Episode 199: Unlocking Success - Jon Harris Reveals How to Transition Athletes to Post-Sports CareersSep 06, 2023
Jon Harris serves as Chief Executive Officer of AthLife®, which was initially established in 2004 to provide educational and career advising services to post-professional, professional and collegiate athletes. Current partners include the NFL Players Association, The Players Trust (powered by the NFL Players Association), NBA, National Basketball Retired Players Association, NBA Players Legacy Fund, MLS, MLB Players Association, and the NHL. On an average day, more than 650 current and former professional athletes are in service with AthLife advisors working on one-to one career fundamentals and educational advising.
For more than 19 years, AthLife has also created and executed in-person programs for professional sports teams and more than 40 college and university athletic departments. In that time, AthLife Unlimited evolved as a division of AthLife to work with sport and entertainment brands to deepen their relationship with fans, including a now 15 year relationship with Marvel Entertainment, while also building and launching the company hustl. To create NIL opportunities in the world of sport and entertainment.
Jon also serves as Board President of The AthLife Foundation, a non-profit aimed providing support and resources to kids in our nation’s most challenged but promising communities. As of 2023, the Foundation has raised and distributed more than a million dollars to high schools, along with training and supporting the academic coaches in 15 states while annually impacting more than 10,000 deserving kids that play sports. He is also a founding member of the Foundation for Teamwork, home of the Joe Moore Award, that recognizes the best offensive line unit in college football, and recently joined the board of The Institute of Sport and Social Justice where he got his start in 1995 as an intern.
Prior to forming AthLife, Jon served as Manager of Player Development for the National Football League, where he was hired to establish and manage the NFL's Continuing Education Program. The program was designed to assist active NFL players with all aspects of continuing education including degree completion, graduate school preparation, and guidance for continuing education as it relates to personal development. For six years previous to his time at the NFL, Jon helped build the NFL’s education program while working for the National Consortium for Academics and Sports (now the Institute of Sport and Social Justice) where he rose from Intern to Associate Director.
Jon earned a master’s in management of Public Service from DePaul University in 2000, penning his thesis titled The Affects of Achievement in Higher Education on the Career Transition of Retired NFL Players. He is certified in the Strong Interest Inventory and a member of the National Career Development Association, and for more than 25 years he has been an active member of The National Association of Academic and Student-Athlete Development Professionals (N4A). He earned his bachelor's degree from DePaul in Political Science in 1995. While studying Political Science at DePaul, Jon was a four-year letterman in basketball and four times was named to the Conference All-Academic Team. His accomplishments were recognized by being named to the '14 Under 40' class by DePaul in 2012. He and his wife Keri are raising four remarkable children who undoubtedly will change the world for the better.
“One thing I noticed with me is that when I grab onto an idea that I'm really passionate about, whether it was playing college basketball or starting a company, it probably takes about nine years in my life for the idea to turn into something pretty meaningful.”
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Welcome back to your next stop. This is Juliet Hahn. In this episode, I speak with Jon Harris. He is the founder of AthLife. You can find them all over the web aflife.com.
You can find them on Instagram, AthLife inc. You can also find Jon on LinkedIn. That is where he hangs out the most. And that's J-O-N. And then Harris.
Interesting story. Jon and I actually met on the airplane coming home from the Super Bowl this year. We just started talking kind of like, oh, were you at the golf thing, or were you at the Super Bowl? And he started telling me a little bit about what he did. I started telling him about what I was doing.
I was reading the Playbook, which everyone that listens to my NFL Thread series is the magazine that's all about stories. And so we really got into this great conversation. I was like, I have to have you on the show, because what you're doing and what you have done is really remarkable. You guys don't want to miss this. A little bit about AthLife is they strive to empower all professional and post professional athletes to meet and exceed their professional developmental goals.
So they help athletes in the transition from coming out of professional sports going into the real world. It is so needed. It is so close to my heart because it is not done enough. And they have now work with all different sports organizations. I mean, from the NFL is where Jon started.
That was actually where he first started out of school. He played basketball, Division One. And in the episode, you'll hear how he got there because it's a really cool story. He actually wanted to coach, and then his life kind of took him down this path. And he has a number of different companies that kind of feed off of AthLife.
One of them is a charity. It's a foundation. And it's really amazing. So Athlifefoundation.org and that they're the industry leaders in student athlete development. So they go in and help the student athlete kids that want to go to college to play sports.
They really go in and development. And this is like this organization and this foundation is really close to Jon's heart, is one of the first things he started. This is a story you do not want to miss. It is so cool how he developed it, but where he was and how he kind of formulated it. And then, of course, I love that we met on the airplane coming back from the Super Bowl, and because of just a couple curious questions that I asked, then he asked, we got into this really beautiful conversation.
So, again, you do not want to miss this. You can follow Jon on LinkedIn. That's where he hangs out the most and really gives you some really good insight on what they're doing and what the company's doing and how they're growing to other things with the foundation to other things in the industry that is really close to his heart. So you can find him again, LinkedIn, Jon Harris. That's J-O-N you can find athlife.com you can also go to Athlifefoundation.org.
