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This is Capitalism: Up Close, Inspired, Explained

Jun 1, 2021

Patricia O’Connell interviews Tiki Barber, Co-Founder and Co-Chairman of Thuzio, on how his childhood dream of becoming an astronaut evolved into playing for 10 years with the NY Giants, entering broadcasting, and co-founding Thuzio, a sports events and media company. Tiki discusses his varied careers, his family, and what motivates him to succeed.


Listen in to learn more about taking advantage of opportunities and pivoting as needed.

Key Takeaways:

[:25] Patricia O’Connell introduces Tiki Barber, Co-chairman of Thuzio.

[1:10] Patricia welcomes Tiki Barber to CEO Stories on This is Capitalism.

[1:15] As a child, Tiki Barber was so strongly affected by the 1986 Challenger disaster that he wanted to be an astronaut. His mother suggested that he go to a college where he could study to be an astronaut. He studied engineering at the University of Virginia and played college football. In his first semester, he fell in love with computers.

[3:03] Tiki’s dream of becoming an astronaut fell by the wayside. He left the engineering school and joined the business school to study management information systems, which is database design and programming. His new dream was to work for Oracle or Microsoft as a tech entrepreneur.

[3:27] In Tiki’s junior year, his football skills had become so good that playing for the NFL was a realistic plan.

[4:20] Tiki explains how his 10-year career with the NY Giants prepared him to become an entrepreneur. His first years in the NFL were tough and he was just hanging on. After a coaching staff change, he was used more and he began to excel. In business and entrepreneurship, even with the greatest idea, you will still take missteps and pivots.

[6:10] You will have success when you work with a team and a mentor. Tiki tells how he and entrepreneur Mark Gerson partnered to form Thuzio as a marketplace for athletes to engage with their communities. Kiki believes that partnering with the right person is paramount to success. There has to be collaborative energy that exists between you.

[8:14] Tiki explains how he met Mark during a transitional time. Mark’s brother, Rick, was a college friend of Tiki’s. Rick reached out to Tiki when Tiki wasn’t working, and suggested Tiki and Mark should get together and “figure something out.” Six months later, Tiki and Mark launched Thuzio and it is still going strong.

[8:46] Keep up with your relationships. Check in with people just to ask how they are. Tiki has found that being a people person has been extraordinarily beneficial to his entrepreneurial career.

[9:58] What kinds of things have helped Tiki to transition from athlete to entrepreneur? Tiki’s twin brother always said they would succeed because they don’t believe that they can fail. They don’t give up. Tiki has the utmost confidence in himself. If you believe that it’s going to be OK, you tend to find the positive and you tend to find the next steps.

[10:44] Tiki shares an anecdote from his brother and his life. While they were in college, their mother developed breast cancer and needed a double mastectomy. She told them, “I have to get busy living or I have to get busy dying. And I’m choosing to live.” She is now a 26-year cancer survivor. Her positivity stayed with Tiki.

[12:02] In the early ’70s, Tiki’s father had left the family and was out of Tiki’s life for decades. After Tiki’s second marriage and their first child, Tiki’s wife sent his father a Christmas card. Tiki’s father came to visit the next March and met Tiki’s five children. They drank wine together and reconnected after years. Then his half-sister connected.

[12:37] Tiki has a great relationship now with a half-sister he didn’t know for most of his life. You never know when reconciliation is the right thing for all. Now Tiki’s children have a grandfather. Tiki says his wife Tracy is a wonderful teammate for him.

[14:31] The name Thuzio comes from enthusiasm. They provide events with personalities about whom people are enthusiastic. Besides athletes, they work with authors, actors, musicians, and celebrity chefs.

[15:46] Thuzio started as a marketplace to meet sports figures individually. It turned out to be unscalable. So, they created a membership base that could engage with the athletes in groups. They held 150- to 200-person events once or twice a month in major sports market cities. The events were engaging.

[18:04] Then the pandemic happened. Thuzio had to pivot. As a live-event company, there was the risk of going under. Live events were impractical with social distancing. Then they were asked to host a virtual event. It worked and they realized they had a solution.

[19:28] Now, instead of doing one or two events per market each month, they are hosting three or four events a day through Zoom and other virtual platforms.

[20:00] Thuzio plans for a dual business model when in-person events are more practical. There is a significantly larger margin for an in-person event, while virtual events are more scalable and have a larger reach. Ultimately, having the in-person experience matters to the clients.

[20:50] Troubled times create opportunities. Tiki talks about acquiring a Canadian company, Robin, for their live-event ticketing technology and as a second product offering. While the pandemic damaged the business model of Thuzio, it became an opportunity to expand its business model.

[22:17] Tiki credits Thuzio CEO, Jared Augustine, with a great mind for seeing a business opportunity and making the decision to go after it aggressively.
[22:43] Thuzio has been able to pivot in real time to survive another year and get closer to profitability.

[23:16] Tiki describes splitting Julius Works from Thuzio. Julius Works finds influencers for client campaigns. Thuzio became the event company. When that split happened, Thuzio became a startup. They brought on new investors just before the pandemic hit. They created a Kickstarter campaign. Going to a virtual model helped a lot.

[26:02] Tiki talks about when they will reach profitability. He foresees it in a year or so, given their history of innovation. They need to invest in growing their divisions and their clients.

[27:28] Where are the astronaut influencers? Tiki thinks that is a great idea. Tiki talks about his sci-fi passions and natural geekiness. He is doing a visual podcast called Display TV, interviewing experts in certain fields.

[29:46] Tiki talks about the children’s books he and his brother, Ronde, wrote, starting with By My Brother’s Side. They did a total of three picture books and nine chapter books. He still gets comments on these books from people who read them growing up.

[32:11] What’s next for Tiki? He has always been an opportunist and has never been afraid to try something new. You never know when that’s going to ultimately be your passion. His friends told him never to be afraid to diversify his income streams. Diversification creates redundancy in success.

[34:19] Patricia thanks Tiki for being on the podcast; This Is Capitalism.


Mentioned in This Episode:

Tiki Barber


Challenger disaster

University of Virginia




NY Giants
Today Show


CBS Sports Radio

Kinky Boots

Mark Gerson



By My Brother’s Side, by Tiki and Ronde Barber