Rugby Lessons Give Rise to Entrepreneurship

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Most rugby players will agree that the sport has a way of molding you as person, giving you a core set of values in which you live your life. For some, however, it goes beyond that. The game gives them the tools to overcome adversity and excel in a competitive world. Several notable players have parlayed the life skills that they learned from rugby to build successful businesses.

Shawn Lipman

Shawn Lipman has excelled on the rugby pitch for his entire life, playing for the United States national team and ultimately captaining the USA Maccabi Rugby team to its first ever Gold Medal at the Maccabi Games in 1997. For his success as a Jewish athlete and commitment to the Maccabi Games, in 2004 Lipman was inducted into the Jewish Sports Hall of Fame joining the likes of Sandy Kofax, Mark Spitz and Shawn Green.

Like the Olympics, the Maccabi Games are held every four years except the athletes must be of Jewish origin and the games are always played in Israel. Lipman continues to have an impact on the games having coached the USA Maccabi team that just competed in the 2017 rendition. The team beat South Africa in the finals to win the gold medal for the U.S. in fifteens for the second time in history.

Lipman has spent most of his life in rugby, and as a result, it has shaped who he is and guided him in his time off the field. In fact, Lipman credits the skills he learned in rugby for the success of his two year old start-up Feedonomics.

Feedonomics is an ecommerce technology company that optimizes and syndicates ecommerce client’s products to marketing channels on the web, like Google, Amazon and eBay. The company has proprietary technology that takes a client’s products seamlessly from their website and markets them everywhere on the internet.

Ultimately, it was a meaningful relationship he built in rugby that turned into the start of a successful business venture. Lipman started the company in 2014 with two other partners and shortly after laid the groundwork for successful growth by partnering with a long time rugby ally.

“One of our first and biggest clients is the CEO of a digital marketing agency and one of my closest friends and playing partners, former Eagle and three time Maccabi Gold Medal winner, Gary Putterman,” Lipman indicated.

The time the tandem spent on the rugby field created a strong relationship of trust. When both realized the potential to help each other professionally, both knew that it was an easy decision.

“We have been lifelong friends on the rugby field and off. We have always had each other’s backs,” Lipman said of his relationship with Putterman. “Rugby forces you to trust your teammates to get the job done and our relationship is based on 100 percent trust in each other.”

It was this trust that enticed Putterman to join Feedonomics recently as their Chief Strategy Officer.

Shawn Lipman (left) and Gary Putterman (right)

Based in Los Angeles, Feedonomics has grown tremendously over the last two years. The company now employs 50 people and is continuing to expand. Lipman credits much of the company’s success to the culture that he and his partners adopted at its foundation. A culture that they adopted from their own rugby experiences and those of the book Legacy: 15 Lessons in Leadership and Business.

Written by James Kerr, Legacy identifies why the All Blacks have endured lasting success. Through 15 chapters on leadership, Kerr demonstrates how the All Blacks have instituted a strong culture focused around sustaining a legacy of excellence. With chapters focusing on teamwork, responsibility, and sacrifice, among others, the book highlights the leadership skills that are applicable to building a tremendous team, whether on the field or in business. At Feedonomics they call them “Feed on” principles.

“We really tried to model the culture of this company after the All Blacks. It really encapsulates all the underlying principles of what makes and has made the All Blacks the greatest sporting team of all time. We feel by adopting these principles we have formed an incredibly cohesive workplace,” Lipman added.

Phaidra Knight

Along with Lipman, another influential rugby player, Phaidra Knight, has pursued entrepreneurship while playing rugby. Knight has played at the highest level of rugby in the United States, playing internationally on both the women’s 15s and 7s teams. Knight has 35 international caps, is a three time World Cup participant, a two-time All World Team Honoree and was named the USA Rugby player of the decade in 2010.

In addition to her impressive resume on the field, Knight has quite the resume off it. Knight graduated from law school in the late 1990s but decided to put her law career on hold to pursue rugby. During the height of her professional career in 2006, Knight began searching for a way to support herself and be able to completely commit to playing rugby at an elite level. In order to make time for a demanding rugby schedule, Knight opened a cleaning business.

“Owning a business afforded some freedom to compete and travel while supporting myself financially,” Knight said.

Knight sustained that business for a number of years before shifting gears. In 2014, Knight relocated to the Olympic Training Center in hopes of pursuing her Olympic dreams. All the while, she began planting the seeds for establishing a career as a sports agent after her time playing rugby.

“I was training full time at the OTC but I knew I was very close to the end of my career and I needed to continue to sustain,” Knight added. “I was paving an avenue for the future by establishing my business while I was playing.”

Knight connected with Mason Ashe, a friend and well-established NFL and NBA agent, to learn the ins and outs of the athlete representation industry. Knight served as a consultant while training at the OTC, learning about the agency world and preparing for the future.

While Knight did not achieve her dream of playing in the Olympics, she continued to grow her brand through continued engagement in the agency business. She recently founded Peak Unlimited, a parent company to all of her ongoing and emerging ventures. As she transitions from an international rugby-playing career, she is expanding her entrepreneurial pursuits with attention on motivational/corporate speaking, TV broadcast/hosting and is laying the groundwork to launch a youth empowerment company.

“I have often put a lot on my plate, especially in trying to grow multiple ventures concurrently. And in the process, I have learned about the things that work well and the things that don’t,” said Knight. “Rugby has certainly taught me the power of multitasking. I enhanced my ability to focus on many things in tandem with some degree of success. The carryover from rugby to my professional life has been and will continue to be incredibly beneficial.”

As her rugby career winds down and she fully transitions to the working world, Knight believes that her success on the field will breed success off it.

“The game has given me confidence and a blueprint to go about building my business in exciting and unique ways,” Knight concluded.

Rugby develops valuable skills that can be transferred to the business world. Resilience, discipline, and tenacity, just to name a few. Whether you have started a business or are looking for a job, the life skills inherent in the game can inevitably help advance your chances of personal success.

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