BC115: Peter Yobo – From Ghana to USC Football & Branding the Pro Athlete

In this episode, Brian talks with Peter Yobo, who is a former USC Trojan football player and innovation strategies consultant.  Peter grew up overseas in Ghana and has an incredible story of coming to the U.S. and starting his own business.

You will learn about…

  • Peter’s unique journey from West Africa to Southern California
  • Peter’s passion for USC and how he prepared for going to the University long before he was ever accepted
  • How Peter learned life lessons from going up against NFL All-Pro Tyron Smith each day in practice at USC
  • What Peter believes to be the 4 traits of successful people
  • How to add value to those you know and those who follow you

Follow Peter on Twitter @PeterYobo or on Instagram PeterYobo.






Tweet your #1 take-home from this podcast episode @BrianCainPeak & @Spikeball with #PeakPod, and then visit BrianCain.com/Spikeball for your chance to win a FREE Spikeball Set!



Yobo:  I would look at the pictures and I would imagine myself walking on campus high-fiving folks, talking to buddies, and experiencing USC.  I did that from Ghana.  From West Africa.  There was this obsession.

Cain:  Hey, how are you doing?  Brian Cain, your Peak Performance Coach here with the Peak Performance Podcast. Today our guest is Peter Yobo.  Peter is an innovation strategies consultant with the Yobo Group, where he helps professional athletes and celebrities leverage their brand so that they can make more money off of their brand.

For example, did you realize that Steph Curry last year made 10 million dollars off the court by selling $2 emojis that people use in social media and on their cell phones?  I didn’t know that.  That blew me away.  Peter is going to share with us some of the other things out there that people are doing to help leverage their brand.

First, Peter, thank you for joining us on the podcast.  Would you take us and our listeners through your journey from where you grew up and your experience with athletics to where you are right now leading the Yobo Group?

Yobo:  Brian, thank you.  Thanks for that awesome introduction.  It’s a great opportunity to be here on the podcast and share my story.  My story starts in New Jersey actually.  I was born in New Jersey (New Brunswick).  I lived in New Jersey for three years; then my mom moved us back to Ghana, West Africa, where my family is originally from.

Growing up as a kid I was that kid who couldn’t sit still.  I was always running around having fun and breaking things, breaking bones.  I couldn’t sit still in class.  I had teachers say, “this kid is not going to amount to anything – he is always in trouble.”  The funny thing, though, is I always got good grades.  I was the kid who never studied but some way, somehow, I had this visual memory so I was able to remember answers to questions because I would remember what my professor was wearing the day he spoke about it.  So it was just this funny thing because I would throw these teachers for a loop.  I was so stubborn and caused trouble all the time, but then on the other hand I was doing very well in school and very well in sports.

My mom – right after high school, she was like, “Peter, we need to figure out if you’re going to go to a higher school in the US or in London or here in Ghana.”  Something had happened about a year before that question came.  I was watching a clip of US running back Reggie Bush.  I think it was the 2005 Rose Bowl.

[Stayed in bounds, airborne, touchdown, Reggie Bush]

Yobo:  I was pumped.  I was excited.  I just loved the whole atmosphere I saw in the coliseum.  I said, “I am going to go to that school.”  Well, guess what?  It cost $56,000 per year to attend USC.  I don’t know how I’m going to pay for that – how much more to just even attend four years.

So a lot of folks started saying, “Peter, it might serve you well to not even focus on that; that is too big of a goal, that is too lofty.”  So what I did was every day during lunch I was so enamored, I was just attracted to the school – and today I realize what I was doing but then I didn’t understand it.  I was so attracted to it that every day at lunch I was so excited I needed to go sit behind – we had about 2-3 computers in our computer lab that had internet and I would sit down and had my buddies go pick up my lunch.  I would just go on the USC website.

