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For NFL players, lessons for life after the game

Passion and perseverance. Those are the two traits successful entrepreneurs share, Mynd CEO Doug Brien told former and current NFL players at a conference organized by the Miami Dolphins held recently at the W Hotel in Fort Lauderdale.

He encouraged the 35 current Dolphin players attending the Dolphin Business Combine to think about their careers after football.

“What’s your next game?” asked Brien, a Super Bowl–winning kicker who played on 6 teams over 12 years in the NFL. “If you plug in what got you here, you have a good chance at succeeding in your next endeavor.”

Brien said the skills he was alluding to — competitive drive, intense preparation, devotion to craft, the ability to perform under pressure, a deep well of resilience — are all applicable to the business world.

For him, it was all about having choices after his playing days were over.

“At the end of my career, it was important that I could do what I wanted to do, not what I had to do,” he said. After leaving football in 2006, Brien went on to co-found Waypoint Homes in 2009, eventually building it up to a company that owned 17,000 homes and had $3.5 billion in assets under management and 500 employees. 

Waypoint merged with Starwood and went public as SWAY in February 2014. Brien served as CEO of that company, then left to co-found Mynd with his partner Colin Wiel in 2016. Mynd’s recent valuation of $807 million came after funding rounds last summer of $40 million from Invesco and $57.8 million from QED Investors. 

A tech-enabled investment and property management platform, Mynd currently operates in 25 markets around the country, specializing in the single family residential (SFR) real estate sector.

The DBC was organized by Kaleb Thornhill, the Miami Dolphins director of player engagement, and it’s the only one like it in the league. In addition to the 35 active players, 15 former players who succeeded off the field and another 10 speakers were on hand for the event, which ran from March 1-3.

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Doug Brien told players that the keys to entrepeneurship are passion and perseverance. He appeared on a panel with Brendon Ayanbedejo (L) and Derrick Morgan (R).

“I’ve been in the league 13 years and I’ve never seen anything like it,” said Jason McCourty, 34, the senior Dolphin in attendance. McCourty was drafted in 2009 by the Tennessee Titans out of Rutgers University, and has had stints with the Cleveland Browns and the New England Patriots, where he helped them win Super Bowl LIII against the Los Angeles Rams.

The first combine, in 2015, was a trip to New York City for 5 players to meet with business leaders. This year, the business leaders traveled to meet the players, and the conference room at the W was filled with talk about venture capital, real estate investing, crypto, money management, entrepreneurship, and how to build a business.

The DBC included two days of preparation for a “Shark Tank”–like competition on the last afternoon, complete with pitch decks and a panel of judges. The players took that contest as seriously as they would their preparation for a game. 

“For me, it’s about serving as their bridge,” Thornhill said in the days leading up to the conference. “The people coming all care and bring great things to the table.”

On day two, Thornhill made it clear who was responsible for their futures.

“A lot of people aren’t going to care about you beyond what you are on the football field,” Thornhill said. “You guys are here to learn how to take control of your lives.”

Brandon Copeland, an Atlanta Falcons linebacker and a graduate of University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School of Business, urged his fellow athletes to defy the odds, which show that many former players lose much of the money they earn in their time in the NFL.

“Statistics say that 78 percent of this room” was going to end up broke after their careers, Copeland warned. “If you want different, you have to live different.”

He said players should follow the lead of the league’s owners, who govern it as a joint venture, “instead of competing with each other off the field.” Copeland is a member of CNBC’s Financial Wellness Council and is a contributor to Kiplinger’s Personal Finance. 

“We need to stick together,” he added.

Now going into his 10th season, Copeland was also named to the 30 under 30 list by Forbes in 2021. 

Brandon Marshall, who played for 7 teams over 13 seasons, including all-pro honors in 2012 and 2015, warned the players that there are big adjustments to be made after football.

“We’re used to structure,” he said. “We say we don’t like it, but we struggle without it.

Marshall prepared for his post-football career by appearing on post-game football shows while he was still active, and has continued his television career, first as a former co-host on FS1's morning show First Things First. He is currently a co-host on Showtime's Inside the NFL, where he has appeared for seasons.

Founder of the lifestyle wellness brand I Am Athlete and the podcast of the same name, Marshall has also been a vocal proponent of mental health care and has publicly spoken about his own struggles.

Other members of the entrepreneur panel along with Brien included Brendon Ayanbedejo, a 13-year veteran who went into the fitness business, ending up with 55 franchises of the Orangetheory fitness studio that he sold for $70 million in 2018 (he is also a civil rights activist and LGBTQ advocate); Justin Forsett, a 9-year veteran who founded the personal care product Hustle Clean, which is available at all Target stores and some 4,000 Walmarts.

Justin Tuck, the former defensive tackle was drafted out of Notre Dame by the New York Giants, then went on to win two Super Bowls with them, earned an MBA from the Wharton School of Business after retiring in 2015 following 11 years in the league. He told the players the sooner they think of their post-NFL lives, the better.

“You don’t have to have an answer right now,” said Tuck, who is now a managing director at Goldman Sachs. “But try to have an understanding of what you want to do after football."

For Tuck, his motivation for a career in money management was pretty straightforward.

“I wanted to be clear where every dollar was going,” he said.

For those who are planning to become entrepreneurs, Brien offered what he believes is one of the most important lessons he has learned, one that has helped him scale two successful start-ups. 

“The key is to get to that place where you are the enabler of others,” he said. “That is the art of business.”

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Brien and his FinTank team work on their pitch deck in Ft. Lauderdale, Fla.

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