Experience

From the NFL to CEO

Jan Garrison
 

Culver prepared Terry for wins, losses

 

November 5, 2021

Jeb Terry ’99 has something that very few people, if any, have in the tech industry – knowledge, very specific, detailed insider knowledge. And, over the past few years, he has been able to convert that knowledge into a startup business, which he sold, and join another major enterprise as its chief executive officer.

What Terry knows is sports – football, in particular. He has taken his experience as an offensive lineman in the National Football League, his background in business, and his contacts “from shaking the trees” to become the CEO of Cosm. He is now working with some of the most advanced technology professionals, engineers, and construction personnel to create an immersive sports entertainment package that will rival being at the game. And that technology can be used to create other virtual and augmented reality programming in other fields as well.

Cosm unveiled its immersive sports experience at its Salt Lake City research and development headquarters during the Tokyo Olympics. Approximately 100 people watched the games on an 8K LED dome measuring 66 feet wide by 50 feet high. Terry said the experience is like sitting in the front row of the event. The company is now preparing for a similar experience with the Beijing Winter Olympics this February.

It’s a big win for a company that is just a few months old. And it is a big “W” for Terry, who told the Art of Innovation students at Culver Academies he has had his fair share of Ls (losses) and done a lot of “slogging” along the way to reach this point. The class is part of The Ron Rubin School for the Entrepreneur.

Terry’s long slog started at Culver when he was a fourth-classman. He broke his wrist during football training camp. He got a cast, taped it up and continued playing. While he started all four years, he wasn’t getting much attention from college coaches. Knowing he needed more exposure, Terry decided to create the opportunity and went to several off-season football camps.

That resulted in a scholarship to the University of North Carolina. He started as a freshman and then “completely destroyed my ankle.” It was bad enough, he was told he may never play again. He sat out for a year-and-a-half and rejoined the team at new position, offensive lineman.

And while he was chalking up his “Ws” as a member of the Tar Heels, nobody saw the “slogging” he was going through to play. “They didn’t realize what the heck I was going through when I went home” after the games or practice, he explained. “Everything I had to do to get on that playing field. I wore a walking boot for almost three years. Take it off when I had to practice, put it back on when I went back home. Waking up in the morning, testing your feet and ankles, seeing how the day is going to be.”

“But I wouldn’t trade it for the world,” Terry added. “It was an amazing opportunity and gave me an amazing platform to continue to build on.”

Terry (left) and his father, Jeb Terry Sr. '70, talk to the football players during the team meal.

One NFL team told Terry they were going draft him. They didn’t. So he waited until the sixth round when the Tampa Bay Buccaneers called. He made the team, “slogged through my first year” and started his second season when he tore his MCL in the first preseason game.

“I finally got to the point where I was going to be the guy starting in the offensive line. I was having cool conversations with my agents and coaches, talking about the next deal, all these cool things are happening, then boom – MCL gone.”

Terry thought he would be gone four weeks. It turned into six. And the team started winning and “coaches don’t mess up a winning thing. I lose my job. It is what it is, right?”

Third year, he comes back only to injure his ankle again. He goes on injured reserve and then the Bucs “cut me loose, fired from my dream job.” After all the work, all the slogging, “I was told I was not good enough.” And, now he is trying to figure out what to do next.

He comes back for a fourth year with Tampa Bay when an opportunity opens with the San Francisco 49ers. That gets him to his fifth season when he hurts his back just two days before training camp opens. Then two weeks into camp, Terry said, he tears his plantar fasciitis.

That’s when the 49ers told him “you’re not good enough.” There is always someone younger, cheaper, faster, healthier available, Terry said. It was another loss. He tried catching on with some other teams, but heard nothing. “The good thing is, when you have the kind of mindset of overcoming and doing what it takes to win, you can get over the Ls quicker.”

“Don’t get me wrong, they hurt really, really bad,” he added. “But it’s your ability to overcome and shorten that recovery timeline that allows you to win at the next stage of the game.”

That next stage was going to business school. He had already done some of the groundwork the year before. After he finished business school, he did an internship with a major bank. But it wasn’t what he wanted to do. “I’m sure I want to build what I want to do. I want to compete. I want to do these things but how? Can I figure that out and what things in my background can I lean on?”

Then he realized that, while he wasn’t playing his dream job, he had enough “differentiated information and unique knowledge around how that industry worked” that he could draw on those experiences to set himself apart.

Culver is similar, he added. Students draw on their experiences here. Working with other people you’ve never met, understanding and managing the leadership system and the demands of being asked to perform across different platforms. “That’s the real-world stuff that we can lean into,” he said. “That’s the stuff where you can win and you’re starting to prove yourself.”

So Terry and a former teammate joined forces to “get professional athletes to content our map. We just had to figure out the mechanism on the tech side to get it done.” They knew nothing about that “side of the space,” he said, but they also knew things the tech people didn’t. They got the startup going, but it was “another slog.”

“The whole startup game is not as glorious as people make it out to be,” Terry said, telling the students he didn’t draw a salary for the first five years. But they did it, raising money during the “friends and family” venture capital round. Other venture capitalists, though, turned them down. And they attended multiple tech conferences and kept shaking those trees. “We kept grinding and grinding and grinding. We got through it only because we had the right teammates in place.”

“And then we finally started to get some escape velocity and we started getting some wins and we were able to sell the company to Fox Sports.”

But that meant working for someone else. You are still learning, he explained, but you realize there are also “a lot of walls set up, a lot of silos that people have built.” It was something else to grind through but three years later, he got intrigued by cryptocurrency and “the blockchain space.” This time, the venture capitalists were ready to back them. But the business started crumbling and the team started fighting. It was turning into loss, so they tried to regroup. But just as they did “crypto fell off a cliff.” It was over.

Terry took the loss, and like any loss, he learned what he could from the experience and moved on to “shaking all these trees” while working as a consultant. That is when he bumped into the father of a friend he knew while growing up in Dallas. “I hadn’t seen him since I was 13 or 14,” he said, but they found themselves at a wedding in southern California. “I walked up to him, shook his hand, and it was like the conversation never stopped.”

The man had become incredibly successful but needed someone with Terry’s unique skillset and knowledge. They started slowly, consulting with each other, and soon they were in business together. Now, after a couple of acquisitions, Cosm is becoming “a big, big vision of where we think the world is going and we’re in a fantastic space.”

Terry explained the only reason it all is happening is because it has become a full circle moment. He treated his friend’s father with respect when he was young, tried to hold himself in high regard, and simply went over at the wedding and said hello. And if he had not just come off the big loss of the crypto business collapse, he may not have been open to working with his friend’s father. Plus he has hired a man he was impressed with at tech conference 10 years ago.

Now, his typical day involves defining what the “hottest fire” is and putting it out, making sure the team’s vision is set and ready to go, and then moving on to the next fire. And, Terry said, it isn’t that much different from going to Culver. And it is something students should build on.

“You can leverage the diversity of your day,” Terry explained. “You know you have all these demands and being able to transition seamlessly from one to another is just incredibly valuable. You have to learn how to exploit that and tell that story.”

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