There was a time when professional athletes made financial headlines based on their disastrous investment decisions and lack of money management skills. In 2012, Miami film studio Rakontur released “Broke,” a documentary focused on the various ways athletes lose vast amounts of money, often through questionable real estate and restaurant investments that seemed to be doomed from the beginning. Thankfully, recent generations of NBA players have learned from the mistakes highlighted in “Broke,” particularly with regard to putting their money to work.
A s a member of this new generation of smart investors, Kevin Durant of the Brooklyn Nets is not only known for his scoring ability but also for his successful financial placements, many of which feature tech startups based in Silicon Valley. Durant, whose Thirty-Five Ventures portfolio is largely inspired by the investment decisions Kobe Bryant made a few years ago, has managed to bring other NBA players aboard his ship.
What decisions were these? Shortly after wrapping up his legendary NBA career in 2016, Bryant started looking for investment opportunities, and he was specifically focused on tech startups. After setting aside $100 million and partnering with a respected Silicon Valley venture capital investor, Bryant was invited to ring the bell at the New York Stock Exchange. In the beginning, Bryant played it safe by means of investing in established internet properties such as LegalZoom. After a few months, he took a chance on a video game development firm, and by 2018 he was looking for unicorn-level opportunities, which eventually prompted him to raise more than $30 million worth of funding for RingDNA.
Although this company’s name sounds as if it may be engaged in biotechnology, RingDNA develops artificial intelligence solutions for enterprise sales and customer relationship management (CRM) platforms. RingDNA manages vast databases of business-to-business and business-to-consumer conversations; these verbal and written exchanges are analyzed by AI constructs and machine learning algorithms overseen by programmers, behavioral psychologists and marketing experts. The goal is to improve conversations by making them smarter, more engaging, and more effective.
RingDNA integrates with existing CRM platforms such as Salesforce, and it essentially provides a highly intelligent version of the old sales call marketing scripts. For example, imagine fans of the Los Angeles Lakers call the office to inquire about season tickets for home games at the Staples Center. The AI software that powers RingDNA can determine if callers are just looking for information or are ready to buy, thus guiding sales agents to move the conversation accordingly. Every call includes a coaching element so that agents can negotiate, offer discounts or steer callers towards other products if appropriate.
Bryant was attracted to the work of Howard Brown, founder of RingDNA, before his NBA retirement. These days, RingDNA has secured millions of dollars in funding not only from Bryant’s fund but also from investment banking giants such as Goldman Sachs. The company has thus far acquired an impressive list of clients including Amazon, HP, Lyft, FreshBooks, and AutoDesk. More importantly for Bryant, RingDNA enjoys very positive cash flow despite its heavy need for spending on AI research.