Strategy Session: Will Ventures’ Play For The Entire Sports Market
Strategy Session is a feature for Crunchbase News where we ask venture capital firms five questions about their investment strategies.
The Boston-based firm’s Fund I is a $55 million fund that was oversubscribed and backed by university endowments, professional sports team owners and entrepreneurs. One of the fund’s first investments is Liteboxer, a connected fitness product that uses rhythm-based technology to create boxing workouts at home.
While the fund is focused exclusively on seed-stage startups at the intersection of sports and technology, Reilly and Kacyvenski say the firm’s thesis is much more than that.
Both spoke with Crunchbase News about Will Ventures’ investment strategy.
What drove you to start this fund?
Kacyvenski: Brian and I worked together about 10 years ago. Going back prior to that, I grew up in sports and medicine. I went to Harvard–my backup was to be a doctor–but did not give up on the dream of playing in the NFL and played eight years for the Seattle Seahawks. I started investing 17 years ago as an angel investor. Brian and I met back up, after working together at MC10, with the idea of starting something in the niche of sports, but opening it up to other markets, such as health care, fitness and the Internet of Things. We started out as entrepreneurs and then took steps to do research around sports and technology to start Will Ventures.
Reilly: Sports played a similar role in my life. I am a first-generation college student. Midway through school, we started at MC10 full time, and it was really a sports proving ground for health and media technology. We saw athletes as early adopters of technology because their bodies are a business and they are incentivized.
I was told that Will Ventures is exploring the intersection of sports and technology, but you say it is not a “sports tech fund.” Describe your thesis?
Kacyvenski: As we looked at markets, it always comes down to market size, opportunity and value-add. We invest in companies that can fit that venture profile. Rather than have a narrow definition of sports, we are pushing into a massive market. As you broaden the lens, you see what touches that and what companies and segments fit within.
Reilly: We are working really hard to redefine what it means to be a sports-centric investor. That means sports, entertainment and media. We are not investing in companies staying in sports, but creating a network in and around sports: High-growth technology and consumers that would benefit with relationships from sports.
One of your first investments was in Liteboxer. Tell us how that came about.
Kacyvenski: We were introduced to the team while it were still in stealth mode almost a year ago. We are bullish on connected fitness, and they were actively looking for differentiated players in this space. Todd and Jeff didn’t need outside capital, but after we got a sneak peak, you could see they were on to something special. We continued to track and follow them, and were already committed to leading their seed round prior to COVID.
Brian, you say that athletes are often early adopters of technology. Why is that?
Reilly: The demand on their bodies is greater. If you look at health and wellness products, prices need to come down. Elite athletes have the wealth to purchase them and the incentive to purchase them because their bodies are their business. They are also looking for big difference makers on the field, which means trying out new therapies.
What are you most excited about seeing come out of this new firm?
Reilly: One of the nice things having launched is the reaction from the community and key stakeholders that have reached out. We think we have worked hard for a decade to build out our network, and it is validating to see the excitement and enthusiasm around a fund in this space.
Kacyvenski: I think we can all agree that there is something special around doing something no one else has done. No one has defined the market like this. We are doing something truly unique. If you think about the kind of people who make a huge difference, they were able to take advantage of what was in front of them. The core of our business and why we love it is meeting and working with entrepreneurs who are working to make lives easier.
Headshots courtesy of Will Ventures