How much do you believe in yourself?
Would you spend your savings on a one-way ticket for a chance to accomplish your goals, with no way of turning back?
That’s exactly what Corey Jackson did.
Corey Jackson is an inspirational story to anyone. But the lessons he shares can especially be applied to aspiring entrepreneurs.
A star basketball player at North Central High School in Kershaw, South Carolina, Jackson was destined to play at a higher level. Unfortunately, he did not receive any collegiate scholarships, and could not afford to go to college by his own means.
Instead, Corey Jackson took a job at Walmart after high school graduation, working for seven dollars per hour. Until one day, on the advice of his cousin, he quit his job and used a majority of the money in his pocket to buy a one-way Greyhound bus ticket to Ranger, Texas. He had never even traveled out of South Carolina.
Jackson convinced the head basketball coach at Ranger College to let him participate in a pickup game with his team. Corey impressed, and was offered a scholarship on the spot. From there, he completed two years of stellar performance on the court, and in the classroom. He transferred on scholarship to the University of Nevada, where he was named a team captain and finished sixth in the nation in rebounding during the 2001-2002 season. After that season, he turned down offers to play professionally in Europe so that he could complete his degree.
If Corey Jackson’s story were to end here, it would be a fantastic story of perseverance. But it gets even better. During his final year of
school, Corey was approached by one of the football coaches at Nevada; he reminded Corey that he had one more year of collegiate athletic eligibility left (outside of basketball), and asked him to come out for the team. In limited playing time that year, he showed enough flash that NFL scouts asked Jackson to work out at Nevada’s Pro Day. Then, following the NFL Draft, he was signed by the Cleveland Browns as a free agent. Through a long, winding journey of struggle, adaptation, and yes, perseverance, Corey Jackson had become a professional athlete.
“My journey started with me pretty much betting on myself. Everyone had written off my idea of what I was supposed to be.”
Now focused on the chapter of his life after football, Jackson works with fellow athletes rather than competing against them. His current endeavor is based largely off of his quote above.
Upon retiring from the NFL, Corey already had plans in place for this next chapter of his life.
“Contrary to popular belief, there is a lot of down time [during an NFL career} to work on the things you care about,” he says.
Corey co-founded a real estate investment trust called Stone Lion, and then became a traveling motivational speaker. And through his own ventures, he realized an opportunity to meet a real need amongst his peers.
“I’m building these things, and I’m realizing there are other [athletes] doing really cool things too. But the narrative from the masses is more geared toward the negative stuff. Guys going broke, and getting in trouble, going to jail. There is a lot of that kind of information being pushed out on a consistent basis. And I thought ‘my friends and I aren’t doing that, that’s not happening to us, and nobody knows that.’ And that’s when I started working on the idea.”
The result is Qwerkz, a social media network that encourages athletes to showcase their entrepreneurial endeavors and other projects off of the field. It invites fans to follow their favorite athletes beyond game day, and gives them the possibility of direct interaction with their role models through feedback on athletes’ ideas.
“We’re a media company that focuses on entrepreneurial athletes,” Jackson says. “We look at all the cool things athletes are doing when no one notices them. Guys are creating headphone technology, wearable technology, lifestyle brands. And they’re doing well!”
“You can connect with an athlete in a different way now,” he says.
Though his idea is young, Corey says it is already gathering support among athletes.
“Guys are really excited about sharing their stories with the fans, but also with each other,” Jackson says. “We’re extremely supportive and competitive with each other.”
An entrepreneurial athlete himself, Corey Jackson’s successes are due in large part to the values he learned during his playing days. And they can be applied to all aspiring business owners, not just the athlete community.
“One of the most difficult things for entrepreneurs is the patience part of it,” says Jackson. “You have to be so patient, but people want it right now. And if you’re an entrepreneur, it’s not going to happen like that.”
“I was 23 when I got to the NFL. I started playing sports when I was 5. I tell people you have to put that time in, because we put so much pressure on ourselves to arrive right now.”
Corey is driven to prove to people that he can make things work, no matter the situation.
“That’s been pretty much the theme throughout my life,” he says. “Everybody did it this way, but what if that way doesn’t work for me? I understand that I have a way about me that’s different than some people, and that’s okay. I use that to my advantage.”
Jackson recalls a group of students he talked to that had lost a pitch competition to build a website for a company, and were seemingly ready to give up on their idea after the defeat. He taught them that their response needed to instead be “What’s our next best move?”
“Imagine me going out on a football field on Sunday, they kick the ball off and I have no idea they’re hitting people out there,” Corey says. “And the first time I’m coming down the field, someone hits me and knocks my helmet off. And I fall into the dirt, grass all in my face, I get up, and I’m probably never going to want to do that again. That’s entrepreneurship. You have to know you’re going to get hit. If you don’t know you’re going to get hit, it will take the fight out of you.”
“All of these things can happen over the course of your own venture,” says Jackson. “Whether it’s funding issues, talent issues, business model issues, you’re going to run into so many things that are going to hit you so hard, and you have to be built for that.”
Corey also reminds entrepreneurs that the path to success is never as straight as intended.
“Don’t fall in love with the idea,” he says. “My idea was the NBA. I ended up in the NFL. I got a great result [becoming a professional athlete]. You have to fall in love with the result, not the idea.”
As Qwerkz begins to grow, Corey is looking towards students in the Columbia community to build his team. He enjoys working with young entrepreneurs because of their willingness to try different ways of doing things.
I want the rawness of it,” says Jackson. “A lot of people, if they’ve been doing something for a long time, they’ve generated this idea of how things are supposed to be done, and they lose that creative piece. We’re a startup, and we’re learning as we go. And I want to get people on board that want to learn with us. And we want to be able to give them so much value back. We want them to be able to say ‘We started out with this thing that was really nothing, and we helped it grow into something.’”
This mindset is very reflective of Corey Jackson’s path in life. It’s a path of unconventionality, of taking chances, and yes, of perseverance.
“Anything you want in life, if you’re willing to start, and not willing to stop, you can get there,” says Corey.
Watch the full Startup Spotlight interview here: