Kobe Bryant, who died (Jan. 26, 2020), was a well-known businessman and leaves behind a strong legacy of savvy investing and mentoring.

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Kobe Bryant

Kobe Bryant
Bryant handling the basketball
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Bryant with the Los Angeles Lakers in 2014
Personal information
Born August 23, 1978
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Died January 26, 2020 (aged 41)
Calabasas, California
Nationality American
Listed height 6 ft 6 in (1.98 m)[a]
Listed weight 212 lb (96 kg)
Career information
High school Lower Merion
(Ardmore, Pennsylvania)
NBA draft 1996 / Round: 1 / Pick: 13th overall
Selected by the Charlotte Hornets
Playing career 1996–2016
Position Shooting guard
Number 8, 24
Career history
19962016 Los Angeles Lakers
Career highlights and awards
Career statistics
Points 33,643 (25.0 ppg)
Rebounds 7,047 (5.2 rpg)
Assists 6,306 (4.7 apg)
Stats 
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at NBA.com
Stats at Basketball-Reference.com
Basketball Hall of Fame as player
Medals
Men’s basketball
Representing
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United States
Olympic Games
Gold medal – first place
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2008 Beijing Team
Gold medal – first place
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2012 London Team
FIBA Americas Championship
Gold medal – first place
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2007 Las Vegas Team

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Kobe Bean Bryant (/ˈkb/ KOH-bee; August 23, 1978 – January 26, 2020) was an American professional basketball player. A shooting guard, he spent his entire 20-year career with the Los Angeles Lakers in the National Basketball Association (NBA). Regarded as one of the greatest basketball players of all time,[3][4][5][6] Bryant won five NBA championships, was an 18-time All-Star, a 15-time member of the All-NBA Team, a 12-time member of the All-Defensive Team, the 2008 NBA Most Valuable Player (MVP), and a two-time NBA Finals MVP. Bryant also led the NBA in scoring twice, and ranks fourth in league all-time regular season and postseason scoring. He was posthumously voted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 2020.

Born in Philadelphia and partly raised in Italy, Bryant was recognized as the top American high-school basketball player while at Lower Merion. The son of former NBA player Joe Bryant, he declared for the 1996 NBA draft and was selected by the Charlotte Hornets with the 13th overall pick; he was then traded to the Lakers. As a rookie, Bryant earned a reputation as a high-flyer by winning the 1997 Slam Dunk Contest, and was named an All-Star by his second season. Kobe, with teammate Shaquille O’Neal, the pair led the Lakers to three consecutive NBA championships from 2000 to 2002.

After the Lakers lost the 2004 NBA Finals, O’Neal was traded and Bryant became the cornerstone of the Lakers. He led the NBA in scoring in the 2005–06 and 2006–07 seasons. In 2006, he scored a career-high 81 points; the second most points scored in a single game in league history, behind Wilt Chamberlain’s 100-point game in 1962. Bryant led the team to consecutive championships in 2009 and 2010, both times being named NBA Finals MVP. He continued to be among the top players in the league through the 2012–13 season, when he suffered a torn achilles tendon at age 34. Season-ending knee and shoulder injuries followed in the next two seasons. Citing physical decline, Bryant retired after the 2015–16 season.

The all-time leading scorer in Lakers history, Bryant was the first guard in NBA history to play 20 seasons. His 18 All-Star designations are the second most all time, while it is the record for most consecutive appearances as a starter. Bryant’s four NBA All-Star Game MVP Awards are tied with Bob Pettit for the most in NBA history. He gave himself the nickname “Black Mamba” in the mid-2000s, and the epithet became widely adopted by the general public. At the 2008 and 2012 Summer Olympics, he won two gold medals as a member of the U.S. national team. In 2018, he won the Academy Award for Best Animated Short Film for the film Dear Basketball (2017).

