Unbreakable IX- Robert Gillett
When most young football players and their parents dream of the places the sport can take them, they don’t imagine the Italian Alps.
Robert Gillett did.
Gillett used football to expand his world. He combined creative thinking with perseverance and hard work, two virtues well known to any decent football player. Inspiration breeds inspiration, and his Italian experience led to the idea that made Gillett a tech innovator and CEO before the age of 30.
To accomplish so much at such a young age, you have to start young. Robert Gillett’s high school football career was cluttered with awards and responsibilities. After serving three years as the captain of the Palisades Charter High Dolphins, Gillett applied to Brown University. His exceptional academic and athletic record earned him a spot in Brown's freshman class and on the its football team, the Bears.
Gillett scored a spot on the varsity travel roster as a freshman. As a sophomore, he helped the Bears secure a share of the Ivy League conference title. He took on a starting role as a junior. But as a senior, he was injured on the first play of the game against Rhode Island and missed the rest of Brown’s season. He still managed to graduate with a double major in engineering and economics, while fulfilling all pre-med requirements.
Less than two years after graduating from Brown, Gillett was back on the field. Only this time, the field belonged to a team called the Giants and was located in Bolzano, Italy. Bolazano is a cultural crossroads in the Alps. In 2014, the city ranked as the number one Italian city in terms of quality of life. In taking his game to Italy, Gillett embraced a growing trend right at its inception. Professional football opportunities are no longer limited to the NFL. Over a thousand American athletes now get signed outside of North America every year. Football can take you to Europe, China, Mexico, Brazil, Japan, Australia… It can take you all over the world.
The life of a football import isn’t free from challenges. When three quarters of the city speaks Italian as their first language—and the other quarter speaks German—it can be hard to meet people. Gillett realized there had to be an easier way to connect with new people, one that would work across linguistic barriers. Later that year, he was home with some friends taking a group selfie when something clicked (besides the camera).
Gillett came up with the idea for weCliq, a social networking app focused on spontaneous connection between people in the same area. Posted selfies or groupies would serve as a person’s introduction to others nearby. The app would help people find new friends to hang out with in the moment, using the pictures they were already taking of themselves having fun. After the app earned first place at an Orange County Startup Weekend, Gillett brought former Brown teammate Marc Howland on board.
Never stagnating, Gillett has since moved on to his next great idea, CannaCtrl, an e-commerce platform for legal cannabis retailers. CannaCtrl is a mobile point-of-sale and delivery logistics tool.
But Gillette’s success story started where so many do: on the football field.
Football helped focus a first-rate mind. The sport provided Gillett with both opportunities and skills, and the man capitalized on them. His story belongs to a whole library of stories about Black entrepreneurs coming out of a background that included youth football. The NFL is only one of the adventures to which football can lead.
Football players never win alone, and Gillett has committed himself to giving back to his community. At Brown, he participated in the Making Moves program as a tutor and mentor to underprivileged college kids. Back home in Los Angeles, he was an active member working with Framp Camp to aid inner-city youth to excel in both academics and athletics, assisting them with life and college preparation. Gillett hasn’t forgotten the college that nurtured him either. He spent a year working as an adjunct instructor, showing engineers and entrepreneurs how to build a mobile tech company from the ground up.
Gillett's personal drive and dedication make him a star. His service work makes him a team player. The combination makes him a role model for the next generation of football players.
This article is part of the "Unbreakable" series. The brain may not be “unbreakable,” but the football spirit is. So put on your protective gear and put in the work. That’s the road to success.