From the NFL to Levels (Matt Flanagan & Ben Grynol)
Ben Grynol, Levels Head of Growth, sat down with former NFL player and now Levels Support Specialist, Matt Flanagan, to discuss Matt’s transition from professional football and venture capital culture to startup culture.
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How did a former NFL football player end up on the Levels operations team? In this episode, Ben Grynol, Levels Head of Growth, sat down with Levels Support Specialist, Matt Flanagan, to discuss his transition from professional football and venture capital culture to startup culture. Matt shared an inside look at his journey to football, how the NFL operates, and why he was so excited to join the Levels team.
02:37 – Matt’s journey to the NFL
Matt shared his experience playing football for the NFL, and likened it to running a startup.
I think football, a lot of the guys who have been able to make it as long as they have will be the first to tell you that a lot of it’s just being in the right place at the right time, making the plays when they come your way, or just not getting injured, honestly. First off, off the bat, you kind of have to respect that aspect of football, and I think the people who make it to the highest level do. Throughout my journey, while I was doing it, I started as a walk-on in college. I wasn’t this highly touted scholarship or five-star recruit. It was a grind, honestly, to get to a point where I would even be able to get onto the playing field in college. Also, to develop my body and develop my skills to be able to play at the next level, and perform in the NFL, it’s a grind, right?…It’s been the only thing I’ve done for so long. It just feels like it was my first startup. I’d scrap my way, plenty of times, along the way. I think there’s something, that when you are actively making bets on yourself, and it may not work out the way that you think it will, but just that process of working through those problems, and the connections you meet along the way, of other people who are doing the same things, is, I think the most valuable part of this long and crazy journey.
04:49 – NFL 101
Matt gave a behind-the-scenes look at what it’s like trying to get a coveted NFL spot that goes beyond a one-year contract.
Okay, so the breakdown of the guys in the NFL, they’re the franchise guys. They have made it to multiple contracts down the road. They’re house name players, right? Those make up 25-30% of the roster, to be honest. There’s 53 guys on a roster, and yeah, it’s probably closer to 25% are those guys, they know they’re going to make the team going into a training camp. The rest of the rest of the guys in the roster, honestly, are new college rookie free agents. They’re free agents who started on another team, or coming from another place, but are only on one-year deals. And that’s the thing is, the 65% or 75%, however you want to look at that, is all on minimum, non-guaranteed contracts. So it’s honestly a bloodbath for those few amount of spots that are remaining left on these rosters.
07:50 – The definition of a bubble player
A bubble player is not part of the core team, meaning they must sign contract after contract.
I started my career on the practice squad, and I think a lot of guys will either fluctuate from the practice squad to the active roster. So yeah, the practice squad is another 10, I think it’s 12 now, because of COVID, roster spots that you can essentially stash players. They’re protected, they can’t be … Or no, excuse me, they’re not protected. They can be signed off of from other teams, but it’s essentially just another place where you can develop players. And I think a lot of guys spend time on the practice squad. But there’s also those, if you’re drafted, when you enter the NFL, there’s a really high percent chance you’re not going to be on a practice squad, just based off of the sunk cost fallacy of, “Hey, if somebody’s invested capital into this guy, at one point—Oh, I see, he just got waived. Let’s pick him up and bring him onto our 53-man roster.” I think the numbers speak for themselves. You could argue that’s somewhat biased, but it’s tracked.
09:52 – Pee Wee programs
These programs and one of several doors that can lead players to college football.
I was at a public high school. Football recruiting is a really big deal. They start recruiting out of these Pee Wee programs, and you can go to a private high school, which is one of the higher tiers of competition in high school football. College coaches have only a certain amount of time on the road, so they’ll just naturally be going and visiting these schools. So it’s more exposure. If you’re serious about football, that is the road that a lot of guys take, but I didn’t know I was serious about football until pretty late in the game.
14:16 – The beauty of football
In football, you have to work twice as hard to prove yourself, but it still feels worth it when you’re on the field.
I think that’s what’s beautiful about football is that there is a space where, in between the lines, in between the whistles, it’s just you and the other guy. It doesn’t matter how many stars he has on his profile, or what offers he’s gotten. That’s where it was like, as much as the syndrome comes in of, “Ah, what am I doing? Am I going to really earn a scholarship here? What am I investing all the …” Because I had other aspirations. I was like, “Why would I put so much effort forward in this direction, if it wasn’t going to work out in the end?” But there was moments of validation, where you do get to just go out there and compete. That’s why football’s really beautiful in that way.
17:34 – The role of player arm length
Matt said that when you play football, arm length is a classic thing scouts pay attention to.
Arm length is actually much more, or relatively, important than hand size, but it’s all factored into the same leverage equation of, how much leverage can this guy create, if he’s got just got longer arms? When he pushes, extends, and locks out and dishes, he can create this much more torque, right? Long arms go a long way in the NFL. Length is the classic thing you’ll hear on the scouting reports, but hand size definitely plays into that, too. It correlates well with grip strength, it correlates well with ball handling. Odell is—if you look at his numbers, hand size versus the rest of the receivers that have been through the combine, it’s wild. He’s got the Mickey Mouse mitts. He catches everything. Length is the classic thing you’ll hear on the scouting reports, but hand size definitely plays into that, too.
26:25 – The role of the Trust
The Trust is a program that assists players with things like placement, tuition, ad encouragement.
It’s called the Trust, the players transitioning out of the game, the NFLPA’s program itself. There’s a lot of really great benefits. There’s certain EXOS professional sports facilities, where you can go and work out for free for two years, after you’re done playing just to help you transition into a more normal, not optimizing for a season workout regimen. So that, plus, you have more tuition credits when you’re done. It’s filled with benefits, that honestly, the numbers aren’t great. That’s something, an active piece, one of the things I was working on, when I was in the NFL, and working with the PA, was trying to provide that perspective of, “Hey, I’m a practice squad player. If the only reason I was able to get tuition reimbursement, and get the 401k match, was because I got activated at the end of the season.”
30:42 – The connection between football and the NBA
The NFL journey is similar to other sports. Like the NBA, Matt finds that football is pigeonholed to one league.
Football and the NBA, I think, are uniquely pigeonholed to one league. I think the MLB has, I think they have a huge farm system, and the NFL has actively tried to not have there be a farm system, and does not want the XFL to be a thing. Because I think the players in the NFL would rather have less guys coming for their spots. If there’s ways that they could prolong someone’s career, that’s just more risk on their own career. Some of that aspect is at play here, but I wonder what it’s like, if other people from other sports would say the same thing.
45:12 – Why Matt joined Levels
Matt decided to join Levels because it combined all of his interests, from science to fitness to member interaction.
I remember saying, “Levels would be a home run. I’d love to work here. It’s, definitely just marries all of the things I’m interested in, when it comes down to the actual science and metabolic health side of it.” But just, people who ship fast, do it in public, and work, in my opinion, what the future of work is going to look like. That looks like the best place to go and learn, and honestly, we originally talked about growth roles. But I think working on the ops team is one of the best perspective that you can have into the company, because you’re interfacing with members on a daily basis. It really helps give me perspective and appreciation for what has been built here, and what we’re continuing to build.
