Athletes and founders are a perfect match, says Matt de Boer

November 18, 2022
Athletic Ventures Founder Matt de Boer
Former GWS player and Athletic Ventures Founder Matt de Boer

“Love the team. Love the boys. Love the pursuit. Love showing up. Love trying to get better. Love being a leader. Love trying to help the team to achieve,” Matt de Boer tells me.

Having recently retired as an AFL player for GWS, Matt is of course talking about his experience as an athlete. But when it comes down to it, the exact same phrasing could apply to what he’s spending his time on now: building Athletic Ventures.

In the simplest sense, Athletic Ventures is a group of elite athletes, led by Matt, which invests in some of Australia’s best startup companies — think Who Gives a Crap, Guzmen y Gomez, Heaps Normal and Eucalyptus. It’s an asset class that most individuals don’t have the opportunity or expertise to access, but Matt says that athletes supporting founders is a perfect match. 

“Founders are aligned with athletes with their mindsets. There are plenty of setbacks along the way, progress is not linear, but if you have the culture and the team you can win,” he says.

“We like being involved, we like trying to win with the teams in our portfolio. Founders and athletes are both high energy.”

And with 10 investments done in the last two years, a number of valuation uplifts, and Athletic Ventures’ collective of athlete-investors leveraging their profiles, mindsets and networks to support the companies they’ve backed, it’s obvious this high energy is infectious.

Balancing on-field with off-field

Being an AFL player is a full-time job. There’s twice-a-day training, gym, recovery, treatment, travel, game day, media interviews and sponsor commitments. Still, Matt started Athletic Ventures two years ago, and managed to balance it with his playing career. 

“All through high school, you study and you train. I went to uni and I studied and I trained and played. I got drafted and mum and dad said ‘you’re still studying uni, you’re not dropping out’. I always had this allocation of time that was for study and other personal development. I never really felt that having study or work impacted my sport. When I was there I was on, and everyone would attest to that. And when I went home I could study and improve myself there. I felt that moving forward in two different pursuits helped me.”

And while his parents might have set him on the path of balance, the science backs it up too. 

“There was a study ... a number of years ago that suggested that athletes that were doing something else meaningful off-field, it actually helped their on-field.”

“Paid does not equal professional,” Matt emphasises. “The hours you train, the character you display, that’s what makes you a pro.”

“The club you never have to leave”

Identity is one of the toughest things to let go of when you retire as an athlete.

‘I’m not good at anything anymore’, ‘I am nothing without my sport’ and ‘I’ll never find a career I’m as passionate about’ are all narratives retirees have to tackle and overcome. 

“Athletic Ventures has been helpful in having something else we can identify with,” Matt explains.

When I ask whether he’ll miss the game, he responds with appreciation for the past and excitement for the future.

“Will I miss it? Have I thought about whether I’ve made the right decision? But ultimately, I keep coming back to ‘it’s the right decision and I’m excited by what we're now starting to build with Athletic Ventures.’”

The word ‘team’ comes up more than any other when you speak with Matt. And his emotional retirement speech makes it clear how much he’ll miss them.

“The relationships I’ve got with my teammates, and the impact we’ve had on each other, is what I’m proud of,” he tells me.

“But some of those teammates are now part of Athletic Ventures so we’ll stay connected. Athletic Ventures is the club you never have to leave or retire from.”

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