Why NBA All-Star Damian Lillard’s First Startup Funding Was This Sneaker Market

Why NBA All-Star Damian Lillard’s First Startup Investment Was This Sneaker Marketplace

Balancing skilled basketball and entrepreneurship, Portland Path Blazers star Damian Lillard says he solely places his cash the place his values are. For his first startup funding, he selected Kicks Crew, a Hong Kong and New York Metropolis-based e-commerce firm backed by billionaire Richard Li that emphasizes “neighborhood.”

Accidentally shopping for counterfeit sneakers on-line drove Damian Lillard, a self-professed “sneakers man” and staunch critic of “fakes,” midway internationally to Hong Kong.

“I’ve had my very own procuring experiences with footwear, and simply realizing the way it goes, realizing how usually issues go unsuitable…it’s not all about simply attempting to ‘make the greenback,’” says Lillard, 32, in an interview from his suite at Hong Kong’s high-end Rosewood lodge. “It’s concerning the customer support, the place integrity is concerned, and character is concerned.”

This yr, Lillard was the Twenty fifth-highest-paid athlete on the earth, with pre-tax earnings of $58.6 million from the previous 12 months. Throughout eleven seasons, the seven-time NBA all-star and Portland Path Blazers level guard earned roughly $329 million, per Forbes estimates – by 2027, upon the expiration of his prolonged contract with the Blazers, he may have earned over $450 million. Off the courtroom, Lillard’s signature shoe line with Adidas stays the athletic gear firm’s high NBA sellers, now in its eighth yr.

Prioritizing “character” has formed his enterprise ventures, says Lillard, nicknamed Dame. In December 2021, he cofounded Transfer, an insole startup focusing on heel and midfoot stability, which he struggled with as a younger athlete. Backed by fellow NBA athletes Chris Paul and Jamal Crawford, Transfer claims its gross sales of $40 insoles reached $100,000 in its first month of operations.

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Lillard’s first and solely startup funding so far is Kicks Crew, an e-commerce platform for athletic footwear and attire dually headquartered in Hong Kong and New York Metropolis. Final November, he invested an undisclosed quantity in Kicks Crew’s $6.2 million Sequence A funding spherical. Led by Advanced China, Gobi Companions – which manages the Alibaba Entrepreneurs Fund – and Hong Kong billionaire Richard Li’s Pacific Century Group, the spherical introduced the startup’s whole funding to $7.2 million.

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Cofounded by Hong Kong native Johnny Mak and Ross Adrian Yip, a former enterprise improvement director at Los Angeles-based on-line sneaker market GOAT Group, Kicks Crew started in 2008 however pivoted to e-commerce in the beginning of the worldwide pandemic. To this point, Kicks Crew gives 400,000 types of sneakers, with manufacturers spanning sportswear staples like Nike and Adidas to luxurious manufacturers like Fendi and Louis Vuitton. Clients may browse types via Kicks Crew’s app, out there on the Apple App retailer and the Google Play retailer, the place it has over 10,000 downloads. Kicks Crew declined to reveal its newest income and web site visitors.

“Clients have many locations to decide on the place they need to store from,” says Yip, who serves as COO at Kicks Crew. “In case you can align your pursuits and your values to issues that individuals care about, that will be a multiplier for the enterprise.”

The NBA athlete’s partnership with the e-commerce firm took place via one in every of startup’s buyers, Hong Kong-based DL Securities. Joseph Lang, CEO of DL Securities, launched Yip to the pinnacle of Lillard’s company, Eric Goodwin of Goodwin Sports activities Administration. From there, Yip and Lillard hit it off. In Lillard’s personal phrases, his values embrace being relatable, “being genuine and being linked,” which resonated with Yip. “He’s had an affect on me personally, too,” the COO provides. “Once I take into consideration my challenges as a founder…there’s a lot trial and error, however one thing that Dame is understood for is consistency and being accountable.”

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For Lillard, Kicks Crew’s partnership has been a means for him to attach “on an actual degree” with folks in Asia. In mid-June, the California native visited Hong Kong for the second time since he began on the NBA in 2012; his first go to to Hong Kong occurred in 2017, as a part of an Adidas Asia tour. With Kicks Crew, Lillard coached highschool college students in gyms throughout lower-income areas of Kowloon, and performed in opposition to three members of Mirror, native Cantopop supergroup. To Lillard, these occasions aren’t publicity stunts, they’re real methods of constructing neighborhood: “I would like folks to really feel part of one thing, and I would like them to really feel linked to one thing that is not simply transactional,” he says.

Apart from occasions, the enterprise phrases of Lillard’s partnership with Kicks Crew are up within the air. The collaboration is “fairly fluid,” says Yip, and Lillard will stay within the recreation to “steer the potential of the corporate.” This features a larger emphasis on guaranteeing product authenticity, a problem plaguing the net sneaker market. Footwear stays one of many high classes of counterfeit shopper items globally, in line with a 2021 report from OECD; final yr, counterfeit items value the worldwide financial system over $500 billion a yr, in line with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

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To safeguard the legitimacy of its footwear and different attire, Kicks Crew depends on a B2B2C, or business-to-business-to-consumer, market mannequin: approved retailers record their stock on Kicks Crew, which the startup then markets to prospects world wide. With most of its 70 full-time workers primarily based in Hong Kong and Taiwan, the startup works with retailers primarily based in China, Europe, Japan, Korea and america. Kicks Crew claims to make use of radio frequency ID (RFID) tags to assist prospects verify particulars of their purchases. Trying forward, the startup plans to combine AI for customized strategies and develop in america, the place it says its essential competitor is public sale web site and e-commerce large eBay.

Lillard’s entrance into the realm of startup funding mirrors that of his NBA friends. Los Angeles Clippers guard Russell Westbrook, the world’s 14th-highest-paid athlete, has put his earnings in the direction of the patron expertise trade via an eponymous enterprise capital agency, Russell Westbrook Enterprises. Devin Booker, a guard for the Phoenix Suns and honoree of the 2022 Forbes 30 beneath 30 record, picked up stakes in seven startups after signing a five-year, $158 million contract extension with the Phoenix Suns in 2018.

Nonetheless, Lillard hasn’t broadcast grand ambitions. Whether or not he’s investing in startups or rapping as Dame D.O.L.L.A, his musical persona beneath which he’s launched 4 albums, the Portland Path Blazers star says he’s content material with not doing “loopy numbers.” He stays one of many few present-day athletes within the NBA that has by no means modified groups.

“My profession was constructed on forming that neighborhood of those who recognize and respect what I do and the way I do it,” Lillard says. “My position [at Kicks Crew] is being part of creating that sort of neighborhood, after which simply rising it from there.”


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