I remember it like it was yesterday, www.USC.edu.  All I would do was look at the pictures.  I would look at the pictures and I would imagine myself walking on campus high-fiving folks, talking to buddies, and experiencing USC.  I did that from Ghana.  From West Africa.  From a small little computer lab in my high school.  I did that every day.  Every lunch break (apart from the weekends).  Every day.  There was this obsession with having to go to USC.

So fast-forward.  I decided, “hey, mom, I want to take the SAT.”  I took the SAT.  I did decently well.  I moved to the US. I took a year off.  I honestly couldn’t afford to just jump into school so I took a year off and I became a California resident.  I was living in the San Jose area, the Silicon Valley area, and I just figured:  “You know what?  I’m a California resident now.  I finally made enough money to buy my car.  I’m just going to go to San Jose State University.  Just something that is cheap.  I’m an American citizen so I don’t have to pay that much.  Everything is taken care of.”  So I did that for a year and a half.

I grew restless.  Today I understand why.  I was being drawn to my purpose, my destiny.  I was just restless.  I was restless, I was struggling, and finally I decided to transfer.  I was going to go to UC Riverside for basketball.  All my other applications – I mean I mailed it, I did everything right, wrote all the right essays – then it comes to USC.  I was like, “you know what – I’ll just apply.  I probably won’t get in, it’s probably too expensive.”  I literally would say if I can get that application back that would have been the most heartfelt – I didn’t hold anything back.  I wasn’t trying to be professional.  I just said what I cared about.  I spoke as if I was speaking to a friend.  A month or two later I got a packet – “Peter, welcome to the Trojan family.”  Some way, somehow, an internship with PWC and a few other scholarships made it easy and financially affordable to go to USC.

I started off playing – in fact, this is where it gets crazy.  I walk on campus for orientation and I’m walking, and I look to my left and I’m standing right in front of the USC Floral Gardens.  That is the picture I had been seeing day after day after day about three years ago.  Mind blown.  I am here.  I am high-fiving folks.  I am living that story.  I went on to do track and field.  Coaches saw me thinking, “oh my goodness – who is this big guy out there doing track?  Come play football.”  So I walked on, played two years of football at USC – best experience ever.  Mind-blowing experience.  In fact, going to USC was a mind-blowing experience.

Since then I’ve graduated.  I’ve been planning to go pro.  Well, I attempted to go to the Canadian Football League but that didn’t work out.  I would say I didn’t have enough years or the freakish athletic genes to make that leap.  Then I did about five years working for PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) in innovation and technology consulting.

Then about a month and a half ago I decided to go out on my own full time.  Like you said, I work with athletes and celebrities, high-net-worth individuals, but we also do a lot of work with companies.  We do a lot of work for small to midsized businesses ranging from 10-100 million dollars.  Our goal is very simple.  We fight for the company’s future.  We help companies fight for their future.

What we’ve started to realize is a lot of companies, a lot of athletes, celebrities, individuals, they do what they have to be today to make money.  But we look at the Fortune 500s and they are investing money in R&D, investing money in their future, and they’re fighting for that because that is what keeps them with the competition or ahead of the competition.  Our goal is to come in and be that arm for companies and celebrities and athletes and high-net-worth individuals.  We become that innovation, that research and development arm, allowing them to see into the future, build strategies to get there, and then execute on doing that.

That is my story.

Cain:  Peter, it sounds like you have been doing this your entire life.  I can only imagine sitting in a computer lab in Ghana looking at USC wanting to go play football there, and then all of a sudden you made that happen.  Did they have football in Ghana?

Yobo:  No.  The closest I came to playing football was rugby when I was maybe 9 years old.

Cain:  So the first time you ever put on a football helmet was when you put on your USC Trojans helmet?

