When Kelvin Beachum lines up at left tackle sometime this year for the New York Jets, we at FreightWaves will take particular interest.
The reasons are two-fold. One person at Freightwaves--this writer—for several years has plunked down hard-earned money to be a Jets’ season ticket holder for a franchise that last played in—and won—the Super Bowl about a week before Richard Nixon was sworn into office for the first time.
But for everyone else, the interest will owe to the fact that Beachum--a graduate of SMU and a starter almost his entire career on the "blindside"--is an investor in FreightWaves. In the company's most recent round of funding, Beachum's name jumps out among the lineup of venture capital companies that invested capital in FreightWaves.
(So full disclosure: a Jets season ticket-holder who works for FreightWaves is writing a story about a Jet who invested in FreightWaves. Got that?)
Beachum stands about 6'3" and plays what is often considered the second-most important position on the offensive side of the ball: protecting the blind side of a quarterback against the pass rush, so a right-handed quarterback’s blindside tackle would be the left tackle.
But take a look at his Twitter feed, and you’ll see that investing appears to be as much on his mind as the pigskin.
The FreightWaves investment is not unique. Beachum has been taking stakes in startup companies for several years, and the season ticket-holder writer caught up with him at Jets' training camp in New Jersey. Beachum did not participate in regular drills this day as he is nursing a sore foot, but if he is healthy, he is expected to be the starting left tackle, as he has been for most of his career with the Pittsburgh Steelers, who drafted him, the Jacksonville Jaguars and the Jets.
Beachum said his interest in startup investing was sparked by a meeting he had with John Donovan, the CEO of AT&T Communications, one of the four leading divisions of that company. "John said to me, 'Kelvin, I want you think about the way you are pursuing life, the way you are pursuing your next business endeavors and your next chapter and to think about it differently,'" Beachum said in discussing the transformative moment.
At the 2016 Super Bowl following the 2015 season, held near San Francisco, the NFL Players Association held a symposium for players who were, as Beachum said, "interested in their second chapter." "I got to go out there and spend time with a lot of people in the VC community, entrepreneurs, operators with hot tech companies, and that sparked something," Beachum said. From that, he continued to network with people in the field, and did what he called an "externship" with the legendary VC firm Kleiner Perkins, which has been in on the ground floor funding of some of the most successful startups in tech history, including Amazon and Spotify.
The "externship" was a bow to the schedule of an athlete who is with his team from late July through early January, goes to other "organized team activities"—known as OTAs—during the spring, and needs to continue his own intense workouts on his own. Requiring somebody like that to come to the office every day is not workable, so a different sort of setup is structured. Whatever it was, Beachum said, it enabled him to meet with virtually all the general partners at Kleiner Perkins. Beachum said he took a particular interest in what he called "hard technology," which he defined as things such as drones and robotics.
The work there also led him to embrace the idea of VC as his investing future. Beachum said many other athletes who are investing like to be angel investors, putting money into a project at the very beginning. But Beachum's preference is to invest in series funding for companies that already have some kind of product, primarily series A funding but also rounds that have been designated as series B, C or D.
"Football has done a phenomenal job introducing me to the venture capital world," Beachum said. "It's taught me how to source deals, and looking at how you are going to add value to the company."
Beachum said he has investments in more than 20 companies, with amounts ranging from $10,000 to $50,000. "I sit down with my financial advisers and we carve out a very small piece of our network every year on what we're able to allocate into startup investing," he said.
As far as what brought him to FreightWaves, in which he was an investor in the most recently-concluded Series A funding round, Beachum cited both his ties to Story Ventures, which is also a FreightWaves investor, and his knowledge of the activities of Flexport, a logistics platform that is receiving significant amount of VC funding. (Flexport has NextPlay Capital as an investor, and ex-49er and Hall of Famer defensive back Ronnie Lott is one of the principals at NextPlay. In turn, NextPlay's roots go back to a investment vehicle that had other ex-football players as principals, including Hall of Famer Joe Montana).
"Through that, they told me about FreightWaves, how you were changing the game and the type of traction it was getting," Beachum said. He also cited the "hours and hours" of experience on the FreightWaves team as another reason that led him to make his investment.
Beachum was non-committal about what route his post-football career might take, whether he would start his own VC company or join in with one of the ones where he has developed extensive ties. He said he hoped to keep at the game another eight to ten years, which given his current age of 29 would be a rare accomplishment. "But if it all ended in a day, I am making sure I have something prepared," he said. "I don't want to watch TV all day. I want to keep my mind moving."
Beachum also has spent a great deal of time promoting STEM--science, technology, engineering and math--opportunities to the African-American and other minority communities in numerous locations, from his hometown of Mexia, Texas near Waco, to the populations of places he's played, like Pittsburgh. "There's just a lack of awareness on the opportunities," Beachum said. He hopes to give access to what could be a "very profitable career" for African American communities that might not be aware of "where technology is, how fast and broad it is, and how our young people need to be able to step into some of those jobs."