'What do I do next?'
It is a question regularly faced by athletes as they approach the twilight of their career, suddenly overcome with the realisation that there is life after the 15 years or so competing at the pinnacle of their respective sport – and getting paid large sums of money for doing so.
For years, the obvious answer to that question has been to go into coaching or to take a comfortable punditry role with whichever television company knocks first. But times have changed. Athletes and their advisors have grown savvier to the off-field investment opportunities on offer, and many are setting the wheels in motion long before reaching retirement.
Andy Murray, the former world number one tennis player, got into the startup investment game at a comparatively young age.
“I have always had an eye on business opportunities after I finish playing tennis, as the career of a tennis player can finish at any time, so it’s good to have a long-term plan,” says the Scot. “I initially started investing in businesses by buying Cromlix Hotel in Scotland. After that I was looking around for things that I could do in the limited time I have – the tennis calendar is very busy so I had to find something that could fit around that.”
Murray invests in early-stage startups through crowdfunding platform Seedrs
Murray and his management team first approached Seedrs, an equity crowdfunding platform, about partnering three years ago. The three-time Grand Slam champion was drawn to the idea of supporting startups, especially in the areas of health, sport and technology.
“I partnered with Seedrs in 2015 as, I guess at that point, I was 28 and just starting to think about what I’d be doing post-career,” he reflects. “When I eventually do retire, I definitely want to have some active business interests that I can focus on when I have more time. Crowdfunding through Seedrs seemed like a good option and I liked the idea of supporting businesses which were just starting out. I think there are some great business ideas out there, but many
of them lack funding in the early days and often fail because of it.”
Athletes investing in startups know - or quickly find out the hard way - that they can also be a great way to lose money. Very few firms will go public and most evaporate, leaving investors with nothing to show for their investment. But with increased risk comes the promise of greater rewards - a fact that was not lost on Murray.
“Success for me is seeing the businesses grow and expand – it’s less about just getting a good return on my original outlay although obviously that is nice too,” he says. “I know that with startups there is a high chance of failure so I do expect that not all of them will make it.
Success for me is seeing the businesses grow and expand – it’s less about just getting a good return on my original outlay although obviously that is nice too.
“From an investor’s point of view, crowdfunding is an easy way of dipping your toe into supporting a business. You can invest small amounts of money - as little as UK£25, I think – and can also spread your risk among lots of different opportunities. The rewards for investors can also be much bigger than investing in other ways because often the growth of startups is so fast that the returns can be huge. Also, it’s quite satisfying seeing a business that you have helped do well.”
After striking up a strategic partnership, Murray joined the Seedrs advisory board in June 2015. He has since made 28 investments through the London-based firm’s platform. His portfolio includes the golf experience app VPAR, ticket resale platform Twickets, peer-to-peer lending platform Landbay, virtual reality shopping firm Tillenium, and ecommerce investor Fuel Ventures Fund, to name a few.
“I started to think about investing in tech businesses a few years ago and it made sense to do that in a more innovative way than the traditional, offline way,” Murray adds. “I chose to work with Seedrs specifically because it seems like the best platform out there; it’s also incredibly easy to use. As I’m on the advisory board, I can offer my input - when I can – on potential opportunities in the health, sport and wearable tech markets - areas in which I am involved on a practical level.”
Murray says that he enjoys watching startup companies grow and expand
Murray works with his management team at 77 Sports Management, the boutique sports marketing agency he founded in 2013, to do the necessary due diligence before deciding which companies to invest in. “The kind of things we look for are a good team, a clever idea in an area where there is a market for the product, and then obviously the numbers have to stack up too,” says Murray.
“I invest in businesses that have a synergy with what I do or what I’m interested in – so healthy food chains, sport apps, travel technologies, those kind of things.”
Murray adds that he is predominantly interested in technology brands and startups because he wants to be “working with businesses that have identified a problem that can be solved by technology.” Sometimes, however, “an idea just makes sense” on a more personal level. “Like Tossed, the salad bar chain,” he notes, referring to a company he backed in 2015. “They have loads of salad bar chains in the US and me and my team always visit them when I’m playing the US Open, but there was nothing like that in the UK. I think it’s a good idea that could do really well in the UK.”
Ultimately, Murray insists, investing for him isn’t just about the bottom line. “The motivation for me is partly because investing is something that has always interested me, but also I’m really enjoying being able to support up-and-coming businesses that need a bit of a leg-up in the early days.”
This article originally appeared in issue 101 of SportsPro Magazine. To find out more or to subscribe, click here.