TJ Wright Founder and CEO of Empire Technologies
Thomas (TJ) Wright (Founder & CEO) is a former NFL player, founder of Empire
Technologies, and inventor of the Locator1 intelligent phone case. Thomas has 10
years in consumer products, wearables, product design, fashion design, marketing,
sales, distribution, management, partnerships and fundraising.
TJ, thanks so much for taking the time to speak with us here at VC Direct. You
have a pretty impressive background, on the field and off. Let's start with your
sports background from high school, to Ohio U to pro football. How did it all start?
"It started on open fields in Beaumont, Texas. After school I would rush to the open
field down the street from the school and play pick up football. I was around 6 years
old but we shared the field with 15 and 16 year olds. All tackle. You either played big
or stayed on the sideline. That’s where it all started From there, I just wanted to
make varsity and get a letterman. Schools just started to notice me, I got a scholarship
and the rest was history."
There are many obstacles that an athlete faces and also those in business. Life
in general will have road blocks. Was there a certain obstacle or obstacles you
overcame that you thought helped catapult you to your success on the field?
"Yes, being smaller and also being creative. Being different makes people doubt you
or be threatened by your presence. I learned that people often bring insecurities
with them wherever they go and by practicing positive thinking and believing in
yourself you truly have an advantage over many people. Many people on the field
doubt themselves, so they doubt others. How many people in the press have
actually played the sport at a high level? So, where are these “predictions" coming
from? Being smaller and different made it easy for me to do my job because
everyone doubted me so much I felt they had me covered in that department so no
need in me joining them with that thinking. Mindframe is huge in sports. Believing
in yourself when absolutely no one else does is hard but it’s so empowering. People
would argue with me for hours over where my football was headed and why I
couldn’t think I was the best in the country. I often got a kick out of it because they
didn’t realize they spent so much time talking about my life when they have their
own life. Confidence is key in sports and in life, to bounce back from tough times
and venture into the unknown."
How much of what you have learned from those experiences has helped the business arena?
"A lot. I don’t panic or stress as much. People often tell me “ you don’t want to work
that hard” in reference to me being the CEO. They don’t understand that my
previous job required me to be in the elements (rain, sleet, hail or snow, 100
degrees) I feel so much more at ease sitting in front laptop in controlled AC. It’s
challenging, but I don’t see it as hard, because football was physically taxing and
bruising. I also believe in my companies and will stick with them through the
process. My process to the NFL lasted 15 years. People only talk about the end, the
NFL, but it was years to get their. So in a startup, I find it interesting when some get
discouraged early in the process. Football shows that the people who work hard
and stick with it during the bad times will reap some level of benefit. I learned how
to public speak and be a team player in sports, that translates to business. Also,
just going to the NFL helped me establish my own identity within myself, so I’m not
defining myself by my status in the company. I’m in business because I love what
I’m doing which translates in decision making and not having to control everything.
My sense of power and self worth isn’t tied to being “the boss”.
"Another thing is my perception on competition. Some see competition as bad, my
experiences make me get excited about competition just by the concept alone. This
translates to making sure everything we do in the company will lead to customer
TJ, you have spent 10 years in everything from consumer products, wearables,
and fashion marketing to name a few industries. When did the desire to be
involved in business start with you?
" Whole life. I started a t shirt line in high school. Been an indie rapper since college."
We have to talk about Horizon Hover. It is indeed impressive! Please talk about
Hoover, its beginnings, and your vision for the product moving forward.
"I'm building hover craft and heavy lift drones to ease congestion and bring a new
experience to the forefront. Right now I’m building the final prototype to connect
with investors. Actually working with some other former NFL players on the
project. I can’t tell you too much about how it works because it’s in stealth mode
right now. But we bringing that drip to the streets here in the near future."
Now this is not the only invention you have had your hands on. Can you tell us
about the Locator1 intelligent phone case?
"Yea, it’s a computerized phone case that finds phones even if they are dead or silent
by pressing a button on your key fob. A missing phone is a missing app. This system is embedded into the case itself. I made this when I lost my phone one day. The app was of no help because I was in my own home. I later discovered 58m people were just like me who lost a phone and never got it back. That made me pursue bringing it to the market. I enjoy making products and designs that make life easier and give us more time."
You seem to have handled the transition from the playing field to the boardroom pretty well. If you were in a room full of athletes speaking to them,what advice would you give them in making the transition into the business arena?
" Don’t be lazy. Learn the business basics. You learned a playbook, you can learn this.
Manage your handlers, don’t let them manage you. Athletes are led to believe we
aren’t smart or don’t have enough time to do things for ourselves from the time we
are in high school. It’s a myth created by people who want to control you and/or
your finances. Think for self. Put yourself in the drivers seat and don’t just be a
mindless consumer your whole life. You have the strongest body, connect that with
your mind and go back and change your communities. Being a business owner is
the most empowering thing."
Alright TJ, when you are driving around making the rounds, what music are
you listening to these days?
":-) My sh%$. I’m in a rap/rock band called Orion’s Belt. I listen to our unreleased stuff. I also like the Cudi/Kanye, lil uzi, 6-9 and dj screw."
Thanks for sharing that! I know you are always speaking to various audiences.
How can someone reach out to you?
TJ Wright, thank you for the time. Great things are ahead for you.