Investor Q&A: Beyond the Game Network Co-founder Brian Zwerner

Investor Q&A is an interview series with investors in the health, fitness, and wellness markets.

In this Q&A, you’ll hear from Brian Zwerner, co-founder of Beyond The Game Network, an investment group of pro athletes and business execs. Brian explains the benefit of having former pros at the table, their investment criteria, and notable deals, including Future, Oura, and Eight Sleep.

Can you tell us about Beyond The Game Network?

BZ: Beyond The Game Network is a group of 30+ pro athletes and business executives that invest in startups across fitness, sports, media, gaming, and web3. Over the last three years, we have made 17 investments.

Personally, I spent 20 years in capital markets roles at large investment banks and then ran two startups as a founder, one of which was in the high school sports space. That’s where I met my co-founder Andre Fluellen. He played eight years in the NFL and had the idea that sparked Beyond The Game. Together, we wanted to build a network to help athletes find exciting second careers.

Once we invest, our athlete team helps the companies with brand promotion and introductions to sports teams and leagues.

Do you have specific investment criteria?

BZ: Our group invests in DTC companies in our target sectors. We generally invest in seed to Series B companies raising rounds with a VC lead in place. While we don’t lead rounds—our typical check size is $100–200K—we won’t invest unless we see a way to add significant value to each of our portfolio companies through our athlete network.

More specifically, we consider key factors across Sector, Leadership, and Traction.

Leveraging our athlete network, we focus on companies in sports, media, and consumer products/technology sectors — where our team can help startups to gain access to end consumers.

Assessing leadership, we look for problem-solving founders who have a passion for and deep expertise in their chosen sector.

While not a strict requirement, we prefer companies with paying customers and established recurring revenue. Most of the companies we invest in have achieved this type of meaningful traction, but we can selectively consider earlier investments against our group’s criteria.

What’s the firm’s thesis as it relates to health and fitness?

BZ: In the fitness and wellness space, there are a few key themes we are investing in currently. We believe that everyone is an athlete at some level, and everyone wants to be the best version of themselves.

This means that people will want to understand their bodies at a deeper level and optimize their performance through proper training and recovery. The athletes in our group have experience with this, having access to expert coaches in their sport, training, and nutrition.

We believe in the power of coaching and that people want the best tools to reach their best performance. We are focused on finding amazing companies building for these two themes.

Do you use any frameworks or filters to evaluate potential investments?

BZ: Going back to leadership, our group tends to favor founders that have deep expertise in the problems they are working to solve.

We seek out founders that have worked in the industry they are trying to disrupt, who have deep connections with potential customers and partners, and understand their market significantly better than their competition. Moreover, being deeply passionate and mission-driven are characteristics we value.

We are much more likely to invest in founders that fit these criteria than someone that just woke up one day with an interesting idea.

Can you share a few notable investments you’ve made and your rationale for investing?

BZ: We invested in Eight Sleep, who is revolutionizing the concept of sleep as fitness. They have built an amazing smart mattress that optimizes your sleep and gives you the rest you need to conquer the day.

Similarly, we invested in Oura Ring, which allows users to monitor their body via sensors to better optimize performance.

On the coaching side, we are investors in Future, which pairs users with a highly qualified fitness trainer to build their workout plans.

All three of these investments fit perfectly with our theme: Everyone is an athlete looking to achieve their best results. All of them had amazing founding teams in place when we invested. Their founders are motivated to build a healthier world. And they built differentiated products and had strong investor groups in place by the time we met them.

The decision to work with these companies was easy for us. We said “yes” to all three on the first call.

What’s your process for sourcing deals? How can a founder get on your radar?

BZ: With over 30 former pro athletes in our group, we see a different type of deal flow than most venture groups. Our athletes get opportunities for us through a large range of business associates. We also maintain relationships with over 100 venture firms that share startups with us and appreciate having our athlete team on the cap table.

With most of our team in Atlanta, we are a part of the most diverse tech ecosystem in the country. We are so excited that more than half of our portfolio companies have minorities or women in the founding team.

And we welcome all founders to reach out via our website or to connect directly with me on LinkedIn to start a conversation.

Are there specific concepts or categories you’d like to invest in?

BZ: Since investing in Future over two years ago, we have been looking for a low-cost alternative for people looking to build and track their workouts. Future offers an amazing service, but this is a premium product that’s not a reality for every consumer. We’d love to find a company that can bring similar benefits using AI to a mass market.

With our investments in Eight Sleep and Oura, we have seen the power of data to inform decisions around sleep, recovery, activity, and fitness. We think consumers would benefit from a product that could bring disparate device data together into a holistic view. We have evaluated a few companies working to do this and are looking for the killer app in this area.

Lastly, we are active investors in web3 in the gaming and entertainment sectors. We are beginning to see startups working to bring web3 concepts to fitness and health, which is an exciting development we expect to explore this year.

If you’re interested in joining us for an Investor Q&A, send an email to team@fitt.co.