Ndamukong Suh and Warren Buffett speaking to CNBC (Source: CNBC)
Ndamukong Suh — the star NFL defensive end — has had a very notable 2021.
On the field, he won his first Super Bowl in February when the Tampa Bay Buccaneers defeated the Kansas City Chiefs. Off the field, he’s an active investor, real estate developer, philanthropist and educator, where he shares his learnings as an athlete-investor to 583k followers on Twitter.
Born in Portland, Oregon to a Jamaican mother and Cameroonian father, Suh’s dual passion for sport and business began in college.
While at the University of Nebraska (2005-09), Suh — an engineering major and football star — had the opportunity to shadow a certain investor based in Omaha, Nebraska: Warren Buffett.
Since then, the second pick in the 2010 NFL draft — and last player opposing QBs want to see — has carved out a very decorated professional career while building a large real estate portfolio and investing in 30+ companies (including tech startups Ember, Genies, Mercury).
Through the Suh Family Foundation, he focuses on helping individuals on their journeys towards empowerment. Most recently, he partnered with Stash101 and the Portland Public School system to improve access to financial literacy education for middle school students.
The Hustle spoke with Suh about his investing approach, business mentors and what startup he would love to see in the market.
What is the filtering process for your investments? Do you have a theme or thesis you focus on?
When new investment opportunities come in, it’s usually through a few different sources. Early on, it would come from quality connections (mentors, friends, etc.), as well as through some of the funds I’m invested in. Fast forward, I’m now a known quantity in the space, so I also get a lot of direct inbound.
Once deals come in, I have a core group I usually ask to review things with me—people with deep expertise in specific areas like consumer products or real estate. I take their opinions into consideration and then, ultimately, make my own decisions on whether I want to invest and how much.
I’m really rigid with my allocation strategy, looking at my balance sheet overall for any given year I’ll usually feel comfortable taking risks with 10-15% of what I’m making.
In terms of thesis, I don’t really have specific areas I’m focused on. Usually it’s consumer. I don’t do a lot of deals in enterprise. For the most part, I’m looking for cool or interesting products that I think are going to make a 10x difference in the lives of people who use them.
Stage wise, I’ve done everything from seed to growth. But I’d say primarily Series A or B is what I’m most familiar with.
If the NCAA’s new change on name, image and likeness (NIL) happened while you playing football at Nebraska, how would you have monetized? How much money could you have potentially made?
[Editor’s note: On July 1, 2021, a number of changes in NCAA rules and US state laws allowed college athletes to make money off of their name, image and likeness (NIL) for the first time.]
If we’re looking at athletes as content creators, these days it seems like there’s a million different ways to get the bags. Back when I was playing, most of these new monetization and attention platforms didn’t exist, so I’d say it would’ve been primarily merchandise. Things like autographs, jersey sales, etc. would’ve been top of mind.
You’ve got the best fans in the country at UNL, all trying to keep these pieces of history alive, so that would’ve been a strong market. More traditional things as well like sponsorships, commercials, etc.
On the crazier end, back in the day I did my own challenge coin, I would like to think if it was today I could’ve done an NFT. I would’ve also asked Berkshire Hathaway to make me a venture partner!
All in all, I’d say I missed out on at least a $1m+ in jersey sales alone, so beyond that who knows how much was left on the table.
In your Twitter thread on meeting Warren Buffett, you mentioned how he spends most of his day reading. What is your current media diet to stay on top of business and tech?
I get a lot of my daily news from Morning Brew, big fans of what they’re doing. Recently I started reading The Hustle as well, you may have heard of it. I also have the more traditional stuff like CNBC alerts, twitter lists, yahoo finance, etc. On a daily basis I’m mostly checking financial and business news, not looking too much into politics, etc.
I also have a great network of people that send me articles I’d find interesting. You’d be surprised how much news I get through my inbox each day.
Other than Buffett, who are investors/entrepreneurs that you look up to? What are key lessons you’ve drawn from them?
Mentors have played a huge role in shaping my life on and off the field. Buffet is obviously the biggest name, but folks like Jay Brown (Marcy Venture Partners) Joe Moglia (TD Ameritrade), Gary Shiffman (Sun Communities), Bill Ford and Alex Crisses (General Atlantic) have all been consistent points of wisdom and guidance for me.
I’d say the biggest key lesson is the same from everyone, always be curious, always ask a ton of questions.
You’ll notice most of the people I mentioned all have different areas of expertise. That’s intentional, I want to get quality exposure to a lot of different things.
Gary has been immensely helpful on the real estate side, with analyzing deals, teaching me what to look for, how to pick locations, and evaluate the quality of projects. Joe has been a phenomenal advocate of financial literacy and has made a huge impression on my life from that standpoint.
Especially because he has experience performing at an elite level in both athletic and business circles. Bill and Alex introduced me to the world of PE and the lessons learned there have helped me a lot in my own business endeavors.
Jay has been an incredible figure to watch in the consumer products space, especially how you can built empires around successful personalities.
I’d say the most important thing is that finding these people early on allowed me to be really prepared for a life after football.
A lot of athletes make the mistake of only starting to care about this stuff earnestly after they’re done playing, when they should be thinking about it from day one.
Do you have a request for a startup (any company solving any problem that doesn’t currently exist)?
That’s an easy one, I would love a company that can solve all of my parenting needs, from a product and services perspective. End to end support for families with newborns (like me).
It would help mothers and fathers adapt to being parents, provide education before birth, products such as strollers, bottles, clothes, etc. and also night nurses and support people.
Let me know if this is happening, I want in.