Venture Capital

Kobe Bryant makes first investment as 'Kobe Inc.'

Kobe Bryant
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Kobe Bryant has proven himself on the basketball court, creating one of the most successful brands in the NBA. Now he hopes that success translates to the business arena.

The five-time NBA champion and 16-time NBA All-Star said this week that he will be starting a new company, Kobe Inc. The Lakers star's first investment will be in BodyArmor, a sports drink company created by Mike Repole, founder of Glaceau VitaminWater, and Lance Collins, founder of Fuze Beverage.

Bryant has made a seven-figure investment in the sports drink company that makes him the third-biggest investor behind its co-founders. In addition, Bryant will get a seat on the board.

Kobe Bryant expands his brand
Kobe Bryant expands his brand

"Business has always been very interesting to me, and it's exciting to start a new journey where I feel like I'm a rookie all over again," Bryant told CNBC's "Closing Bell."

"The sports drink industry is something I'm very familiar with and it's right in the wheelhouse with what I do as a basketball player," he added.

Bryant won't be doing commercials for the product, but he has been personally involved in all facets of BodyArmor from the look of the product to the marketing, he said.

"Kobe gets branding, he gets business. The product you are seeing has Kobe's fingerprints all over it," said Repole.

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Alicia Jessop, professor of sports law at the University of Miami, thinks Bryant is making a smart investment and she expects it to be a success.

"What's different about BodyArmor is who its creators are. You have two people who have been hugely successful in developing companies and selling them," she said.

Collins sold his company, Fuze, for $250 million, and Repole sold Glaceau Vitaminwater to Coca-Cola in 2007 for $4.1 billion—the largest acquisition in the history of the beverage brand.

"BodyArmor in year two, is where Vitamin water was in year four," said Repole.

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BodyArmor had more than $10 million in sales last year. While that's well behind industry giants Gatorade and Powerade, BodyArmor saw 100 percent year-over-year growth, and that was without Bryant.

Repole said that Bryant's investment has brought immediate awareness to the brand as he does things like Tweet to his 4.5 million followers, but it's not just his celebrity status that makes Bryant an appealing partner.

"At the end of the day, BodyArmor is made for athletes. Having Kobe know what athletes are thinking is invaluable," Repole said.

What it will take to succeed

Bryant's success on the court has paid him handsomely. He's the NBA's highest-paid player after signing a two-year, $48.5 million contract extension in November, and he has endorsement deals with everyone from Nike to Turkish Airlines. But that doesn't necessarily guarantee success off the court, according to David Carter, executive director of the University of Southern California's Marshall Sports Business Institute.

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"Being one of the best basketball players of all time will get the initial phone calls returned and meetings set," he said. "But if there is no substance behind it, if there is no true business acumen on display, potential business partners will be wary, unless of course they are merely licensing his name in a business setting and he has no true input."

Going forward, the success of Bryant's investment in BodyArmor will be an important indicator into the future of Kobe Inc.

"He needs some early successes whereby he is able to demonstrate that there is limited risk associated with going into business with him. As this is occurring, he must be strengthening his understanding of business in general, especially investing," said Carter.