Joe Montana Goes Long in Open Source

Photograph by David Paul Morris/Bloomberg

Football great Joe Montana is trying his hand at investing in technology companies.

Joe Montana, who led the San Francisco 49ers to four Super Bowl victories during his career, is hoping to score in another Bay Area pastime: technology investing.

The legendary quarterback has kicked some of his own cash into CoreOS, which makes software that runs on corporate servers. The company gives away its operating system, which is open-source, and plans to make money by selling customer service on a subscription basis.

Montana and an enterprise-software company might seem like a strange pairing, but celebrity investing has reached a fever pitch in recent years. Actors Ashton Kutcher, Will Ferrell and Leonardo DiCaprio, as well as former basketball star Magic Johnson, have allocated pieces of their fortunes to the Silicon Valley parade. While they’re typically lacking in useful business advice, big-name investors can bring some star power and connections.

Montana, who retired from the National Football League in 1995, met CoreOS founder Alex Polvi and his team at Y Combinator’s semi-annual startup showcase in August. Montana listened to business pitches at the tech incubator alongside veteran investor Ron Conway, whose SV Angel is also backing the company. Polvi declined to disclose the size of the round, which included investments from Sequoia Capital and Andreessen Horowitz. (Bloomberg LP, the parent of Bloomberg News, is an investor in Andreessen Horowitz.)

“We invest in companies that we believe are solving problems,” Montana wrote in an e-mail. “The team is always an important factor as well.”

Polvi, 28, is a former product manager at Firefox-maker Mozilla. Rackspace Hosting bought Polvi’s first startup, a provider of software for monitoring servers called Cloudkick, for more than $30 million three years ago.

Polvi said he came up with the idea for CoreOS after talking with people deep in the world of Internet infrastructure, including top executives at Rackspace, about the challenges that companies face in running extensive server deployments. While Facebook and Google have developed homegrown server software to handle their massive data demands, most companies don’t have the resources to build it themselves. Starting today, CoreOS is running a paid pilot for companies that want to try it.

Don’t start betting against Oracle yet. Montana’s investment portfolio is more checkered than his athletic career. From 2003 to 2005, he was a partner at HRJ Capital, an investment firm co-founded by some ex-49ers that put money in venture capital, hedge funds and private equity. HRJ collapsed during the financial crisis.

So what does an NFL quarterback know about server management anyway?

“He’s one of the greatest leaders of all time,” Polvi said “Any tips on leadership are great.”

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