Each year, we try to get Footballguys.com owners Joe Bryant and David Dodds to open up a bit. This year, we ask the standard questions like How's business? and Who are your sleepers?, but we also delve into non-fantasy related topics like BBQ and wheat pennies while also asking them about a few staff members. Hope you enjoy the answers.
1. Where will Footballguys be in five years?
David: I am sure our competitors would have expected us to fail by now. ESPN, NFL, CBS, Yahoo, etc keep bringing more and more to the table, but despite their best efforts here we are. Bigger and stronger each year. I don't expect that dynamic to change. At the expense of sounding cocky, we are good at what we do. We are players first.
Going forward, I expect Footballguys to rise to a dominant position in all things mobile. We debuted with two strong apps this year, but we have another six apps planned for next year. We feel this will the biggest growth area in fantasy and aim to be front and center competing with the biggest media companies out there.
Joe: Great question. And it's one I think a lot about as I've moved more from writing about fantasy football to leading Footballguys. I'll use this question to make a bigger point: I don't know specifically where we'll be or what we'll be offering, but I feel confident in saying it'll be significantly different and better than what we're doing today. And I say that being relatively okay with where we are today.
My point is that we're not going to sit still. We're constantly looking for new ways to help you enjoy fantasy football more. Be it mobile apps or the Footballguys Players Championship or things that I haven't even thought of yet. We'll keep pushing and trying new things. Some won't work. Some will. But you can rest easy knowing we'll be stretching things for you.
2. Footballguys ventured into the mobile space this year with the Draft GM and Magazine Draft Kit apps. Discuss these two projects and future endeavors planned for mobile.
Joe: It's old news that Mobile is the future. Just walk outside and look at people. Especially anyone under 30. My teenage children see mobile devices as completely nonremarkable necessities of life. They consider their phones and tablets the way old people like me (49) look at desktops and laptops. So as we look to give our customers what they want, Mobile is a giant part of that.
It's a challenge though as so much of what Footballguys "is" revolves around huge amounts of content. And small screens are a challenge. I'm proud of how we handled that with our Magazine Draft Kit App and Draft GM. But we can do even better.
It'll be interesting to come back and read this in a few months but another area I'm betting on with Mobile is that I want us to be just as strong with Android as we are with Apple. I love my Galaxy S4 phone and Samsung Note 8 tablet. I love my iPad and MacBook Air too. I feel like some companies are missing the boat ignoring Android. People in the industry tell me I'm wasting my time spending resources to develop for Android as they say Android users won't buy apps. I'm an Android user, and I buy plenty of apps. I'm aiming to prove that stigma wrong. But you Android guys are going to have to help me out.
David: I could not be prouder than what we have accomplished with these two products. Companies like the NFL and Rotowire have had strong selling apps in the marketplace for years. We have went from 0 to 100 MPH in record time and I would put our apps side by side what any other company is offering. In my opinion, our magazine app is revolutionary. It is going to change how fantasy magazines are delivered going forward.
The future is bright for us in mobile based on so many decisions we made many years ago placing everything in databases and tying it all together via player IDs. We don't want to give our competitors a year to match our efforts though, so we are going to stay mum on these new projects. Suffice it to say we are just getting started in mobile and expect to be a dominant player going forward in both the iOS (Apple) and Android markets.
3. Any desire for Footballguys to get into other sports?
David: I am wishy-washy on this right now. My love is football. And it still feels like there is so much more to get done in football. But it's hard not to see the technical cross-over in some of the back end things we have done at Footballguys. I am confident if we wanted to, we could excel as an information and technology company covering all sports. I am just not sure we want to at this time.
Joe: I'll never say never but this will be something David and I have to hammer out. I cut my teeth on fantasy baseball, but now I'm all in with football. I'm not closed to other sports, but I'd only consider it with the clear stipulations that #1) We could cover them with excellence, and #2) We'd allocate our manpower so that football is never compromised.
