The Lessons Of Kobe Bryant

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To investors,

Kobe Bryant died yesterday in a helicopter crash. He was the most fierce competitor that professional sports has seen in my lifetime. But that isn’t the full story of the five time NBA world champion. Kobe Bryant was so much more.

He was a husband, a father, a son, a friend, and a hero to so many people around the world. The kid from Philadelphia grew from a high school basketball star that jumped straight to the NBA to one of the greatest basketball players in the history of the game. The things that he used to make that transition are well documented by the millions of people who looked up to him.

Here are a few quotes that have stuck with me over the years:

  • "When we are saying this cannot be accomplished, this cannot be done, then we are short-changing ourselves. My brain, it cannot process failure. It will not process failure. Because if I have to sit there and face myself and tell myself, 'You're a failure,' I think that is a worse, that is almost worse than death."

  • “The most important thing is you must put everybody on notice that you’re here and you are for real. I’m not a player that is just going to come and go. I’m not a player that is going to make an All-Star team one time, two times. I’m here to be an all-time great. Once I made that commitment and said, ‘I want to be one of the greatest ever’, then the game became everything for me.”

  • “I can’t relate to lazy people. We don’t speak the same language. I don’t understand you. I don’t want to understand you.”

  • "Leadership is lonely ... I'm not going to be afraid of confrontation to get us to where we need to go. There's a big misconception where people thinking winning or success comes from everybody putting their arms around each other and singing kumbaya and patting them on the back when they mess up, and that's just not reality. If you are going to be a leader, you are not going to please everybody. You have to hold people accountable. Even if you have that moment of being uncomfortable."

  • “These young guys are playing checkers. I'm out there playing chess.”

  • “I don't want to be the next Michael Jordan, I only want to be Kobe Bryant.”

  • “People just don’t understand how obsessed I am with winning.”

If you haven’t watched the Showtime special on Kobe Bryant (called Muse), I highly recommend it. It gives you an authentic look at the mentality, obsession, and lunacy of a world class competitor. But as I said in the beginning, Kobe wasn’t only a basketball player.

He took the same mentality that made him great at sports and applied it to every aspect of his life. He was obsessed with his four daughters and often talked fondly of them.

Kobe retired in 2016 and decided that he wanted to create a second act for himself. He began pursuing a career as a venture capitalist and as the CEO of a media production company. The description at Granity Studios makes their ambition very clear:

Formed by NBA Legend Kobe Bryant, Granity Studios is an award winning multimedia original content company focused on creating new ways to tell stories around sports. Stories that are crafted to entertain, by bringing education and inspiration together.

We partner with award-winning writers, producers and illustrators to awaken the imagination of young athletes and foster emotional and mental development that allows them to reach their full potential.

And the “Mamba Mentality” section of Kobe’s biography on the Bryant Stibel website illustrates his crossover from basketball to business:

Investing has become a true passion for me and building businesses is what I love. I come in each day and it’s dynamic, it’s different, and I’m learning.

To lead others, you have to constantly learn. I wouldn’t say my leadership style changed over the years. I like challenging people and making them uncomfortable. That’s what leads to introspection and that’s what leads to improvement. You could say I dare people to be their best selves.

That approach has never wavered – from basketball to business. What I did adjust, though, was how I varied my approach from player to player, business to business. I still challenge everyone and make them uncomfortable; I just do it in a way that is tailored to them. To learn what would work and for who, I do homework and watch how they behave. I learn their histories and listen to what their goals are. I learn what makes them feel secure and where their greatest doubts lay. Once I understand them, I can help bring the best out of them by touching the right nerve at the right time.

The obsession with greatness is obvious in everything that Kobe Bryant does. But what he taught all of us is so much more important than basketball. He showed us that we should never apologize for demanding excellence in everything we do. That what we do for a living shouldn’t define us. And that whether you are investing capital or hitting game winning shots, life is short and should be lived to the absolute fullest.

Kobe Bryant put it best when he said, “Haters are a good problem to have. Nobody hates the good ones. They hate the great ones.” There is only one reason why people, regardless of their sports allegiances, loved (and hated) Kobe — his pursuit of greatness knew no boundaries.

RIP to one of the greatest to ever live. Thanks for blessing the world with the Mamba mentality. An entire generation of humans are better off because of it.


Today’s newsletter is sponsored by eToro, a smart, simple, crypto trading platform. Join 11 million other traders by creating an account at Build your crypto portfolio the smart way.


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David Pakman is a Partner at Venrock, where he focuses on early-stage venture investing in consuming and enterprise tech companies with a recent focus on robotics, crypto, and consumer products. Formerly he was a Product Manager at Apple and was the co-creator of Apple’s Music Group. This conversation was a deep dive across various frontier technologies and showed why David is one of the best venture capitalists in the world.

In this conversation, David and I discuss:

  • His views on audio and voice

  • Artificial intelligence

  • Robotics

  • Competition on the internet

  • How crypto can disrupt venture capital

  • Why he’s so interested in the idea of crypto collectibles

I really enjoyed this conversation with David. Hopefully you enjoy it too.


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