How Gregory van der Wiel Is Shaping Athletes' Brands

The Dutch soccer star is making waves as an entrepreneur and investor

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Courtesy of Gregory van der Wiel

Gregory van der Wiel is a widely recognized personality, style icon and entrepreneur with an illustrious history as a professional soccer player. As a right-back playing with football clubs Ajax, Paris Saint-Germain, Fenerbahçe and others, Van der Wiel had an impressive career with 45 Champions League games. He also has collected 46 caps for the Dutch national squad, which included a World Cup final in 2010.

Since his playing career ended, van der Wiel's main focus is now his recently founded creative agency Bare Knuckle, building from his experience at the top flights of world soccer. But he's also diversifying in an interesting way, from traditional investments to dipping his toes in more speculative industries.

ONE37pm recently caught up with van der Wiel to hear about the creative space he's interested in exploring, which former teammate he wants to go into business with and more.

ONE37pm: What businesses are you involved with right now? 

Gregory van der Wiel: I am active in the creative world and as an investor. Together with my partners Funs Jacobs and Ricardo Mingacho, we founded a creative shop called Bare Knuckle where we help personal brands and companies build their brand. Also, we founded Block Party together with our partner Dave Dirks, which is a platform for entrepreneurs that seek help and/or an investment. As an investor, I am involved with Hardt Hyperloop, a company that won the first Hyperloop competition by Elon Musk. I also invested in One Legacy Sports, an NBA-focused sports agency where we represent eight current NBA players, with the Denver Nuggets’ Jamal Murray as most notable. 

Rounding out our portfolio is investments in,, Voicey, Influencer DNA, SuperPhone, Wine Awesomeness and OnOff Telecom. I also had my first exit last year when I sold my shares in BALR/433 for a 2000% profit.  

Why did you decide to get into the branding space? 

van der Wiel: During my career, a lot of people came to me with the promise “I can build your brand”. I worked with a couple of companies. But every time it ended the same way—they did not deliver anything that came even near my standards when it comes to visuals, content, and sponsorships. So, our team founded Bare Knuckle. 

Ricardo, Funs and I started testing our vision with my own personal brand. Bare Knuckle came together shortly after. We are not here to bullshit or sell promises—that’s where the name Bare Knuckle came from. We are here to help personal brands, athletes andcompanies with doing cool shit. Bare Knuckle is the most pure and direct form of fighting sports, and that is how we like to do business. Open, honest and always with the same goal of doing amazing things.

Why focus on personal brands?

van der Wiel: We see a big competitive gap when it comes to the visual aspect of personal brands—especially with athletes. They all say they look at themselves as a company, but a company has a brand book, guidelines and a strong, consistent visual aesthetic. Most of the athletes, big and small, don’t have that. That is what we create, that foundation. We have a vision on how to build your personal brand so that you can benefit from it far after your career. 

Ideally, we want to become the athlete’s creative director. Does the person want to start a restaurant? We will create the brand for it so that it will always align with their personal brand. I personally understand the struggle that athletes go through—that has been my life for the past 25 years. What is better than to work with a company that can say that they truly understand you?

When did you first think about entering into the business world and becoming an entrepreneur?  

van der Wiel: When I moved from Ajax to PSG, a lot of things changed. After two seasons in Paris, I started to think about my capital and how I should use it better than I did until that point. When I was in Istanbul and I got into a bad situation with the team, I had loads of time, which resulted in my interest in business, investing and trading growing exponentially. This was the moment I decided to team up with my good friend Funs Jacobs in order to take it to the next level. We’ve never looked back.

While you were playing, was it frowned upon to have your focus on other businesses? 

van der Wiel: People made a judgment very fast. They don’t understand that no matter how good you are, if you made it to the highest level in your sport that—that sport is always number one. The level of discipline that is needed to reach that level is rooted deep in you as a person. That doesn’t just disappear because you take some business meetings and developed additional interests. People started using it as an excuse, judged me for it. Maybe even one of the reasons I decided it’s time for something else. This is also something I want to keep on fighting for that these things become more accepted and recognized in the sports industry.

What is one piece of advice you would tell 20-year-old Gregory?

van der Wiel: Start earlier. Especially with using my name for my own advantage in the business industry. Finding a partner is crucial, once you have a person who has the knowledge, work ethic and you can trust 100%. Go for it. 

What activity do you do that would be a surprise to your fans? 

van der Wiel: I have heavily studied trading the past few years. Not a lot of people know that. I am currently active on the market, which means I am at the office from 6 a.m. to 3 p.m. every day the market is open.

If you could start a business with a former teammate, who would it be?

van der Wiel: David Beckham. That’s easy.

At what age should players start to think about their life after football?

van der Wiel: I don’t think it’s a matter of age. It’s more about when you start to earn more money than you need, which gives you the ability to build something up for the future. And when you have met the right partner. 

What’s the thing you struggle with most?

van der Wiel: Patience. It is a mindset thing. The same patience that I needed in my soccer career I need now in the business world. We have big ambitions. But it is a weird feeling as I force myself to have the mindset of that new kid on the block like I was in the soccer world. That will help me reach the top again, in this playing field I am in now.

Related: How Steph Curry ‘Ruins’ the Investing Landscape

Related: Build Your Business Like Beckham

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