Yobo:  This is true.  Let me preface that.  It was I put on my helmet and I had lined up across from Tyron Smith.  Tyron Smith of the Cowboys.  He woke my butt every single day, every single day, and it was so frustrating because in Ghana I was the guy – basketball, swimming, soccer, you name it.  Every sport I played I was the athlete.  I was my high school’s athlete of the year, all of that.  Then I came to the US and this guy, Tyron Smith, is huge and the coach says, “just get around him and go tackle the quarterback.”  I was playing DM at the time.  Every single snap this guy punished me.  But that is what taught me what the game of football meant.  I started to realize just running and just going hard is not going to make me successful.  I need to have the right techniques.  I need to have the right moves.  I need to go in the gym and get bigger, get stronger.

I’ll tell you what – after three months going against Tyron Smith I probably put on about 30 pounds and maybe even shaved off a second or two on my forwarding time.  Because you’re going up against someone who knows he is going pro. He knows this is just the audition for the job he is going for and he means business.  I said, “man, sometimes you need to have some pride in yourself, you can’t be on your back every single day,” so I had to develop, I had to learn the game, and I did very fast.

Cain:  That is unbelievable.  Was Pete Carroll the head coach there when you were there?

Yobo:  No, it was Lane Kiffin.

Cain:  Lane Kiffin.  Okay.  Excellent.  So you got to go there, you played USC Trojan football.  Matt Barkley was the quarterback there, I assume, at that time?  Is that right?

Yobo:  He was, yep.

Cain:  Unbelievable.  What are some of the things that you noticed with these guys – that you’re playing in one of the greatest universities of the country, you’re playing in the Pac-12, one of the best leagues in the country?  What are some of the characteristics that you noticed in those athletes at USC or the guys that you work with now in helping them leverage their brand that are characteristics that our listeners are going to want to develop so that they can become more successful?  Ultimately, Peter, probably what I’m asking you is when you look in the mirror, what are the characteristics that you see that made you successful?

Yobo:  That is a great question.  The same competitive edge that I had at USC, even though I didn’t go pro, I know I can list a full on hundreds and hundreds of folks who I went to USC with who have the same drive, be it at their job, be in their business.  I think having that edge, being able to have that edge – when I say “edge” if you imagine if you see a lion, when the lion is hunting down the gazelle there is a look in the lion’s eye that says “this is dinner, this has to happen,” and there is a look in the gazelle’s eye that says “I must disappoint.”  Those looks are different because the determination that you have when you say “this must happen,” you leave room for multiple scenarios.  I might escape. I might escape hurt.  I might not escape.  But when it has to happen there is one vision.  So that is what I saw with the athletes.

When I got to USC, I got there for education.  I came to this country for education.  But the reason I tried out for the CFL was because you’re in an environment where everyone has one goal and that is to be successful and go pro.  They have the vision. I think that is the point.  You need to have the vision.

Folks like Matt Barkley – you will not see him at parties every night.  He is at home resting, rehabbing, getting ready.  Tyron Smith, even if you saw him at parties, he wasn’t drinking.  They had that vision and they knew exactly what they had to do.

So step one, have the vision.  Step two, have the strategy.  Know exactly what needs to happen.  What steps do I need to take?  Don’t go here, do this.  How do you manage a brand this way?  Do XYZ.  I saw folks who knew exactly where they were going and then they had the method or the map, the plan of action.  A lot of that comes from surrounding yourself with the right people, talking to the right people.

Then the last thing is just that edge.  You need to have that competitive edge that says “I’ve seen the vision, I know exactly what to do, I will put in the work, nothing will stop me, I am going to get it.”  I see some of these guys today and they don’t entertain conversation with people who kind of – when I say “entertain conversation,” if I surround myself with folks who are not hunting, who are not out and ready for the hunt, I may lose my desire to hunt.  I think that is what you see a lot of.

So surround yourself with the right people, having those three things in mind – having a vision, having a strategy and methods to get that you can find from people around you and mentors and people who have been there, then just having that grit, that competitive fire to go get it.