4. The Footballguys Players Championship sold 4,080 teams last year. This year the grand prize has been raised to $250,000. How big can this contest get? What are your goals in this space?
Joe: Believe it or not, I don't judge the success of the Footballguys Players Championship by how many teams we have. My goal is for this to be the most respected contest in the fantasy sports industry. You do that in the same way a restaurant or hotel does it: By providing your guests with an incredible experience.
Fantasy football is fun recreation. You play fantasy football as a break from the hassles of regular life. So that means this experience needs to be hassle free. There are so many "little" things that add up to big things. So my goal is that we continue to refine and shape the contest so that people walk away at the end of the year saying it was a great experience. Not everyone can win obviously. But everyone can be part of a contest that's run with excellence. I'm proud to be partnered with the the FFPC team led by Alex Kaganovsky, Dave Gerczak, and Chris Lambert that handle the day-to-day administration.
Bottom line - if we make it a great experience, the numbers will take care of themselves. And there's no telling where the ceiling is.
David: I think the $350 price is the sweet spot in this industry. And a $350 entry for a shot to win $250,000 is just insane. By offering the best prize pools, escrowed prizes, fastest payouts, and a great experience, I think there is no limit to how big this can get. I believe that the FPC will be (if it isn't already) the premier event for the industry for the foreseeable future.
5. In just a few sentences, why should someone subscribe to Footballguys?
David: We published over 50,000 pages of content last year including 90+ weekly features during the season. If you are even half-serious about winning your fantasy league, you are crazy not to subscribe.
Joe: Really short answer: Because you want to win your league, and we're the best money you can spend towards accomplishing that goal.
Longer answer is that we'll save you time. If you had 200 hours a week to devote to fantasy football, you could get some of this content yourself. So for many people, we're a big time saver. For others, they want our expert's takes on things. Our guys are really good at this stuff. Others say the $35,000 contest available free to subscribers is reason enough to join all by itself. I agree. There are a ton of different reasons. I made a real pretty list here.
6. How did you guys meet?
David: Actually, we met online in a discussion about VBD in the rec.sports.fantasy newsgroup. We formally met at a convention sponsored in Vegas by Fantasy Insights. After I sold my MrFootball website to Fanball (during another convention some years later), I pitched the next generation fantasy site (all built via databases) to Joe. The rest is history.
7. Give us one to two words (or more if you're Joe) to describe the following staffers:
- David: Fantasy Workaholic
- Joe: Chops. Legit. Peaceful guy with tons of knowledge on a violent sport. Multiple layers to this one...
- Joe: In the Venn Diagram where Football Knowledge overlaps Medical Insight, the common area says "Dr. Bramel".
- David: Injury Doctor
- David: Database Master
- Joe: HOT. Football's Bill James. Thankful he's good hearted as a mean guy this smart and capable could do some damage.
- Joe: Carlton. Swiss Army Knife. Does it all, and does it well.
- David: Handles Everything
- David: August Updates
- Joe: Big shot executive that works as hard as the new guy on his first day. I'm convinced he secretly has 50 guys helping him on the August Updates.
- Joe: Motorboater. Metal Cowboy. His picture is under "make it happen" in the dictionary.
- David: Radio Legend
- David: IDP Master
- Joe: Has forgotten more about individual defensive players than most people know.
- Joe: Genius. Wizard behind the curtain. If Keith cannot figure it out - it's not going to be figured out.
- David: Tech Genius
- David: Exceptional Drafter
- Joe: Ninja. Doesn't make a lot of noise, but you turn around and he's got a giant pile of work done.
- Joe: A Very Important Person Around Here. If Drinen is Yoda - Chase is Young Skywalker.
- David: Number Cruncher
- David: Smartest Guy
- Joe: Walking Google. Maurile knows more about more things than anyone I know.
- Joe: Thoughtful. Wise. E.F. Hutton - when he talks you listen. Trust me.
