Former NFL linebacker and self-described "big kid" Dhani Jones is no stranger to taking risks, both on and off the field. Jones, now a multi-hyphenate in his own right and a regular investor on CNBC's Adventure Capitalists, wasn't always in the enviable position of testing outdoor products for a television audience and then doling out advice (and cash) to hopeful entrepreneurs. In fact, it wasn't too long ago that Jones found himself trading in his successful professional sports career for an untested one as an entrepreneur.
We spoke to Jones about what it was like to take those first steps into the business world, his lessons learned along the way and how diversity plays a key role in the show.
What made you decide to set aside the world of sports and pursue the life of an entrepreneur and investor?
Well, I think the world of sports and the world of entrepreneurship, and investing have always coincided. And so it was my opportunity to step away from the game that gave me the platform and now invest in the next generation of entrepreneurs and allow them to grow.
Talk to me a bit about how you got started with that. What were some of the first moves you made as an entrepreneur, as an investor?
Well I think as an entrepreneur you first start something and you build that, and you learn a lot of things: who to work with, how to work with, where to work with. You know, you just cut your teeth. And if you're fortunate, you'll be able to sell that. Or if you're fortunate enough, you'll be able to survive that. And I did. I was fortunate enough to sell one and survive another. And then move on into the investing world where I was able to consolidate my thinking as well as my team so that we could create a platform to invest in more people.
So hard knocks -- I'm sure you've had a few when you were starting out and getting your feet wet investing. Were there any early lessons learned or obstacles you had to overcome that you can talk about?
When you play football, people have seen you work for your entire career. They've seen you as a young child. They've seen you grow up to be an adult. They've seen you become more intelligent. They've seen you through college. There's a lot of things people have seen you do. When it's the world of business, people haven't necessarily seen you do that. And I think the biggest lesson to learn is that people want to do business with those they know, like and trust. They might know you. They might trust you. But they want to know how you operate within a business.
Arguably, the reason why 99 percent of people fail in the first business that they start is because you're trying to cut your teeth at something you believe you can do and you're going to have to suffer through the ups and downs of the business in order to learn to be a better entrepreneur, or even as an investor, to be a better investor. … You quickly realize that you need a team of great people. And that's in anybody's situation. You can talk about the greatest investors, the greatest entrepreneurs and they have a whole team of people. So I'd say the first lesson is becoming more knowledgeable of the business that you're in. I think number two is about having the right team of people around you.
Given that you're one of two returning regular investors and the main African-American voice on the show, how would you say the diversity of the entrepreneurs and the investors has changed this season?
I think I've always voiced my opinion around diversity of entrepreneurship. And we've had many discussions from the 3 Ball [production company] perspective, from the CNBC perspective … about more people from a diverse background being able to participate in Adventure Capitalists. And I think we've been able to showcase that and you'll start to see more people from a diverse background express interest.
The show has a diverse cast. … We have a diverse range of entrepreneurs and a diverse range of products, and a diverse environment. And I think that all of this speaks to the world of entrepreneurship. You never know where it's going to come from. You never know how it's going to present itself. And you never know who's going to be the one who's running it. I think our show speaks to that on multiple levels. And that's why we all love working together because we also have diverse personalities, too. So get ready for the fights.
About "Adventure Capitalists"
Thrill-seeking investors Shawn Johnson, Dhani Jones and Jeremy Bloom travel the country to test products in extreme conditions and potentially offer investments. In each one-hour episode, four separate entrepreneurs showcase products designed for outdoor adventure. These cutting-edge products and inventions run the gamut; from outerwear that can insulate against freezing temperatures (even when wet), to a robotic fishing lure that brings dead bait back to life and a full suspension mountain bike that can trek over any terrain. The adventure capitalists then put these innovations to the test, often in harsh conditions, to determine which are actually worthy of an investment.