Cain:  Man, that is outstanding.  I love it.  Absolutely love it.  Peter, tell me about some of the things that you notice. You mentioned earlier that athletes work today to get paid today, whereas the Fortune 500 companies are projecting into the future of what they’re trying to do there.  Can you talk a little bit more about some of the maybe strategies for the people that are listening to this that might be on the treadmill of paycheck to paycheck that are trying to set themselves up for the future?  What are some things that you find that can be easily implemented and are useful for those people that are just trying to kind of get it going?

Yobo:  I’ll use athletes (given we’re talking about athletes) and then I’ll talk about just regular folks who are working regular jobs.  The key thing that athletes have is an audience.  If you played college ball, if you are playing college ball and you have a following of about 200,000 people or even 20,000 people and you realize that every time you post something you get about 2,000 likes, that means you are about converting at 10%.

What people don’t realize is that is an opportunity to serve that audience.  There is something about you that they like.  There is something about you that adds value to them, be it they’re living vicariously through you, them just enjoying seeing your feats and having special access to you.  That is something where I think a lot of athletes are losing out right there because you are leaving a lot of money on the table.

I was consulting with an athlete from the Rams just recently.  This guy has about 180,000 followers on just Instagram. Just one platform.  On that platform every time he posts a picture he gets about I would say maybe 5,000 likes.  He has nothing to offer them.  When I say “nothing to offer them,” it’s not saying you have to sell, sell, sell, but you’re either offering a free workout program – there are people who are giving you their eyes and their attention and that comes with responsibility.  You have to serve them in some shape or form.  Sure, they like seeing your picture, but what else can you give them that adds value?  Once you realize what you can give them that adds value, you start to prep yourself for when you retire or you’re done playing.

If you’re at practice for a couple years and you used to be the number one guy when you were in college and you still have a lot of a following and an audience, how can you leverage that?  When people come to you and say, “hey, here are my new clothes – will you wear them for free and put them up online and I will give you clothes whenever you want?”  Sure.  Take the clothes.  But ask them for 5% ownership of the company.  Say, “look, I will get you out to XYZ number of people – you’re not paying for marketing, you’re giving me equity, and we’re going to get your brand out there.”

There are a lot of different strategies that a lot of athletes can use.  Athletes are always getting stuff for free.  Always. But they get so excited that they are getting stuff for free that they forget that there is an opportunity in that to become an owner.  That is where I would say most of these really successful people who have been successful is they’re owners.  They’re not just waiting for the paycheck.  If you’re waiting for a paycheck, guess what?   It’s an owner who is paying you.  He can fire you whenever he wants.

So for regular people who are working regular jobs, here is my thing:  You have an expertise.  You have an expertise. A lot of people are trading that expertise multiplied by their time in exchange for cash.  They go and do that every single day.  Where we are going in the workforce is that in the next couple of years – I think by 2020 50% of the workforce will be freelancers.  At the same time 50% of the workforce will be Millennials.  Same Millennial school.  They love to fly, travel, work from home.  That is what driving this freelance economy.

Here is where people need to start thinking differently.  You are the business.  Even if you are working in a business, you need to start seeing yourself as a business.  If you see yourself as the business, what you can then do is start building your brand.  You can decide to create a podcast (just like you’re doing, Brian.)  They can have a podcast that says, “you know what?  I am going to interview XYZ people in this specific industry.”  I am going to position myself as an expert so in the future when people start looking up “oh, I’m looking for a freelancer somewhere in the world to hire,” I am the one who is popping up first because I have dominated all time.  I’ve dominated space.

What people will begin to see is that if you can begin to present yourself as an expert, people will come to you.  If they hear someone interview you on a podcast and you’re able to share that expertise – even if you’re the guy who is doing IT for a midsized company – learn everything you must about what you do.

Find ways to get out there.  Just because you are an employee doesn’t mean you can’t go and be a guest on a podcast. Go to places.  Write guest articles.  What you are doing is you are laying bread crumbs.  People will find that and they will come to you and ask you for help when the time is right.  But they need to know that you are an expert and they need to know where to find you.