Bryant died, along with his daughter Gianna and seven others, in a helicopter crash in Calabasas, California. A number of tributes and memorials were subsequently issued, including renaming the All-Star MVP Award in his honor.

Kobe was 41 at the time of his death.

“For 20 seasons, Kobe showed us what is possible when remarkable talent blends with an absolute devotion to winning,” NBA Commissioner Adam Silver said in a statement Sunday. “… He was generous with the wisdom he acquired and saw it as his mission to share with future generations of players…”

Bryant created the venture capital firm Bryant Stibel in 2013 with Web.com founder Jeff Stibel. The firm has over $2 billion in assets and has invested in dozens of companies, including Dell, Alibaba, Fortnite creator Epic Games, payment company Klarna and household products outfit The Honest Company.

“You’ve got to have strong entrepreneurs, that’s really the key for us is looking at the people,” Bryant said in a CNBC interview in September. “Yes, it’s important to see those returns, right? But it’s also important to have great opportunity, great relationships with our investors, great opportunities with our entrepreneurs to help them grow and put them in situations where they can be successful.”

Bryant also made millions when he invested in sports drink Body Armor, which sold a stake to Coca-Cola.

“When Kobe puts his stamp of approval on something and really gets behind you as a partner, the world of sports and everyone across the spectrum of the sports industry takes note, and you’re suddenly validated in a way that most startups just don’t experience until much further on,” said Brian Lee and Matthias Metternich, founders of skincare brand Art of Sport, in a statement before Bryant’s death.

Olympic swimmer Michael Phelps said Bryant was an inspiration for that second stage after an athletic career.

“I think Kobe’s somebody who’s been super fun to kind of pick his brain about some things,” Phelps told The Wall Street Journal in August. “We’ve had the privilege and the opportunity in our sports to be successful and reach the pinnacle, and we know what it takes to get to that top level. So now, it’s always the challenge for the athletes to find that drive outside of the sport.”

Kobe Bryant’s business empire remains expansive — and inspiring — after his death

 

Kobe Bryant holds his 2018 Oscar for "Dear Basketball," which won for best animated short film.
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In 2018, Kobe Bryant’s “Dear Basketball” won the Academy Award for best animated short film, a milestone for his Granity Studios, which co-produced the project.

Less than two years removed from his NBA playing career, Kobe Bryant held court at an April 2018 forum on the USC campus that drew a standing-room-only crowd of about 2,000 people to Bovard Auditorium.

They weren’t there to hear Bryant, the five-time NBA champion, discuss his 20-year career with the Lakers. The students in attendance were there to hear him talk about business.

“You have to sit and ask yourself: What is truly going to get you up in the morning, and what’s going to keep you up at night?” Bryant advised the attendees. “When you find what that answer is, you stay true to that. I’ve built a … personal brand, which is great, but that is not where our focus is going to be for the next 50 years.”

Bryant was in the midst of expanding a business empire that included an investment firm, multimedia production company and more. And his presence at a forum that has hosted more conventional business leaders — among them Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban and Spanx founder Sara Blakely — is emblematic of how much Bryant had quickly accomplished as an entrepreneur, said Dave Belasco, an adjunct professor at the USC Marshall School of Business who led the discussion with the ex-Laker.

Kobe Bryant participates in an April 2018 forum on the USC campus that focused on his business career.
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Kobe Bryant participates in an April 2018 business forum on the USC campus with Dave Belasco, right.

“I was really inspired by someone who was known to be an elite athlete shifting gears and trying to do something that was very different and very bold,” said Belasco, co-founder of the USC Performance Science Institute, which co-hosted the event with the Marshall School. “I think many of the skills and the mind-set that he used to excel in sports served him perfectly in business.”

