Alex Bente, former competitive tennis player, co-founder of leAD Sports (the world’s leading sports tech investment platform), and Principle of ADvantage Sports Tech Fund joins me on the podcast today.
My great-grandfather was the founder of adidas. He was mostly just super-focused on innovation in sports and that looked very much different 100 years ago than it does today.” – Alex Bente
We discussed Alex’s life growing up in Switzerland, life and business lessons from the game of tennis, his legendary great-grandfather who founded adidas, and his hugely impressive career in business and investing.
Alex is a hilarious, serious, and successful man. His down-to-earth and extremely hard-working attitude shines through in everything he does, which is impressive for someone who came from such a successful family. He has never taken that privilege for granted, and he’s built an incredible legacy in his own right.
In this episode we talked about:
- What betting on yourself means to him
- His childhood growing up in Switzerland
- The legacy of his famous great-grandfather
- Business and life lessons from tennis
- Developing character through sports
- Why business is about being good and fair to others
- Overcoming the expectations placed on him
- The downsides of coming from a famous family
- The impact of COVID on sports tech investing
- The future of sports technology and investing
- The danger of overanalyzing opportunities in life
- The advice he’d give his sixteen-year-old self
- And a lot more!
If you’re a fan of the show don’t forget to follow to hear new episodes and Rate or Review us wherever you tune in!
Alex Bente: ... that helped me also, I think really then develop all these traits. And now I think in business, it's exactly the same. But I very much believe in the power of teamwork and that all of us together are a lot better than each and every one would be individually. It is about fairness. And I truly believe that being good and fair to other people will ultimately in the long run, come back in a good way.
Michael Redd: Hey everybody, this is Michael Redd. And welcome to the Betting On Yourself podcast, where I interview successful entrepreneurs, athletes, and other top performers who rose to the top, took success into their own hands, and bet on themselves.
Michael Redd: Today. I'm talking with my friend and business partner, Alex Bente former competitive tennis player, co-founder of leAD Sports, the world's leading sports tech investment platform and principal of ADvantage Sports Tech Fund. In this episode, we talk about his life growing up in Switzerland, life and business lessons, and the game of tennis, his legendary great-grandfather who founded Adidas, and his hugely impressive career in business and investing. Alex is hilarious, serious, and successful man. His down to earth and extremely hardworking attitude shines through in everything he does, which is impressive for someone who came from such a successful family. He has never taken that privilege for granted and has built an incredible legacy in his own right. Here's my conversation with Alex Bente.
Michael Redd: Alex, thank you so much for joining the podcast. It's been something that I've been waiting for, for a long time, and it's a real honor to have you on, but-
Alex Bente: Thank you so much, Mike. I've been waiting for the invitation for a long time. Well, I'm just kidding.
Michael Redd: For all the listeners, Alex and I have been knowing each other for, I don't know, two and a half years now and we kid around a lot. So we'll get into that when we get into the podcast, but nah man, it's an honor to have you on and your resume is incredible. Your family heritage is incredible. And for those who are listening, Alex, he is the co-founder of leAD, which I'm a part of, and also the principal for ADvantage Sports Tech Fund, and we'll get into all that when we continue in the podcast. Alex you know the theme of the podcast, we've known each other for a couple of years now. And I wanted to ask you first and foremost, what has it meant for you in your journey in your life to bet on yourself?
Alex Bente: Yes, and it's actually a good question that got me to think, right? Because I obviously you knew that you were going to ask me that question and I didn't just want to just have to wing it. So I did think about that the last couple of days and weeks, and obviously I was very fortunate in a sense that I was born in a family that had a long legacy in sports and that had a successful business behind it, right? And so when I think about my youth and where I grew up in. I grew up in Switzerland, for all of those that are listening. Obviously it was not really a materialistic or monetary or financial thing that drove me to bet on myself, right? I was very fortunate that I did have parents that supported me in whatever I wanted to do.
Alex Bente: So it was much more about something else, but it was much more of a passion and then thinking about, "Okay, what do you want to do with your life? When you grow up what do you want the people to remember you for? What is really the passion that you have?" So it's much more about I think an intrinsic motivation than any extrinsic factors. And I think that led me to where I am today, but it was always very clear to me that I love sports, it was in my blood. I played soccer, I played tennis and chose tennis. Tennis is a sport where I think you have to bet on yourself all the time in order to win. I know that you played tennis as well, right?