Matt Flanagan (00:06):
That’s one of the things about venture and VC. It is such a small, tight-knit community and world. That’s how a lot of those relationships start, over a 30-minute Zoom.
Matt Flanagan (00:15):
At the end of the conversation, it’s just, “Hey, Matt, what can I do to help?” We’ve connected. This is a, “I want to see you succeed,” right? And that’s, at the end of the day, this all comes back to.
Ben Grynol (00:23):
I’m Ben Grynol, part of the Early Startup Team here at Levels. We’re building tech that helps people to understand their metabolic health, and this is your front row seat to everything we do. This is a whole new level.
Ben Grynol (00:52):
Any time you apply yourself to something that takes rigor, that’s something that’s really hard to do, well, there’s a lot of grit involved, and that was no different for Matt Flanagan. Matt recently joined the Levels team after hanging up his cleats from the NFL.
Ben Grynol (01:08):
Matt played professional football for a number of years, and eventually, he wanted to get into tech, so he started working with LCAP Holdings as a venture capitalist. He did that for a year, and he wanted to get more involved with startups at the operator phase.
Ben Grynol (01:24):
We crossed paths a few months ago, the fall of 2021, and eventually, that led to Matt coming on board and working with our operations team, when we sat down, and we talked about his journey from NFL to Levels. Here’s where we kick things off.
Ben Grynol (01:50):
You’ve had this very interesting journey, where you’re in tech now. You worked in VC for a year prior to Levels, joined Levels in, could have been six months ago, or it could have been two weeks ago, and there’s no timeline that makes sense. So we’ll call it, two months?
Matt Flanagan (02:06):
Ben Grynol (02:06):
Three months, something like that?
Matt Flanagan (02:08):
Yeah, it’s good.
Ben Grynol (02:10):
But prior to that, you were playing professional football, right? You had this journey from running yards to running projects, if you want to frame it as that, and …
Matt Flanagan (02:21):
Ben Grynol (02:21):
A really interesting path. How did that start? You trained super hard, you went, played professional football, you were in the NFL. What is it that made you take the leap to tech? Walk through. What was that like?
Matt Flanagan (02:37):
Yeah, yeah. I think, football, a lot of the guys who have been able to make it as long as they have, will be the first to tell you that a lot of it’s just, the right thing, being in the right place at the right time, making the plays when they come your way, or just not getting injured, honestly.
Matt Flanagan (02:55):
First off, off the bat, you kind of have to respect that aspect of football, and I think the people who make it to the highest level do. Throughout my journey, while I was doing it, I started as a walk-on in college. I wasn’t this highly touted scholarship or five-star recruit.
Matt Flanagan (03:15):
It was a grind, honestly, to get to a point where I would even be able to get onto the playing field in college. Also, to develop my body and develop my skills to be able to play at the next level, and perform in the NFL, it’s a grind, right?
Matt Flanagan (03:33):
So that, our commitment, is no more or less for the five-star recruits and the unicorns and the Hall of Famers than it is the guys who are bubble players. I think the journey itself teaches a lot.
Matt Flanagan (03:52):
It has taught me a lot of lessons, and just, it’s been the only thing I’ve done for so long. It just feels like it was my first startup, right?
Ben Grynol (04:02):
Yeah, yeah, yeah.
Matt Flanagan (04:04):
I’d scrap my way, plenty of times, along the way. I think there’s something, that when you are actively making bets on yourself, and it may not work out the way that you think it will, but just that process of working through those problems, and the connections you meet along the way, of other people who are doing the same things, is, I think the most valuable part of this long and crazy journey.
Matt Flanagan (04:31):
But yeah, I know there’s a lot, there’s just so many threads and things that have happened along the way. I mean, it’s hard to find a place to start.
Ben Grynol (04:40):
What’s that? You said “bubble player,” What’s a bubble player, versus, and we got to go into walk-on, because, that …
Matt Flanagan (04:46):
Ben Grynol (04:46):
We need more context on that, but what’s a bubble player?
Matt Flanagan (04:49):
Yeah. Okay, so the breakdown of the guys in the NFL, they’re the franchise guys. They have made it to multiple contracts down the road.
Matt Flanagan (05:04):
They’re house name players, right? Those make up 25 to 30% of the roster, to be honest. There’s 53 guys on a roster, and yeah, it’s probably closer to 25%, are those guys, they know they’re going to make the team going into a training camp.
Matt Flanagan (05:22):
The rest of the rest of the guys in the roster, honestly, are new college rookie free agents. They’re free agents who are, they started on another team, or coming from another place, but are only on one-year deals.
Matt Flanagan (05:39):
And that’s the thing is, the 65% or 75%, however you want to look at that, is all on minimum, non-guaranteed contracts. So it’s honestly a bloodbath for those few amount of spots that are remaining left on these rosters.
Matt Flanagan (05:54):
Like I mentioned, you have to be in the right place at the right time, and just honestly, stay healthy, to be able to capture, and I guess, kind of liquidate some of the sweat equity that you put in to try to make it there.
Matt Flanagan (06:13):
And your time there, the first thing they tell you when you’re in the NFL, is that it stands for Not For Long. It’s a 100% injury rate sport.
Matt Flanagan (06:24):
I think there has been a concerted effort to try to get more guys to think, “How do I take advantage of my time when I am in the NFL, when I am a active player?”
Matt Flanagan (06:37):
They have a lot of other programs set up through the NFLPA, and the union, and that’s helped. But yeah, that’s kind of the breakdown of why the union needs to exist, too, because there is such a stark difference of the guys who are the guys who you would notice, if there was a lockout, and they decided to sit out. Then there’s the rest of the guys in the NFL.
Matt Flanagan (07:02):
And equally, like I mentioned, I was one of the bubble guys. It’s definitely, there’s equal amounts of work that has to go in, to be either of those two players. So I think that’s the part that might get lost, sometimes, when people …
Ben Grynol (07:15):
So, a bubble guy is not core, meaning, contract after contract, where you’re like, “Ah, you’re a core pillar of this team.” Bubble Guy is a new recruit, new team member that has to grind and make his way onto the team.
Matt Flanagan (07:33):
Essentially, yeah. Yeah. There’s also, they can replace you. And sometimes, depending on the scouting department, they’re actively doing that.
Ben Grynol (07:42):
Matt Flanagan (07:42):
Weekly, they’ll bring in free agents to try, “Okay, let’s see what’s available in the market.” But I started my career on the practice squad, and I think a lot of guys will either fluctuate from the practice squad to the active roster. So yeah, the practice squad is another 10, I think it’s 12 now, because of COVID, roster spots that you can essentially stash players.
Matt Flanagan (08:09):
They’re protected, they can’t be … Or no, excuse me, they’re not protected. They can be signed off of from other teams, but it’s essentially just another place where you can develop players. And I think a lot of guys spend time on the practice squad.
Matt Flanagan (08:24):
But there’s also those, if you’re drafted, when you enter the NFL, there’s a really high percent chance you’re not going to be on a practice squad, just based off of the sunk cost fallacy of, “Hey, if somebody’s invested capital into this guy, at one point … Oh, I see, he just got waived. Let’s pick him up and bring him onto our 53-man roster.” I think the numbers speak for themselves. You could argue, that’s somewhat biased, but …
Ben Grynol (08:54):
It’s very interesting.
