BTU #106 – Alex Stone: Under Armour, Athletes of Valor, and the Sports Industry

“You know sometimes – for example, even over this holiday weekend – people will ask if I had to work on a certain day. This is my life! This is what I do. It’s always funny because what your life looks like is – for me – this is what I want to make my life’s work. It’s what I’m passionate about and what I enjoy doing.”
– Alex Stone

Alex Stone is the Founder & CEO of Athletes of Valor, who’s mission is to help veterans transition from service to career by leveraging the power of collegiate sports. He started out as a Sergeant in the Marine Corps, after which he worked as a Product Manager at Wellpower Sports Co, and then at Under Armour as both a Development Manager and then Product Line Manager.

The top 2 reasons to listen to this episode is:

  1. Sports Industry: Alex worked his way up in the sports industry to work at his dream job at Under Armour. He talks about this route, and why it might appeal to other veterans
  2. Starting a company: Alex is doing his life’s work and has built Athletes of Valour from the ground up. Any veteran interested in starting their own company would benefit from this
  3. Collegiate Athletics: This is a great route for veterans, and one that boosts their engagement and fulfillment at school. Alex’s organization helps veterans get into collegiate sports and has a lot to say about this

Our Sponsor:

  • Audible is offering one FREE audio book to Beyond the Uniform listeners. You can claim this offer here, and see a list of books recommended by my guests at BeyondTheUniform.io/books

Selected Resources

  • https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/0817919341/ref=as_li_qf_sp_asin_il_tl?ie=UTF8&tag=transparentte-20&camp=1789&creative=9325&linkCode=as2&creativeASIN=0817919341&linkId=cff433522a1e724fcc9dcd7c91e4149c

Show Notes

Note: I’ve typed these notes during my interview, so they may not completely represent a verbatim version of our conversation, and likely contain spelling and grammar errors. My intention is to provide veterans with a quick reference to see the gist of our conversation, along with timestamps to hear the interviewees actual advice in their own words within the interview.