Before Bryant’s Jan. 26, 2020, death in a helicopter crash in Calabasas, he’d established himself as a burgeoning mogul. He’d planted the seeds years earlier, creating Newport Beach-based Kobe Inc., a brand development firm that launched in 2014 by making a $6-million investment in sports drink company BodyArmor that was later valued at $200 million. Through his Costa Mesa-based Granity Studios production company, he became an author and an Academy Award-winning filmmaker. And in 2016, shortly after finishing a basketball career that saw him earn an estimated $680 million in salary and endorsements, Bryant unveiled the venture capital firm Bryant Stibel & Co., which went on to invest in companies including Scopely and LegalZoom.

Those initiatives helped Bryant, who was 41 at the time of his death, chart a unique post-playing career that eschewed more traditional avenues open to former professional athletes, such as coaching and broadcasting. And that has made him an inspiration to present-day stars eyeing their post-playing careers, said Eric Johnson, a former ESPN executive.

“Without a doubt, this generation of athletes is thinking more under those terms — they are businesspeople already,” said Johnson, who spent 18 years at ESPN and now consults with sports and entertainment companies. “The majority of them are much more aspiring to be in the business world, and he is an inspirational figure.”

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WASHINGTON, DC – OCTOBER 17: Former NBA player Kobe Bryant talks with reporters at the Washington Post after attending the Aspen Institute’s Project Play Summit at the Knight Conference Center at the Newseum in Washington, DC

Now the Bryant empire continues without him. One year after his death, Bryant’s companies have largely remained quiet, but his enterprises have not been dormant. A sports training venture with which Bryant partnered has been rebranded; Granity Studios has continued to release new projects; and a limited liability company bearing his name has filed for several trademarks involving his “Black Mamba” nickname, among other moves. However, there have been no sweeping announcements about the direction of Bryant’s companies and no major new initiatives have been unveiled.

Kobe Inc. and Granity did not respond to interview requests, and Bryant Stibel declined to comment. Some companies that worked with Bryant, among them Nike, declined to comment on the status of ongoing business relationships.

Those who followed Bryant’s business career are not surprised by the public silence. Besides any potential restructuring made necessary by Bryant’s death, his companies could be taking a page from his business playbook. Bryant quietly launched several initiatives with little fanfare in the mid-2010s, only making public unveilings or promotional pushes years later once projects were fully baked.

“The quietness doesn’t surprise me,” said Johnson, faculty director of UCLA Anderson School of Management’s Center for Management of Enterprise in Media, Entertainment and Sports. “From my understanding and experience it was always like that until it was launched and created. He certainly wasn’t a barker of all the things he was going to do; he just suddenly [revealed them].”

A desire to be respectful of an extended period of mourning for Bryant could also be a factor. Vanessa Bryant, his widow, has been open about the intensity of her grieving for her husband and daughter Gianna, who was killed in the crash too. But she has made moves, assuming a leadership role at Granity, and selling a $2-million Irvine investment home the couple had owned since 2013. She also filed a handful of lawsuits stemming from the accident, bringing one complaint against the helicopter operator and another against the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department over its handling of the investigation of the crash.

A fan writes a message on a La Brea Avenue mural honoring Kobe Bryant and his daughter Gianna.
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Among the most visible changes made since Bryant’s death: In May, it was announced that the Mamba Sports Academy, a sports training business that Bryant partnered with in 2018, would drop “Mamba” from its name.

It was, in a way, a return to the company’s beginnings, when it was founded in 2016 by former college football player Chad Faulkner and named the Sports Academy. Soon after its debut, Bryant began visiting the academy’s 100,000-square-foot training facility in Thousand Oaks as a coach of his daughter Gianna’s basketball team.

Bryant was impressed with the operation, Faulkner said, and joined the company in 2018, when it was renamed to include a nod to his nickname.

“He was an engaged partner, he really cared,” Faulkner said. “You add Kobe in the mix and we had a lot more light on us, we had a lot more opportunity to get recognition or open up other doors.”

By the start of last year, the academy had opened new facilities in Redondo Beach and Frisco, Texas, and counted star athletes such as the L.A. Rams’ Aaron Donald among its 50,000 clients.