Matt Flanagan (08:55):
Ben Grynol (08:57):
So what’s this walk-on? There’s a couple other things to dive into, but this, the walk-on concept, is that … You played football growing up, I’m assuming, your whole life?
Matt Flanagan (09:09):
Ben Grynol (09:09):
High school, or whatever, and then you get to college, and how does that work? You decide one day, “I’m going to try out?” Or is it that you have to be invited?
Matt Flanagan (09:17):
Ben Grynol (09:18):
What’s this whole … Is that what it is?
Matt Flanagan (09:20):
Yeah, those are the three doors, essentially, into college football. For reference, I actually didn’t start playing until later in life, compared to everybody else. I wasn’t a Pee Wee football player in high school.
Ben Grynol (09:32):
Meaning, what’s later?
Matt Flanagan (09:35):
Like freshman year of high school, 13, 14 years old. Really, going into college, I had only played football for three or four years.
Ben Grynol (09:43):
Matt Flanagan (09:45):
Yeah. I think, just from a developmental standpoint, that was part of the reason why, and also, I was at a public high school. Football recruiting is a really big deal. They start recruiting out of these Pee Wee programs, and you can go to a private high school, which is one of the higher tiers of competition in high school football.
Matt Flanagan (10:09):
College coaches have only a certain amount of time on the road, so they’ll just naturally be going and visiting these schools. So it’s more exposure. If you’re serious about football, that is the road that a lot of guys take, but I didn’t know I was serious about football until pretty late in the game.
Matt Flanagan (10:23):
So it started as, I hit a growth spurt. I was 6’5″, my sophomore year of high school, when I was 15 years old, and barely 200 pounds. So it was like, I had a way to go.
Matt Flanagan (10:41):
I’m pretty sure college coaches, because they’re forced to go, they only have a limited amount of time on the road, they’re also forced to use benchmarking. “Oh, this guy’s in the New Jersey Football Database, he’s over 6’5″. Let’s send him a recruiting letter.” And that’s how it started.
Matt Flanagan (10:56):
I just got a recruiting letter from Rutgers one day of, “Hey, come to our summer camp. We’d love to see you play, and maybe you’ll learn a scholarship.” But I think that also introduced this, the idea of subjectivity in football to me.
Matt Flanagan (11:11):
Because as many camps as I went to, and no matter how well I did, it just never, never translated to a scholarship. It was always, “Oh, yeah. Oh, where are you from again? Okay. Well, I’m not familiar with that school. All right. Hey, we’d love to have you come walk on. We have a bunch of guys in the past that have earned scholarships after walking on here, and just working their ass off.”
Matt Flanagan (11:38):
I had walk-on opportunities from a few schools, but Rutgers kind of just always made the most sense. It was a hometown college. And I think their roster was the best shot, in my opinion, for me to get onto the field, and that you ended up working out.
Matt Flanagan (11:54):
But if you aren’t doing it that way, where it’s like, you already meet these kind of benchmarks … That kind of gets me. “Oh yeah, you can come to training camp, you’re paying for tuition, we’re not giving you a scholarship.”
Matt Flanagan (12:11):
There’s 85 scholarships on a NCAA roster, and a hundred-plus roster spots, so there’s 30 plus walk-ons, on any college roster. So I was one of those guys, at one point.
Matt Flanagan (12:25):
But if you didn’t meet those benchmarks, and weren’t recruited somewhat out of high school, you did have to just show up, knock on the door one day, and go out into the weight room, and just do a testing.
Ben Grynol (12:37):
Interesting. So that’s it?
Matt Flanagan (12:39):
A lot of that is, honestly, just other people signing off, and just passing the eyeball test. And I can’t discount that enough. I doubt that they’re looking out for you, but …
Ben Grynol (12:52):
They’re like, “Oh, Matt’s a big dude,” is that what you mean by eyeball test?
Matt Flanagan (12:56):
I guess. I think-
Ben Grynol (12:57):
Like, “Heck, yeah. Let’s give him a shot?”
Matt Flanagan (12:59):
I think a lot of guys would say, “Oh yeah, I played with this guy in high school. If he was just two inches taller, he’d be a baller.” People would have actually noticed him at these recruiting events, or …
Ben Grynol (13:09):
Matt Flanagan (13:09):
Even in college, I think that’s true. “Oh, he was just a little undersized. He never got a nod from the NFL because of that, so …”
Ben Grynol (13:18):
Money ball it. You need to money ball it, just go …
Matt Flanagan (13:21):
Yeah, honestly, but it’s a blood sport, it’s a meat market, but …
Ben Grynol (13:27):
Yeah, that’s wild, very wild. There’s a ton of signaling, it sounds like, too, where, I mean, that’s …
Matt Flanagan (13:32):
Ben Grynol (13:33):
Signaling exists everywhere in everything. The world is based on signaling, full stop. So where you go to school indicates how smart you are, the city you live in indicates the way you think. I think some of these heuristics and mental models are changing now, especially with the world being remote, and opening up.
Ben Grynol (13:55):
But it sounds like that’s a thing, where it’s, “Oh, you went to, you went through this recruiting program, you must be good,” as opposed to, “Flanagan shows up and he’s a walk-on, but crushes it.”
Ben Grynol (14:07):
You basically have to work twice as hard to prove yourself. Because you don’t have the other, we’ll call it the check mark of, you’ve already been verified.
Matt Flanagan (14:16):
Yeah, exactly. But I think that’s what’s beautiful about football is that there is a space where, in between the lines, in between the whistles, it’s just you and the other guy. It doesn’t matter what, how many stars he has on his profile, or what offers he’s gotten.
Matt Flanagan (14:31):
That’s where it was like, as much as the syndrome comes in of, “Ah, what am I doing? Am I going to really earn a scholarship here? What am I investing all the …”
Matt Flanagan (14:43):
Because I had other aspirations. I was like, “Why would I put so much effort forward in this direction, if it wasn’t going to work out in the end?” But there was moments of validation, where you do get to just go out there and compete. That’s why football’s really beautiful in that way.
Ben Grynol (14:59):
Is that, why do you think …
Matt Flanagan (15:01):
There’s there’s not always that in life, and I think that’s an important thing to give a nod to football for.
Ben Grynol (15:07):
Well, why do you get that, though, that imposter syndrome? Is it because you look at other guys on the field, and you’re like, “Oh, that guy’s bigger. Oh, that guy’s faster. Oh, that guy’s stronger. Oh, I’m not as skilled.” Is that sort of the framing?
Matt Flanagan (15:19):
I think …
Ben Grynol (15:20):
I mean, it’s just weird. You hear about imposter syndrome in startups, in tech and all, in the business world, but I guess it exists in professional sports too, the same way?
Matt Flanagan (15:31):
For sure. Yeah. I think it goes back to the idea of signaling and the idea of the human resource funnel, and just going through that, and having a point in life where you’re on the outside looking in, and you don’t think you’re being underwritten properly, and it’s, it’s frustrating.
Matt Flanagan (15:49):
I think that’s just a result, and that’s a result of having these kind of funnels on the way up, right? So the guys who do make it are, they do certainly fall into a tightly defined window of height and weight, and 40 time, and hand size, and all that.
