Pando

Amid the greatest year of his career, Stephen Curry takes a shot on startup CoachUp

By Dennis Keohane , written on March 31, 2015

From The News Desk

Stephen Curry is having the best year of his career leading the now-top seed in the Western Conference, Golden State Warriors. Along with James Harden and Russell Westbrook, Curry is a favorite for this year’s NBA Most Valuable Player and earned the most fan votes for this year’s All-Star Game.

So why would he pick now, when everything seems to be going so well, to jump into the world of startups, an area where many athletes and celebrities have not only struggled, but on occasion failed so colossal that it has irreparably harmed their reputation?

Yesterday morning it was announced that Curry will be joining Boston-based private coaching connector CoachUp’s leadership team as a part owner (the equity and financial commitments of the partnership are being withheld) and advisor. Along with potentially taking part in strategic decisions and having an equity stake in the company, Curry will be one of the faces of CoachUp, which already has celebrity endorsements from New England Patriots’ Super Bowl hero Julian Edelman and former top NBA draft pick Nerlens Noel.

CoachUp is a platform that connects private coaches with athletes, whether they're kids trying to improve their jump shot to make the high school basketball team or scratch golfers trying to straighten out their tee shots. A Techstars Boston alum, CoachUp has received $9.4 million in funding from the likes of General Catalyst and Founder Collective, as well as Boston Bruins legend Cam Neely, Kayak co-founder Paul English, HubSpot co-founder Dharmesh Shah, and former Harmonix COO Michael Dornbrook, among others.

For Curry, who is the first West Coast presence on the company’s cap table, it was the appeal of helping kids connect with individual sports coaches that led him to get involved in CoachUp. When he was a teenager, Curry started working with private coaches after having been coached for most of his life by his dad, former NBA-er Dell Curry. As Steph explained in a recent Medium piece, “It became clear very quickly that they were there to motivate me in ways I hadn’t thought possible and to increase my drive to develop my game.”

“Private coaches not only helped me become a better player, but they also helped me develop as a person,” Curry added in the piece.

Still, finding success in the startup game may be a bigger challenge than trying to lead Golden State to an NBA championship. Not just because entrepreneurship and building a small business have so few winners to begin with, but also because the track record of celebrities and athletes succeeding in business is, frankly, not very good.

While there are plenty of stories about harmless little celebrity-backed startups doing well -- the Derek Jeter, Lebron James, and Peyton Manning-backed WePlay and the Tiki Barber company Thuzio come to mind - there are others that are not just disasters, but failures of an epic proportion.

One of the more infamous examples, as reported here on Pando, is Curt Schilling's video game company 38 Studios. Schilling, who should have carte blanche in all New England for helping lead the Red Sox to their first baseball championship in 86 years in 2004, is actually a folk villain in the state of Rhode Island. In 2010, Schilling convinced state legislators to give him $75 million to relocate his Massachusetts-based company to Providence. It is unclear which factor motivated Rhode Island more, Schilling’s stature as a Red Sox legend or his promise that 38 Studios would be a Microsoft-like job creator for the small state, an outrageous claim for a video game company.

So when Schilling’s company went toe up and filed for bankruptcy in 2012, it meant that almost all those in Rhode Island politics who made the deal were in trouble during re-election time, and the potential Hall of Fame pitcher was saddled with the blame and a lawsuit from the state. Things got really embarrassing when Schilling had to downsize to a smaller house and ended up selling a lot of his personal belongings in a highly publicized yard sale.

The Schilling story is a warning to athletes flying too close to the sun in the tech business. While Steph Curry should take heed, his motivation for taking on a prominent role at CoachUp seems to be driven more by the vision of the company than its potential bottom line.

“I believe every young athlete deserves the chance to work with great coaches,” Curry concluded in his Medium announcement, “just like the kinds of mentors and teachers I’ve had, so they can change their lives, and take their game to another level.”

While many in Northern California hope Curry can take the Warriors to the next level and win the NBA championship this year, I suspect, for Curry, making CoachUp a force for good in youth sports and helping find kids mentorship may be a different type of legacy he’d like to last.

[photo by Keith Allison]