It’s well known that there’s a pervasive gender gap in venture capital. Not only are women underrepresented in venture capital in terms of the number of women-founded companies, but they are also underrepresented when it comes to leadership positions in the industry. While there’s been some progress in recent years—female CEOs secured about 14% of all VC investment in the US in 2019, compared to … ... read more
Kelvin Beachum: From Tackles to Term Sheets
Kelvin Beachum is an offensive tackle for the Arizona Cardinals (recently a New York Jet), but his role as a professional football player is not all that defines him. Off the field, he is a devoted philanthropist, community activist, and volunteer. He was nominated for the Walter Payton Man of the Year award for his work in the community. Beachum drive and character come from his parents who never allowed him to be just a football player and constantly encouraged him to leave the world a better place.
While still playing in the NFL, Beachum became passionate about technology and took an unusual turn into venture investing. He became relentless about optimizing time and visualizing how his network today can be the springboard to his next big career opportunity. Beachum's philosophy on his network extends beyond just vanity metrics and connection counts, he believes in putting in the sweat equity behind build strong lasting relationships.
It’s not what you know, it’s who you know
In 2016, Beachum tore the anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) in his left knee and had to have total knee reconstruction. During that setback, he realized he had this window of time before he could get back on the field. He used this time to connect with as many people in the business world that he could to extend his network and learn more about business. Beechum was playing with the Steelers at the time and he heard that John Donovan, CEO of AT&T Communications, was a massive fan. With no inroads to Donovan, Beachum was able to get ahold of his address and sent him a signed Steelers jersey and a request to connect.
Fortunately for Beachum, Donovan responded became a close connection and advisor. Beachum told him his short term and long term career goals and got some unexpected advice. Instead of encouraging Beachum to purse his MBA, Donovan said he would mentor him and teach him how to think about business differently. Part of that lesson was around building his business network. He prioritizes building strong relationships with key business leaders—which he was able to do thanks, in large part, to Donovan’s connections.
Beachum was able to see that his role in the NFL, opened doors for his network and he needed to take advantage of these opportunities while he was still playing. During the week of the Super Bowl in February 2016, Beachum met with executives at Facebook, Uber, Twitter, Instagram and Snapchat, to learn more about their companies and their roles. He also met with venture capital executives (Donovan’s first company had been backed by Sequoia and he was well-connected in the space), building strong relationships with each conversation. Those meetings back in 2016 paved a powerful foundation for Beachum to launch his venture capital career.
More than a jersey
Beachum has never lost sight of the importance of relationships. At no point did he take for granted the strength of his network. However, Beachum is the first to point out that sending someone a signed football jersey will only get you so far. Relationships take diligence and constant nurturing. Especially with Beachum’s many NFL commitment and family responsibilities (he’s a husband and father of three young children), it can be challenging to keep tabs on all his many relationships.
To ensure that he doesn’t drop the ball on any of his important relationships and is able to continually build a strong network and leverage this network to unearth new opportunities, Beachum relies on Affinity. He likens Affinity to “LinkedIn on steroids” in that it allows him to assess the strength of his relationships at a much more granular level than traditional networking platforms. This is especially important to Beachum since he has diverse interests—he’s invested in everything from drones to agricultural technology. Without Affinity, it would be nearly impossible to keep tabs on all these different networks.
Authenticity comes first
Beachum is a firm believer that strong relationships are powered by authenticity. As he told us, “If it’s genuine and real, it’s going to last a long time.” A key part of Beachum’s investment due diligence process involves due diligence on the people behind his investments. Character can make or break an investment.
Beachum’s relationships aren’t just strengthened by his authenticity. Beachum is also a giver. In his book "Give and Take", Adam Grant outlines three distinct groups of people: givers, takers, and matchers. According to Grant’s research, givers tend to be most successful. They embrace a long-term view and focus on how they can help others. By putting others' interests first, they gain high levels of trust and respect.
Beachum email signature is “Let Me Know How I Can Add Value”. This isn’t just for show. He follows through on his offer—and, in doing so, builds unparalleled relationships.
In it for the long game
Great athletes do not emerge overnight and great investments take a lot of time and nurture in order to be valuable and impactful. Beachum, like other esteemed investors, has adopted a long-term view of his investment portfolio. This long-term view is especially important in uncertain times like these.
Aside from constantly training for the big game and providing value to his portfolio, Beachum also approaches his network with a long-term view. Great relationships are not forged overnight. It can take years for trust and genuine relationships to be established. Beachum, like other super-connectors, recognize that the relationships that they establish today may not reap rewards for years. A cadence of giving and being there for their network, builds strong ties that last a lifetime.
Athletes are known for adapting to change—from poor weather conditions to changing teammates, to injuries. Beachum also embraces adaptability as part of his investment theses. Using Affinity, Beachum is able to map out several different paths to new investment opportunities so that if one isn’t successful, he’s able to adapt and pursue a different path. If he gets a foot in the door but is only able to meet with a key partner for 15 minutes, he makes the most of those minutes, arriving prepared with key objectives.
A key part of being adaptable is being intellectually curious. Beachum emphasizes that it’s important to take the time to learn. In contemplating investments, Beachum harnesses his father’s spirit who was a mechanic. He wants to be able to understand how a Fortune 100 company developed from a back-of-the-napkin idea. This curiosity empowers him to see blind spots that others may overlook and, ultimately, makes him a more effective advisor.
Beachum is the only customer I have talked to that asked not only to be a judge in one of our reoccurring hackathons, but he also wanted to help and participate. Beachum has been a big advocate for STEM education for young people, particularly those that are underrepresented. In April 2016, Kelvin launched Kelvin Konnects, a STEAM initiative and program designed to increase minority access to careers within the Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Mathematics disciplines. He understands the power of constantly learning, growing and finding your way to the forefront of technology.
As he contemplates the future, Beachum is looking far beyond the ROI of his investments. He’s looking to have a lasting impact. As he’s explained,
"It's great to have money, but for me, it's bigger than money…What can I hand down to my kids? What can I hand down to my kids' kids? ... In the African-American community, that's not something that you hear about a lot is not only creating wealth, but how do you create generational wealth where you have something to pass down for a number of generations? So for me, that's the type of thinking that really excites me."
Beachum’s inspirational and admirable approach to his relationships and his investments is but one of the many lasting impacts he’ll undoubtedly have on future generations.