- David: Rookie Scouting
- David: Eccentric Chef
- Joe: Rock Solid. If Mark says it'll be done at 5:00. It'll be done and done well at 4:50.
- Joe: Wall Street Maven by day, fantasy football Wolverine by night.
- David: Business Acumen
8. Thoughts on the fantasy football landscape (info sites, contests, league management, mobile, other)?
Joe: Fantasy football isn't much different than any other popular activity like cooking or photography or watching movies in that the market has responded with technology that makes the activity way more enjoyable. Movie guys today are in heaven on IMDb. Cooking guys have ridiculous access to information and recipes. Photography guys can discuss topics on a message board with experts from around the world. Fantasy football is no different. Our hobby is so much more fun because of the products available on the fantasy landscape. For competitors, I'll just say we have some excellent competition that push us. And that's good for everyone.
David: I'll try to keep it short.
Info Sites - The information has steadily improved over the years. There are a lot more people doing quality work in this space these days. As a comparison, ESPN used to have two cartoon guys (Hector and Victor) providing advice. Sites like ESPN, NFL, and Yahoo have stepped up big time and now have people that are truly respected heading up their fantasy coverage. I love how this has evolved. It's made fantasy football better for everyone with so many more knowledgeable people talking about the hobby.
Contests - There was a dark period surrounding the industry with the collapse of WCOFF, Rapid Draft, and others. But with bad news, sometimes good things can come from those unfortunate events. One of those was us jumping in the medium stakes space and the other was the FFPC filling the void left in the high stakes community. Both of these contests fully escrow their prize pools. Right now, I think contests are vibrant again and the outlook is great going forward.
League Management - This area is extremely established. The free sites (Yahoo, ESPN, NFL, etc.) have very elegant products. The paid sites have robust features developed over many years. We have never ventured into this area, but if we did I think it would be built with a mobile-first strategy to compete with what the free sites are offering.
Mobile - I really think this area is in it's infancy. We came from nowhere and now have two of the Top 10 paid apps in all of sports.
9. Do you see daily games surpassing traditional leagues going forward?
David: I do. It's a very compelling format and extremely fun to play. You get instant satisfaction and aren't saddled with dealing with injured players. The fun for me has always been the draft/auction. In daily, you get to do that every single week.
Joe: It'll be interesting to see. I love the daily game format, and it's clearly the fastest growing segment of our industry. Where it matures will be fun to see, but it's easy to see how popular it is. I'm still old school in that I love the social community factor of a local traditional league. I love to see the traveling trophies and the crazy little awards. Mostly I love seeing grown men reduced to nine year olds as they fight for the championship or avoid the bottom-dweller punishment. But fantasy football is a big tent. There is room for all.
10. What is your proudest accomplishment at Footballguys?
Joe: I'd be lying if I said I didn't love the personal accomplishment stuff. It's really nice when the ESPN guys in their fantasy football magazine give credit for creating Value Based Drafting. And winning the Fantasy Sports Trade Association award for Best Internet Site was awesome. But as i get older, I truly love the "shepherding" part of this gig. I love seeing a Chase Stuart start with us when he was barely out of high school and watch him grow into a very successful attorney in New York City writing analytic articles that are off-the-charts good. I love seeing a Cecil Lammey grow into the NFL personality he is. I love bringing a big group of guys together with incredibly varied interests and skill sets and putting them in positions to succeed with Footballguys. I feel like I've transitioned from being a player to a coach. I may want to be Tom Brady, but my best shot is Bill Belichick. And I love that.
David: Seeing the online version of the Footballguys magazine hit (and hold) the #1 spot for paid sports apps for the iPad. This has been a vision of mine for a long, long time. It's better than even I imagined and will only get better.
11. Nearly all successful companies have had a few key defining moments. Name the top three for Footballguys.
David: Just three? Okay.
- Building everything in databases early (and indexing to player ID). That has allowed us to repurpose our content in ways never before thought of.