Matt Flanagan (16:13):
But is that a function of us ruling other people out, because they don’t? Or is it just the true causation versus correlation, this is what makes them good? If you don’t meet those standards … I was a blocking tight end. I was not out there creating space, like the basketball player on the football field kind of guy.
Matt Flanagan (16:35):
It was a lot of, it was a different style of game that I had than that other people had. And that was what was unique and got me as far as I did. But I think, very much in the same way, when you’re working out, when you’re a free agent in the NFL, and you’re not wearing pads and you’re just out on the practice field, catching balls from scouts, that does bias towards a certain type of player, someone who just, I think, passes the eyeball test.
Matt Flanagan (17:02):
If you don’t necessarily do that, that can be definitely disheartening. I mean, that’s just the nature of evaluation itself, but …
Ben Grynol (17:14):
Interesting. Okay, a couple things. So hand size is a real thing? I mean, it makes sense, you’re handling balls all the time, but that’s something to gauge for is, how big somebody’s hands are?
Ben Grynol (17:24):
It’s like, “Oh, they probably can grab jerseys better. They can catch the ball and handle it better, hold onto it better?”
Matt Flanagan (17:31):
Ben Grynol (17:31):
But do they measure, is that something people measure?
Matt Flanagan (17:34):
So it is. Arm length is actually much more, or relatively important than hand size, but it’s all factored into the same leverage equation of, “How much leverage can this guy create, if he’s got …”
Ben Grynol (17:46):
Matt Flanagan (17:47):
Just got longer arms, when he pushes, extends and locks out, and dishes, he can create this much more torque, right? Long arms go a long way in the NFL. Length is the classic thing you’ll hear on the scouting reports, but hand size definitely plays into that, too.
Matt Flanagan (18:13):
It correlates well with grip strength, it correlates well with ball handling. Odell is … If you look at his numbers, hand size versus the rest of the receivers that have been through the combine, it’s wild. He’s got the Mickey Mouse mitts. He catches everything. That’s the thing, but …
Ben Grynol (18:33):
Matt Flanagan (18:34):
Ben Grynol (18:35):
Interesting. This is me being totally naive. Blocking tight end means, you played offense, and you tried to stop people from getting the quarterback?
Matt Flanagan (18:43):
Yeah. Or tackling the running back. So, the offense …
Ben Grynol (18:48):
Running back is the guy who’s trying to catch the ball from …
Matt Flanagan (18:52):
When you start an offensive play, you can either run the ball, or throw the ball. So throwing the ball is when the quarterback’s going to get it, people are going to run down field, and you just dish it off to them. There’s obviously the risk of, now the ball’s in flight, someone can intercept it.
Matt Flanagan (19:06):
Running the ball is, “Hey, we’re going to have everyone block in one direction.” Or there’s even the minute detail of blocking schemes, and gap power. There’s two sides of that game, just like there is the spread offense, and the West Coast system.
Matt Flanagan (19:23):
So you balance a run and pass attack to gain the most yards against a defense. Because if a defense is trying to stop a run, they’ll keep all of their players close to the line of scrimmage.
Matt Flanagan (19:34):
They’ll always have an extra guy to tackle the ball carrier, if you’re handing off the ball, and if there’s a quarterback there. During the run game, you want to put out some bigger guys. You’ll put in an extra, you’ll put in two tight ends, maybe, or a tight end and a fullback, so they can lead block for the running back, when you hand them the ball.
Matt Flanagan (19:55):
But maybe in some of the passing downs, you would want to get an extra receiver out there, and take all of your tight ends out. So there’s definitely some personnel games you can play, and the different types of personnel you have just plays into different offenses better, so …
Ben Grynol (20:11):
You’re trying to counter a position, where you’re playing team XYZ, and you know Team XYZ always plays this type of defense. So you’re strategically, the coach or the quarterback or whomever is, “Yo, we’re calling this play, because we know this is the way they probably are going to play at this yard line. We’re going to run the ball, because we know we can rip around the side,” or something.
Matt Flanagan (20:35):
Ben Grynol (20:36):
Is that sort of accurate?
Matt Flanagan (20:37):
Yeah, that’s absolutely what it is. It’s a match ups game, at the end of the day, of, “Hey …”
Ben Grynol (20:40):
Matt Flanagan (20:42):
You can use your personnel as much as you can use formations to do that. Say, that’s why guys like Rob Gronkowski, and the Aaron Hernandez days of guys, or teams that can put two tight ends out on the field, make teams have a really tough decision of, “Do we keep our base defense out there, where we have two safeties, three linebackers, et cetera?”
Matt Flanagan (21:05):
Or do we move into a more upfront run stopping defense, where we sub in an extra linebacker? Or are we going to maybe a passing defense, where we’re subbing out a linebacker and putting in an extra safety? If you have guys who can do it all, you can line up one play and smash them in the mouth with a run play, when they have their passing personnel in.
Matt Flanagan (21:25):
Then, when they swap out and put their slow running, slow linebacker covering Ron Gronkowski, or Rob Gronkowski, you’re going to throw it over his head. There’s going to be spikes in the end zone.
Matt Flanagan (21:36):
But that’s the fun gamesmanship of football, where it’s kind of, you have limited information about what the next play is going to be. And you’re just trying to get lucky honestly, but …
Ben Grynol (21:49):
Interesting. So it’s yeah. It’s like, you don’t have a playbook, meaning, “Hey, every time we’re on offense, we do this thing.” Because you’re always adapting, depending on the situation, who’s on the field, who you’re playing.
Ben Grynol (21:59):
Because you’re like, “Oh, I know Flanagan plays this style, I know he usually does this thing.” So it almost, it sounds like, it’s full interactive reasoning, and full game theory, of just trying to get in … It’s basically, you’re trying to get into each other’s minds, saying, “Now, we’re in the third quarter, and on defense, what have they done to this point?”
Ben Grynol (22:20):
You’re always updating what’s happened in the game, and what they haven’t done, based on what you know, for plays. And then, you’re just …
Matt Flanagan (22:28):
Ben Grynol (22:29):
Trying to counterposition against that, and be like, “Okay, now we’re going to try this thing.”
Matt Flanagan (22:33):
Yeah. It’s madness, sometimes, too. Because, especially at the highest level, coaches get in their own heads so much about, “Oh, what’s this going?” It’s a pressure cooker for 60 minutes.
Matt Flanagan (22:53):
I don’t want to be in their shoes. I definitely have no desire to coach at any point. I’d love, I think, going out and doing maybe positional stuff with other tight ends, and giving back to the youth is the way I would do that. But being a high school coach, or trying to call plays? No, I don’t. I just don’t.
Ben Grynol (23:12):
Not your jam. When you were playing, you went to school, too. You went and did your MBA in Pittsburgh, I think, right?
Matt Flanagan (23:21):
Yup, at Pitt.
Ben Grynol (23:22):
Yeah. So what’s that look like? Is that pretty common for professional athletes, we’ll just say, across sports, where everyone is thinking of, “What’s next?” What do you call the NFL? Oh, Not For Long.
Matt Flanagan (23:36):
Not For Long.