“We were lined up to open up more facilities, we had a big digital play that we were working through, we were bringing ‘Mamba Mentality’ forward in a really interesting way,” Faulkner said. “Those are some of the bigger dreams and schemes we had that all tragically ended on the 26th of January last year.”

Faulkner and his staff were still reeling from Bryant’s death when the pandemic forced them to halt most in-person activities. In announcing the jettisoning of the “Mamba” name, the company said that it was “a mutual agreement made in accordance with the wishes of his estate.”

There has been some under-the-radar activity that suggests groundwork is being laid for new Bryant-related endeavors. In the months after his death, for example, a limited liability company controlled by his family filed to trademark several words and phrases associated with the late basketball player, including his name, Mamba, Mamba League and Lil’ Mambas. The filing to trademark “Kobe Bryant,” for example, said the mark could be used for a slew of purposes including headwear, computer game software, ear buds, loungewear, and “providing a website featuring entertainment information in the field of sports, children’s entertainment, action, adventure, animation, and fantasy.”

One component of Bryant’s empire that has remained visibly active after his death is Granity Studios, which released a handful of new projects in 2020. It also has new leadership: Whereas Bryant had served as the company’s chief executive, that role is now held by Vanessa Bryant, according to a June filing with the California secretary of state’s office. She also serves as the president of Granity and recently appeared in a video on its Instagram page promoting a new book release.

The company, founded in 2013 and originally named Kobe Studios, is best known for “Dear Basketball,” a 5½-minute animated short based on a poem that Bryant wrote to announce his retirement from the game. The film, which featured a John Williams score, won the Oscar for best animated short in 2018. After Bryant’s death, Granity made the movie available for free online. The company’s other notable projects have included the sports analysis series “Detail” for streaming service ESPN+ and the scripted kids podcast “The Punies.”

Granity was also the company behind Bryant’s various book projects, including 2018’s “The Mamba Mentality: How I Play,” in which he detailed his approach to the sport. Granity’s most recent release, in December, was the novel “Epoca: The River of Sand,” which is the second and final installment in a fantasy series created by Bryant and written by author Ivy Claire. It centers on an elite sports academy in a magical realm.

After Bryant’s death, Granity also released fiction books “The Wizenard Series: Season One” and “Geese Are Never Swans,” the latter about a young swimmer who must overcome a family tragedy while pursuing Olympic dreams.

The company also played a part in the rollout of ESPN’s hit docuseries “The Last Dance,” about Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls’ final NBA championship. The five-episode streaming series “Detail: 1998 Chicago Bulls” for ESPN+ served as a companion piece analyzing the Bulls’ games, hosted by Dennis Rodman, Steve Kerr and head coach Phil Jackson.

At the beginning of his basketball career, Bryant was known as a sneering upstart, feuding with teammate Shaquille O’Neal on the way to three championships together before a messy parting. In 2003, Bryant was accused of raping a 19-year-old woman, leading to a felony assault charge. Bryant denied raping the woman, and the criminal case was dropped 14 months later after she decided to not testify; in 2005 he settled a civil lawsuit brought by his accuser. Bryant spent years working to repair his image and left the NBA a revered statesman.

Considering Bryant’s stature within the league upon his retirement, perhaps it should not be a surprise that his path in the business world would inspire his peers.

It’s not that Bryant was the only superstar athlete to pursue business in other arenas in recent years: LeBron James, for example, has also taken a diversified approach to investing and entrepreneurship, starting a production company and investing in a pizza restaurant chain and a tequila brand, among other endeavors. But the quick success Bryant found — his Academy Award, for starters — made him stand out.

Bryant’s path was somewhat similar to that of trailblazing retired athletes, including fellow Lakers great Magic Johnson, known for his movie theater chain and Starbucks investment, and Dallas Cowboys quarterback Roger Staubach, founder of a national commercial real estate firm. Bryant, however, was embarking on his post-playing career in a vastly different business environment — a digital one turbocharged by the internet. That made his road unique, said David Carter, principal of the Sports Business Group, a consulting firm.

