Small Business Spotlight: Retired Giant Tiki Barber Extends His run with Key Business Pivots
By Joe Connolly and Neil A. Carousso
NEW YORK (WCBS 880) — Retired running back Tiki Barker is elusive and quick on the gridiron and in the boardroom.
Barber played ten seasons in the NFL with the New York Football Giants. Since retiring, he has followed his passion for business in which he earned his degree from the University of Virginia.
“What I learned, obviously from my football career but also my early business career, is that relationships are invaluable,” he told Joe Connolly and Neil A. Carousso on the WCBS Small Business Spotlight.
When the market crashed in 2008, the three-time Pro Bowler had to get out of an affordable housing partnership he entered with billionaire real estate developer Stephen Ross after he retired from the league in 2006. But, the relationship he formed and maintained with The Related Companies chairman and Miami Dolphins owner led to an opportunity years down the road when Ross invested in Thuzio – the events company Barber co-founded in 2012.
“How you manage those relationships are of paramount importance for things down stream,” Barber explained.
He finds it liberating to find new ways of doing business. That realization came when Thuzio was forced to make a halftime adjustment amid the coronavirus pandemic.
It moved online and hosted private virtual business talks with celebrity speakers, including “Shark Tank” star and FUBU founder Daymond John, retired New York Jets linebacker Bart Scott and executive chef Josh Capon. Barber and his partners later changed the business model to make all virtual events free because their presenting sponsors were willing to pay a premium for more viewers.
“More importantly, you want qualified eyes,” he said, adding, “You want to know who your audience is.”
The “Tiki & Tierney” co-host told WCBS 880 they create events for their sponsors to target specific business executives and groups who are likely potential clients. For example, sports betting operator DraftKings sponsored a Thuzio virtual talk with Barber and retired New York Mets captain David Wright.
“We have this aggregation of business executives who you specifically want to talk to and we’re bringing them together over a shared passion for sports or food or wine or business information,” Barber said of Thuzio’s appeal to sponsors.
The company hosts about 35 virtual events a month, which he said would be near impossible for them to pull off in-person. Thuzio grew from eight employees to 15 in the pandemic amid rising demand for content.
Barber’s business mindset has been shaped by his mentors and experiences in the NFL. The Giants great told Connolly and Carousso he was inspired by Jon Gruden’s motivational tactics. Gruden was the head coach for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers where his twin brother Ronde Barber played cornerback and won a Super Bowl in 2002.
“We all have things that disrupt our lives,” Tiki said, noting the hardships suffered in the pandemic. “Sometimes, you have to get up and fight for yourself and fight forward for your country and as an individual. And, that’s essentially what (Gruden) was saying.”
Barber tries to portray positivity and enthusiasm among his employees, because, as Barber recalled Gruden’s message, “It’s not just for you, it’s for people who are around you.”
Football is a team sport and the ex-Giant used it as an analogy in business throughout the Small Business Spotlight conversation. Giving the play-by-play of his Giants team record 95-yard touchdown run against the Oakland Raiders on December 31, 2005, he emphasized the blocking by his teammates that catapulted him into the end zone that Saturday night.
“Understanding that it takes everyone even those who don’t show up on the big screen in order to be successful” is the mantra that guides Barber’s post-football career.
Watch Joe Connolly and Neil A. Carousso’s conversation with Tiki Barber on the Small Business Spotlight video above.