which Bryant Stibel backed in 2014.

Mr. Stokols, a Los Angeles entrepreneur who met with Bryant Stibel regarding potential investments in his company as well as potential co-investments, praised the firm’s expertise, particularly in sports technology and consumer products.

“They are embedded into the L.A. tech ecosystem and Bryant’s cache with the firm’s expertise is appealing to any entrepreneur,” Mr. Stokols said.

Other investments by his firm include a July 2019 growth investment in Bluetooth device tracker Tile Inc., legal-services company LegalZoom.com Inc., and now-defunct home-juicing company Juicero Inc. The firm also invested in large companies such as Dell Technologies Inc. and Alibaba Group Holding Ltd., according to the firm’s website.

Mr. Bryant also played an instrumental role in helping get the Players’ Tribune get off the ground, said Jon Sakoda, who was a board member at the startup when he was a general partner at venture firm New Enterprise Associates.

Mr. Bryant was involved with creating content for the website, which publishes articles written by professional athletes, and in building out the site’s athletic community. Mr. Sakoda, who also founded venture-capital firm Decibel, said Mr. Bryant “had a vision for athletes giving back to other athletes. He lived it.”

In addition, Mr. Bryant personally invested roughly $6 million in sports drink startup BA Sports Nutrition LLC, which does business as BodyArmor, to take a roughly 10% stake in the company in 2014. When Coca-Cola Co. purchased a minority stake in the startup in 2018, the value of Mr. Bryant’s investment soared to roughly $200 million, according to a report by sports outlet ESPN and reposted on BodyArmor’s website.

Mr. Bryant’s investment in BodyArmor was an inspiration for Marlon Nichols, a managing partner at MaC Venture Capital. “He was one of those rare talented humans whose effort matched his talent,” Mr. Nichols wrote in an email. “I personally learned so much about focus and dedicating yourself to a goal from him.”

Bryant Stibel also invested in private-equity firm Permira’s growth opportunities fund and the firms work together on sourcing and evaluating deals for that fund, according to a person familiar with the matter. Permira and Bryant Stibel first got to know each other when they were co-investors in LegalZoom, where Jeff Stibel has served on the board since 2014 alongside Permira investors, the person said.

In addition to investing, Mr. Bryant also had experience as a venture-backed startup founder. Jeremy Liew, a partner at Lightspeed Venture Partners, said that he invested in Art of Sport, also known as AOS Group Inc., an athlete-focused body-care brand that Mr. Bryant co-founded.

“He really put that company on the map,” said Mr. Liew, about Mr. Bryant. “He opened a lot of doors and provided great consumer insight and vision.”

Laura Cooper and Tomio Geron contributed to this article. Copyright 2020 Dow Jones & Company, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

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