  • 2:44 – Alex’s background
  • 3:20 – How would you describe Athletes of Valor?
    • Comes from his experience of being a high school athlete, and no clear path to be a collegaite athelte when leaving the miltary
    • Allows active duty service members to create a profile of themselves as a potential student athlete. coaches come in, evaluate the veteran applicants
    • Most veterans have a great athletic ability and they just connect the dots
    • Answers questions for coaches – PTSD, eligibility etc
  • 5:27 – What does the process look like
    • 100% free
    • Sign-up on website
    • Basic questions – separation date, atheltic background, educational background, military background
    • can upload old highligh films or any videos
    • Everything is housed online in one place
  • 6:30 – What to do to prepare now if on active duty
    • Never too early to start researching programs
    • If you think you have 2 years before separation, the deadlines come up quickly. May need to take an SAT, ACT program
    • Start gathering that info, but you can house it all online with them
    • The sooner you’re online the sooner you can be found – can be picked up 18-24 months
  • 7:50 – What have you found in working with veterans over the last year?
    • There’s a lot to this – it’s a full time job and takes a lot of work and effort
    • Most people think they’ll just put their name in and be done with it – it’s your life and education, the magic opportunity won’t just fall into your lap
    • 9:15 – magic opportunity
  • 9:08 – Success stories
    • 16 football players playing this fall
    • Over 1k athletes on their platform
    • They want to use team sports as a structure for integration back into the college life
    • Gives people a purpose of working towards a common goal; they’re going to earn education, play sports and be more employable after college
    • The more work you put in the more likely you are to find a good opportunity
  • 13:30 – What lead you to leave the Marine Corps?
    • Enlisted right out of high school, served 4 years active duty
    • After second deployment overseas knew that he wanted to do something different
    • After 2.5 years of active duty knew he wanted to move on
  • 14:26 – What was your first job search like and how did you end up at Wellpower Sports?
    • It was really tough
    • He had just got back 4 months prior to his separation
    • It was challenging to get call backs after just sending resumes and applying to specific jobs
    • Trying to translate experience and get in front of the right people
    • His old high school football coach, who he had reached out to, worked with Wellpower Sports (overseas manufacturer for sports equipment) and he offered to introduce him
    • He started taking local courses at community college and started working as a paid intern
  • 16:35 – How would you describe your work at Wellpower Sports?
    • He did product line management and had deep exposure to the inner workings of a company
    • Projects from developing new types of equipment to laying out a product line for a new sports medicine line to present to a customer. Figure out pricing, product management, manufacturing, do research on what’s in the market, what are current athletes doing and wearing, what are trends?
    • You use all these products over the years and then get the chance to influence it
  • 18:58 – What lead you to Under Armour?
    • He used to go there for business opportunities, since Wellpower Sports worked with UA.
    • When you walk in you really feel the culture on the campus – very smart people, very forward thinking on innovation on how to make athletes better through creating incredible products
    • It was always a great learning experience to see a massive brand and massive company rather than his sales office experience
    • He realized he wanted to be in this industry long-term
  • 20:20 – How would you describe the work that you did at UA?
    • The person he was meeting with at UA ended up becoming his boss. They were growing their sporting line and team and asked if he’d be interested in this
    • So he moved to Baltimore, Maryland.
    • Started in product develppment, managing everyting from protective equipment to gloves and workign on advanced projects on the side (new potential protective pieces of equipment)
    • After two yaers moved over to the product line manager. This was less travel, and more on the business model and building product lines, working with the sales teams, understanding the trends, managaing more of the business and licensing
    • In any manufacturing business you need to understand how decisions are made; how long things take. Spending trip after trip in Asia, seeing how to create a product with a particular margin and ahve multiple price points and understand what consumers are looking for
  • 23:09 – What advice do you have for veterans seeking to work at UA?
    • They are very veteran friendly; he worked with a lot of great vets there
    • It’s Network, Network, Network
    • You can apply online and they’re responsive. But get involved somehow in someway with the sports industry – with UA, or one of their partners
    • Build a network, get to know people; most positions are filled from referrals
    • It’s a small industry and once people get to know who you are it’s
  • 24;25 – What was the genesis of Athletes of Valor?
    • Built off personal expeirence transitioning
    • at UA it was a dream career at a dream company
    • It was difficult to leave
    • Worked with a lot of high schools and top recruits across the coutnry
    • He used to joke – why don’t we do this on a military base? They could go play college football, college baseball after their service. It piqued a lot of interest
    • Spent about a year at night trying to see who had been successful in doing this, and how impactful it was in their transition
    • This started to put the pieces together in bridigng the gaps and talking to people who went to college sports after active duty – what were the pain points
    • Coaches wanted to find more people liek thsi, but a lot of the athletes thought they had gotten lucky. He htought there has got to be a better way. There are lots of platforms for high schoolers
    • If I coudl do it again i would do it longer – work at UA an work on lunch breaks
  • 29:53 – At what point did you decide to leave UA?
    • The timing perspective it was difficult to do both Under Armour and Athletes of Valor
    • his desire and want was to continuously build Athletes of Valor, not just at night but all the time. He fell in love with the mission
    • Life timing as well – had just gotten married, no kids yet, and knew he would have additional responsibilities soon
    • Secured a few investors who invested so they could build the software
  • 31:50 – What does life look like right now?
    • He jokes that on holidays – this is his life ,this is all he does. This is what he wants to make his lifes work and what he enjoys doing
    • He’s not going to be doing 120 hours a week but this is what he does – gets up in the morning, late at night talking to coaches, it doesn’t seem like work but engulfs his life around it
    • From a small team dynamic – fundraiinsg, sales, product development – it’s constant. If it’s not somethign your’e passionate about it’ll be hard
    • He spends most days running all over the place -talking to coaches, team members, atheltes
    • Best thing he does is he just keeps going – as much as I can fit in one day, a little further today than tomorrow,
  • 34:16 – How do you get paid?
    • Annual partnership fees with schools they partner with
    • Also have corporate sponsors for events to make sure they can cover the costs
    • Building a career platform that will be ready at the end of the year – corproate partners who want to highlight internships and job opportunities (job board & third party recruiting) to fill specific roles for those who have played college sports and are veterans
  • 35;36 – What advice do you have for other veterans seeking to start their own organization?
    • it’s going to be a lot harder than you think and take longer than you think
    • Be prepared because there are a lot of ups and downs
    • Goign to have good days and bad days – biggest thing you can do is keep going
    • Miltiary teaches you this – embrace the siuck and stay the course
    • you’ll have a million people tell you what won’t work – you’re the only one who can really keep it all together and know what it will take to get yuor startup to the next level
    • Be preapred for tht – going to be discouraging – stay the course, keep working towards the goal
  • 37:15 – What resources – books, conferences, programs – have you found helpful that you would recommend to other veterans?
    • Whatever your industry is, you need to immerse yourself into that industry. Make sure you have all the answer to all the quesitons you’ll ever get. If you don’t have that answer need to find it so you have a good answer next time
    • In the sporting goods industry he didn’t know about materials or the brands out there
    • Immersed himself – YouTube videos, how to make certain products, different types of screen printing
    • Next time in the meeting was able to speak to it intelligently
    • When he started Atheltes of Valor it was a space he hadn’t been in and creating a new market
    • Books, articles, speaking with people around the sapce – need to immerse self in all aspects of it. You need ot be the subject matter expert in a field
  • 40:22 – Final words of wisdom?
    • There’s a lot of transitional programs out there; lots geared toward veterans. Do your research. Reach out to a lot of them, ask quesitons and make sure they’ll give you the right level of support
    • People reach out for job search, career training, resumes support, etc. The reality is nothign is more valuable than networking and doing thigns yourself. It won’t fall into your lap; your job won’t magically come to you. Make sure these are resources available to transition veterans. It’s a lot of work and up to you and put the time in, get out of comfort zone. Use a certain tool – to find people who could make an introduction s