Alex Bente: I was always someone that in the biggest moments, I always chose to bet on myself and not just play, not to lose. But there are a lot of other people that were just trying not to miss. I was actually in the biggest moments, always trying to actually win it, not to lose it. And then, yeah, obviously I didn't realize, yes, I would have been willing to bet on myself in sports, in tennis, but then also being realistic that I wasn't quite good enough. Tennis is so tough when it comes to making it, to really make a career out of this because they're only really 50 to maybe a hundred players globally that make enough money to support their lives. And then that led me to business and academia initially.
Alex Bente: And then right after that, once I had my master's degree... Also, I mean, a lot of the people told me, "Oh, you should just go to work for a bank, work for consulting firms. Okay, get experience first, before really starting something on your own or doing something with the family." But I was just listening to my heart and really felt like, "No, it's what I really want to do, what I'm passionate about. The mark that I want to leave is not working for a company. No, it is creating something new and it's creating something that even builds on this unique legacy that we were given." And that is my great-grandfather and I'm sure we'll get into what he did in more detail soon.
Alex Bente: But yeah, so I don't know if that all made sense, but those are some of the thoughts that I have, when I thought about, "Okay, what did it mean to me to bet on myself." And I think it ultimately led me to where I am today and certainly also, I think a lot of learnings along the way.
Michael Redd: It takes a lot of courage to bet on yourself too, right Alex?
Alex Bente: Yes sure. I think there's so many parallels between... You can pick any sport just in my case, you will hear a lot of comparisons with tennis, but it isn't a sense if you're in a tie break in the first set and every point matters. So it does take courage to [inaudible 00:06:33]. It does, it is easier just to, "Okay, let me play a conservative serve and let's see what the opponent does."
Alex Bente: Because some of my coaches told me, "Hey, most people will beat themselves if you just give them a chance to," but I was never really a fan of that mentality. I always felt like, no, this is a moment where you have to step up, where you have to bet on yourself and you can do it. But if you practice it a million times, but it's not just about having the courage to do it. So I agree. And I think there's so many parallels between sports and business or life in general in that sense that you can apply that to many of my other decisions that I've made as well.
Michael Redd: Yeah. At some point we got to play tennis. I know you're a world-class athlete tennis player. So at some point we got to get together.
Alex Bente: I wouldn't go quite that far. I wouldn't [crosstalk 00:07:25] it's a stretch, but I can play the ball.
Michael Redd: No, I know you can. About tennis, is there any lessons that you've learned from tennis that apply to what you're doing now in venture and your business life?
Alex Bente: Yes. A lot, actually. And if I look back at my life and I think also what I learned along the way, it is safe to say that I think I learned more of the important, truly important lessons for my character or business through sports than in school. But in school, they obviously teach you a lot of the knowledge that you should have, the general knowledge of chemistry or you name it. But I feel like, that is not really what will make you successful then in life or in business. I think what will make you successful are these core traits to your character and that is teamwork. That is discipline. That is, I think fairness to a degree, right. And [inaudible 00:08:27] definitely fairness, right, and I think in all of these lessons, sports is the perfect way for a young person to learn about, "Okay, what does it actually take to peak fair, right?
Alex Bente: It's not always easier, but what does it take to be a good team player? What does it take to be disciplined? Sports is a very good path to learn all of this because ultimately sports is a very clear and honest experience, quite specifically in tennis. If you think about soccer, when I played soccer there was always the discussion right after a game that we lost. "Oh, this teammate messed up or, it wasn't my fault," but in tennis, it's you. It's you against another player and if you lose, yes, you can try to blame the weather or whatever it is, but ultimately, you were not good enough.
Alex Bente: And why was that? And I think that that helped me also, I think really then develop all these traits. And now I think in business, it's exactly the same, but I very much believe in the power of teamwork and that all of us together are a lot better than each and everyone would be individually.
