Shaquille O'Neal is famous for his years of pro-basketball greatness. Fewer people know him for his social-media prowess. That's a relative statement as he has 6.8 million Twitter followers and more than 3 million Facebook fans. But even fewer people know him as an entrepreneur and a tech enthusiast.
"I'm one of the world's tallest geeks," the seven-foot-one former NBA center told an audience at the South by Southwest Interactive festival today in Austin. He spoke on stage with social media expert Brian Solis to a room of about 500 people.
"Shaq," as he's known to fans, was an early investor in Google and a backer of the Five Guys restaurant chain, Vitaminwater and Muscle Milk. He helped launch video status-update service Tout to early success. He wanted to bypass ESPN to announce his retirement and do it on video through Twitter. He broke the news using Tout in 2011 and he now owns part of the company.
O'Neal said he became a "geekie" when he had to pass a computer class so he could continue to play basketball. He befriended a student he nicknamed "McDougal," who helped him through it. "It was the geeks that made me realize I was not dumb," he said. Later in life, he earned a master's degree in business administration and a doctorate in human-resources development.
Here are some of the nuggets from his interview for aspiring entrepreneurs.
- Partner with great people. "Hire people smarter than you," he said, quoting U.S. President and Gen. Dwight Eisenhower. "I was always a person who was able to relate to people," he said. "I was trying to partner up with people who are way, way smarter than me." Asked how he maintains his calm demeanor, he said "I'm calm because I have great partners. . . They make life very, very easy for me.
- Have a support group. O'Neal cited his parents as his biggest supporters. When he's in need of inspiration, he calls his mother who is always ready with a quote. When he once blamed pressure for having an "off" game, his father told him that real pressure is when "you don't know where your next meal is going to come from." The words, he said, stayed with him. "Never worry about the problem, always worry about the solution," he said
- Make a product simple to use. When evaluates investments, he looks for simplicity. "Simplicity has been winning," he said.
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- Aim high. "I look for big dreamers, people like me," he said. Social consciousness is also on his checklist. In his companies and investments, he said, he's looking to "help people, inspire people and change the world. "If you go to a venture capitalist, look like you believe in your product," he said. "Love your product, don't ever take no for an answer.
O'Neal didn't shy away from talking about life's difficulties. He talked about what he calls "my worst years," age 9 to 17, as a "medium-level juvenile delinquent." If it weren't for sports, he said he'd have gotten into "super-big trouble," and eventually might have joined the military following his father, "probably would have gotten his act together" and worked in law enforecement.
O'Neal's humor, way with words and relationship skills that won him his social media following were on full display at SXSW. He cracked jokes and posed for photos with audience members in the Q&A session. Asked when Kazaam 2, a sequel of his 1996 box-office bomb, would be in theaters, he quipped, "March 6, two-thousand and never."