RENTON, Wash. — Doug Baldwin is now a businessman, but his body still mistakes him for a football player.
The former Seattle Seahawks wide receiver is more than three and a half years from his last NFL snap and almost as far from his new career in technology and investing. As with many former retired players, the passage of time has done little to reset a body clock that tells him to get going each summer as training camp approaches.
“My body has been conditioned for it for over 24 years,” Baldwin, 33, told ESPN. “Your body just won’t stop when you say stop. It’s not just the physical part of it. It’s the mental and emotional part of it.”
Without football to use up that excitement, Baldwin struggled as his eight-year NFL career ended after the 2018 season. It didn’t help that his body was a wreck and required four surgeries after enduring a multitude of injuries during his senior year. He wrestled with the decision to retire and even tried to stay in shape after his surgeries just in case.
Baldwin made his name as a Super Bowl champion, two-time Pro Bowler and third-best receiver in franchise history, catching 493 passes for 6,563 yards and 49 touchdowns. And he made his money — about $40 million in on-field grossing, per Spotrac. He too had just become a father, and in the spring the first of his three children was born.
• Bigger role for Dallas’ Tony Pollard?
• Can Bradley Chubb get back in shape?
• Justin Herbert’s critical third year
• Trey Lance doesn’t have to be the savior of the 49ers
• In 2005, NYG-NYJ practices filled with struggle
Retiring was the right decision, but it was tough.
“I’m not a doctor, but I would say I was clinically depressed for the first eight months of my retirement,” Baldwin said. “I know it was me. You can’t tell me any other way.
He’s in a much better place now. And a completely different one.
Baldwin is the founder and CEO of a venture capital firm called Vault 89 Ventures. The investment vehicle has a nod to Baldwin’s jersey number in its name and a sip of its mission statement, which, in his words, boils down to, “Money is not our goal. We believe that we do things with empathy. Lens and we do it to make a difference in people’s lives for the better, the financial part of that will come.”
Baldwin is also CEO of Ventrk, a Bellevue, Washington startup focused on health and fitness. Its primary offering is TheraCentric, a physical therapy app designed to streamline home exercise programs and maximize patient engagement. TheraCentric has grown to more than 1,000 active users, mostly from local physical therapy clinics. Earlier this summer, Ventrk was spun off from Intellectual Ventures, a private equity firm it had incubated with mentoring and funding.
It’s no coincidence that Baldwin’s current role has something in common with another project he supported prior to his retirement: a community/health center for underserved youth, due for completion in March after construction delays due to COVID-19. A masked Baldwin also appeared in a 2021 PSA for Washington Listens, a support program for those dealing with pandemic-related mental health issues.
“I won’t do anything if I don’t believe in it, if I don’t have a passion for it,” he said. “Those things always seem to align in this space, because essentially I’m trying to create a better attitude towards health and well-being in society. But it came out of me trying to be as healthy as I possibly can coming out of the NFL.”
VENRK’S NEW OFFICE in downtown Renton is a short drive from Seahawks headquarters and the Family First Community Center. It’s a room on the second floor shared by about two dozen workers, including the Ventrk team and several other companies associated with Vault 89. It’s located directly above the flagship store of a local black coffee chain called Boona Boona, Vault’s first investment.
The office atmosphere is lively but relaxed, with casual attire and a noticeable lack of a corporate touch. Baldwin’s attire consisted of a hoodie, gym shorts and Jordans for a morning meeting one day in July.
CBO Jarid Adams and CTO Sam Bender are both Seattle natives but never followed the Seahawks, so Ventrk’s co-founders had no idea who Baldwin was when Intellectual Ventures brought him on board. It led to a confusing moment at a team building dinner when Adams couldn’t figure out why other diners were staring at him and why restaurant employees kept paying special attention to their table.
“I think that really helped us have disagreements and agree on things,” Adams said, “just because I see him as a regular person that works at the company.”
Adams appreciates Baldwin’s open-mindedness and level-headedness, and suspects the latter stems from years of dealing with pressure on the professional football stage.
