No NFL player knows exactly when life after football will arrive, but it's never too early in their career to begin preparing for the future.
Current Rams offensive linemen David Edwards and Jamil Demby and linebacker Micah Kiser had an opportunity to do just that last week by competing in BLVCKOPS' SpeedBuild business combine via video conference. In the process, they developed a viable business plan they could begin forming and growing now, and acquired valuable tools to grow their own personal brands.
"My passion in business is the stock market and investments, and when (Rams Director of Player Engagement) Jacques (McClendon) reached out with this opportunity to kind of widen that net in business, it was a really unique opportunity," Edwards told theRams.com in a phone interview this week. "And then to pitch to people who have done it before, (it) was just a once in a lifetime opportunity."
The trio had plenty of inspiration, as the event provided them and participants from the 49ers, Dolphins and Buccaneers with access to some of the brightest business minds in the country.
Produced in partnership with the Buccaneers, Dolphins and 49ers, the event kicked off with presentations from titans of industry like serial entrepreneur Rob Gough, branding and marketing expert Jon Cropper, "The Shoe Surgeon" Dominic Ciambrone, entrepreneur, author and rapper Jesse Itzler, and Visionary Music Group CEO Chris Zarou to impart wisdom on participants before they began formulating their proposals.
"Rob G, he just brought off the sense of a hustler. He was able to hustle and find opportunity," Kiser told theRams.com this week. "Jon Cropper, just the way he goes about designing things and the storytelling ability he was talking about. Jesse Itzler, his passion was just jumping off, you could tell how passionate he was. So I kind of just took something from all the different speakers and they were all good."
Demby also learned something from each of the speakers, who collectively spoke to participants for nearly three hours on Feb. 24.
"After every time (someone spoke), I had my notebook and was writing down notes," Demby said. "Started out with who is each person, what does each person do, and then taking down things that I thought caught my eye. Each one of them, honestly, were really good and I learned something from each of them. Rob G, how he just started from scratch and made his way up, showing how his path wasn't easy and he took his brand and monetized it in so many different ways. Jon Cropper, they called a quiet giant. He's in so many different things but you may not hear about it because he's not on social media. He talked about storytelling and simple things like asking a real intentful question, you'll get a real intentful answer. Dom Ciambrone, he just took his passion and ran with it."
Armed with that inspiration, Demby, Kiser and Edwards then needed to come up with a business plan in a matter of hours on Thursday. They zeroed in on Edwards' idea that blended elements of Cameo and MasterClass in a sports-focused way. In collaboration with coaches and graphic designers assigned to their team, they produced Pipeline – an app-based platform that democratizes access to expert personal coaching using a subscription model. Such access is something Edwards said during their presentation that he wished he had when he was a high school athlete.
"There's just this big gap, in my opinion, between professional and collegiate techniques, in particular football, and in high school and youth sports," Edwards said. "The gap between those two entities is pretty wide, I think, and I was like, 'Well, how is there any way we can bridge that gap, if it's coaching, if it's reaching out for a technique thing?' That's kind of how it got started."
Edwards said fine tuning it was a "huge collaboration."
"And that was probably the coolest part about it, because I feel like even though we didn't win the competition, we're in a position to move forward with it," he said.
Pipeline was originally pitched with the NFL as the entry-level model, but with the name, image and likeness era in college sports on the horizon, that along with feedback from judges helped Edwards, Kiser and Demby discover their idea was more scalable than they thought in terms of how they can connect to their youth athlete audience. They all had a call scheduled at noon pacific time Friday to figure out the next steps over the next 30 days to figure out how to fine-tune and advance the concept.
"Although as a competitor, and as an entrepreneur, now, you want to win that competition, it might have been in the long run a better thing for us to have lost," Edwards said.
Regardless of where things go over the next month, all three gained skills to help themselves in the future.
Kiser aims to be a college football head coach someday, and the lessons he learned from the business combine reflect two coaches who set an example for him.
"In general, when you hear a lot of these coaches talk, they're bringing so many points from business books I've read," Kiser said. "I know (head) coach (Bronco) Mendenhall at Virginia was always doing that. (Rams head) coach (Sean) McVay, I think a lot of what he does is direct from these guys talking about leadership from a CEO standpoint, which is cool to see for sure."
What stood out to Demby was the importance of learning from your failures, as each speaker on Feb. 24 shared, as well as the process of assembling the right personnel around you – similar to a football team – and learning and applying the information. Most important of all: maintaining relationships.
"Every single person talked about how they met this person, followed up with this person or may have even just met somebody important that was an important piece to their success, but they met with them and followed up with them and applied to that relationship," Demby said.
As for Edwards, he entered the experience with a goal of leading "a group that had my idea, and the one to go forward." He said he wanted to be a great team player who fostered strong collaboration to build it into something greater, knowing that it's one thing to have an idea, but another to allow people in to help grow it and make it better.
"I don't think that the idea would have gone forward had we not had the team collaborating and pushing ideas and how we can, what works and what doesn't, what we should include," Edwards said.
"It was a lot of fun to work together with the guys that we had, and it was just an overall great experience because of that," Edwards said.