Ben Grynol (23:38):
If that’s the heuristic …
Matt Flanagan (23:39):
Ben Grynol (23:39):
That people have, were you, we’ll say common, in the sense of, was that just a common thing, you’d go and do your MBA in the off-season, or part-time?
Matt Flanagan (23:52):
It was common for me, but I think-
Ben Grynol (23:56):
But all guys …
Matt Flanagan (23:57):
… Yeah. I do think, in anybody’s business class, I think you could look around, and see that there’s probably a student athlete somewhere in there, just because the NCAA does have the red shirt rule, and you have five years to play four years of ball.
Matt Flanagan (24:15):
Many guys can make it to, especially if you’re there for the summer, anyway … I was able to graduate somewhat early, and get started on my MBA while I was still playing in college. And I think a lot of student athletes take advantage of this more often than professionals do. Because you can start a master’s program at your school, or even grad transfer, and go to a different school.
Matt Flanagan (24:37):
That was my thought process of, “Hey, Rutgers has been great, but I think my time as a player here has kind of ended. Pittsburgh, I’ve heard a lot of great things, I really like their football program, and they have a good business school. I don’t know how I’ll finish it.”
Matt Flanagan (24:56):
Honestly. It was like, I’ll find an employer to help me pay for it some time. But yeah, it just happened to be the NFL. And they have, the tuition reimbursement’s really generous there, there’s a lot of benefits around going back to school, and finishing your education.
Matt Flanagan (25:17):
Because there’s a lot of guys who leave early. There’s no perfect time ever to go back to school. In my mind, I was like, “I want to front-load it as much as possible, and just get it done.”
Matt Flanagan (25:33):
It honestly was familiar, too, because I’d come from being a student athlete in college, and juggling that to, now it was, I had my football season, I had my school season, football season, school season, and then I graduated. So, it felt comfortable in a way, too.
Ben Grynol (25:52):
So the PA, the Players Association, the goal is to set guys up. You want to make sure that it’s not like, “Hey, you’re on your own.”
Matt Flanagan (26:00):
Ben Grynol (26:00):
They’re helping with things like placement and tuition, and I’d assume, encouraging people, “Hey, you probably want to go back to school, because you could be here for 20 years, or you might be here for one.”
Matt Flanagan (26:11):
Ben Grynol (26:11):
But is that something they do?
Matt Flanagan (26:15):
Definitely, yeah. That’s the goal, at the end of the day, for another call.
Ben Grynol (26:19):
What percentage? Is it a 50% thing, or are you an anomaly? What’s that look like?
Matt Flanagan (26:25):
It’s called the Trust, the players transitioning out of the game, the NFLPA’s program itself. There’s a lot of really great benefits.
Matt Flanagan (26:37):
There’s certain EXOS professional sports facilities, where you can go and work out for free for two years, after you’re done playing just to help you transition into a more normal, not optimizing for a season workout regimen.
Matt Flanagan (26:51):
So that, plus, you have more tuition credits when you’re done. It’s filled with benefits, that honestly, the numbers aren’t great. That’s something, an active piece.
Matt Flanagan (27:05):
One of the things I was working on, when I was in the NFL, and working with the PA, was trying to provide that perspective of, “Hey, I’m a practice squad player. If the only reason I was able to get tuition reimbursement, and get the 401k match, was because I got activated at the end of the season …”
Matt Flanagan (27:23):
If the goal of the NFLPA is to line the pockets of every guy whoever played football, or as many guys ever played football as possible … Because I think we all know the structural and infrastructural biases and things we had to overcome to get there.
Matt Flanagan (27:42):
Now we finally have the owners right where we want them, right? So let’s try to cash out as much as we can, and get as many guys as much benefits as they can.
Matt Flanagan (27:52):
I don’t know. That’s my, at least personal view on what the PA can do, but I don’t know if a lot of people would agree with me on that.
Ben Grynol (27:59):
Why do you think guys don’t take advantage of it? Is it just not knowing?is it not enough guys are doing it?
Ben Grynol (28:07):
Because I would assume if one guy on a team is doing something, maybe two do it. But if 10 are doing it, then maybe another 10 are probably, “Hey, Flanagan and a bunch of people are doing this thing. I should probably look into it, at the very least,” because it becomes social proof of just, the common thing that people do, and …
Matt Flanagan (28:29):
Ben Grynol (28:30):
It’s necessary. It’s absolutely necessary.
Matt Flanagan (28:32):
It’s definitely … If this is the one number I can remember and try to reference here. The NFLPA has an externship program, where, during the off-season, you’re essentially placed at a company for three weeks or a month, or sometimes, it’s even just one week.
Matt Flanagan (28:52):
But I jumped on that every year it was available, when I was doing that. It was originally what actually got me here to Levels in the first place.
Matt Flanagan (29:00):
But the participation in that, I think there’s roughly 1,500 players in the NFL, there was about 50 of us that did the externships. It’s probably closer to 100 now, because I do see they have just more opportunities available, too.
Matt Flanagan (29:20):
I think there’s a dangerous thing in football, where if you’re not devoting every minute of your off-season, and being vocal about spending every second you have, to be a better teammate, be a better player, then people can misconstrue that, and think that, “Oh, you’re being selfish. You’re wasting your time doing this. This is time better spent in the weight room, or at a workout,” or something like that, so I don’t think guys …
Ben Grynol (29:47):
Meaning school? You’re saying, people look at school as not training, not being a good teammate, not bettering yourself for football?
Matt Flanagan (29:56):
Ben Grynol (29:57):
But you’re hedging your bet at that point.
Matt Flanagan (30:00):
Does that look like a guy who really wants it, and is trying to put it all in at the casino?
Ben Grynol (30:05):
Matt Flanagan (30:07):
I don’t think so.
Ben Grynol (30:07):
So, what can …
Matt Flanagan (30:10):
So I think, that’s just … Yeah.
Ben Grynol (30:10):
What do you guys do, then? Is there an average path? What do people do? I know your lens is on NFL, but I’m assuming that you’ve got some lens on this being thematic throughout professional sports. We’ll make an assumption.
Ben Grynol (30:27):
I can’t imagine that it’s much different in basketball versus baseball versus hockey. It’s probably pretty average, I would assume?
Matt Flanagan (30:37):
Yeah, definitely. The journey’s the same. Just, I think, different sport …
Ben Grynol (30:42):
Different sport, yeah.
Matt Flanagan (30:42):
Yeah, and I think football and the NBA, I think, are uniquely pigeonholed to one league. I think the MLB has, I think they have a huge farm system, and the NFL has actively tried to not have there be a farm system, and does not want the XFL to be a thing.
Matt Flanagan (31:01):
Because I think the players in the NFL would rather have less guys coming for their spots. If there’s ways that they could prolong someone’s career, that’s just more risk on their own career.
Matt Flanagan (31:15):
Some of that aspect is at play here, but I wonder … Yeah, I wonder what it’s like, if other people from other sports would say the same thing. I just don’t know, yeah.
Ben Grynol (31:29):
What’s the path, though? What’s the average path? If you …
Matt Flanagan (31:32):
Ben Grynol (31:32):
Let’s say, I mean, if there were 50 guys out of 1,500, that’s a big gap right there, just as far as people who are pursuing school. But what do guys do? what what’s their path?
