Olympian Shawn Johnson East competing for different gold

From let, Kristi Leskinen and Shawn Johnson East in "Aventure Capitalists."


By RICK BENTLEY | Tribune News Service | Published: October 9, 2017

LOS ANGELES -- Shawn Johnson East knew that like every athlete before her, there would come a time when she would no longer be able to compete.

"You commit so much to your life that when it's over you feel like you have this void," Johnson says. "You either try to stay with it or take a leap of faith and jump off the edge. For me, I knew my time in the gymnastics world was running out and I had to channel my energy into something else.

"A lot of athletes are afraid to do something else. After being the epitome of perfection at the Olympics, they are afraid to start over."

The leap she took was into an assortment of new worlds from writing several books including the young adult novel "The Flip Side," being a volunteer coach, sports commentary, working as a spokesperson for numerous products including Nike and cha-cha-ing her way to winning "Dancing with the Stars." Her latest project is as one of the three hosts of the new CNBC series "Adventure Capitalists," a series that's "Shark Tank" for jocks.

East joins former NFL players Dhani Jones and Jeremy Bloom as they travel the country to test products in extreme conditions and potentially offer investments. In each one-hour episode, four entrepreneurs showcase products designed for outdoor adventure. The products and inventions run the gamut from outerwear to a robotic fishing lure. The adventure capitalists then put these innovations to the test to determine which are actually worthy of an investment.

The series debuts 10 p.m. stateside Oct. 10.

"I am an adrenaline junkie. But after retiring from gymnastics, I kind of transitioned into the business world just in rebranding myself and reinventing and trying to stay relevant working in the marketing world. I do have a passion for business along with the thrill seeking side of me of going off the edge of cliffs and not making not knowing if I'm going to make it down," East says.

All of the other things Johnson has done since collecting four medals (one gold, three silver) at the 2008 Summer Olympics have been fun. It wasn't until the Iowa native started working on "Adventure Capitalists" that she found a project where she felt the same passion as when she was competing in gymnastics. Part of that comes from how the three hosts get very competitive in both trying out the products and besting each other in the business dealings.

This all comes with risks as the hosts are investing their own money into the products. All of the hosts investigate every product before making a final decision, but East said she'll often go with her first impression. The hour the hosts spend with each entrepreneur gives her time to evaluate how the person is acting and size up their motives.

Through six episodes of the series, the hosts had invested about $3 million a show. That's not growth capital but more seed capital. They are not looking at growth companies that are doing $50 million of revenue but are looking to put $10 million to work immediately. That means looking at earlier stage companies with products that people have never seen before.

That kind of investing is logical when you look at hosts on shows like "Shark Tank" because they all come from the business world. The three "Adventure Capitalist" hosts are better known for their work on a balance beam or gridiron.

East sees that as a plus.

"I think an interesting part of the show is we don't come across as investors. You don't know us as investors. You know us as the athletes and the names that we've made in our careers from the Olympics and NFL, and I think part of the show that I enjoy is this is going to give you a different light into the other knowledge we have," East says. "You see our highlight reel, and it's all athletics.

"But when you watch the show, you are going to start to see the knowledge that we have in a business world as we try to rebrand ourselves into that and hopefully convince you that there are athletes out there that have something outside of sport that they are actually successful at or have learned."

As for the similarities between the sports and business world, East says they are not close except in the drive she has to be successful. Just like she had a coach in her corner at the Olympics, East has support she can call on when making deals. Her husband, Andrew East, has an MBA from Vanderbilt University and worked for a venture capital firm for a short time.

As for how their business ideas mix and match, East says, "He's more of a risk taker and wants to see all the numbers. I'm more about the marketing. I feel like if I can market something, I can sell it. He's just the opposite.

"After the Olympics were done, I was one of those athletes who was very, very selective in who I worked with and who I partnered with. I turned down a lot of very big contracts because they didn't feel right. You will see that on the show. It will be a great product, but just didn't feel like the right fit for me."

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