- Adding message boards to the site. The Huddle had the best boards, but they decided to take them behind their pay wall one year. We seized the opportunity with our own free boards, and it propelled us as the place for meaningful discussions about football.
- Decision to do the Daily Update. Sometimes we spend four hours on this. But we have been unwavering in our commitment to send out this email every single day no matter what. We now have 250,000 email addresses on this list, and that has a given us a platform to do so many other things.
Joe: I can't go with just three. Here are several for me:
- Corralling the rambling thoughts in my head and putting them down on paper (literally) into a real system called Value Based Drafting was probably the thing for me that defined getting started in the business.
- Having Bob Harris take me under his wing and show me what a professional looked like in this business.
- Partnering with my buddy David Dodds. We are very different in some areas and very much alike in others. We argue like an old married couple sometimes, but the reality is we both respect the other's take on things and we almost always mutually arrive at the right answer. We have a true partnership that works exceptionally well.
- Hiring Keith Overton to be our tech guru. I can't pass the Shoney's Restaurant in Nashville without smiling as that's where I interviewed him. Keith is the guy that quietly works behind the scenes making virtually everything happen for Footballguys.
- Creating Rate My Team. This was the killer app that pulled all the different things we'd been doing together into one big answer. We have viewers enter their team and instantly we can showcase multiple Footballguys features in telling them how we see the strengths and weaknesses of their squad. And how they can improve it. It's a great trial run for some of the things we offer.
- Launching our Mobile Apps with Draft GM and Footballguys Magazine Draft Kit. We false started in 2012, licked our wounds in the offseason, and came out with guns blazing in 2013.
I can't wait for #7, #8, #9, and #10. I don't know what they are for sure yet but I'm stoked about them.
12. For Joe - Name the Top 5 BBQ places you have eaten.
Joe: It's difficult to stop at five, but here they are:
- Louie Mueller Barbecue - Taylor, TX
- Franklin Barbecue - Austin, TX
- Smitty's Market - Lockhart, TX
- City Market - Luling, TX
- Arthur Bryant's - Kansas City, MO
David: Joe won't say this, but the best BBQ is from Joe's converted boat trailer housing the Black-Eyed Joe's BBQ wagon. Just ask the Footballguys staff and anyone that has ever tasted it. Joe feeds the homeless under the Knoxville bridge twice a month, and you can ask those folks too. They are lined up around for a mile to get this BBQ.
13. For David: What's up with the wheat pennies?
David: The penny costs so much to produce and distribute, I was convinced that the US government would abolish it. And because the nickel also costs more than a nickel to produce and distribute, I offered the ultimate solution to those who would listen. Stop printing nickels and pennies. Make both worth a nickel and round everything to the nearest nickel. For what's it worth I still think this makes sense for the government to adopt.
So it goes to follow that if you believed the penny would be discontinued, then a run on the Wheatbacks could develop. With the death of a Wheatback horder in the midwest (who supposedly had 15 million plus of these pennies), I was able to buy about 70,000 of these pennies "unsearched". It was a cheap investment and allowed my daughter and me to spend time sorting and collecting too. I still own the pennies.
14. If you could go back and redo one thing with FBG, what would that be?
Joe: Sell everything to buy all the Apple stock I could have in 2001. Seriously, we've had a more than a few things that didn't work, but I'm not sorry we tried them. That's just part of it.
David: I do not feel like here have been a lot of mistakes in growing this company, but I wish we had built out a league management system that rivaled the best that the free sites offer. Yahoo and ESPN boast more than 10 million combined fantasy football players. I wish Footballguys had access to those numbers of players. We could move mountains.
15. Give us some lessons learned in running Footballguys that could be applied to any small business.
David: There are many, but here are five:
- Spend time growing your community
- Create a business where your employees want to work
- Treat people fairly
- Stand behind your products/service - we have offered a money-back guarantee forever
- Follow your passion / do what you love
Joe: I love business as much as I love football. In no particular order, I'd throw these out for people looking at starting a small business.