“Was there a model [for Bryant]? To me, the short answer would be no,” said Carter, executive director of the Sports Business Institute at the Marshall School. “You have to think of the time he was operating. Social and digital media. A borderless world. You didn’t have that with Magic or Staubach.”

Bryant hasn’t just inspired other pro athletes — he has encouraged people like Justin Powell, who attended the USC forum featuring the former Laker in 2018.

Kobe Bryant meets with audience members as part of his appearance at an April 2018 forum on the USC campus.
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Kobe Bryant meets with audience members — including Justin Powell, second from left — as part of the ex-Laker’s appearance at an April 2018 business forum on the USC campus.
(William Vasta for USC Marshall School of Business)

Then a USC student, Powell said he’d long been a fan of Bryant — but he attended the forum to hear him share some of his business acumen. Powell, who graduated in 2019 and now works for Yahoo Sports as a video producer and writer, wasn’t disappointed.

“[Bryant] was someone who had reached the pinnacle in one field and was never content or rested on his laurels,” said Powell, 24, who met with Bryant backstage before the forum. “He’s had such a profound influence on me.”

 

 

Kobe Bryant’s Most Lucrative Business Investment Set Up His Family For Life

Several NBA players have tried and failed in the world of business, while others have found lucrative success both during and after their careers. Bryant didn’t see his retirement from the NBA as an end, but a beginning to a new chapter in life where business filled the void that basketball had left. 

In 2013, Bryant began an investment firm called Bryant Stibel with businessman Jeff Stibel by his side. Through this company, Bryant was able to invest in major companies across the board, from Dell to international marketplace Alibaba. Bryant even had a stake in Epic Games, makers of the ultra-popular video game Fortnite. 

Bryant founded a media company called Granity Studios, which helped him produce the Oscar-winning short animated film, Dear Basketball. He spoke often about his desire to get into the entertainment industry, although this particular dream was cut short by his untimely death. 

His greatest investment, however, remains in the sports drink company BodyArmor, of which Bryant purchased a 10 percent stake in 2014 for $60 million. BodyArmor was later purchased by Coca-Cola, and Bryant’s share grew to over $200 million in value and, counting. All of this combined with over $328 million in career earnings, Bryant’s fortune will likely continue growing. 

Kobe Bryant’s business legacy

Even in his playing days, Bryant was bigger than basketball. From his early days, when he tried his hand at music and the occasional cameos in television and movies, he existed on a plane that seemed different than most players. The fact that he spent his two-decade career in Los Angeles, where business opportunities are greater than most NBA markets, didn’t hurt things either. 

Bryant leaves behind a legacy that speaks for itself in more ways than one. For fans, that legacy will always gravitate toward the clutch baskets and championship rings. For those who are looking to remember more, his off the court successes may loom just as large. Nothing will fill the void that Bryant left in his family’s life, but thanks to his smart business decisions, he will still be able to support them for years to come.

KOBE BRYANT

I was drawn to this particular venture because I believe in the importance of supporting entrepreneurs. These are the people that are shaping the future of our country and of our world, and they’re leading by example. They will inspire the next group of business owners, and we want to position them for success and help instill that drive and spirit of creativity in future generations.

Kobe Bryant was a founding partner of Bryant Stibel since its inception in 2013. Bryant was a five-time National Basketball Association champion with the Los Angeles Lakers and was CEO of Kobe Inc. He was a two-time Olympic gold medalist, a NBA Most Valuable Player, a two-time NBA Finals MVP, a 15-time All-NBA player, an 18-time NBA All-Star and the NBA’s No. 3 all-time scoring leader.

