Encouraging Excellence

I was introduced to Florida Atlantic University in a way that I haven’t told many people. I always have loved building something from the ground up. It’s what attracted me to entrepreneurship and then venture capital. In NCAA’s college football video games, there is a dynasty mode where you can become the head coach of a program, recruit players, set lineups, simulate games, and experience the team's progress over time. I always started with the worst team and worked to build them into a national championship contender. In at least one of the seasons, the worst team was Florida Atlantic University, and I virtually built the program into a perennial national championship contender. 

In the real world, I’m now a lot closer to the action than I ever expected to be, but I have found that my best role is on the sidelines cheering on our administration, coaches, and athletes.

In 2012, I graduated early from Brown University, and while I’ll always be grateful for my education there and the amazing springboard it provided for my career, I did not have much of a college experience. I started a company during my sophomore year, and most of my time was spent balancing running a company and schoolwork. One thing in particular I feel I missed out on, was having the opportunity to cheer on a college sports team in big games. Little did I know that just a series of events would bring me to FAU stadium, a place I’d only ever seen through my XBOX at that time.

In 2015, I sold my company Fanium Fantasy Football to CBSSports. CBSSports Digital's headquarters is in Fort Lauderdale, Florida so I moved there to be with my team. In 2017, Florida Atlantic made headlines when they hired Lane Kiffin to be their head coach. When the hire was announced, I realized that the university was a short drive from where I lived, and I began going to the games. 

Though I’ve never attended any classes at the institution, I joke that I became a grad transfer there (a term used in college sports for a player who uses remaining eligibility to play at a new university after they got their degree elsewhere) because from the moment I stepped foot on campus, I’ve been an Owl and always will be. The school resonates with me in every way, and doing everything in my power to help the institution grow has become a core part of my purpose.

Between 2017 and 2021, I became a regular presence at FAU baseball, basketball, and football games, cheering on the Owls through good and bad seasons. I made a small donation in 2021 to get better basketball seats, and my involvement increased later that year when I had the opportunity to meet our head basketball coach, Dusty May, after one of his coaches’ shows.

It was just announced that we would be joining the American Athletic Conference, and I enthusiastically told him how we’d be in a position to attract the best recruits in the conference playing in Boca! He was quick to explain to me how under-resourced we were going to be compared to the rest of the league. Our team was one of the worst-funded in Conference USA, which made jumping to the American a very challenging leap.

While most schools have a large alumni base to fund their programs, Florida Atlantic was established in 1961, making it a relatively new school, and still in the early stages of growing its gifts from past students. Coach May shared a story of how it took our basketball team 20 hours to get back from their recent game in New Mexico because that was the best travel they could afford. I was in shock. Our team not only had to balance being athletes with their schoolwork, but had to do so through extraordinarily challenging conditions.

Days after my conversation with Dusty, I increased my donation to the school, but more importantly, I made a more dedicated effort to be present at sporting events and help grow support. Not only did we lack funding, but we also lacked fan support at our games. I joked during COVID that we were social distancing at FAU sporting events long before the policies were put in place.

Fan support drastically changed during the 2022-2023 basketball season when our team went on a 20-game win streak and entered the top 25 for the first time in program history. Watching the way our team transformed playing in front of sellout crowds will always have an impact on me that goes far beyond basketball. We all underestimate how far encouragement alone goes toward the success of others. I got the most joy out of watching how proud our students were of their team as they went all the way to the final four. It’s an experience I always wanted and got to enjoy it through them.

Following the season, I knew the incredible stories I was hearing on campus deserved to be told to a larger audience, so I started work on the Birds of Prey Podcast to interview players, coaches, and administrators. It’s my privilege to be a part of sharing them and know that anyone who listens will be inspired to overcome the odds in their own life after learning how improbable the success at FAU has been.

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