Matt Flanagan (31:47):
A lot of it’s just full heads down, rowing the boat at training. People will go to Florida for months. They’ll go rent a Airbnb down in Florida, go to train at a facility during the winter, and spend a lot of money on trainers, and performance. They’re investing in themselves.
Matt Flanagan (32:11):
Some guys will say, “Oh, that’s, if you’re not doing that, you’re doing yourself a disservice.” If the next guy is doing that, and you’re squaring off against him, one on one, he’s just going to have that edge.
Matt Flanagan (32:24):
I think that’s a meant thing that a lot of guys, frankly, throw a lot of money away, on recovery therapies when they just don’t … There’s core principle, fundamental things that they don’t … They’ll pay hundreds or thousands of dollars to specialists before they’ll look at their own personal decisions. They want to outsource that as much as possible, when they’re making the money to do it. And that makes sense.
Matt Flanagan (32:50):
But other guys, what’s the path, right? So when you are finally declared for the NFL, you have no more eligibility in college, or you leave early, you essentially are signed with an agent, and you’re flown somewhere to go work out, and get the condo in Florida, and spend the next couple months preparing for the draft.
Matt Flanagan (33:12):
I, again, at that step, decided, “Hey, I have another semester worth of tuition from the University of Pittsburgh. I’ll just train in Pittsburgh, and still take class.” Some guys or scouts, or scouting departments could look at that, and be like, “He’s not committed. He’s still going to class.” And that might have been a conversation, I don’t know.
Matt Flanagan (33:33):
But I think there is that worry in, not just my head, but other players’ heads as well, that if they aren’t going and posting on Instagram, “Me working out at EXOS,” show me working out at some other training facility, then …
Ben Grynol (33:50):
Matt Flanagan (33:50):
Yeah, yeah. Exactly, yeah. If I’m not posting on social media, then I’m not training. And I think that can be toxic.
Ben Grynol (34:01):
Yeah. You had school, so that was your ticket. You got the ticket of the NBA, where that’s in your back pocket, saying, “Hey, I’ve done. I’ve put in my time to be educated, in a different sense of football education. I’ve got academic education.” If guys aren’t doing that, then what do they do, post?
Matt Flanagan (34:28):
Whatever makes them happy. I don’t know. Because obviously, I think a lot of guys will either go into … Some guys make enough money to retire, and that’s just the reality of, great, that’s a very small number. But it’s enough to at least get you a head start on, maybe, what you generationally have never had before. So that’s a big role, can’t be discounted.
Matt Flanagan (34:53):
I mean, you make a lot of … I think the connections you make while you’re playing can’t be discounted. That’s the one thing I would always tell a student athlete, or someone who’s going to play in college next year, or something like that. It’s like, go to all of those networking opportunities. And I know my friends who have stopped playing, and have now started professional lives, all of that comes back to meeting somebody somewhere.
Matt Flanagan (35:20):
Honestly, a lot of conversations start, because I was just a big guy in a room, and like, “Oh, hey, you must play football, right?” That’s definitely helped me, and got me, got my foot in doors before.
Matt Flanagan (35:33):
I think it becomes less interesting of a conversation when I tell them I used to play, personally. I’m like, “Oh yeah, I actually played for the team here.”
Ben Grynol (35:42):
That’s so funny. Then what was it that got you into startups, investing? Because your path, following, in your words, once you hung up the cleats and you went and you worked with LCAP Holdings, which is a boutique VC fund, so you did that.
Ben Grynol (36:01):
You were an analyst, you did all that work for a year. But what was it that initially got you into startups and tech? Was it something that you were interested in simultaneously with football, or did it come organically, as you were doing your education?
Matt Flanagan (36:16):
Yeah, startup? My dad worked for a startup, fully remote, in the early 2000s, for a company that was based out of London. I had firsthand experience, seeing the grind of async work, and the startup life.
Matt Flanagan (36:32):
And I think that, subconsciously, not having looked back on this, I don’t think I would have ever attributed it to that, but it’s definitely, I saw it in my dad, the change of energy that he did. Because he worked at Bell Labs, and was just a engineer in the system there, and went off, took an idea, and ended up starting a company and selling it.
Matt Flanagan (36:57):
Seeing that journey from the back seat was like … I think what ultimately got me interested in, “Okay, startups and innovation, and working towards building something, and bringing something new into the world is exciting, and something that I want to do.”
Matt Flanagan (37:14):
Actually, I mentioned it, the NFLPA externship programs, one of them happened to be with WeWork, when they were launching their WeWork Labs product. So it was the incubator shared co-working space, just for founders and startups. It was a floor and a WeWork of just, you’d sell it by the desk, instead of by the area.
Matt Flanagan (37:37):
The project that I was working on was just working through, “Okay, how do we build the system around the CRM, the interaction, how do we map what’s in these rooms and their own networks,” and all that?
Matt Flanagan (37:50):
I think it opened, first off, got me an introduction to somebody who would later make the intro to Sue and LCAP, and just get me started down that path. But just to be able to sitting in the rooms, one-on-one with founders, and hearing their problems, and hearing the labs manager or the EIR, Entrepreneur in Residence, talk through their problems … It just felt so genuine.
Matt Flanagan (38:14):
I think I mentioned, it felt very, really reminiscent of when I was talking to other players or other mentors throughout my career in sports. So I wanted to get on that side of the table, and I was lucky enough to do that with Stu. It was COVID, I was a free agent, wasn’t sure there was going to be a season at that point.
Matt Flanagan (38:34):
I had been on a podcast called The Game Plan Podcast, where it just highlighted, a lot like this, just kind of talking about your story in athletics, and how it translates to business. Stu was another guest on that podcast some other day.
Matt Flanagan (38:51):
We got connected, like that, and had a monthly going, just talking about, “Hey, what was your transition out of the NFL like?” For the Eagles, for a number of years, I think, six or seven in the NFL, in total, but …
Ben Grynol (39:04):
Oh, he did that? The guy who founded LCAP was also …
Matt Flanagan (39:08):
Ben Grynol (39:08):
Matt Flanagan (39:08):
Ben Grynol (39:08):
Oh, of course.
Matt Flanagan (39:09):
Yeah, I buried the lead there, yeah. So he was a linebacker in the NFL. That was originally what, our common thread …
Ben Grynol (39:18):
Matt Flanagan (39:19):
[crosstalk 00:39:19] method. So he …
Ben Grynol (39:19):
That’s very cool.
Matt Flanagan (39:20):
When he stopped playing, it was during the lockout, very similar situation of, “Hey, not sure if the season’s going to happen.” He actually went to investment banking at Goldman.
Matt Flanagan (39:29):
That’s originally how the conversation started. It was, “Hey, you did this crazy moon shot of making it to the NFL, investment banking, Tiger Cub hedge fund, now in VC. Let’s talk about that.”
Ben Grynol (39:41):
Matt Flanagan (39:42):
Ben Grynol (39:42):
Well, can you …
Matt Flanagan (39:43):
How did you do that? Yeah.
Ben Grynol (39:43):
That was like, lockout was a bunch of years ago? I sort of remember it.
Matt Flanagan (39:49):
Yeah, I think it was 2008 or 2009.
