In 2012, former Wellington Phoenix and All Whites midfielder, Tim Brown, went out on a limb. He decided to call time on his professional career – one which had seen him play over 154 club matches and lead New Zealand to the qualification for the 2010 FIFA World Cup – trading his career to pursue an masters degree in Economics at the London School of Economics.

Keen to pursue a business on the side and attracted to entrepreneurial activity throughout his football career, Brown realised he would have to give up his football to establish a meaningful business. After four years, plenty of rejections and doubts over his project, Brown co-founded and officially launched Allbirds, a company built on the premise of creating environmentally-friendly and sustainable shoes, in March 2016.

Since then, Brown’s Allbirds has grown exponentially. His product was labelled ‘the most comfortable shoe in the world’ by Time, and is now worn by Hollywood stars Mila Kunis, Jennifer Garner, Emma Watson, former US President Barack Obama and Oprah Winfrey. The latest star to endorse Brown’s company is Leonardo Di Caprio, who has invested in Allbirds.

In light of Di Caprio’s investment, we revisit Brown’s Q&A with the PFA in 2016, following the launch of Allbirds, covering his retirement, moving on after football and why what he learned on the pitch has been invaluable to his business success.

You have recently launched All Birds, your footwear company, how did the original idea come about?

TB: I always wanted to start a business on the side whilst I was playing. I was attracted to the entrepreneurial side of things, it was something I could mould around the afternoons off and I thought it was a great opportunity to connect the dots on all the opportunities that were coming my way due to football.

I also saw a gap in the market and I saw the chance to make something that filled what I saw as a need. In the off-seasons I started doing trips to Asia and I found a factory and started experimenting with this material and I didn’t really think it would go anywhere past that. It shouldn’t really off except along the way I kept thinking why are natural products  not used in shoes? Then I started to think about what if you bought beautiful design, with natural materials could you make something that was both good looking and good to wear. That was it. Then it was a bit like football. It is usually when it gets hard most normal people quit but I think as athletes you always think you can go further. I applied for a grant and I won it and that was the bit when it all became a bit real.


After finishing up your studies in the UK you went to the US and tried to raise capital for investment in All Birds what was that experience like?

TB: It was really tough initially. I think it was not too dissimilar to going on trial where everyone is picking holes in your game. You are looking for an opportunity and it is just like football where tonnes of people go on trial and not many people get signed. It took me a long time to understand the best way of how to do it. I got turned down a bunch of times. I was doing it by myself and then I found who would become my Co-founder, he has a background in finance,  and he helped so much. I really needed to find the right team.


How important has networking been to your success with All Birds?

TB: I think a network is important but I think as soon as you hear networking you are going about it the wrong way. What players should do is use the wide range of experiences from their playing careers to work out what they want to do afterwards. Call that networking and you do it a disservice. I got some great advice from a mate of mine Conrad Smith, a former All Black. I was complaining about an appearance I had to make and he said you are thinking about this the wrong way. You say yes to everything that comes across your desk and you approach these appearances with the same enthusiasm as you would take to training. If you do that, great things will happen. That was the most wonderful advice I ever got in my career. That is how I learned about design and manufacturing and met some of the people I worked with on All Birds. Not because I went out to actively network I just kind of wanted to get out my bubble and for lack of better term see the world.


What is biggest challenge you think players face in moving on after football?

TB: The single biggest challenge you have when you finish football, and this applies to whether you have $200M in the bank or $100, is working out what you want to do and if you can use your career to work out either what you don’t want to do or what you might want to do that is incredibly valuable. When any athlete’s sets their sights on a goal they want to achieve I would bet a pretty solid hand that they will achieve it. The problem is you don’t know what you want to do.


The PFA has a range of programs now available to players such as work experience programs and business mentors. How important do you think these are?

TB: Say yes to everything. If I could give any player advice it would be that. Don’t sacrifice your football but approach all the opportunities you have as an important part of your job. Have a positive mentality and that can be very powerful. My former teammate Ben Sigmund, who is coming to the end of his career, I’m very excited about what he is going to do off the pitch. He has had this idea about life coaching and he is going really well because he knows what he wants to do. We were so lucky at the Phoenix to have Helen Regan as our Player Development Manager at the club, she is just amazing and is such an amazingly positive person, she was really important for me.


What do think is the key for players moving on after football?

TB: I have a vision for what it all looks like for me. Once you have that you are prepared to go through the grind and there is nothing that will stop you. I retired on my own terms and I was ready and it was still hard. If you have a vision you can focus on that and it is powerful.

What is the next challenge is also a good way to think about it. I don’t feel like it is a transition you go from high to very low. You are coming in to space where you have to fight your way to learn. You have to try to establish credibility in what you are doing, once you do that  then all the qualities you have as an athlete become immense.

Finally, what is the future looking like for All Birds?

TB: We want to build something that is really big and that is exciting. We are hiring at the moment and have just hired our tenth person and all of a sudden we are building team and that is really interesting. We want to continue to grow, we have other products in the pipeline and we have plans to go out and raise some more money to have the capital to build something really big.

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