Cain:  My next question was going to kind of revolve around you and your success.  What are some of the things that you do?  You’ve talked about the three steps – having a vision, having the strategy, getting the competitive edge from doing the work and going to get it – but are there things that you do like a morning routine that might involve meditation or exercise or goal setting, or how you plan out the time of your day?  Are there certain routines that you have, Peter, that you feel like really make you successful?

Yobo:  Oh yeah.  Definitely.  I would say I start off the day by 4:00 AM, I’m up.  People ask me, “why are you waking up at 4:00 AM?  Do you even sleep?”  I actually do sleep.  I go to bed at 9:00 PM so I get seven hours of sleep.  The reason I wake up at 4:00 is everyone who could bother me or interrupt me or distract me is probably still in bed, so I get a lot of work done.

What I do when my eyes first open is I prime myself for the day.  I just say some thank yous to God, then I envision what the day needs to look like.  I have to do XYZ and I see the successes.  I see successes.  I prime myself.  I just shoot up prayers for folks that I love, my wife, my family, my friends.   I’m a Christian so I read the Bible.  I get in about 20-30 minutes there.  Then I hit the e-mails.  So I’m doing a lot of the stuff that I can do during the day earlier.  Then I hit the gym.  I need to hit the gym.  When I hit the gym, the blood is just running.  Again that edge.  I just feel like I’m ready to go.   I’ve got a sweat in.

Then the key thing for me each and every day is what I call my standup.  My standup is an agile term.  There is a thing called Agile Software Delivery.   Standup is when you take 15 minutes, you look at what successes and wins you had yesterday as well as losses, and then you plan what you need to do today and you take a look at any obstacles you may have and plan to mitigate those risks or obstacles.  I do that, then I jump into my day.  I jump into my day.

I think another key thing that I try and do too is, for example, before we talk I need to get in peak state.  I need to get in peak state where I’m powerful and ready to go.  So any time I have an opportunity to go serve someone I can’t take myself in not ready to perform.  It’s just like an athlete.  He has to psych himself up, get ready.  I make sure if I have anything important to do – an interview that I’m giving or that I’m receiving – any opportunity, walking to a business meeting, walking to a deal with a client, I need to get ready.  I need to get that athlete’s edge.  I just go with a peak state.  I have a few rituals that I do.  It’s just pretty much what I would do before I’d go play a game.  Just some jumping, kicking, getting ready to go.  I’d say those are it.  Those are the key things that I do.

Then I come home 7:00 and shut it down.  I hang out with my wife and relax and try and wind down.  I’m sure you know that the entrepreneur’s mind is always going and it’s hard to turn it off, and when you do turn it off, it’s hard to turn it back on – which is why I have that morning routine.

Cain:  It’s always on, man.  I think the hardest piece for entrepreneurs is not necessarily getting it going, but it’s turning it off at night and showing up in other aspects of your life.  A friend of mind talks about having double energy. You’ve got to have double energy when you walk out of the house to go dominate the day in your entrepreneurial life, but you’ve got to have double energy also when you come back in the house and your wife and your kids or your husband and your kids are there waiting for you.

Peter, you mentioned getting into a state.  As you talked about it, I heard it sounded like you clapped your hands in the background.  Have you been to a Tony Robbins event and learned about putting yourself in a state?  Is that something that you picked up there?

Yobo:  I have.  I picked it up reading.  So I read about 10 books a month.  I picked it up, but I also went to Tony Conference in 2012 and that is where I saw it delivered in a very succinct way.  So yes, I would say that is where I solidified my “get in the state.”

Cain:  That is awesome.  We had another podcast episode guest who works in real estate, Jamie Amon, and he has been a Tony Robbins student.  He talked a lot about getting himself into a state.  He had a very similar morning routine to you.  I think that’s fabulous that some of our guests are having that consistent routine.