Alex Bente: It is about fairness. And I truly believe that being good and fair to other people will ultimately, in the long run, come back in a good way, right. That if you treat the people you want to be treated, that will in the long run, be good for you and for your career. And then obviously discipline, I mean, I don't have to tell you how important discipline is in sports, but same thing for business, right? It is about all the details, all the things that you do when no one is watching, as they always say, that enable you to then do what everyone sees. And that is in all these hours, we have a presentation or an important meeting. I mean, all of the preparations the night before, and the details that you look at, that's what will lead to success.
Alex Bente: And no one really sees that, but that's so important that you have just the right process and the right state of mind. So ultimately that's why I'm such a big believer in sport and the power of sports and why sports is so important for societies in general. That's why I'm so passionate doing what we do today, which is investing in technologies that make sure sports stays relevant. And we love doing sports even in the future because so many life lessons can be learned from that. So yeah, I know that was a lengthy answer, but a very important point.
Michael Redd: No, I mean, that's who you are and that's where you come from with your family. And speaking of your family, let's talk about your family heritage, you are the great grandson of Adi Dassler, who is the founder or was the founder of Adidas. What was it like growing up with that family heritage?
Alex Bente: Honestly, and I don't want to complain, but it wasn't easy specifically in... I feel like in Europe or in certain parts of Europe, it's a little different from mentality than U.S, right? In the U.S if you were successful, people look up to you and they're not as jealous, maybe from a culture point of view as maybe some people in Europe could be. Not all of them, but you always want to be very much understatement in Europe because you do not want people to know, that you were successful in the past or that you're part of a successful family, right. And I think in general, as a young person growing up, that was one of my biggest challenges, that people see me as Alex Bente.
Alex Bente: And it is, to a degrees still today. I don't want to be seen as, "Oh, yes, you are the great grandson." No, I want to be seen as myself and as hopefully a legacy that I create on my own. I mean, it's going to be very tough, but it's not even my goal to match the legacy of my great-grandfather. What he did was unbelievable. And he shaped the sports industry the way we all know it today. But it's really, I think as a young person, I wanted nothing more than just people to like me or not like me, because of who I am. And not just be nice to me because they think they could get some pair of Adidas shoes or not like me because, I grew up in obviously a privileged way to a degree.
Alex Bente: And so, yeah, I think as a young person, it wasn't easy but my dad was always very clear. And then my parents were generally very supportive and saying, "Hey, just be yourself, obviously don't tell the people about the background. I mean, if they really need it, they will find out if they want to anyway. And then the good people, the ones that truly you should be around, they will see you for who you are, and the others you can forget about them, don't care about them." And then that's honestly something that took a lot of time for me to realize that, to see it that way, because I always felt like, I needed to be liked by everyone. But it's ultimately some people, they see your background and they just have their issues with it for whatever reason.
Alex Bente: But, I think all in all, all of these experiences led me to where I am today and all of these lessons made me to where I am today. Again, I don't want to make this seem like I'm complaining, not at all. It was just, as a young person now looking back, there's a lot of insecurities. Sometimes it wasn't easy, right? If you notice that people really reduce you to who your great grandfather was. And funny story, Mike, actually most of my best friends that I still have today from Switzerland, they didn't know about the Adidas background for the first two years, I would say. They didn't know about it. It's not something that I obviously told them, right. They may have noticed that I wear Adidas shoes all the time, but that can have other reasons, and they didn't really care about it.
Alex Bente: They just saw me as Alex Bente. They liked spending time with me. And that's ultimately all I wanted and not all the other reasons that people would maybe then want to be nice to you.
Michael Redd: I mean, I don't mean to cut you off, but I think knowing you for the last two and a half years and your family, you're just beautiful people. And I think you guys are building upon the foundation your grandfather laid more than anything. And his ceiling is your floor. And even when it comes to his legacy, as part of the motivation with leAD and also leading into ADvantage, leAD as the accelerator, that I'm a part of with you and privileged to be a part of. And ADvantage, again, is the venture fund that I'm a venture partner of with you as being the principal. Talk about those two, the accelerator and the fund/
Alex Bente: Sure. I'm happy to give a quick background. And then obviously, maybe this is probably the time also to give a little more history when it comes to who my great grandfather was. Obviously the founder of Adidas but he was mostly just super focused on innovation in sports. And that looked very much different a hundred years ago than it is today. But back then, there was no artificial intelligence. There was no fantasy sports, or you name it or e-sports. Back then Sports Tech was thinking about producing shoes specifically for sports. No one did that when he started, no one even saw the need for that when he started. I think all the people thought, "Hey, why am I not just wearing my regular shoes for sports? Why would I pay extra money for specific shoes?" But he was very passionate about that and started creating a business initially with his brother, and then they split up, he found Puma and he found Adidas.