Since 2003, Bryant partnered with Nike, playing a leadership role designing footwear and leading storytelling related to Kobe Bryant product lines. In 2006, he launched the Kobe and Vanessa Bryant Family Foundation to give young people access to sports, mentorship and economic empowerment. In 2009, he partnered with the Soong Ching Ling Foundation to create the Kobe China Fund, dedicated to the welfare and education of youth in China. Historically Bryant invested in entrepreneurial companies, such as BODYARMOR and Red Ventures, that shared in his vision.

ABOUT BRYANT STIBEL

Bryant Stibel was founded in 2013 to provide strategy, capital, and operational support to businesses with a focus across technology, media, and data. The Bryant Stibel platform is unique in that it combines the creative vision of Kobe Bryant, one of the world’s most well-known and respected sports icons, with Jeff Stibel, a proven market-driven operator and serial entrepreneur, alongside a team of proven public and private company senior management operating partners at Stibel & Co. The team has extensive experience operating technology and data-driven businesses, as well as deploying capital out of its core platforms, Bryant Stibel Growth Equity, Bryant Stibel Ventures and Bryant Stibel Value.

Together, Bryant and Stibel partner with companies looking to unlock value and drive sustainable long-term growth. Stibel & Co.’s Office of the Chairman adds additional value by providing strategic advisory and tactical support to management teams and stakeholders seeking a collaborative and constructive partner.

Along the way, Bryant Stibel has built relationships and helped execute business transformations with a variety of entrepreneurs and industry leaders.

Here’s what our partners have to say:

“Bryant Stibel is very focused on aligning with the shareholders and with the management team in execution.

They don’t have any conflicting interests – they are there to help. They’re not there to sell, they don’t want credit. They literally are there saying, ‘We don’t need credit, but we do want to add value because we are equity holders.’

And I think that only comes when both the company and our partner are tremendously confident in each other’s capabilities.”

“Bryant Stibel is very operationally focused, meaning that they can add actual value and they’re very much getting engaged with solving transactional and other issues versus acting in a purely advisory capacity.

While other firms tend to act more in an advisory capacity, Bryant Stibel can provide advice while also leveraging their network of contacts to actually deliver changes and operational results for you at your request. That’s been a huge difference.”

“Bryant Stibel’s philosophy of serving the CEO allows for a powerful partnership to deliver value. I conducted my own diligence on what it was like working with this team and it all came back incredibly positive.

They’ve exceeded expectations in the short time they’ve been involved at Tile. It’s amazing to have them in your corner.“

Bryant Stibel offers a diverse blend of operational expertise…

 “In terms of team, I think they have some of the strongest team members for any investment or consultant firm. 

They really understand their domain. They understand SAAS, they understand ecommerce, they understand brand. 

They are a wealth of knowledge.”

FOUNDER, LEGALZOOM, SHOEDAZZLE, THE HONEST COMPANY, BAM VENTURES & ART OF SPORT

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KOBE BRYANT

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KOBE’S LEGENDARY LEGACY

As we exit 2020 and enter more optimistic times, we find ourselves reflecting upon the events of the past year. There is not a day that passes that we don’t think about Kobe or what we were building together at Bryant Stibel.

As in sports, Kobe’s efforts in the world of business and investing are leaving a legacy we can all be proud of.

To date, Bryant Stibel as a firm has invested in over 40 businesses with approximately 75% still active and growing. While 2020 had its fair share of ups and downs, over the past year we saw our portfolio grow and our companies masterfully handle macro events, most namely COVID-19, and continue to flourish.

Bryant Stibel companies such as Epic Games and Scopely raised huge rounds to fuel their growth. Other portfolio companies such as TeamViewer, LegalZoom, ringDNA, VIPKid, Tile, etc. continued to grow their businesses and market share significantly. Cholula – our favorite hot sauce company – was acquired by McCormick for $800M. And lastly, Art of Sport, a company we helped start and Kobe actively engaged with, can now be found rolled out nationwide through all 1,600 Target stores and the company is well on its way to becoming a global brand.

