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Brian Zwerner: Money Is the Easy Part… Find Something That Makes You Stand Out From the Crowd

I am one of the founders of Beyond The Game Network. We are a group of 30+ pro athletes and business executives that invest in startups across the sports, media, gaming, and fitness sectors. Once we invest, our athlete team helps the companies with brand promotion and introductions to sports teams and leagues.

Tell us about yourself?

I spent the first 20 years of my career in capital markets and investment banking roles. I then caught the startup bug and teamed with some friends to run a FinTech lender. After a partial exit with that company, I decided to do something more fun in the sports space, so I launched a high school sports startup. Unfortunately, that company didn’t make it, but I met several former NFL players that helped with our work in high school football. One of those NFL veterans, Andre Fluellen, had the idea for Beyond The Game Network, and I have been working with him to combine my passions for sports and investing for the last three years.

If you could give one piece of advice to other investors, what would it be?

There is a ton of capital available to startups. Make sure you have a clear value proposition for companies you want to work with that can move the needle for them. Ours is built upon the help our athletes can give to the companies in our portfolio. Money is the easy part. Find something that makes you stand out from the crowd.

If you could give one piece of advice to startup founders looking to get funding from you, what would you say?

For founders looking to work with Beyond The Game, we ask that they take a few minutes to understand our investment strategy and criteria, which are posted on our website, to insure we are a good match. It also helps if founders review our portfolio and see how they fit in with our existing startup partners.

What do you look for in the founding team of the startups you invest in?

Our group tends to like founders that have deep expertise in the problems they are trying to solve. They don’t need to be older, but they need to know their market much better than their competition. It helps if they have worked in the industry and have strong connections with potential customers and partners. We are much more likely to invest in founders that fit this mold than a Mark Zuckerberg in a bathrobe type.

Is there a trait you have noticed predicts success in your investments?

We have found that for a startup to succeed they need to solve a problem in a large market in a new, differentiated way. It is fine for a business to startup with a niche issue, but they need to rapidly expand to serve a big group of people. Their solution can’t just be a little better than the alternatives, it needs to be at least 10x better so that your customers become your biggest cheerleaders for your product.

How has COVID impacted your investment strategy and existing investments?

We have seen companies in our portfolio, and increasingly companies we are evaluating, embrace remote first strategies for customers and employees. We have from the beginning favored companies that deliver their product direct to consumers without a physical presence. This has included digital media, video gaming, and connected fitness. We expect this to continue for us. We are now seeing more companies hiring remotely to get access to the best talent, and we think this will be critical to long term success, likely through hybrid in-person and remote models.

What do you see as the emerging areas of technology that you are looking to invest in?

We have leaned into web3 in a big way. We believe this is the future for virtually all consumer entertainment industries from gaming to media to collectibles and more. We have invested in one company creating sports NFTs, and five of our gaming portfolio companies are now working to incorporate digital assets into their offerings. We are seeing amazing opportunities in this new ownership economy.

How do you source new investment opportunities?

We have a really unique advantage in deal flow with over 30 former pro athletes in our group. Our athletes see deals through a wide variety of business associates. We have also built a group of 150+ venture capital partners who are active in our sectors that we share deal flow with. Being in Atlanta, we are an active participant in a diverse tech ecosystem and have formed strong bonds with great non-profits working with minority and female entrepreneurs. With almost all of our athletes being minorities or women or both, we love working with diverse founders and are proud that over half of our portfolio companies have diverse leadership.

How do people get involved/buy into your vision?

We are always on the lookout for great founders building D2C businesses in sports, media, gaming, and fitness. We typically invest in the Seed to Series B rounds of deals with a lead VC in place. We usually look to see companies that have figured out a revenue model and are earning $50,000 in monthly revenue or more. Interested companies should check out our website for more details and can reach us there or are welcome to connect with me directly on LinkedIn.

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