You guys are going to enjoy this, and we'll see you soon for another episode of Your Next Stop.
Welcome back to your next stop. You know, I say this every single time, but I'm so excited to bring you someone that has followed a passion and turned into a business. Welcome, Jon Harris, to your next stop. How are you? Hi.
Thank you for having me. This can be fun. I know. I'm excited. So Jon is the founder of Say.
I'm going to say it like totally three times. AthLife. And you can find him basically athlife.com you can find Jon on LinkedIn and it's J-O-N Harris. Find him all over the social media. Social media, every platform, really, at Life Inc.
On Instagram, and he's on Twitter, Facebook, all the different places but the website. And, you know, they can find more information. But LinkedIn is really kind of where you hang out and give the most knowledge of what you're really doing and articles and kind of keep people up to date. That's correct, right? That's right.
Yep. So I would love to start out we met on the airplane, right. Coming back from the Super Bowl. My listeners know I have the YNS live with NFL thread that I do with Cynthia Zordich. We happened to be sitting next to each other and got into conversation, and I don't think we stopped talking.
I do because my listeners are going to laugh and be like, because you don't stop talking. But I know my personal space. I know other people's space. I think I did say to you, if you need to do, you know, it was nice to meet you, whatever. And then we just kind of really dove in and kind of talked about our lives, both living in Long Island right now.
But what you are doing with your company completely fascinated me because of what I'm doing with the podcast. So then we've kind of put together that I had to have you come on and really share your story. Well, I appreciate that you're having me and, yeah, believe me, if I don't want to talk to somebody, I tell them I work for Athlac and I'm selling them insurance and then they pretty much put their headphones on. So, no, I really enjoyed it because I did appreciate the work that you're doing and trying to amplify positive stories of athletes. Right.
We found ourselves doing a number of things. We've been around 19 years. It really all started with the Athlete Transition Work, helping athletes prepare for eventually transition to life after sport. And to date, we really work across all the five major male sports. I'm not saying female sports, not because we don't want to trust me.
We're working on that. But we're really fortunate to work with current and former professional athletes, and them being able to tell their story that they are more than an athlete is critical, and I think your podcast helps do that. I so appreciate that. And it was really funny because the second we kind of both started talking about what we were doing, we both were like, wait, I have another question. Wait, I have another question.
And I happened to be reading The Playbook, which is that beautiful book that Cynthia puts together with all these amazing stories. And I even said to you, wait, I'm maybe going to let you take my copy. Oh, yeah, maybe I'm going to let you take my copy. And then I was like, you know what? I'm not finished, but we're going to send you one.
And so that also what Cynthia does with her NFL thread platform. And then what we're doing together with the podcast really just and then what you're doing, it just made me so happy because I talk about it all the time. That when you are at a level of a professional athlete. It doesn't matter mentally where you are when you leave the sport, whether it's your choice, whether it's injury, whether it's age. You're going to go through stuff.
And if you don't have that support at home or the support of others, you're going to go down a really dark path. And why should that be out there? Why isn't there more support? So can you give us a little background of kind of really how you founded AthLife 19 years ago, a little bit about your background? Yeah, sure.
As I like to say, I wasn't the greatest college basketball player, and while teammates went on to play professionally, I was trying to get into coaching. That was really the idea when I went to college, and I got an internship working for the NCAs. It's now the Institute of Sport and Social Justice, and they had been tasked by the NFL to create a degree completion program for the NFL. And then the NBA followed suit a year or two later, and that came out of the 93 Collective Bargaining Agreement. So this is 1995.
So this is a while ago when I started and really helping build the education program. And it was pretty successful. A lot of guys took advantage of it. So the NFL brought me in to set it up and run it at the headquarters in New York. And I did that for a few years and realized that when a guy was a former player, there hadn't yet been anything built to help the former players.
And that's really when they really want to dive in and take advantage of it. Now there's the Legends community. There's the trust with the NFLPA. There's tons of support and resources, and that's been collectively bargained more and more over the years. The more and more.
The players, the active players had to say, we're going to set aside some of the money that we otherwise could take for salary and we're going to put this so we can have these support and resources available. So 2004, I saw this problem opportunity and I said, I'm going to try. And it took a while, it wasn't like overnight. They're like, hey, yeah, this is great, we'll hire you to do this tomorrow. I started with a small group of players the NFLPA had given me, went from ten to 20 to now just with the former NFL players themselves.
We get probably around 800, 900 referrals from the NFLPA a year to help the guys. Primarily we're focused now on education, that's degree completion, master's, vocational search, doctorates. But with the other leagues, we do a variety of things. With hockey, we'll do education and career. With baseball, we're focused more on education, but also helping players get to the different resources that are available, whether that's financial education, whether that's mental health resources, whether that's physical health resources.