Alex Bente: And ever since that split, why did Adidas develop the way it did? It was because of his innovation. He was incredibly passionate working with athletes, helping them through mostly the right shoes, but also other equipment then later to perform better at whatever sport it is. Be it initially soccer, but then ice hockey or whatever it might be. So transporting that into today's world was very important for us, right? His passion, his legacy in sports innovation. And we were very sure that if he was still alive, he would be investing in the Adidas of today's world. People that have innovative ideas to change the way we watch sports, improve athletic performance, improve health, recovery, you name it. And also even new sports formats and that then led us to creating leAD Sports, which stands for legacy of Adidas sports. And it's really the umbrella company or the holding company of, as you mentioned, the accelerator that we have in accelerators.
Alex Bente: It's two now, one in Berlin, one in Lake Norman in the U.S. But also then the seed investments that we do in the best companies coming out of the accelerators and all the way to, obviously the ADvantage fund that you just mentioned, where I am, that's my focus. And I'm privileged to be a part of, obviously alongside you, a great team that focuses on series Amo [inaudible 00:18:04] s that's onwards. And yeah, all of this again, is to make sure that my great grandfather is remembered in the right way. We wanted to make sure that people don't just remember the company that he created, but also him as a person with this amazing legacy in sports. And obviously also to leverage the investment potential that we saw in the markets. We know sports very well. We know how large of a business sports is.
Alex Bente: And we saw five, six years ago, the potential for technological disruption across the board. And that is on all levels. And I think since then, I've been proven right? If you look at the market and how much capital has been invested in this space and yeah, I mean, COVID only accelerated many of these trends that technologist become even more important. But yeah, I mean, I hope that answers your questions.
Michael Redd: Yeah.
Alex Bente: Maybe typically the accelerator is focused on very early stage entrepreneurs. It's a hands-on approach of investing. They come to our offices for six months to get access to everything that they need in these early stages. And then obviously we then invest, the later the focus is, the more it's to a more traditional venture capital model where we invest larger sums.
Alex Bente: And it's obviously in already established teams, established products with usually some revenue traction already. So yeah, but really I think our vision and our goal is to be able to use this entire platform to support Sports Tech entrepreneurs, no matter which stage they're at. The idea stage all the way through pre IPO, that is a thing, the big vision that we have, that we want to have really a platform that is super flexible. And then as long as you are a very good entrepreneur, have a great idea, have a great business, we will be able to work with you on a global scale.
Michael Redd: Yeah, I've been exposed to such creative, incredible technologies and founders. It's been amazing. And you're right, the percentages are very low for a seed company to make it to a A round. So we provide a level of support to help that. Can talk about that for a second?
Alex Bente: Yes, exactly. I mean, that's what we saw, if you're talking about the evolution of leAD Sports as a platform, right. Initially we started with the accelerators that I just explained and then also made some follow on investments in the seed stage and the best companies that come out of this accelerator programs. But then looking at the overall market, we saw that the sports tech entrepreneurs really have a challenge, and this has changed fortunately.
Alex Bente: But back in 2017, it was much more of an issue that they didn't really that good access to series A capital, usually the stage where these companies for the first time raise capital from institutional investors. And we just saw the needs specifically on a global scale outside of the U.S, for a dedicated fund that can provide this first dedicated institutional type investments to these companies.
