Warriors star Steph Curry founded a tech start-up with his old college teammate to shake up marketing

Key Points
  • Curry started Slyce with a former teammate from Davidson.
  • The company is playing in the growing space of targeted brand marketing.
  • Other Warriors stars are investing in tech start-ups.
Warriors – The NBA’s golden child of Silicon Valley
Warriors – The NBA’s golden child of Silicon Valley

At first glance, Slyce looks quite familiar in Silicon Valley. It's a small software start-up with $2 million of funding and a 29-year-old founder aiming to redefine modern marketing.

But there's one big difference. This start-up was co-founded by two-time NBA MVP Stephen Curry, who's trying to win his second championship in three years. Curry's Golden State Warriors host the Cleveland Cavaliers in game one of the NBA Finals on Thursday night.

In 2015, Curry started Slyce with CEO Bryant Barr, a longtime friend and former hoops teammate at Davidson College. They even attended each other's weddings.

Barr, who studied math and economics at Davidson before attending Stanford Business School, is Slyce's CEO and is setting out to build an automated marketing service that helps brands publish content and reach targeted audiences.

Curry is one of several players on the Warriors taking advantage of the team's location and ties to the start-up world to get involved in emerging technology.

Andre Iguodala, the 6-foot-6 defensive specialist, has backed electronic trading platform Trumid, Arianna Huffington's wellness company Thrive Global and health and beauty start-up Walker & Company. All-star forward Kevin Durant has invested in micro investing app Acorns and food delivery start-up Postmates.

The benefits can be mutual: players create portfolios of investments that could generate returns long after they retire from basketball, while start-ups get enviable help when it comes to promoting and building their brands.

Andre Iguodala
David Orrell | CNBC

Barr and Curry try and talk a few times every month about Slyce's product, customers and fundraising. Barr said Curry's involvement helps create visibility for the company and forge connections with key clients such as Under Armour, which endorses Curry.

The star point guard is also a powerful recruiting tool in hyper-competitive Silicon Valley.

"The fact that Steph comes into our office, or that we go to a game and talk to him afterward, is not something that any other start-up is able to do," Barr told CNBC, adding that new hires receive personalized video messages from Curry welcoming them to the company.

For Iguodala, tech investing is not just a hobby but a defining passion. He describes himself on his LinkedIn profile first as an entrepreneur and venture capitalist, and then as an NBA athlete.

Durant, who signed with the Warriors in the summer of 2016, has already won over Sand Hill Road heavyweights. Last September, he reportedly celebrated his birthday at a barbecue at the home of venture capitalist Ben Horowitz.

Postmates CEO Bastian Lehmann says he meets with Durant over dinner to talk about how to improve the app's experience.

How the Golden State Warriors tap Silicon Valley for that extra edge
How the NBA's best team taps Silicon Valley for that extra edge

"He had a restaurant himself in Oklahoma that we delivered from on the Postmates platform," Lehmann said. "We hang out and have a good time."

The Warriors have been referred to as "tech's team," with Silicon Valley A-listers frequently sitting courtside at their games. Horowitz, Apple's Eddy Cue and ex-Twitter executive Adam Bain can be seen up close and personal with the players.

Joe Lacob, who bought the Warriors in 2010, is a veteran venture capitalist from Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers. He partnered with entertainment mogul Peter Guber and formed an ownership group that includes YouTube co-founder Chad Hurley and venture investors Mark Stevens, Bob Kagle and Chamath Palihapitiya, founder of Social Capital and an early Facebook executive.

That means players, when considering a tech investment, have a direct line to well-connected investors and entrepreneurs, who can offer guidance and support.

For example, Draymond Green of the Warriors says he looks to Palihapitiya for investment advice.

"One of my mentors on the investment side is Chamath," Green told CNBC. "He's amazing. He teaches me about so many deals. And it's not just about investing, but learning and then all of a sudden you can kind of see trends -- which companies are doing well and which companies aren't doing so well."

`Taking more ownership'

Professional athletes have long invested their millions in areas such as real estate to build their savings for life after basketball. But today younger players tend to be more sophisticated and personally involved, according to Courtney Brunious, associate director of USC's Sports Business Institute.

"Players are now taking more ownership over decision-making when it comes to their investments," said Brunious, noting that the National Basketball Players Association hosted its first technology summit last summer in San Francisco to educate current and former players and provide networking opportunities with firms like Andreessen Horowitz and SV Angel.

In addition to money and prestige, famous players bring some pretty attractive perks to young start-ups. Slyce's Barr, for instance, will be attending Thursday night's game, courtesy of his old pal and co-founder.

"I am going to the game along with my parents," Barr says. "Steph is a very generous friend."

CNBC's Kathryn Hurd contributed to this report.