And some of the leagues and unions have deeper support and resources available. Ultimately it comes down to collective bargaining. The players have to really take a stand and say, hey, this is something that we really want. Or the leagues themselves have to say, hey, this is something that we know we need to invest in because it's going to help the overall, it's going to help our current player population, our former player population, because there's a huge need. For sure the players give up a lot to become the best in the world at what they do.
So if you're going to give that up, you're going to have to play catch up in some of the other areas. And that's really the support we provide, which is huge. And I love that you actually said that. I know you played basketball because that's the other thing we connected on because my son and his basketball. But that you went in really wanting to coach and then you saw this need and then you really went with it.
And we talk about it a lot on the podcast. We all have this path and sometimes we don't follow the path because we don't let ourselves be curious and let ourselves kind of have this creative brain when you're kind of on one path. So I love that you saw the need and was like, how can I actually make that even more important? Now when you had this little group of the NFL players and then you started growing it, did you ever have pushback from the players? Was it like a trust thing?
Did you have to really kind of work that relationship or was it more really quickly like, here is the tools that we have and they saw the need for that. So if you can take us through more of the relationship versus the need, how that kind of played out. Yeah, when I started AthLife I had those relationships. I had been working with football players for 910 years at that point. So I had guys calling me saying, hey, can I get this support?
And I didn't have anywhere to send them. So that was the great part. I mean, literally, I had worked with thousands of players since 1995 and putting together degree completion plans or education plans as it related to their career. So I think with the other sports, that could presents different challenges. Just because you worked with a football player doesn't mean someone's automatically going to say, hey, well, our sport is different.
You certainly hear that because some of the sports are I mean, I could detail like hockey is becoming more and more college educated in terms of the number of players, but there's still a gap in terms of number of players who have finished their degree or the number of players still going directly from high school, maybe not even finishing. Right. So there's baseball has that, football has that, basketball they all kind of have a different population in the end. I think they all know that whether they play one year, ten years, 20 years, they've got to do something. Even if they have all the money in the world and they have generational wealth, they still have to identify a purpose.
Now, we're not getting calls from some of the elite of the elite. Could we work with them? Certainly. And we have worked with some pretty elite guys, but we're typically working with more players that had modest professional careers and they didn't make enough money to not live, to not have to work ever again. But we are finding more and more players are making enough money to where they're going to have a little bit more time to figure out what they really want to that's that's certainly a good thing.
Right. And I think that's the thing that people cynthia always laughs at me because I always say like the person, but the person that's not in the know, the outside person. That majority of people think all these players make all this money and as you said, they sacrifice something to get to this level. And if you have an injury early on, you're not making that bank to be able then to support your family. So that's one thing that I love, that you're filling that.
But the other thing that I love that you see is it's giving them another purpose. Because when you think about when you are performing at that level and talking to player after player in all different leagues, it's that routine, right? So you wake up, you do this a lot of times. That's what they're missing so much because they're so routined. And so when you have all of this time on your hands, that's when things can go south.
And so I love that you guys are really noticing that it's like you might not need it financially right now. However, you're going to need it for your mental health because you're going to need to have purpose. It's just as simple as that. Yeah. I remember one story.
This was early on. It was an education guy I'd been working with. And I remember he retired and I saw it and I sent him a note, and I said to him, I said, hey, you're ready to take on school now? And he's like, I'm good. I'm just going to go to Jackson Hole.
I'm going to golf, I'm going to fish, I'm going to ski. About a year later, he emailed me back, and he's like, hey, I'm thinking about school. I was like, what about your plan? He's like, there's only so much of that you can do.
I love that there are more and more players positioned so they don't have to just take a job that they're not interested in. Although that does happen too. It really is a wide spectrum in terms of the former player population.
There are buckets for sure, but there's uniqueness even within the sport in terms of and I think that's what makes it so interesting. It's not the advisors who do this work all day on our team. They really have to stretch their brain in terms of some of the things that they have to do to foster engagement and really think through how they can best support and challenge those we're working with. Right. Because that also brings me to this next question.
I'm sure there's going to be some players out there that they didn't love school, right? They went to school because they played their sport, and we talked about that. I hated school. That wasn't why I played college sports, because I wanted to play college sports. I didn't want to go and get a degree.
Obviously, that's what I did, but so do you find it more kind of challenging to work with the players that maybe don't believe in themselves in the educational world, versus the ones that do, that are like, yeah, I want to dive back in. I loved school. I didn't get to finish, or I have a career that I have in mind. Can you take us through that a little bit, how that works? Yeah.
You'll get anything from I have no idea. I've never thought about it to I know I want to be a doctor. Right? And then I've always wanted to be, but I couldn't be as a student athlete because of the labs and all that kind of stuff. So you have that spectrum.
What I will say is certainly there are buckets within sports. I mean, football is most familiar because I've been working with football players my whole life or my whole professional career. So about half of the football players have their degree. Of the half that don't, two thirds are a year or less away from their degree. That's about the statistics, right?
