A-Rod, Walmart Vet Lore Start Venture Firm, Pushing Beyond SPAC
(Bloomberg) -- Former New York Yankees star Alex Rodriguez and Walmart Inc. e-commerce veteran Marc Lore are forming a venture capital firm, broadening their partnership as the duo pursues a separate deal to acquire a professional basketball team.
The new company, which will be called Vision/Capital/People, or VCP, launches with $50 million of the pair’s own money and could eventually raise $300 million to $500 million. Rodriguez and Lore plan to take early-stage stakes of 40% to 80% in their portfolio companies, much larger than the typical venture approach, a model that Lore said he found “frustrating” when he sought capital for his previous startups.
“If you have a big idea, you don’t want to start with a couple hundred grand,” Lore said in an interview. “Instead, we put up significant seed capital, hire a world-class executive team and help the founder craft a vision.”
The firm marks the next step in a growing partnership that seeks to capitalize on the pair’s star power, business acumen and access to capital. Rodriguez and Lore, who are currently in discussions to buy the NBA’s Minnesota Timberwolves, have already done a handful of deals together.
They previously linked up on a special purpose acquisition company called Slam Corp. and also backed air-taxi company Archer Aviation, which earlier this year announced plans to go public via a sale to a blank-check company. Lore provided all the seed funding to Archer and advised its founders, while Rodriguez joined later. Not every collaboration has worked: Lore was involved in a failed attempt by Rodriguez and the baseball player’s former fiancee, Jennifer Lopez, to purchase the New York Mets last year.
Rodriguez, 45, said the venture firm’s name of Vision/Capital/People hearkens back to something his old boss, the late Yankees owner George Steinbrenner, told him when he traded for Rodriguez in 2004. Steinbrenner said his vision was to be the greatest in the world, and would spend more than anyone else to surround Rodriguez with the best people.
“That’s why I wanted to play for him,” Rodriguez said. “When Marc said vision, capital and people, it reminded me of George.”
The firm is now investing $10 million for a 40% stake in NOW//with, a social commerce startup that plans to launch an invite-only site next month. The startup bills itself as a “shoppable content destination” that seeks to ride the rising wave of social commerce, where shoppers buy goods hawked by influencers. The format, pioneered by Chinese Internet giant Alibaba, got a boost last year when Covid-19 spurred demand for at-home entertainment.
In the U.S., popular video app TikTok has tested the online shopping waters through tie-ups with Walmart and Canadian e-commerce firm Shopify Inc. Google-owned YouTube, Facebook Inc. and Pinterest Inc. are also keen to cash in on the burgeoning market, which is expected grow to $62 billion in the U.S. by 2024, up from $27 billion currently, according to researcher eMarketer.
NOW//with is run by two single mothers, branding expert Nicole Winnaman and television industry veteran Abra Potkin.
Rodriguez and Lore emerged recently as the likely next owners of the NBA’s Timberwolves. The deal, which is expected to include the Minnesota Lynx WNBA team, may be valued at about $1.5 billion, ESPN has reported, with Rodriguez and Lore initially joining as limited partners.
But their 30-day exclusive negotiating window to purchase the team from Glen Taylor ended without a formal deal and the two sides continue to negotiate, ESPN reported Tuesday.
Lore told Bloomberg that the talks with Taylor are “ongoing, and going well,” adding that “we’re getting close to the finish line.”
A-Rod, as Rodriguez was known during a baseball career that spanned more than two decades, retired after the 2016 season with 696 home runs. He started A-Rod Corp in 1995 by purchasing a duplex apartment and has since expanded his business dealings beyond real estate to private equity and other investments. He’s been a cast member of ABC’s Shark Tank reality show and earlier this year joined the roster of wealthy celebrities backing SPACs with a filing to raise $500 million for Slam, where Rodriguez is CEO and Lore serves as an adviser.
A serial entrepreneur, Lore displayed those chops at an early age, charging family members five cents each to watch cartoons on a slide projector while just six years old. His first company, The Pit, let sports fans value and trade sports collectibles like shares of stock.
Lore, 49, rose to prominence with Quidsi, best known for the Diapers.com website that developed a loyal following among harried parents in the 2000s. Amazon.com Inc. first tried to ruin Lore’s startup by slashing its own diaper prices, before gobbling Quidsi up in 2010. Lore left the internet giant after just two years to found Jet.com, which dangled discounts at online shoppers to get them to add more to their carts.
Walmart, which earlier tried and failed to acquire Quidsi, paid $3.3 billion for Jet in 2016, earning Lore a huge payday and putting him in charge of the U.S. digital operations of the world’s largest retailer. Lore retired from his Walmart role in January, and will stay on as a special adviser through September.
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