Ben Grynol (39:52):
Oh. So, okay …
Matt Flanagan (39:53):
I don’t know. I could be wrong.
Ben Grynol (39:53):
More than 10? Ah.
Matt Flanagan (39:55):
Maybe ’11 or ‘!0, it’s in one of those years. I’ve got …
Ben Grynol (39:57):
So he played a lot, prior to you.
Matt Flanagan (40:03):
Yeah, he was …
Ben Grynol (40:03):
He played many years before you did.
Matt Flanagan (40:04):
We never shared a locker room or anything, but yeah, he did play. Yeah. I’m blanking on what years he was.
Matt Flanagan (40:12):
I want to say, he was in there from 2006, to 2013 or 2012. That might be totally wrong, but …
Ben Grynol (40:19):
Matt Flanagan (40:20):
Ben Grynol (40:21):
That’s cool, though. I mean, maybe it’s, we don’t hear of it, because it just doesn’t surface. But the people who would play professional sports that are now doing VC, tech, startups, maybe it is more common than we think. But you just don’t hear about it.
Matt Flanagan (40:43):
I think it’s definitely accelerating.
Ben Grynol (40:45):
Matt Flanagan (40:46):
I don’t know if we’re hearing more about it, or it’s just, I think guys are actually putting more dollars about it, but, I mean …
Ben Grynol (40:53):
That’s the thing.
Matt Flanagan (40:54):
He, I think there’s a big market around these kind of tech companies. They want interesting people around the table, and they’re later stage deals. There’s more about, getting allocation. There is more about, having a connection, or even just being able to get it, get secondary.
Matt Flanagan (41:07):
You can start a decently performing fund, if you just have connections, and people think you have something valuable to bring to the table as an athlete. So, and I think that’s just, it’s the case, that’s true.
Matt Flanagan (41:21):
I think, like Stu, LCAP, Stu and [Kanal 00:41:24], and their fund, is really pre-seed, and really operator focused. So it’s less of that model, but I think there’s room for both. And honestly, one needs the other, so …
Ben Grynol (41:37):
Then, your path to Levels, you did the fun thing for a year. I remember, you’re obsessed with Whoop, and …
Matt Flanagan (41:48):
Ben Grynol (41:48):
I think when we first chatted, you said, “Oh, I heard about levels through Twitter,” or something like that, but was sort of your path in, is that we had first connected, talking just generally about, growth and growth roles, and all those things. Then that led to where we are today, which is, you’re a part of the ops team.
Matt Flanagan (42:09):
Yeah, it’s crazy that it landed this way, because it really was. Part of my job at LCAP was just doing market research, and what was going on.
Matt Flanagan (42:18):
I remember when the a16z round landed, and it just first put it on my radar of, “Oh, it’s a pretty big round. I really like this company, like interstitial.” I was a biology major in college, and was trying to, it was at a point where I’d been an analyst at this fund for a year.
Matt Flanagan (42:39):
I could either move to another fund, and do, either, later stage in the business cycle, or more assets under management, but I don’t think the boutique analyst’s job changes very much.
Matt Flanagan (42:51):
They’re not going to, it doesn’t lead to the path of a investing seat, right? So where does the next chapter start? And I got into, I got really heavy into your guys’s Friday forums, and just watching how you guys execute.
Matt Flanagan (43:07):
I think, as a guy who had spent the past year, sitting down with founders in our portfolio company, talking about some of the similar problems and challenges, or solutions that you guys had, it was really refreshing, and became almost, every Friday I tuned in for the next week’s Release of the Year, backdated Friday Forum.
Matt Flanagan (43:28):
And yeah, through that process of just checking the websites, saw you guys were starting to hire again, and I threw in my application. Honestly, it was as cold of a application as that could have started.
Matt Flanagan (43:42):
But from there, I was, “Okay, I really want to land this one. Let me make sure I can talk to everybody, all the people, all the friends I’ve made in the past year, and try to, at least, make sure people don’t think I’m crazy.”
Ben Grynol (43:55):
Yeah. Well, the funny thing is, I guess you had worked with a ton of different people across our cap table.
Ben Grynol (44:02):
Because there are people that we work with closely. Julia Lipton’s one, right? We will exchange e-mails once a month, at a minimum.
Matt Flanagan (44:13):
Ben Grynol (44:14):
It had come up, where she had said, “Oh, I work very closely with Matt,” and a bunch of people that we have closer connection with on our cap table were like, “Yeah, yeah. No, I know Flanagan, he’s great, he’s great.”
Ben Grynol (44:26):
We kept having these things, and we’re like, “This is hilarious,” where the world got a lot smaller and a lot quicker than you think, sometimes, but it was very cool.
Matt Flanagan (44:35):
It is, though. Yeah, that is, because that’s one of the things about venture, and VC. It is such a small tight-knit community and world. And it starts just by people wanting to help. That’s how a lot of those relationships start.
Matt Flanagan (44:49):
The guys from LCAP would make an intro. That starts with a 30-minute Zoom, and at the end of the conversation, it’s just, “Hey, Matt, what can I do to help?”
Matt Flanagan (44:55):
And just, back and forth relationship forms that way. It’s not transaction transactional, but genuine, “We’ve connected,” this is a, “I want to see you succeed, right?” And that’s, at the end of the day, what this all comes back to.
Matt Flanagan (45:12):
I remember saying, “Levels would be a home run. I’d love to work here. It’s, definitely just marries all of the things I’m interested in, when it comes down to the actual science and metabolic health side of it.”
Matt Flanagan (45:27):
But just, people who ship fast, do it in public, and work, in my opinion, what the future of work is going to look like. That looks like the best place to go and learn, and honestly, we originally talked about growth roles.
Matt Flanagan (45:42):
But I think working on the ops team is one of the best perspective that you can have into the company, because you’re interfacing with members on a daily basis. It really helps give me perspective and appreciation for what has been built here, and what we’re continuing to build.
Ben Grynol (46:00):
Yeah, it’s a funny marriage of all your skills and interests, that being, you went to school and you did biology. You’re interested in performance and health, metabolic health. Your dad was a company builder. Worked remotely.
Ben Grynol (46:17):
It’s this amalgamation of all of these unrelated things coming together. It’s like, “Oh, that is, that’s Matt’s whole life in a box.” Everything sort of packaged together, which is very cool.
Matt Flanagan (46:30):
It felt like a no-brainer, but yeah. No, it’s been great. Again, we’re talking, it’s been less than 45 days working here, and you’re right. It just feels like …
Ben Grynol (46:40):
Is that what it is?
Matt Flanagan (46:41):
Yeah. Well, we’re … No, I’m sorry, 50 … November 1st, 52. 52 days.
Ben Grynol (46:48):
So I wasn’t super far off, when I said two months?
Matt Flanagan (46:51):
Yeah, I think, yeah. Two months. By the time this airs, too, who knows?
Ben Grynol (46:57):
I was close. Close enough.
Matt Flanagan (46:59):
Ben Grynol (47:00):
There’s got to be this thing, though, with, startups are inherently hard. They’re inherently unknown. It sounds analogous to training, that being, “You can train super hard, and you might not get the shot,” and the shot being, getting to the league, and getting the chance. And there’s all this back channeling of signaling in all these things. Let’s push that aside.