So the professional football population is more educated than the general population, which comes in around I think right now the stats are about 37% and the ones that haven't finished it are close. And so because they're so close and they've put that work in, a lot of guys do want to come back and get that. But what we've also found more and more recently, a lot of more vocational certifications and credentials. Guys want to get a real estate license. They want to get a physical training certificate because they want to run their own facility.
There certainly, again, our buckets that we can operate in. But what I will say is then there's some guys that are like, I have no interest in school. I want to get my CDL, I want to drive a truck. And we've got guys doing that and making really good money because going back and finishing a degree, that's not going to scratch that, right? And again, I love that you guys notice that.
And as you said, in certain leagues, it's going to be like, as you were saying, the NHL. A lot of those guys are coming in right from high school. Some of them don't even finish high school, which then proposes another kind of challenge to be like, okay, do you want to put this time in through school or let's find a different path. And so the fact that you kind of offer both is I think is really beneficial. But it also shows kind of like where your heart is and what you have been doing and the love of you have for sports, but also at that level, maybe coming from you wanted to coach, but you also played and knowing you know what?
You got to fulfill these kind of different things, or if you don't fulfill them again, you're not going to have a purpose in life. And that's really what it is.
Okay, so when you went and you started the company again, you said it took you a little while, but you had kind of the steps to do it. Because what I always want my listeners to think about is you could be on a path, right? You're working at a company, you like it, you're learning things, but you always wanted to do something bigger. And a lot of times people don't know where to take that step, right? They don't know how to leave corporate to maybe start their own business or kind of create their own thing.
Can you take us a little bit through the steps that you really did when you were at the NFL to then starting your company? Was it black and white or was there a lot of steps that you had to kind of take and do and how did that look? Yeah, that's probably loaded. So I'm going to try to say this as succinctly as possible, and I was never given that gift, but I really enjoyed the work. I went to the NFL thinking this was my last stop, right.
And after a few years of working in just I think I'm a constant learner and I'm a picker. Staff will say that I just always want to do more. And I just felt like it was going to take a while for whatever I was going to try to get done to get done. So I quit. I had never planned.
I did have a master's in management. It's an MPs. It's for nonprofits because when I was working at the nonprofit, I got a master's to help with that. Right. Essentially, I knew the structure of putting together a business, but that doesn't teach you what really happens when you go out there and you have to put together a budget and a PNL and you got to bill people and you got to price things.
It's really hard. I mean, I think I was 30 or 31 when I did it.
I wasn't worried, though. I think that was part of it. At the time. I wasn't married, I didn't have any kids. I figured if I fail, someone will hire me.
It's fine. I didn't have a lot of money in the bank, so I had to bootstrap it and did not take any outside investment. I don't know why anybody would invest with us anyway. We're not that kind of business. So I think what was really important was that first six months is I sat down and I kind of laid out my vision and I worked and worked and worked.
That's something I knew how to do. And I learned so much about even how to put together a proposal. So I put together a proposal. Someone say, hey, this is great. I'll look to put it in my budget next year.
Well, so I'm 18 months away from seeing any money, right? So that part was really difficult. So I did things in between. Like I tutored to make extra money so I could buy groceries. I just did whatever I could from the time.
And then slowly, as you get more work, you get more work, and then you have to take that step back where, for example, I'm trying to manage all the finance stuff and I could do it, but I didn't and don't have a passion for managing QuickBooks and doing all the financial reports I needed to do. So I had a conversation with my wife and I was like, hey, I think we're going to have to make a little less money before we make more. And here we are, like, chipping away. We're growing it, we're growing it, and then you have to take a step back. But that was a great thing we did, right, because then it freed me up to not focus on that, but focus on building the business, working on the business versus working in the business.
And when I was able to make that shift. We were able to take on all other kind of projects that I had been wanting to try to take on, and that was when it got interesting. I love that because I know you've listened to some of my podcasts and my brain is going in 1000 different directions. I have all these different questions. Were you always a hard worker?
Like, when you were a kid, were you that guy that had an early job? Because that's what hear like you did not don't. I don't know if you know Gary V. Gary Vanderchuk vander Media. Whenever I listen to him, the one thing that he did, and did really well is he didn't stop.
He worked and worked and worked. And so where did that come from in you? Yeah, I believe I have that reputation, and I think that's my parents, in particular my mom, instilling in us. I was one of six. And just work ethic is something that but I think it was innate, too.
I think me and all my brothers and sisters are if you ask anybody about them, everyone will say we're hard workers. And I needed to do that in order to even get in the door to play college basketball. You've seen me. I'm not six foot eight, so I had to do what I had to do to get there. But I'll say there's a lot of retrospective things.
There's that story in Isaacson's book about Steve Jobs I like to tell where when he flunked out of Reed College, he took a calligraphy class, not because he was going to create a Mac, and then I needed to know which different type fonts we could put on there. He did it because he had a passion for it. Then when he makes the computer, then he adds fonts. Right. So I think when you start looking back, I guess I always had an entrepreneurial spirit in me.