One of the things we talk a lot about at the seminars that I do or in the podcasts with all of our guests is the importance of having a morning routine and a structure that helps you get going in the day.  I love the waking up at 4:00 in the morning, getting up and getting your own personal work done while everyone else is sleeping.  They’re not going to be pulling at you.  But you read 10 books a month?  What are some of the books that you are going through? What are some of the books that have made the biggest impact on you?

Yobo:  Oh man.  I have the three core books that I recommend to everyone – anyone and everyone – The Alchemist, The Richest Man In Babylon, and As A Man Thinketh.  Those are the top three.  If you’re not a reader, if you’re not someone who is consciously aware what you want to do and who you want to be, read that book to start.  Just to start.  Think And Grow Rich is another one that has had a huge impact.  Definitely The Bible.  I feel like that is where I get most – I read that all the time.  There is just so much.  The way I see it is there are all these books that were printed in the past 120 years, but then you’ve got this book that has been here for 2,000 years.  So a lot of stuff I’ve learned I’ve picked up there.

Boy, what are a few other ones?  There is one that I am getting ready to read by Peter Diamandis (I think is his name) called Abundance.  I’m getting ready to read that.  I’m currently reading How To Fly A Horse which is on innovation.  A fantastic book.  I couldn’t tell you the author though, unfortunately [Kevin Ashton]. Another two books from Ryan Holiday that have blown my mind, The Obstacle Is The Way and Ego Is The Enemy.   Those two books have just been fantastic.  Great for where I’m at.

The other one was The Firm.  I believe it’s called The Firm.  It’s a book on how McKinsey (the consulting firm) was started.  That book probably is what caused me to start consulting for them.  I could have just done this on my own.  I could have just had a small shop and worked with these celebrities, worked with individuals.  I’d bring all the money to myself.  I make a lot of money.  I’d still be happy and still be comfortable.  But that book talks about just the team and – for lack of a better word I will use the word “swag” – that the McKinsey consultants walk into CEO board rooms with just because we know we have the best people and we are going to deliver the best offering, the best work.  I just thought, “hmm, what if I could bring together a group of folks” – a very small group of folks who have that same drive who are able to go in and demand respect because we are the best at what we do and we provide the results.  That book has definitely been the most instrumental in the past couple of years.

Cain:  That’s awesome.  I appreciate you sharing that reading list.  Peter, I know your time is precious.  Thank you so much for taking time out of your hectic schedule to join us here on the Peak Performance Podcast.  My last question for you is this:  What is it that you know now that you wish you knew when you were younger?  I guess the question is: What do you know now you wish you knew then?  People always say, “well, when is ‘then?’”   “Then” would be, let’s say when you were the college football player, when you were just getting going as a freshman in college.  What do you know now you wish you knew back then that maybe would have made you more successful?

Yobo:  Start now.  I tell everyone start now.  There is a power in being able to create.  That is what we are doing right now.  We’re creating a podcast episode.  But a lot of people – it will surprise you how many people in college, how many people all over the world – do not know that this was once an idea for you.  It may have been an idea years ago or months ago but you created it.  You created this podcast we’re recording and now you’re going to deliver it.  You created it.  Start now.  Start creating.  If you have ideas of things you want to do, things that excite you, start.  You will fail, yes, but failing is awesome because then you know what not to do.  So definitely start now.

If I had known that years ago, I would have been more intentional with what I’m doing now.  I would have been more intentional with my time at USC.  No regrets, but I think there could have been a couple more wins.  I wanted another.

Cain:  Yeah, there have been a lot of wins in your life.  I’m absolutely amazed at your story – from the computer labs of Ghana to the USC Trojans to now helping people of high-net-worth athletes and celebrities even capitalize and get more out of their brand.

Peter, thank you so much for taking time to be on the podcast.  For our listeners, go and learn more at www.PeterFYobo.com.  Follow him on Twitter at @PeterYobo.  Peter, thanks again.  We’ll definitely get you back here. Absolutely incredible.  Thank you so much.

Yobo:  Awesome.  Thank you for having me.