Alex Bente: Because there were a lot of increasingly talented entrepreneurs that were attracted to sports because of some of the success stories and really some good seed opportunities. And then having seed or companies that had raised seed capital from [inaudible 00:21:26] investors, professional athletes, you name it, that were then looking for a more significant five to $10 million round. But obviously, in many cases. They didn't have the business traction yet to go after the more generalist venture capitalists and investors. They always said to come back to us once you can show that attraction. And that's really what we saw, that's the market need that we saw and the opportunities that we saw from an investor point of view. I mean, talking about right now, Mike, it's obviously a lot of things have changed, but it's more and more dedicated funds have popped up all over the world.
Alex Bente: And you can see investment flowing into our space from pretty much anywhere, right? It's a generalist Q1 [inaudible 00:22:12] funds, feels like investing in sports tech or fitness tech companies every week now, which is a great development. So I think the passion for the industry, we definitely don't see it in a competitive way, but I'm just really glad that this gets more and more capital to space and a lot of validation. And we're happy to be core invested alongside many of these investors now entering the market. And definitely provides more and more opportunities for entrepreneurs, which is great.
Michael Redd: And I want you to expand on this a little bit. Who's more inclined to invest into these funds sports team owners, the officers?
Alex Bente: Into these specifically-
Michael Redd: Yeah, the sports space, sports tech space.
Alex Bente: So in the funds or in the sports tech space?
Michael Redd: I would say both.
Alex Bente: Again in 2017, 16, 17, when we really started looking at the market opportunity for ADvantage, it was clearly investors that had already assets in sports and saw strategic angles for them. But it was mostly, I would say the family offices behind team owners and so on. But that again has changed significantly now. I mean, obviously there's still a lot of strategic players in the sports world that are missing now in technology. I mean, everyone coming out of COVID, I think realizes how important technology is. It's arguably more important than ever.
Alex Bente: But the good thing is really having to see across the board from regular family offices, that are now seeing the potential in the market, success stories like Peloton, Total, DraftKings FanDuel, they do help because they show that it is possible to create category defining businesses. Multibillion-dollar businesses in the sports world, fitness world, health world. And that really led to, again, generally focused, receive funds, family offices, and even institutional investors, to look at sports now and has really led to the overall growth of the ecosystem.
Michael Redd: The impact of COVID, good or bad. Talk about that.
Alex Bente: I feel weird saying that it can't be something good, but I think COVID because it was such a terrible thing to happen to the entire world. But so many people-
Michael Redd: Absolutely.
Alex Bente: ... are suffering and lost their lives, unfortunately. But obviously if you talk about sports, how was COVID sports? It was bad, I would say, right? Because the leagues, the teams, I mean, even as a fan... I know we spoke about that last year. I mean, I didn't know what to do with myself anymore. There was no sports on TV. There was nothing to watch for a while there. And obviously the revenues got disrupted for all players. So it was really bad for sports there for a while. And thankfully now it looks like we're slowly coming back. Also the fans being able to be in stadiums, but from sports tech, as a sports tech investor, it was very good. It was great.
Alex Bente: And again, I feel very weird saying that, but it just accelerated the need for technology or digital experiences on many levels. And we talk about obviously, connected fitness all the time, how that took over. I mean, it was something that was here already before COVID, and all the gyms closed and people still wanted to stay in shape. It was just a time for growth and I think even on the fan experience, the fans can't be physically in the stadium themselves, digital experiences become more important and thinking [inaudible 00:26:02] sports, specifically eSports and gaming engagement numbers, but they also increased quite a bit over the last year as a form of entertainment. People had more free time. They didn't have to commute two hours a day to work. Now you could just stay at home and have much more free time.
Alex Bente: And that all obviously also increased the engagement numbers on that end. But yeah, so I would say that it's been a terrible thing, but technology is certainly one of the winners. And I think what I will say is it's interesting now, how all of this will evolve now, as we hopefully get out of COVID. How many of these digital only experiences will continue to grow versus brick and mortar? How will that bounce back? It's a very interesting discussion to have and we'll see how... I have my point of view on certain elements, but it's going to be fascinating to see how that actually turns out.
Michael Redd: We've had these conversations and we have them every Monday when we have our talks, but you're a 100% right. There was nothing that was good, that came out of COVID overall. But there was opportunity for technology to emerge and innovation and creativity. What's next for you?