There's an exercise we'll do with our guys when we're talking about it's called first seven jobs. So we'll tell the guys, hey, take a minute, write down your first seven jobs. Because most of them will say, I've never worked, but they all have. Did you babysit? Did you do a lawn service?
Did you cut lawns? What are the things you did to make money? Well, when I did that myself, I'm like, Damn. I did a lot of entrepreneurial things all along the way without even knowing that. I'm like, It was all in me.
And then it took a friend and one of my mentors to kind of point it out to me one day, and he's like, you should sell stuff. I'm like, I can't sell anything. I'm an advisor. He's like, no. He goes, you can sell what you're doing.
Nobody. And I was like, all right. So that was one of the dominoes that really got this thing going, too, is you have to have a champion. You have to have a mentor. You have to have people believe in you and then you have to foolishly believe that it's going to work.
And we've tried things that haven't worked for sure. I can laugh about those just as much as about some of the successes we've had. We've had plenty of failures too. And I love that. And I think it's important because I've been talking about this more recently because I've been really kind of thinking of my story and where I am and how I've gotten here.
And I do think that we are sometimes born with, like, innate confidence in certain things. And as our journeys go, if you keep that innate confidence in certain aspects of your life and just know it's going to work out, so you take that leap of faith because you're like, I'm going to figure it out, kind of as I'm flying this plane. Some people don't have that mentality. I have that mentality. I'll say yes to anything and then I'll be like, okay, let me figure it out if it makes sense in my life.
And I actually really like that about me because it is one of those things that I'm not kind of afraid of failing. If it doesn't work out, it doesn't work out. But I'm not going to say that I didn't try. And I feel like because, as you said, you grew up in a family of six, it was like innate in you to like, you worked hard, you had that confidence of, I know I'm a hard worker, so I can lean on that. And I know if I work hard enough, I can get something.
As you said, playing Division I mean, it was division one, right? Yeah. And you're right, you're not 610, so you had to put that work in on the court and not think, okay, I'm not the tallest. I might not be this, I might not be that. But if I put that hard work in, that gets you places.
And I think sometimes in society that's lost, especially nowadays, I know with my kids all the time, I will say, I want to see you putting the work in when you're not at practice. Right. I want to see you putting the work in when instead of maybe going on the PS Five, shouldn't you be out doing something else? And it's really cool sometimes to see when they do get it, at what age they get it and which ones get it and really care. Yeah, for sure.
I'm seeing that I have four kids and I'm certainly seeing them grasp things at different times. Our youngest, he's like a fireball and we're like, oh, this kid's going to be a beast. And he started playing lacrosse and he stand around and the grass grows around his ankles. And then so this weekend, for the first time, the coaches are like, where did this come from? I'm like, oh, yeah, we.
Saw it. You just haven't seen it yet. But that's all of our kids. They all had these moments. And I think that's people in general, you have your moments where a switch can flip, but not everybody also has that fearless factor in them.
Right. Because you have to be a little bit fearless and be okay, that if you don't land where you think you are going, people are still going to see, are you working hard? Are you working smart? I challenge particular me all the time. I'm trying to say no to more now because we have so many things going on right now that I don't need to be distracted by.
I'm like, hey, we've got some good things. Let's be really good at this. And then instead of a small opportunity that could be big comes our way, a big opportunity just slots right into what we're already doing. And I think that's, like, the biggest thing I have to challenge myself on. I love that.
Oh, my God. I know we could talk for, like, 12 hours like we did on the plane, so I would love now, but to go so your wife, you did the QuickBooks. You kind of set back and took a little bit of a hit financially. But then where did you see the company go from there? Well, I think and this is kind of in my history, maybe probably two years ago now, I sat back and I took, like, a week, and I was like, Nobody bothered me.
I just need to think and write. And one thing I noticed with me is that when I grab onto an idea that I'm really passionate about, whether it was playing college basketball or starting a company, whatever, it probably takes about nine years in my life for the idea to turn into something pretty meaningful. Right.
I think that's kind of what happened is 2004, I started working at it, and it was little things here, little things there, but that foundation was building. And then we tried some other things as well, some things that were kind of related.
One of the more fun things was there was an educational technology that I had come across that I thought was really going to help our players retain more information. And I was like, I talked to the company. I'm like, this could work in college athletics. So I started socializing in college athletics. We'd started to make some then, you know, one of my mentors, the one who kind of pushed me off the ledge, happened to get the job as president of publishing for Marvel.
And he's like, hey, this is cool. Maybe we could integrate it [email protected]. We're redoing this. So we started doing that, and then this movie, Iron Man, came out, which Marvel's done pretty well since then, and they really took this trajectory towards movies and not necessarily in the education space. The way that we had been talking about it.
But that was good because he said, hey, Jon, you know everybody in sports. You've been working there, so know is there something we can do with Marvel and sports? So we started kicking that around a little bit, and that was a little thing, what we were doing that turned into we have a whole division of AthLife, if you call it. We have a small group of people who work on sports marketing initiatives for us. With Marvel, we did over 200 activations across sport last year.
