Brian Zwerner is an experienced investor, entrepreneur, and business advisor. He is a founding member and a leader on the investment committee of Beyond The Game Network, a group of athletes and business execs in Atlanta that work with and invest in startups.
Zwerner is the founder of Sportal, a startup in the sports industry. He managed the growth of Aquina Health through a Series A capital raise. He has invested in or held senior roles with a number of companies and funds. Previously Zwerner spent 20 years in investment banking roles in the US and overseas.
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Let’s learn a little about you and really get to experience what makes us tick – starting at our beginnings. Where did your story begin?
Brian Zwerner: I studied finance at The Wharton School for my undergraduate education. I was fascinated by the higher level math in pricing of bonds and derivatives. When I graduated college, I started my career at First Union in derivatives sales and trading. It was exciting and challenging work. Building on the knowledge I gained in school, I worked hard to learn about increasingly complex securities pricing models and trading trillions of dollars in the global financial markets with the largest banks and asset managers.
Was there somebody in your life that inspired you to take that specific journey with your business?
Brian Zwerner: My first boss out of college was Steve Kohlhagen. Steve told me “you can never be too aggressive pushing for opportunities in your career”. He wanted to inspire me to always try to take on new challenges and be the best I could in every task I tackled. This had a big impact on my career as I moved rapidly between groups in the early days, with each new step bringing additional responsibilities.
What are the most common mistakes you see entrepreneurs make and what would you suggest they do?
Brian Zwerner: I speak to hundreds of entrepreneurs every year, and I think I have seen pretty much every mistake in the book. Many first time business founders don’t take the time to understand what they are getting themselves into when they start a new business. They underestimate the personal financial hardship and sacrifices, and they think it will be easy to raise money to fund the launch. Entrepreneurship is really hard. To be successful, you need to have grit and drive, and also a deep passion to make your business a winner.
Is there a particular podcast you listened to, or business thought leader that you find helpful while maneuvering this pandemic?
Brian Zwerner: I am a huge podcast listener. I probably listen to 20 episodes each week, maybe more. I love learning from the entrepreneurs that are regular guests on shows like How I Built This and Masters of Scale. Both of these shows have told great stories of resilience and flexibility during the pandemic. I also often seek out episodes with established leaders in the venture capital industry from shows like 20 Minute VC and Invest Like the Best. From these shows, I have heard how the most experienced investors are making decisions on new opportunities and what they are advising their portfolio companies during these difficult economic times.
When you think of your company, 5 years from now, what do you see?
Brian Zwerner: Beyond The Game Network is a group of 30+ former pro athletes connected with business and tech executives based in Atlanta, Georgia. In five years, I expect we will have established the same penetration in 10 major cities throughout the country. We will have a powerful group of 500+ former pros and will be working with hundreds of amazing startups nationwide.
What do you consider are your strengths when dealing with staff workers, colleagues, senior management, and customers?
Brian Zwerner: I think one of my greatest strengths is the ability to take complex concepts and break them down for any audience. I can go deep on topics with senior management or customers when the scenario calls for that type of discussion. I can also take a very difficult technical discussion and make it easy for staff or colleagues who may not have any experience with the subject.
What have you learned about personal branding that you wish you had known earlier in your career?
Brian Zwerner:When I first started my career in the mid-1990s, the internet was just getting started. As I was reaching senior management roles in the banking sector, social media was just bursting onto the scene. I wish I had known how powerful social media would become at defining the personal brand of leaders. I would have put more time into sharing my thoughts on financial markets and opportunities to establish myself as a thought leader on social platforms. Doing this could have created amazing opportunities for me today.
What’s your favorite leadership style and why?
Brian Zwerner: I like to lead by defining big, exciting, audacious goals, and then showing my team the path to achieve those goals. Rallying the business behind a big idea of the future has been the most successful for me all along my career. I was able to do this in banking and in the two startups I ran, and I am doing this again at Beyond The Game Network now.
What advice would you give to our younger readers that want to become entrepreneurs?
Brian Zwerner: For young people looking to get into entrepreneurship, I advise you to do your homework before jumping in. Make sure you understand what you are getting into and are prepared for the trials and tribulations of starting a business. Do the work to validate that your business idea is differentiated and test to make sure you have the right resources to make it a success. Find the right people to partner with you before you get into the deep end of the entrepreneurship pool. Most of all, have fun! Entrepreneurship is an exciting and rewarding experience. Even if you don’t become rich from your business, you will learn skills that will help you in an endeavor you tackle in the future.
What’s your favorite “leadership” quote and how has it affected the way you implement your leadership style?
Brian Zwerner: One of my favorite leadership quotes is “layups are fun!” I first used this when coaching youth basketball. Every player on the team wanted to make crazy hard shots, but every basket counts for the same number of points. I always had to remind the players that “layups are fun”, to take the easy opportunities to score. I use this all of the time in my business life too. I constantly remind my team to take the easy wins, put the points on the board, and move on to the next challenge. Not every solution needs to be fancy or groundbreaking. Take the layup when it is available and you’ll win long term.
Rey Perez, VIP Contributor to ValiantCEO and the host of this interview would like to thank Brian for taking the time to do this interview and share his knowledge and experience with our readers.
If you would like to get in touch with Brian or his company, you can do it through his – Linkedin Page
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