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Patrick Willis has found success at a Silicon Valley tech start-up

Patrick Willis

San Francisco 49ers inside linebacker Patrick Willis during the second quarter of an NFL football game against the Detroit Lions in San Francisco, Sunday, Sept. 16, 2012. (AP Photo/Tony Avelar)


Former 49ers linebacker Patrick Willis moved quickly to bat down rumors of a comeback last year.

It’s not that football didn’t hold a special place in his life, but he quickly re-established himself after his playing days, and is now on his way to success in an entirely different field.

Via Sam Laird of, Willis has traded in football for a tech start-up, and he’s the vice president of a company called Open Source Storage.

“People always told me when I was growing up that if you want to be something great, you have to be this physical specimen that can jump up to here and all that,” Willis said. “For me, this is an opportunity to be able to tell young kids that you can be more than just a physical specimen to be great,” Willis said. “I’m a person that can’t speak about something until I’ve done it myself.”

His entry into the tech industry was almost accidental, as the neighbor who helped him with his bags from his car after a surgery turned out to be company owner Eren Niazi. Niazi doesn’t follow football and didn’t know who Willis was, but the two struck up a quick friendship that led to a job offer.

Willis is now a member of the company’s board and executive vice president for partnerships, and instead of going to Santa Clara to work out, he heads to an office park five days a week. And he doesn’t talk wistfully about his glory days on the field, saying he watched highlights and parts of some games last year but didn’t follow it closely.

“I don’t want to rest on what I’ve done and let that keep me from doing what I want to do,” Willis said. “I’d rather be reading something or diving into something and trying to figure it out. . . .

“I still respect it [football]. But my mind is past it.”

Willis has pivoted quickly, leaving surprised job candidates with the “Aren’t you?” look on their faces when he interviews them for jobs. But the fact that Willis is a leader in any facet is not surprising, at least to anyone familiar with his football career.