So it went from this idea to, again, took about nine years for that to really grow. But now that's a machine. We have a couple of people on our team who just all day, every day, they're on that business. And that has brought other opportunities our way, which I won't bore you with, but it's really neat to see how some of these other things kind of came about just because of the work we were doing and people noticing that we work hard, we work smart, we're willing to try things, even if it's not like in our lane, per se. I love that.
Now, do you see with the company this is kind of like a double question, but that you're obviously building a legacy for your family. You say we have four kids. You have this business yourself. Do you see that your kids will follow in your footsteps? And here's the second part.
Is it something that has been like a dream of yours, or are you the type of parent that's like, no, whatever my kids do, I know that they'll be successful, and I'll just let it go. But is it something that is a kind of a dream in your head, if you will? Yeah, if I've learned anything is that most of the time, businesses pass down to their kids don't really do as well. Right. They would have to have a passion for it.
They're still young. My oldest is 13. And it's funny. We actually have a comic shop now that's something else that kind of came out of it. We put athletes and entertainers on covers of comics, and that's been fun because we spun that out into a new company.
And when we have a new drop, we have one coming next month, the kids will be in here packing books and really helping out. Actually, my wife runs that company now, and so it's fun to see that. But my oldest daughter, I think she started a bath bomb business a couple of years ago, and my oldest son, him and his buddies do the green gardeners. They go out in the neighborhood, and they cut lawns and clean up flower beds. So I just see the kids seeing that we're entrepreneurial and they're following things they're passionate about, and that's what I want them to do.
If for some reason this is a passion of theirs, man, it would be great to hand them over something, but I feel like it's also a lot of really hard work.
This is very specifically passionate for me, and just like, I tell them, hey, if you tell me tomorrow you don't want to play basketball anymore, or one of my kids doesn't want to play soccer, whatever it is cool. Do something. But you've got to figure out what you want to do, because otherwise it's. Just not going to work, right? And I love that.
And the reason why I wanted to ask you, because I kind of felt that that was going to be the answer just to getting to know you a little bit, but that you're doing this because this is what you love to do. And you're instilling in your kids the entrepreneur spirit. Because, as you said, there's times where you're traveling all the time, but then there's times where you're home and you're present and that your wife is working on another part of the business. So they're seeing you guys grow this business, which I always think is so fascinating when kids are in a position, whether their parents were always entrepreneurs or if their parents kind of were in that corporate world and then followed a dream and did it, like, where those kids kind of land themselves, right? Is it oh, my gosh, it was amazing.
I saw my parents do that. I loved that they did it. Or on the reverse, no, I didn't like X, Y, and Z. I'd rather had them nine to five. Do you know what I mean?
There's, like, so many different things as parents that we see our kids see. I know for myself, I'm like, I hope this is a good lesson that they're seeing. I hope that they can see that I'm not scared to start something, and I will start something, but I know there's times where I'm really grumpy because something didn't work out, and I know they feel it, right? They feel, okay. Or if I've been traveling a little bit, they feel when I come home, it takes me a little while to recover.
So you always think of the flip side. If you could touch on that a little bit for the people that are listening out there that are maybe kind of stuck in where they are, and they're kind of thinking about that next journey for themselves. Yeah, well, I'll say it was pretty funny that I remember when I told my mom I was quitting the NFL, she thought I was an idiot. She's like, Why are you doing it? This is what you do.
You go to school so you can get a good job, make some decent money. And that's the American dream, right? She moved over from France when she was in her late 20s. So my three oldest brothers were born there, and that was the dream. Like, I have a brother who's a doctor.
My brother and sisters are all doing very well, but we came up very was like, I'm the, you know, I'm the 6th know, Jon will do anything. He'll try anything and he'll be fine. He'll be fine. He'll figure it, you know, she was worried and rightfully yeah. It had to be the perfect time for all of this to work out.
It really did. Nobody does an idea because it's a really bad idea or it's really hard. Right. And so I think this was something that was really hard. I think there were people who had kind of played around in this space, and now there's people doing work with athlete transition services.
Great to see the uptake. And so now I'm kind of one of the few out there doing this stuff dedicated to all of a sudden I have to change my lens in terms of how I look at this. It's definitely more competitive. But I think a lot of the things I try to take on, things that are just like, nobody's doing, I try to explore, why is no one doing this? Is it a really bad idea or is it really hard?
And I think that I'll do hard like we do hard. That's not a problem. But if it's a couple of things we've got into after I got into them, like, oh, shit, that's why they're not doing this. Right? Yeah.
And then you can also enter into I want a franchise because I want that business in a box. Or I want to go into something where I'm willing to compete with someone else who's doing this and I think I can do it better. Those are kind of that's over generalizing it. But you're in podcasting, right? Few podcasters out there, so you're competing with other podcasters.