- Understand that all business at it's core is problem solving. Stop trying to sell your stuff and instead help people solve their problems. Most people nod their head and say they get that. But they don't.
- 1a. Know EXACTLY what problem(s) your product is solving for your customers.
- 2a. Not every customer is worth having. In this day of iToughguys and the general level of toolishness which virtual communication allows, it's entirely appropriate to part ways with some potential customers where the benefit is way out of line with the effort.
- 6a. Much more preferable - do more than what you say.
16. You guys started Footballguys with $5,000 each and have never taken out loans or put in more money. How were you able to make that work in the early days? What are your thoughts on venture capital funded efforts in the fantasy space?
Joe: I personally think easy money (which can often be VC money) is a curse. I love the sink-or-swim mentality bootstrapping a business forces you into. It's a novel concept today to spend less money than you make. But it's one of those basic business principles I mention above that you can't ignore for long.
I see so many startups where the business plan is "get a bunch of eyeballs and sell to Google". That's not a business plan. That's a lottery ticket. We both started Footballguys while working full time "real" jobs. Work your butt off for free for a couple of years and see if you have a real business. If you do, then go for it.
Once you're going, don't spend money you don't have. And if you need money, do something that's going to make money. Force the business into making money and don't fall back on a safety net of easy money. Easy money almost always has strings attached that are giant negatives.
David: We reached out to a group of guys and told them our vision with the site. We would be free for a year and charge in year two. We had no idea how many subscriptions we would sell, but we awarded writers/contributors with credits for those two years that were redeemed for pay at the end of the second year. Luckily the company debuted with 18,000 subscribers in it's first paid year. We had hoped a credit would be worth a dollar. They were worth about $1.08 - making everyone happy. We were able to grow every year by running our company like all other normal businesses - spend less than you take in. Don't bet the farm or make unrealistic predictions of growth.
Seeing how almost every venture funded business fails in this industry, I remain skeptical that this space can be captured with venture money. FanDuel looks to be the major exception from where I sit. They have a thriving business built for the long-term.
The piece that bothers me the most about Venture funded projects is it's grossly unfair competition. We have to balance the books at the end of the year. To a company only caring about market reach (absent of profit), it's a lot easier to make a splash with things. Hell, anyone can offer a half-million dollar prize for a small entry and have a lot of signups if no one cares if you lose hundreds of thousand dollars doing it.
17. Give us a few sleepers this year. And some busts.
David: I like to follow the offseason moves for a team tipping their hand. The fact that the Ravens lost Anquan Boldin and key defensive players tells me this team on paper should have a huge need at wide receiver. But they did not pursue a receiver in the draft or free agency. Putting all of this together paints a story in my eyes. I think they are content with what they have in wide receiver Torrey Smith, tight ends Dennis Pitta and Ed Dickson, and their two backs Ray Rice and Bernard Pierce. With limited options at WR2, they also might be looking to run the ball a lot more than in year's past after discovering Bernard Pierce at the end of last season. So analyzing this situation alone, I give you undervalued players of Torrey Smith, Dennis Pitta, Ed Dickson (in tight end-friendly systems like the FPC) and Bernard Pierce.
Busts - Put me in the camp that thinks you will actually LOSE your league if you select Aaron Rodgers anywhere near his average draft position this year. The Packers drafted two runners in the draft and want a more balanced attack which could limit Aaron's upside. Green Bay has a brutal schedule including opening week at San Francisco and a Week 16 (fantasy championship) matchup against an always tough Pittsburgh Steelers. Lastly, the field of quarterbacks is so deep this year that taking a top one for little gain means you are likely going to e weaker every where else. Let some other sucker draft Aaron Rodgers this year.
Joe: Bigger point - I avoid the terms "sleeper" and "bust". I think undervalued and overvalued are way more descriptive and helpful.