Many may not know that Kobe was a strong proponent of financial literacy and providing athletes with access to smart financial advice during and after their careers. In that spirit, we created partnerships with a handful of firms to enable athletes to get access to global deal flow. Since setting down this path, our partnership with Permira, a global investment firm founded in 1985 with a total committed capital of approximately $50BN, has invested hundreds of millions of dollars into companies across the globe over the past few years with our participation through Bryant Stibel Permira Growth Opportunities Fund I.

Lastly, but most importantly, we saw our community and social responsibility efforts accelerate, focusing on the things that mean the most to each of us – helping others and doing what’s right. The partners of our firm continued to stay active lending our time, money and resources to the causes that mean the most to us. We are proud to work with a wide range of partners and organizations to focus on racial equity and inclusion, education and giving back to our community and will continue to make that a significant part of our mission.

REMEMBERING KOBE BRYANT

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A MESSAGE FROM OUR PARTNERS

On January 26, 2020, the world lost Kobe Bryant, one of the most well-known and respected sports icons. We lost our friend and business partner.

Kobe was more than a founding partner at Bryant Stibel. He was a family man and a creative visionary who quickly became an accomplished entrepreneur and investor. While he was known as one of the greatest athletes of all time, his time off the court was becoming just as remarkable.

Kobe was a five-time NBA champion, a two-time Olympic gold medalist, an NBA Most Valuable Player, a 15-time All-NBA player, an 18-time NBA All-Star and the NBA’s No. 4 all-time scoring leader. As CEO of Kobe Inc. and Granity Studios, Kobe became a New York Times best-selling author for his young adult Wizenard Series, and an Academy Award recipient for best animated short film, “Dear Basketball.”

Kobe partnered with Stibel & Co. at Bryant Stibel’s inception in 2013 as his basketball career was entering its final years. He was one of 10 General Partners at the firm, bringing a passion and entrepreneurial spirit that helped launch and shape the firm’s strategic direction. Kobe recognized that entrepreneurs shared a similar work ethic and dedication that is found in the very best athletes. He shared a passion for helping businesses creatively tell their story and find their brand truth.

We will forever be heartbroken to lose Kobe as a colleague and a friend. He of all people would want us to continue helping entrepreneurs realize their dreams and create sustainable, long-term success stories. 

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THE LATEST NEWS ON KOBE’S BRYANT STIBEL COMPANY!!!!

Can J.Crew make a comeback?

It was not too long ago that its clothing was plastered across the pages of fashion and political news media on the daily with one of the highest-profile brand ambassadors that no marketing dollars could ever buy: Then First Lady Michelle Obama.

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But in an effort to expand, J.Crew Group betrayed much of what made it so popular– It went upscale when customers had praised its affordability, and cut quality relative to its price, wearing out its clientele base. Customers moved on to the Zaras of the world and by 2015, sales were beginning to fall. It also didn’t help that the company was carrying some $1.7 billions debt following a leveraged buyout by private equity investors TPG and Leonard Green & Partners in 2011. And as the pandemic razed the physical retail industry, J.Crew’s weaknesses made it all the more susceptible. The maker of preppy mass-market clothing was the first major retailer in the U.S. to file for bankruptcy protection last spring in a move that handed control over to top creditors including Anchorage Capital, a hedge fund.

Now out of bankruptcy with less debt and a new CEO, the question is, what will J.Crew’s post-pandemic makeover look like? 

CEO Libby Wadle, a longtime executive at the company who previously helmed its successful Madewell line, tells my colleague Phil Wahba in her first in-depth interview at the top that the plan is not to tap into the Gen Zs or focus on more formal office clothing (which J.Crew has been known for), but to go back to basics. 

“‘We went through a work-wear phase, but we really have casual roots, and I think an easygoing approach to a lifestyle assortment will always be what J.Crew is about,’ [Wadle] says.