“When something’s going on and we’re kind of freaking out inside, he just has a very calm attitude about everything,” Adams said. “He says, ‘We’ll find out. Keep it up.’ Whereas Sam and I are like, ‘What the hell? There’s a fire, how are we going to deal with it?’ “He’s very calm when it comes to that. My biggest thing about leadership is supporting people and trusting them in their field and I think he’s doing that really well.”
During his Seahawks days, Baldwin was the offensive counterbalance to the ruthlessness of the Legion of Boom, an intense competitor who regularly trained with cornerback Richard Sherman — his best friend from their Stanford days together.
The business world is now giving it its competitive edge.
“I know what a world champion culture feels like; it’s people who are all engaged with each other,” he said. “…We keep bumping into each other. But it’s a good relationship because it’s not about being right…or proving the other person wrong. It’s like, ‘How do we build the best empathic platform for these patients and for these PTs? ‘ We disagree on some things, but it brings us closer to that answer, and that’s the culture I want to build.
“It’s the same as when the DBs and receivers used to go at each other all the time. It’s not like we hated each other. It’s like ‘No, I’ll make you better’, and I loved that and I missed that. But I’m also competitive… I don’t care about anything but winning. So if I can take that and put that in a service vehicle and a business that gives me the landscape to compete in, it’s a win-win for me. That’s why I’m here.”
IN ONE WAYBaldwin has come full circle.
Just before Baldwin became the first undrafted rookie to lead his team in receiving since the 1970 merger, he was exploring a different career. With signings banned during the 2011 NFL lockout that summer, Baldwin conducted interviews with Dropbox and other Bay Area companies to prepare for life in the business world.
When he retired, it called.
Jerome Hewlett, formerly part of the Intellectual Ventures executive team, was not a Seahawks fan but became a Baldwin supporter late in his career. Watching him on the field and in post-game interviews, Hewlett saw a smart player with a team-oriented attitude – and perhaps the potential to lead a company.
Recruitment efforts began quickly. Reaching out to a mutual acquaintance with the Seahawks, Hewlett invited the recently retired receiver to spend some time with him in the field, and then began laying what Baldwin now calls “a year-and-a-half trap.”
Hewlett was acting as Ventrk’s interim CEO and wanted Baldwin to take on the role, but knew he couldn’t ask him right away. Baldwin needed to build confidence in himself, Hewlett thought, and be sure that Hewlett wasn’t trying to capitalize on his fame and use him as a front for fundraisers. So he brought in Baldwin as a consultant and let him participate in all decisions and changes in the company.
“And as the months went by,” Hewlett said, “I would make fewer and fewer decisions and he would make more and more recommendations, to the point where it was like, ‘You know, you really should be CEO because that’s me not as good as you.'”
It took some flattery before Baldwin became Ventrk’s CEO in September 2021. He hesitated when Hewlett finally proposed it.
“You say you want people to recognize you as a business person, as a person and not just as a football player – but you still won’t take that opportunity?” he asked Baldwin. “I played with his ego but not with the sports ego. It’s the business ego.”
VENTRK’S SPINOUT by Intellectual Ventures gives Baldwin, Bender and Adams more agency. But it also meant Baldwin had to secure a key investor — and deal with rejection until he found one. Getting a meeting was one thing, but getting money wasn’t that easy.
“It was really hard for me,” he said, “getting all these nos.”
Baldwin took it as another challenge to rework an initial sales pitch that Hewlett jokingly called “s—” because it was too stiff. A few months later, Baldwin got his first bite.
Then the big one came. Earlier this week, HBSI Capital announced it had completed a $1 million investment in Ventrk.
“The industry sees him as a businessman,” Hewlett said of Baldwin, “otherwise they wouldn’t have given him the money.”
https://www.espn.com/blog/seattle-seahawks/post/_/id/36113/former-seattle-seahawks-receiver-doug-baldwin-standing-out-as-tech-ceo Former Seattle Seahawks receiver Doug Baldwin standing out as tech CEO – Seattle Seahawks Blog