There's only so much time my ears have every day. So that's the question is, obviously podcasting is a really smart idea, but it's also really hard to be in that echelon that you're making real money off of it. Right. And it's like, it's a very small percent. And it's interesting that you say that, because it's funny and I love how you laid that out because that really laid out a picture for people to think like, okay, right, the franchise, there's the business with the box, and then it's kind of left up to you.
But you have that support from the business where you and this is what kind of fascinated me even when we were talking on the airplane. I can see that you love that. Like, okay, can I break into this? Is this something that's going to be hard? Because you like that hard work.
You thrive on that hard work where you can make a difference, but you know that you want to put that hard work in where someone else might say, yeah, I don't want to put that much hard work in. I think I can do this better than the next person. So I kind of love that you said that. So take us down. What's happening next?
What are some big dreams that you have out there that you can share? Where are some of the paths that you're going now? I know we're coming to the end of the show, but if you can kind of just let the listeners know. Yeah. So as of April 1, we've added the Major League Baseball Players Association.
As of the five major men's sports, we'll be providing our service to them, and they've now opened that up to all former players. That's a huge undertaking, I think, providing the level of service that we want to provide to our existing partners. The NHL is only in year two, and they have big designs to what they want this to be. We don't need to take our eye off on the ball. We are doing some WNBA work here and there.
We're having some other conversations. But honestly, on the athlete services piece, we're going to be really focused on doing our job really well. I think on the sport marketing and entertainment side, I think we have a plan with existing with Marvel. I think there's more we can do in that space. There's just always something going on over there.
So we're hopeful that there's going to be a lot more opportunity ahead. And there are other brands. So there's a former Marvel employee who went over to Skybound, which is Walking Dead, and he said, hey, can you do for Skybound? And walking Dead, we did for Marvel. I'm like, no, but what we can do is did our we just did our first pilot with Walking Dead with one of the teams.
It was a ton of know and again, the team's building that and then there's some other brands as a result that we've had conversations with. But Marvel's a beast, and that alone, that plus some of the other things that we're doing. And I can't speak to right now because they haven't been announced yet, but we have a couple of people on their team just working on some things that are coming out. But you can see some of the past things that we've done and some of them are very similar to some of the things we're going to be doing. So I'm excited about there's tons of opportunity, but despite that, we've been around 19 years, it's really hard.
It is still really hard to get people to give you money. You have to be really good at what you do and continually good at what you do. And that's why I don't take my eye off the ball with the work we do and with our partners and with our team, because it can be gone. We're not taking it for granted. And that's the most important thing I can say, is if you do go out on your own, just do really good work.
And if you try to do too much, you'll overextend yourself. And I've done that a few times where something will fail because you're not focused on it. I love that, and I'm going to end on that because that is just a brilliant thing because you do so much. But I love that you have after doing what you're doing, you have that balance. It's like, okay.
And I know you probably will chuckle and be like, I don't know if I always have that balance, but the fact that you're like, I know exactly. If we extend ourselves, something's going to fail. Like, there's always something that's failed. You can't extend yourself for that long. So, Jon, I thank you so much for joining your next stop.
I'm fascinated with your story just as I was on the airplane. And I do have, like a thousand more questions. I think we'll be having you back as your company continues to evolve and continues to really do important work around the transition of professional athletes, figuring out what they're doing, because we do need to give more support there. And I love that you saw that and really ran with it and are doing it great. Thank you.
And one last plug I do want to give we didn't even really talk about is the Athlete Foundation, which has been around, I don't know, 13 to 15 years, I can't remember at this point. But essentially putting academic coaches to work with student athletes on the high school level. And to date, that network of support we've helped fund and train is impacting over 10,000 kids a year throughout the country. So if you go to Athlifefoundation.org, you can learn more about that. We're in 15 states, over 100 schools, and we're doing very important work because most of those kids, if not all, aren't going to make it to the pro, and we'll never have the support and resources available.
So I'd be a fool if I didn't mention that work we're doing as well. And that is something that you said you started when you were at the NFL.
Well, there was a program called the Play It Smart program. And then in the financial crisis of 2008 that was primarily funded by the NFL, the NFL pulled their funding. So the guy who was working there, I was doing a little bit of work with them. I had kind of had a touch point with that over the years, and we foolishly decided we'd try to recreate it outside of what was called the National Football Foundation. So we started with I remember we went down to the Washington football team.
They had been a funder, and we went and met with them. And I said, Jeff, if we walk out of here with money, I'm in. And we went in and we walked out with they put $75,000 down to keep it going. And I was like, all right, damn it. But no, it's really good.
We'll have our national conference at University of Maryland. They hosted us again last year as well. We'll have a couple hundred educators from around the country come know, do all kinds of stuff with mean, talk about people who do this for a passion and not for a dollar. These are some of the best people you'd ever meet. So again, tell people where they can.
Find the foundation athlifefoundation.org. I love that. Now I have to ask another question because you said I know, I was like, wait, I can't stop there. So when you got your master's, was this at the same time or did you get your master's before? Okay, so it wasn't like all of a sudden you got your master's and then the foundation came up, but that's like, oh my God, god's screaming at you.