Ben Grynol (47:23):
It’s just really hard. You have to work really hard, says the guy who’s never played professional sports, but you have to work really hard to play. To get to the Olympics, to play professional sports, to “make it” with a startup, because a failure rate is so high, right?
Ben Grynol (47:42):
I would imagine there are a ton of similarities between, we’ll the word “grinding,” but training really hard, and being laser focused on getting to the next stage of, “Can a walk-on now, there, now, I’m actually having a chance. Now I’m here.” Do you sort of feel that there are parallels with the startup world, and training at that level, from a sports perspective?
Matt Flanagan (48:10):
Oh yeah, yeah. It really just hammers how important consistency, and just trusting, and believing in your core process, and not trying to build solely based off of feedback, but of your own core, “This is what I feel like’s working. This is what I feel like isn’t working.”
Matt Flanagan (48:28):
Because you’re right. You may never get the chance to show what you’ve really improved on. You may never even figure out about that thing that’s not so great until someone else tells you about it. So you really can just control what you can control.
Matt Flanagan (48:42):
And I think that’s something that is just, it’s important, working startups, working playing football, just, in life in general. You can only give mind to the things you have ultimate agency over.
Matt Flanagan (48:58):
There are just too many things that can go wrong, to try to worry about what that is, or what that might be. So it’s definitely, I think, just a core philosophy that I’ve kind of learned here.
Ben Grynol (49:13):
Yeah, it’s the idea of focus, and trying to be better, better as a contributor, better as a company, trying to be better as an athlete, trying to be better than you were the day before.
Matt Flanagan (49:25):
Ben Grynol (49:25):
If there are areas of improvement, that being, correction … I’m going to make this up, and I’m going to get it wrong, but you grab a guy the wrong way when you’re trying to block, I’m assuming that you grab a guy, that’s probably what you do, when you block.
Matt Flanagan (49:40):
Ben Grynol (49:40):
But you grab the wrong grip, or the wrong placement, and then, the coach or your teammates are like, “Hey man, maybe move your arm down when you grab,” because you’re going to get back to this leverage thing, and have now learned about, but you’re going to get better leverage, and be able to hold the guy there. So you’re always sort of improving that way.
Ben Grynol (49:57):
I think that’s analogous to startups, where you’re trying to iterate on, I guess you iterate on blocking. You try to iterate on product, iterate on process, iterate on all these things.
Ben Grynol (50:08):
You’re trying to be better than you were as a company, and as a unit, better than you were the day before, or the hour before. It’s constant improvement, and the way to do it is focus.
Matt Flanagan (50:19):
Ben Grynol (50:20):
Maybe that doesn’t happen. I mean, maybe it happens in, well, rec sports. Let’s just say, adult rec sports, maybe it happens.
Ben Grynol (50:29):
But I think, in general, let’s use a heuristic, that if you’re playing rec sports, it might be more casual. The tone, and rightfully so, is that it isn’t as intense.
Ben Grynol (50:40):
You’re not going out to … If you’re playing, let’s generalize, because there will be edge cases. But if you’re going out, and you’re playing hockey with a bunch of 50-year-olds, or football, and it’s flag football, you’re out there, because you’re just trying to toss the ball, and get some exercise in.
Matt Flanagan (51:01):
Ben Grynol (51:02):
It’s a totally different level of commitment, and focus, and all these things. You’re not out there trying to work on your grip, to get more leverage. Maybe you are, but that’s the edge case, right?
Matt Flanagan (51:13):
Yeah. Well, yeah. You’re right. It doesn’t matter if it’s casual or professional too, though, because it’s just, constant improvement of trying to get better. And it’s really the goal of whoever’s going out there.
Matt Flanagan (51:25):
That’s itself a mentality of everything you do. You’re just trying to get a little bit better every day, because there’s people who will go out, let’s talk about soccer, because we’ve talked a lot about football, will go on the soccer pitch, and kick around a soccer ball, and be upset. “Oh, I’m not a professional soccer player. Clearly, I have no place being out here.”
Matt Flanagan (51:45):
There’s another guy who goes out, kicks the soccer ball around and just wants to get better, making that pass, making the right foot pass, and will do that 10,000 times. That incremental improvement is what he’s out there to do, not to be the best, right? So I think that there’s a lot of people out there in football, that are performing that way, so …
Ben Grynol (52:09):
Yeah, trying to be the best version of yourself.
Matt Flanagan (52:12):
Ben Grynol (52:12):
Regardless of the level, that being rec sports, or Premier League soccer, you’re trying to be the best version of yourself, and work on the little things that make you intrinsically happy with being better.
Ben Grynol (52:23):
Maybe it’s running laps, so you can get a faster, first, what would you call it, not a first touch, a first …
Matt Flanagan (52:32):
Yeah, first step, yeah.
Ben Grynol (52:33):
First step, yeah. [crosstalk 00:52:33] Like, a faster first step, or maybe it’s actually ball control. You’re working on these things.
Ben Grynol (52:39):
It’s why people pick up … It’s to Dan Pink’s book, Drive, where it’s autonomy, mastery and purpose. There’s a reason why people at the age of 73 pick up a guitar for the first time, and they’re like, “I’m going to learn this thing, because it’s mastery.” You’re not trying to be Eddie van Halen, you’re trying to learn how to make music.
Matt Flanagan (52:58):
Ben Grynol (52:58):
You’re trying. And how good it is is subjective, but it’s what’s making you intrinsically feel good. I think that is something, that constant improvement, whether it’s sports, or art, music, right, anything creative, or business startups, if you have that mindset, you’re always trying to push yourself.
Matt Flanagan (53:16):
Ben Grynol (53:16):
It’s an interesting way of looking at it.
Matt Flanagan (53:18):
Yeah. It’s a place to explore, find what’s working, try to invest in that. And if you have the time, fix the things that are broken. But again, at startup, sometimes that’s not always the low hanging fruit you should focus on.
Matt Flanagan (53:31):
But yeah, it’s definitely a valuable and interesting, heuristic and mental model to just bring and take. It’s something, reflecting back on my football journey, and sports, because up until this point, I’ve been doing football and that’s everything that I’ve done.
Matt Flanagan (53:53):
But now I’m closing that chapter, putting a stamp on it, and starting to tell the story of, “Okay, what did I learn from that?” And I think, through this process, it’s uncovering nuggets like that. And just, it makes you feel really good about the time you invested and spent working towards that.
Ben Grynol (54:12):
Yeah, that’s interesting. We should wrap there, man.
Matt Flanagan (54:15):
Ben Grynol (54:15):
It’s probably a good place to wrap it. Dude, this was fun stuff. Is that a gaming chair?
Matt Flanagan (54:28):
Yeah, it’s actually, we get credits every year, for Fanatics, in the NFL.
Ben Grynol (54:34):
What’s Fanatics. Oh, is that a nerd site for fans, or something?
Matt Flanagan (54:39):
Yeah. You can get all the Jersey memorabilia, literally, fridges that are customized to players, certain name and number.
Ben Grynol (54:50):
Matt Flanagan (54:51):
Yeah. We get a certain amount of credits every year, and they go away. So I was like, “I need a nice desk chair, might as well get a Rutgers branded one.”
Ben Grynol (55:00):