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Why I joined Sapphire Sport.

Five years working at a leading health & fitness brand will teach you a thing or two about the $4 trillion wellness economy1. I saw countless products slide across my desk that ranged from amazing to terrifying.

  • Smart devices that passively tracked everything from blood glucose to bowel movements.  
  • Personalized supplements that “could” make you smarter, faster, basically immortal.  
  • ‘Better for you’ granola bars and meal delivery kits filled with novel ingredients from crickets to duckweed. 
  • Software products using every two-letter acronym in technology to enhance the fitness experience -- AI, AR, VR, ML, CV.  

There were a lot of great ideas and, to say it nicely, a lot of complete and utter BS. But eventually, two clear themes emerged. 

  1. When it comes to something as personal as health, you need to prove your legitimacy on the BS spectrum. Your customers deserve products that work and seeing results is the only way to retain them in the long term.
  2. Most founders were seeking something that historically hasn’t existed in the VC landscape: a partner with true authority in the sector, who could provide tangible value and expertise and the ability (and desire) to validate their product’s efficacy to the market.

This got me thinking, what does the future of the venture capital industry look like, how should the next generation of top-tier firms operate, and is there an opportunity to create an investment vehicle that brings more to the table?  

To me, investing must go beyond talent, customer, and partner introductions. Especially in the early stages, founders need investors with a sophisticated understanding of the sector they are trying to disrupt and deep connections to the key players and distribution channels who can improve the trajectory of their business. 

I’m so glad to say that this vision has come to life in Sapphire Sport, which is why I joined as a Partner in February. I was initially drawn to our LP base -- the owners and investors of major sports franchises, entertainment groups and lifestyle brands, all of them leaders in the art of powerfully connecting their brands to their audiences but also humble enough to acknowledge that consumer technology is key towards reaching the next generation and maintaining that market leadership position.

Having grown up in and around sports, the idea of several dozen LPs who compete on the field collaborating in one venture fund was hard to believe. But they did - owners and investors from major U.S. sports franchises— NFL, MLB, NBA, WNBA, NHL, and MLS— , City Football Group, owners of English Premier League champions Manchester City; as well as strategic entertainment organizations, family offices and institutional investors. These LPs look to Sapphire Sport as their consumer tech insiders, to generate superior returns but also providing insights into next-generation, tested and scalable investment processes, highly relevant deal flow, actionable collaboration opportunities, and more. And for us, this partnership offers a sector-focused vantage point at a level higher than our peers, with an emphasis on media, gaming, e-commerce, and health & human performance. 

And feedback from our founders tells us the model is working, “Very few investors, surprising as it may sound, have thought deeply about the opportunity spaces they map and model. They don't get the difference between ‘trendy’ and a genuine ‘trend’...Sapphire Sport had thought deeply about the advantages and disadvantages of our space, the challenges and partnerships necessary for success (and necessary to avoid), and how they can leverage their network and LPs in order to maximise founder and company success,” explains Ryan Mullins, Founder & CEO of Aglet

Not only do our LPs and their talent directly co-invest alongside us in funding rounds -- most recently, Tonal in March and Overtime in April -- but they actively seek relationships with our portfolio companies in order to stay on the cutting edge. The magnitude of consumers that this LP base touches is enormous, both online and IRL. What an opportunity that is to band together the world’s most innovative lifestyle brands and founders in order to shape the next generation for the better. It’s not sports tech; it’s about the entire consumer landscape. 

I’ll be sharing my POV on what makes an attractive wellness investment in a soon-to-come blog called “All hail happiness: The Gen Z buying habit coming to a wellness investment near you.” Stay tuned.

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1 - https://globalwellnessinstitute.org/press-room/statistics-and-facts/

Nothing presented within this article is intended to constitute investment advice, and under no circumstances should any information provided herein be used or considered as an offer to sell or a solicitation of an offer to buy an interest in any investment fund managed by Sapphire Ventures, LLC (“Sapphire”). Information provided reflects Sapphires’ views as of a time, whereby such views are subject to change at any point and Sapphire shall not be obligated to provide notice of any change. Nothing contained in this article may be relied upon as a guarantee or assurance as to the future success of any particular company. Companies mentioned in this article are a representative sample of portfolio companies in which Sapphire has invested in which the author believes such companies fit the objective criteria stated in commentary, which do not reflect all investments made by Sapphire. A complete alphabetical list of Sapphires’ investments made by its direct growth and sports investing strategies is available here. Various statements made by third party guests about Sapphire relate to the nature and type of management services provided by Sapphire and do not constitute testimonials to Sapphires’ investment advisory services and no inference to the contrary should be made. Sapphire does not solicit or make its services available to the public and none of the funds are currently open to new investors. While the Sapphire has used reasonable efforts to obtain information from reliable sources, we make no representations or warranties as to the accuracy, reliability, or completeness of third-party information presented herein, which is subject to change. Past performance is not indicative of future results.