The brand’s next big test will come this autumn when the first products designed by its women’s wear director, Olympia Gayot, hired in October, hit stores. Wadle made another splashy hire in June, when she named Brendon Babenzien, one of the key architects behind the ascent of perennially cool street-wear label Supreme, to lead the J.Crew men’s business.”

Fixing the company won’t be easy—the company has faced heavy turnover with Wadle replacing Jan Singer, who had been CEO only for 11 months. And the stakes are high: Yes, Madewell has been doing well, but it’s the J.Crew brand that made up about 75% of sales pre-pandemic.

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Family app Life360 announces $2.1M investment round from celebs and influencers

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Life360

Family communication and tracking app Life360 has announced a new investment round that will see the company bringing on board a number of “celeb” investors and influencers who, combined, will form a new “Family Advisory Council” to help shape Life360’s future product direction and marketing. The round, which is approximately $2.1 million in size, was led by Bryant Stibel, the firm co-founded by the late Kobe Bryant and business partner Jeff Stibel. Others in the round included Vanessa Bryant, Joanna and Chip Gaines, Tony Hawk, Chris and Jada Paul, TikTok influencer Billy Perry, and Nicole and Michael Phelps.

Life360 has traded on the Australian Securities Exchange (ASX) since listing two years ago, so this round is more about bringing on new stakeholders who can also help attract more attention to Life360’s service. The company says it’s currently on track to top $110 million USD in revenue this year for its app now used by over 28 million monthly users across 195+ countries. As of March 2021, 916,000 families are paying for Life360’s service.

The celeb investors along with Life360 will form the Family Advisory Council which will draw on the advisors’ own family experiences to help inform feature developments and shape the future of the product and marketing strategy, Life360 says.

The company has been working to be more responsive to family members’ concerns, as it wants to position its app as something all family members want to use — not just helicopter parents snooping on their kids. In fact, Life360 CEO Chris Hulls took to TikTok last year to listen to teens’ complaints about their lack of privacy, then used that to develop a more privacy-respecting feature called “Bubbles.” The feature shows a bubble around a general location, not a blue dot with an exact location. This is meant to give teens a sense of the freedom they crave, while also helping parents and kids establish better trust.

The new Family Advisory Council could help Life360 streamline similar sorts of input from families, it appears.

“Investing and advising in companies is typically an adult thing, not something you do with your children,” said Hulls, in a statement about the investment. “We’re creating a unique opportunity to advise on a product side by side with your kids. Having the support of these icons speaks volumes to our long term vision to be the leading provider in family safety services. Life360 wants to create a brand that feels meaningful and relevant for both parents and kids. So it’s only natural that we would ask our investors to participate in the same spirit,” he added.

“One of my passions is ensuring children get the opportunities they deserve,” noted new investor, Vanessa Bryant (Kobe’s widow). “Life360 helps families feel safe and protected by making carpooling, pickup and drop-offs easier for parents, while also providing locations at their kids’ schools, activities and sports practices. Having modern tools like driving information, speed and phone usage makes me feel a lot more at ease, especially with my teenage driver. I love the fact that I can see my daughter’s location and speed in a vehicle whether she’s driving or as a passenger,” her statement said.

Though best known for its location services, Life360 has been working to establish itself as more than just a family tracker, given the competition from apps like Find My that now come built into mobile devices, as well as services provided by mobile operators. Today, Life360’s suite of family tools includes those for driving safety, emergency assistance, identity protection, and more.

Earlier this year, Life360 also announced the acquisition of wearable device maker Jiobit to expand its tracking abilities to include family members without phones, like young children and even pet.

That $37 million deal will close in about 30 days, the company tells us.

The addition of the new investors follows Life360’s appointment of Randi Zuckerberg to its Board of Directors earlier this year, and last year’s addition of new C-Suite execs, CFO Russell Burke and CPO Jonathan Benassaya, to focus on the company’s business mode and product offerings, respectively.