To the NFL and back again: a Q&A With Marshall Williams

By Piper Winton and Jaden Butler

Marshall Williams is a Riverside alumnus, former professional football player and current entrepreneur who just won a grant to start his own company in Durham.

The Pirates’ Hook (PH): What was your experience like at Riverside?

Marshall Williams (MW): My experience at Riverside was great. I played football there so I was predominantly identified as a football player. But I loved it. Some of the best mentors, teachers and powerful people in my life came out of Riverside and I just love the fact that Riverside is a forward thinking school and there were opportunities for students like myself to really color in ways that I wanted to do.

PH: Who are some of the teachers here that impacted you?

MW: Coach Todd spell, Coach Steve Foster, Coach David Agni, Ms. Wilburn Ms. Webly, and Mr. Hodges. Mr. Hodges was very influential to me on the educational side, he really saw something in me and challenged me to be better with my schoolwork. My other teachers and coaches taught me some great habits to embody as a young man.

PH: How did Riverside influence where you are today?

MW: Riverside gave me more confidence because it allowed me to experiment with more things. One of my favorite classes was a mentorship kind of class where you work with some special needs kids. And I love that because that allowed me to really humble myself and you know, do something greater so that was probably the most powerful experience for me.

Marshall Williams as 2006 Homecoming King. Photo courtesy of The Helm.

PH: What is your business about, what do you want to achieve through it?

MW: My business, Maverick innovation, is a software company that uses software to help athletes, in essence, get faster. We do that through a combination of performance, psychology, and technology. So what that looks like is a pair of shades you wear that has an avatar that runs the time you want to reach so it promotes you and motivates you. Say you’re a runner, a sprinter or cross country, and want to train for your time. You can see that directly.

Now, that’s the first product that we’re prototyping, but more importantly my business is about building a community of empowerment. We stand to highlight disenfranchised communities, and anybody that really has been put in the dark, that’s what we try to do. We try to empower and enlighten them and we do that through media resources and tools to give back to our community.

PH: What was the hardest part about starting your business?

MW: The hardest thing is realizing what you’re going to give up in the beginning to gain what you want in the end. Much like anything, sacrifice is needed. The sacrificing will be mandatory if you really want to make the difference. So that was the hardest thing, I’m a very outgoing and fun guy, and realized that I had to learn the power of no.

PH: What motivates you to continue through that?

MW: What motivates me is my story. I was lucky enough to have an Uncle and Aunt that stepped in and raised me and the trajectory of my life changed. After that I just said to myself, what if I can be that one man or help somebody find that one person that helps them change their life. I feel indebted to that. There’s so many teachers, mentors and coaches that poured into me, and I wanted to embody that in some form of success that helps other people, so there’s really the promise that somebody else will benefit from my efforts, that keeps me motivated to go forward.

PH: What is a normal day for you?

MW: I start my morning off at 4am, and get to the office around 5. Then I do some preliminary planning from 5 to 6. I work out from around 6 to 8:30, come back at 9, go from about 9 to 7, get to bed around 9:30, and do it all over again. So it’s not glamorous, but it’s much like football, it is the work you put in when nobody’s looking that’s going to make the difference.

PH: Have you always wanted to be an entrepreneur?

MW: No, I always wanted to be a football player. I went to the league, did all that, had some injuries, and I felt a little burned out and kind of lost in my direction. So I did corporate sales, I did medical device, and pharmaceutical sales, but it didn’t scratch my itch. I wanted more of my life. I saw a bigger picture. And I wanted to do work that was meaningful. I realized that was likely only going to be if I started my own thing. If you think there’s a better way that you can do it, who can tell you that you can’t. You just got to go out there and prove them wrong.

PH: What advice would you give to students who want to be entrepreneurs?

MW: Put your boots on, lace them up. You all have a unique opportunity with technology that we didn’t have. You have the power to change your lives economically. You have access to so many tools to build your ideas and there’s no reason for you not to try to be the best you can be.

Know what entrepreneurship is. If you’re an athlete treat it like a sport. If you’re a real student, treat it like a skill. It is something that you have to work at. But the difference with entrepreneurship, you put 1x in, you get 10x back, versus if you put 1x in for a lot of stuff, you only get one expense.

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