My partner Greg Bettinelli is an avid sports fan who throughout his career has developed an expert understanding in online ticketing (at eBay has was a champion of the StubHub acquisition) and online marketing.
Greg knows consumer businesses and customers, which has added tremendously to our team where I admittedly have more of a background in enterprise software, data and online video. If you’re interested in sports tech (or want to argue with a 49ers fan) you should definitely follow Greg.
I mention this because Greg led our investment in a company that I have personally become addicted to called Draft. If you want to read more about our investment you can follow its launch today on ProductHunt, which has become my favorite place now to launch new applications and companies. The Draft team will answer questions there and so will Greg and I if you have anything for us. They just announced their Android app (you can download here if you’re on Android or the iOS version if you’re on that platform).
Draft is a Fantasy Sports app designed for the mobile world and the busy lifestyle founded by Jeremy Levine. I met with Jeremy years ago when he had a startup that was building a fantasy sports app where you picked players in a stock-market style and their value moved up and down over time. I found him to be a very compelling founder that I could work with one day but the idea of tracking players like a stock didn’t appeal to me personally because I had the opposite problem – I wanted to track players casually and focus on work during the week. Jeremy sold that business to DraftKings and I’m guessing came to a similar conclusion to me as he decided the next rev of his product was going to be for casual players.
I think the direction of the company is spot on and follows very similar trends that we’ve tracked in online games more broadly and also follows the trend of real-money online gaming apps that are “games of skill” not “games of chance.” DraftKings and FanDuel are certainly where the big dollars are bet but as a casual gamer playing big bucks there is both impersonal and also like going to Vegas one time but playing poker against people who do it for a living. I think the beauty of the Draft app that Jeremy built is that it appeals to the mass audience that wants to participate but not be obsessed.
Greg began spending time with Jeremy and loved his approach, his knowledge and his entrepreneurial skills so when he wanted to champion an investment at Upfront into Jeremy’s company it was a no-brainer for me to support Greg’s decision and our entire partnership got behind Jeremy.
I’m sure Greg has his own views on the topic, but here’s what struck me as unique about Draft’s approach:
When you look at the world of video games there was originally the hard-core gamers and the games that supported them on platforms with high-end graphics and expensive product development programs such that only big publishers could effectively release titles. If you were a new developer in this category you often had to sub-contract in a fees-for-service arrangement to build for the big guys. In the “casual gaming” realm there was of course the popularity of arcade games like Pac-Man but with the launch of Facebook games (mostly dominated by Zynga) like FarmVille they attracted much larger audiences than hardcore because it didn’t require the same level of time commitment, skill development and sophistication to play the game.
Mobile really enabled the entire category and created the free-to-play powerhouses like Angry Birds, Words With Friends, Candy Crush, Clash of Clans, Cut the Rope, Best Fiends and others. Online games had now become a monster industry and mobile was a huge driver through casual gamers. And social networks enabled rapid growth and also the ability to more easily find and play with friends or make new ones.
We believe there is a similar trend in Fantasy Sports. I began playing Fantasy Football in 1993 before it was even a big thing. A group of friends at Andersen Consulting (now Accenture) got together to form a league and also had several members of our client at the time Southern California Gas Company. I’ve enjoyed playing over the years because it creates a bond between players that now spans decades with all of the trash talk, bragging rights and maybe a few dollars if you play things right.
But over the years as more money and more sophistication creeped into fantasy football it became a serious time commitment. I had to keep track of who was injured, who was being arrested, who was likely to start in a given week, etc. So the annual draft became an event that I had to prepare for, learn which rookies would get playing time, look at stats, spend hours doing the actual draft and then keep tabs on it weekly. If I didn’t pay attention during the run up to the draft then I was screwed for the season.
As the demands of my professional career grew my fantasy football record went down. Over the last few years my enjoyment has gone back up considerably because fantasy football has now become a great bonding experience for my two boys and I as we get to talk about which players around the league are doing well, we pay more attention to games that don’t involve the 2016 Superbowl Champion Philadelphia Eagles and we talk about who to start each week.
But it still takes time.
Last year I began playing with an app called Draft that was in its infancy. It reminded me of the fun I had with Words With Friends when it came out. I was able to casually challenge friends when I had free time on my travels. It was a way to punk friends, trash talk, compete and have some fun. The huge draw of Draft for me were:
- Draft was a mobile app,
- I could challenge friends 1-1,
- It restarted every week so if I had a bad week or wasn’t paying attention I wasn’t doomed for 4 months
- Draft lists the players by position based on “projected scoring” so I didn’t have to keep track whether plays were suspended for drugs or violence or had an injury. If they weren’t going to play they didn’t show up on the list.
- And … importantly you could play for money
It wasn’t so much that I felt a need to gamble. But bragging rights are much more fun when you take $20 off of a friend as Chamillionaire discovered as he kept taking my cash week after week. But that was when Draft was in beta mode and I was a rookie Drafter. I’ve upped my game this year and am ready to win some of that hard-earned cash back.
You can play against me at http://playdraft.com/msuster but I can’t play everybody for money so it will have to be for fun for most of you.
So, yeah. I deleted Words with Friends a year ago and intentionally keep almost no games on my phone because I don’t want to run the risk of being sucked in at 2am at a hotel on business travel (although I still play Trivia Crack with my two young boys) but I keep Draft on my phone and it always gets active use during football season.
(Cross-posted @ Both Sides of the Table)