Jerelle Okoro, co-founder of sports drink company Tuice and guard for basketball side Manchester Giants, spoke to us about the struggles of starting up a business in today’s climate, and the difficulty in finding his own voice as both an athlete and businessman.
“I don’t think my voice is heard as athlete, especially in British basketball, where you’re not valued as much as you want to be. People seem to favour the sport in America, so in the British game people don’t respect you enough to let you voice your own opinion.
“At the same time, having my own business means I treat myself, individually, like a brand – and because I have to ensure that I have the right representation and PR, I feel that my voice is getting louder.
“A lot of people will just see themselves as an athlete and they don’t see themselves as anything more. They can do that, but then how can they grow? With that mind-set, you can’t possibly achieve and make your voice heard.
Okoro doesn’t feel that he is undergoing a changeover between both his sport and business ventures, but also concedes that finding the correct balance is tough.
“I don’t think it’s a transition. I think it’s something that works simultaneously to what I’m doing, so I have to find ways that my business has some benefits to my sport in the background, and also how my business can work alongside my sport.
“But sometimes it’s difficult to work on both, and knowing how and when to separate the two; it’s hard to know where to put the focus on.
“Because you work so hard, it doesn’t necessarily mean progress. ‘Work ethic’ and ‘work’ do not mean the same thing.
“So, yes, being a professional athlete has helped me as a person, as it’s given me the mental strength pursue my dreams, but in the working world people interpret your drive and determination as bit of a threat and that can bring issues.
Okoro and his business partner, Sam Lane, both met playing basketball. After making their own sports drink which their teammates enjoyed – using water, green tea and cordial – they decided to start their own business venture, but soon found it was tougher than first thought.
“Tuice is just starting and we have run into so many problems every day – Sam and I are still learning so much.
“Even when we started, everybody I spoke to in the drinks industry said, ‘it’s not been done before’ and ‘it’s a stupid idea – don’t do it’, so this disheartened me at times.
“I have my mentor telling me that he used to fail all the time, so when put it in perspective, I have the chance to do something pretty amazing and I am not going to stop just because something isn’t going as fast as I would like it to – nothing would be achieved that way.
Okoro admits to becoming disillusioned with the business industry on occasion, but the idea of having a mundane job puts him back on track.
“Choosing the right path is the hard. Right now I am struggling: basketball doesn’t pay that great and I left my full time job to focus on my business.
“I have the option to go back into full time employment and leave the business as a side-line, but I wake up and think, ‘you know what? You have to go 100 percent and do whatever it takes to achieve your goals.’
“I don’t want to look back 20 years down the line, working in some job I hate and regret any of my decisions.