Outside of his ridiculous athletic ability, I admired three things about Kobe Bryant: his business acumen, his penchant for creating (one of his ten keys to success was learning storytelling), and his obsessive attention to detail — like Steve Jobs.
Kobe was a lifelong student — about basketball, family, business, you name it. He seemed to be one of those people who developed various interests and would then learn every possible thing about them. As a result, he crushed it in the venture capital world – amassing a more significant fortune from one single investment than his career earnings in the NBA (more on this shortly).
Uniquely, Kobe Bryant was a world-class recruiter, both for the Lakers and with startups he got involved in; and he was driven exclusively to ventures that he was passionate about, including children’s stories and content. In fact, his storytelling ability grew to such a high level, and he recruited top-tier writers and animators, that he ended up winning an Academy Award for Best Animated Short Film.
Enjoy the Academy Award-winning short film by Kobe below. His storytelling ability is on full display:
Watch this skit he did for kids. Listen to the messaging — incredible.
In 2014, Kobe invested a reported $6 million into a startup beverage company known as BodyArmor, acting as a value-add venture capitalist. At the time, Kobe invested because he believed BodyArmor would be ‘disruptive’ and that the market leader, Gatorade, hadn’t innovated in years. It might have seemed like a stretch back then — after all, a sports drink is a sports drink is a sports drink… it had been done before and there were many entrenched players.
Well, Kobe was clearly on to something…
In October 2021, BodyArmor was bought out by Coke in a deal valued at over $5 billion. This marked the largest acquisition Coke has ever made…
It has been reported that Kobe’s estate will garner anywhere from $400 million to $800 million from the acquisition. Both figures are well above his total on-court earnings throughout his career.
Being a value-add investor was foundational to Kobe’s startup investment philosophy. He explained as much in his interview a few years ago with Patrick Bet-David. Being a world-class competitor, sitting passively on the sidelines wasn’t an option for Bryant.
In the case of BodyArmor, Kobe went back to his natural recruiter ways and attracted big name athletes and celebrities to join as brand ambassadors.
A unique element to Kobe, the venture capitalist, was that people knew how obsessive he was, and therefore, when he got involved in something, others in his sphere naturally wanted to be a part of it. And nowhere else is the power of celebrity more influential than in the fashion, supplements and beverage industries.
Bryant was a key part of BodyArmor’s growth. He focused on marketing of the product, helping to recruit athletes like Osaka to the brand. Osaka joined BodyArmor as an endorser in 2019 and received a significant equity stake. “This product can be very disruptive,” Bryant said at the time of his original investment, adding that he thought Gatorade had become “bland with no innovation.”
“If it wasn’t for Kobe Bryant’s vision and belief, BodyArmor would not have been able to achieve the success we had,” Repole said in a statement announcing the Coca-Cola purchase.
From his coaches, teammates, to his business associates, Kobe aligned himself with other top-tier performers and valued a strong track record. BodyArmor was no exception. According to NBC Los Angeles, “BodyArmor was co-founded in 2011 by Mike Repole, who just four years earlier had sold his previous company, Glacéau, for $4.1 billion — also to Coke. Glacéau is the maker of SmartWater and VitaminWater.”
Reports show that Kobe wasn’t the first pro athlete to invest in BodyArmor, despite being the most influential and value-add. Several athletes invested/had equity before Kobe — big names like Gronkowski, Andrew Luck, and Mike Trout. Undoubtedly, Kobe knew that without star power, it would just be another health drink company. Just him backing the brand likely wouldn’t have been enough.
Creating a small army of pro athletes endorsing a healthy drink is never a bad thing…many hands make light work. And Kobe helped build the marketing army of celebrities and athletes behind BodyArmor.
Click here to read more on Kobe Bryant’s investing criteria.
I love learning about startups like BodyArmor and the investors who got involved in the early days. Foresight and risk tolerance pays. And those investors like Kobe, who are obsessed with adding value to all their ventures, are inspiring for founders to learn about; they’re the ideal investor.
Particularly in the early days, and I’ve written about this a lot, a big chunk of a startup’s success depends on the quality of its initial investors. Kobe Bryant was a dream value-add investor for any startup, and now his estate will bear the fruit of his creative and active approach to venture investing.