LOS ANGELES | When she was competing on the world gymnastics stage, Shawn Johnson used to sit back and try to read her competitors.
“How are they playing the game? Is this a motive? Is this a ploy? Or are they just nervous.”
Considering the Iowa native took home a gold medal and three silvers in the 2008 Olympic Games, she had a good sense of pegging people.
“I’d like to think I’m a good judge of character,” she says. Rather than ply her skills in coaching (which she has done), broadcasting (which she has done) or some other post-Olympics position, she decided to go in another direction and, as she says, “rebrand myself.”
In addition to creating a whole world of online programs with her husband, former NFL player Andrew East, she has entered the world of reality television and now, as one of three investors on “Adventure Capitalists,” is looking to help others achieve their goals.
“I took my drive and motivation and goal-setting from gymnastics and tried to figure where my passion was,” the 25-year-old says. “This is it.”
Rebranding, East (she now goes by her married name) says, is a big business. “In this day and age of social media, people are running with social media in every wrong way possible. They’re exploiting themselves and not making a business. You’ve got to learn how to create and brand yourself in a way that pushes you down a certain path is important.”
Doing something with gymnastics was the old-school way of approaching life after the Olympics. “But I couldn’t see myself living in the world I grew up in. I needed to branch out.”
To her credit, East had plenty of mentors post-Beijing who helped her land product endorsements, book deals and speaking gigs. Sportscasting was a possibility but that, too, “was a little passion. I could put my foot in a million different hobbies and enjoy it, but this is what consumes that passion I felt in gymnastics.”
This, of course, is the Shawn Johnson East brand that pulls impressive numbers through YouTube videos, social media posts and, now, “Adventure Capitalists.”
Like “Shark Tank,” the new series gives three investors (she’s joined by former linebacker Dhani Jones and freestyle skier Jeremy Bloom) a chance to test products and quiz their makers before taking a financial plunge.
East’s husband, an MBA graduate from Vanderbilt University, looks at the products’ books. “He’s more of the risk taker,” she says. “I look at them from a marketing standpoint. If I can market it, I can sell it. He wants to know the numbers first.”
The two have disagreed (she plunked down $250,000 for something he thought was a risk) and had plenty of investment discussions.
The show, she says, gives the investors a chance to grill the creators and discover their motives. “I want to know it’s a product I can take and personally run with,” East says. “If I feel I can do that, then it’s a partnership.”
Discipline, she says, is the only real correlation between this world and gymnastics. “You’ve got to have the drive.”
While East went in a number of new directions (she even considered medical school because “the dream in my life when I was a little kid was to be an orthopedic surgeon”), “my passion just kept coming back to the business world.”
She tested her mentoring skills on fellow gold medalist (and Iowan) Gaby Douglas (“she’s like a little sister for me”) and pushed herself out of her comfort zone by agreeing to be on “Dancing with the Stars.”
Appearing on that show (and winning) was a big accomplishment. With gymnastics, she says, “we grew up knowing our sport and what we were capable of. But dance? We had no idea.”
As a result, the mirror-ball trophy she won sits in the home she shares with her husband. But the Olympic medals? “My parents have them,” she says. “I don’t trust myself with them. I’m afraid I’ll lose them.”