Alex Bente: What is next for me? Wow. That's a good question. I feel like as you know, I became a father last year, so that is certainly now priority number one, that was a very... I think, a great change to my life and it just adds perspective to everything else. So I think what's next for me is definitely being a great parent first and foremost. But obviously when it comes to business, we have many cool goals that we try to achieve in the short, mid to longterm. And again, most important, it's about the team. It is a privilege to work with the team that we have assembled here. And I very much look forward to actually meet everyone in person again. We've had Jeremy on probably a couple of months ago now.
Alex Bente: And I just saw Jeremy for the first time in over a year, a couple of weeks ago. And it was almost weird to see him in front of me, not on Zoom. So I think that is something I very much look forward to. And again, we can go into more details what is next on the business side, but I think life is very good right now with the family, with the little one. He's doing very well and that's most important. And business is, as you said, a lot of opportunity ahead of us and I look forward to taking advantage of all of these opportunities, hopefully in some shape or form.
Michael Redd: That's the exact answer that Christoph had, seeing each other again, and we haven't seen each other for so long but as far as in person. So it would be great to just reconnect with you and Christoph and the whole team and Jeremy, obviously I just can't wait. So last question from me is, if you had to go back to your 16 year old self, what advice would you give your 16 year old self?
Alex Bente: Oh, wow. Yeah, that's a good question. I think that's when I was still very much in tennis mode, but yes, I did go to school. I did have good grades, but I mean, my life was purely focused on tennis at that point in time. Sitting in school, I couldn't wait until the school was done and I could finally go practice again and then play tournaments on the weekend. And if I think about that, that was the part of my life where I was not self confident enough. I feel like I was doubting myself too much in everything that I did. I always felt like, I was in a way very insecure about, okay, how good am I in tennis? How good am I in school? What should be my goals?
Alex Bente: Right. And then I think looking back, what I would tell me is to really believe in myself even more and to bet on myself and ultimately that has been really... I think then once I was in my early 20s, that's when I really, I think made that step to believe more in myself and to bet more on myself. But back then, I could tell you many stories, but we don't have time today, that before tournaments, I did way too much research on potential opponents. But I looked at the draw and research on who's the number one seed and who has he played that I have played? And I over-analyzed. I should've just be way more confident about my game and say, "Hey, listen, this is how I play. This is how I play when I win."
Alex Bente: And if I'm going to do this, I can do this very well. And if it's not good enough, then the other player will have to play very well to beat me, but it's fine if that happens. But I was just over-analyzing way too much. And I think, little insecure still and I think, not quite sure also where everything was headed. But yeah, I think if I look back and quite frankly, to any 16 year old is really, find out what you're most passionate about and believe in yourself and then bet on yourself. And I think that's why your podcast is also so cool. This is really to hear all these stories, how people needed to bet on themselves to be successful, to be where they are. I think it's a great lesson.
Michael Redd: Well, you embody the podcast in a lot of ways, and I wanted this to be about you and your journey. And I'm so proud of you and proud to be a partner with you and all the things that we're doing together. So thank you again, Alex for being on the podcast.
Alex Bente: Thank you so much for having me on mate and yeah, I can very much echo what you just said. It's a true privilege to be working alongside you and I can't wait to finally play tennis on whichever court it is. I actually played tennis on grass for the first time in my life, a couple of weeks ago. So that was fun. [crosstalk 00:32:07].
Michael Redd: Of course, faster, right? A little faster.
Alex Bente: It's so different. It's a different sport.
Michael Redd: It is.
Alex Bente: It's fun.
Michael Redd: It is. We'll make it happen soon. So again, thank you man. And thank you for listening to Betting On Yourself.
Alex Bente: Thank you. Appreciate it.
Michael Redd: Wow. What a story. And I have a strong feeling that for Alex, it's only just begun. I realize how fortunate I am to know him and to be able to call him my friend and business partner. Thank you for coming on the show Alex. You can follow him on LinkedIn by searching his name, Alex Bene. Thanks for listening, until next time. I'm Michael Redd. And remember, betting on yourself is the secret to your success.
Sign up to receive email updates
Enter your name and email address below and I'll send you periodic updates about the podcast.