That's right. Yeah. That was the poor man's version of the story I told before about jobs. Right. I got a master's part time.
It took me six years. So I was working the job, helping build the education program. I was getting my master's, and I was coaching high school basketball. So I just did that for all of that for six years. And then when I finished it, the opportunity with the NFL came.
And then it was four or so years later, I think it was 2008 or nine, we launched a foundation. So again, I had the tools. The master's I had was essentially an MBA for the nonprofit sector. So the differentiator was learning about fundraising, learning about the different things that are very specific. It's our hardest business.
There's no doubt it's running a foundation, but we have a dedicated executive director. He's awesome. Our board is outstanding, really great people who care, and some great partners that have decided that they're going to invest in kids in the community and trust us that we'll use the money appropriately to go out and just really impact thousands of kids every year. I love that. Now, I have another question, but when did you realize your pattern, the eight, nine years, when did that come about?
Was that something that you felt early. On that writing exercise? Yeah. For instance, I think 2004 I started AthLife and yeah, I had a couple of things and over time I think we had a big breakthrough when the trust which was jointly funded by the NFL and NFLPA out of the 2011 collective bargaining agreement. So it was agreed to in 2011, but it really didn't launch until the ten year anniversary is going to be this fall.
Right. And them making the commitment they've made to former players allowed us to really expand the services and add some staff and just really be known as we were named as you got world class partners like Mayo Clinic and Cleveland Clinic and University of North Carolina Healthcare and all these world class service providers, and then there's us. And it kind of gave us some legitimacy when you put us up there and say, hey, these are the experts who do this. Right? So that was 2013.
So that was nine years later when I felt like, okay, we're a go now. Right? I love that. I think it's so fascinating and I think it's so fascinating how your career kind of has played out and how many people through the foundation, through the work that you're doing with your company, how many lives that you're changing. I mean, that also has to feel so good, knowing that what you're doing every day is actually changing someone's life for the better.
Yeah. And I think it's a lot of people who want to do it. We're providing a platform for them to do that work. Right. This isn't me advising a guy anymore on how to do it.
It's a staff member who has a caseload. It's someone who works at a high school in Newark, New Jersey, who wants to provide more support and resources to their student athletes and just needs a tribe. Right. What we've done is created platforms so people who want to do really good work can do really good work. I mean, that's what our company is, right?
I'm not doing the work right. I'm providing the platform. And I went from doing the work to that. And that's a shift, right? Because I wasn't good at that other stuff that I had to be good at in order for to scale this.
Right. But that's also cool that you knew your limitations. You knew that you needed to surround yourself with other people that could help you lift it. And it was like you grew, you expanded, you grew, you expanded. And that's what's so important when people kind of think about the patterns of their life.
So I love that you brought in that writing exercise that you did when you really become aware of the patterns in your life and what you do and where you stop and maybe where you don't stretch right. You don't let yourself go to that extra mile. It's important to reflect, especially if you are building a company, especially if you are doing the kind of the work that you're doing. It's bringing people to that next level. And I think that's what makes some people stand apart from others is doing that kind of self reflection where it's like, where can I just add a little bit more value?
So I so appreciate you sharing all of that and really diving in and telling that, is there anything else you would kind of want to end with? No, I think we've extended more than probably we had set out, but that's not a surprise. And I enjoy, once again talking to you. I appreciate you allowing us to amplify this message. And again, this is a lot of people.
This is the people who do the work. This is the athletes being receptive to the advising. This is our partners who are supporting us and trusting us with very valuable piece of their business, right? So we don't take any of that for granted. And I just, again, want to make sure that everyone's aware that, yes, it's our company.
We are a small piece of what makes all this go well. Again, I thank you so much for joining your next stop. And you guys, I say it every time. You might have been listening to this episode and being like, oh, that's so interesting. But you don't know who needs to hear this.
You don't know who in your life maybe has a connection in the athletic field. There's someone out there right now flailing. They left the league. They don't know what to do. This is where these kind of stories connect us.
They help us grow. They help us learn. They help us realize that there's more to life than just kind of staying in that path. You got to think out of the box. I mean, how Jon created his company and then how he's grown.
He just gave you guys a lot of tips on how to kind of do some of that self reflection. So again, like, rate, review, share, check out, asklife.com. You can also check out again, Jon on LinkedIn, he shares a ton of really great articles. He gives a lot of insight. It's really fun to watch what they're doing again in the sports and marketing entertainment world, but then also on the player transition side and then, of course, the foundation.
So, Jon, thank you again for joining your next stop. I hope you liked this episode of your next stop. Please subscribe to my channel, share with your friends, and join in each week.
My focus is entirely on helping you follow your passion, even when you feel like you've got stuck in crazy town. There is a way out, its me helping you. You don't have to ditch everything in your life that is making you feel overwhelmed and stuck, you just need some help to navigate it.
WHEN YOU FOLLOW YOUR PASSION YOU WILL NATURALLY ENRICH THE PEOPLE YOU LOVE