For overvalued quarterbacks, I think Tom Brady will be drafted too high. As will Michael Vick. For running backs, I'm leery of Andre Brown. For wide receivers, I think James Jones and Wes Welker will not live up to expectations. For tight ends, I'm shying away from Dennis Pitta and Jermaine Gresham.
For undervalued quarterbacks. I love Sam Bradford. For running backs, I think Le'Veon Bell can make some major waves. For wide receivers, I like Tavon Austin and Anquan Boldin. For tight ends, I think Jared Cook and Greg Olsen will do better than most people think.
18. Is there an in an ideal world goal for the Footballguys site and brand in the future?
Joe: I'd say I'd love for the current climate to continue with NFL as King of Sports and tons of people loving fantasy football. Basically, my wish is that we just don't screw this up. With labor peace in place, I love where it looks like the game is headed.
David: My plan is to just keep pushing the bar higher and higher. It's never been about money for us. We want the best website. And to have that we want the best staff and the best products. We'll keep doing what we are passionate about and the rest is just gravy.
19. My plan is to retire from the traditional workforce at the age of 43. That has been met with disbelief and scrutiny at every step of the way. Do you believe?
David: Plan for success and execute. If you want to retire at that age, map out a path that makes that happen. Rarely does the world hold us back. We hold ourselves back from failing to dream and think big.
Joe: Totally Believe.
20. Exactly how big is the excel file that houses the information fueling the statistics and projections of the Footballguys website?
Joe: Little known fact - the reason I live in Knoxville is that it's close proximity to the Oak Ridge National Laboratory where the Titan Supercomputer is a front for the Footballguys machine.
David: It's pretty massive. Even the weekly one has gotten pretty ridiculous. I have always been a numbers (math) guy. There are no short cuts in doing really good projections. It's a lot of math, a lot of watching games, and analyzing what the statistics are telling you. I know I am in the minority, but I spend nearly 60 hours to create my first set of preseason projections. During the season, I spend 25-30 hours perfecting my weekly numbers. It's borderline insane how much effort goes into these. But I know how much people are counting on our advice, and I refuse to take shortcuts.
21. Do you think NFL officials are objective when making their calls? Any specific plays or moments through the years that made you question the integrity of the officiating?
David: Officials are an easy mark I suppose, but I am not a conspiracy guy in regards to officiating. This is a multi-billion dollar league. It makes no sense to throw games or make games go a certain way. For the most part, I think the officials do a great job.
Joe: Not so much the calls or objectivity. I think these guys do the best they can and I think that's good. My objection is they're old men trying to run around a field with world class athletes. Your grandpa can't keep up with Colin Kaepernick. All in all though, they do a fine job.
22. If you could take just one more trip in your lifetime, where would you go?
Joe: I guess the proper answer is New Zealand or India or Australia. The truthful answer is that I'm just about as happy in a rental car with XM radio driving across Central Texas looking for BBQ.
David: I want to do an extensive European trip one of these days. My daughter and I visited London some years back, but it just whetted my appetite to want to see even more of it.
23. For someone that has not visited Las Vegas on the weekend of the NFL season starting, what is it like?
David: It's my favorite time of the year. Fantasy football junkies all watching the Thursday kickoff game screaming on every catch and run. And to be in Vegas surrounded by people that are as passionate about football (and fantasy football) as yourself. It's a great vibe. I look forward to it every year.
Joe: Las Vegas is fascinating. It's a testament to how far Man can go left unfettered. Which isn't necessarily a good thing. Just fascinating. I love watching the Thursday night opener at the FFPC High Stakes Event there. But for Sunday, I confess I'd rather be in my home office with my setup.
24. What bold prediction (NFL or fantasy, short or long-term) are you most proud of getting correct?
Joe: Long term - I called Isaac Bruce's breakout in 1995. I also thought Cade McNown would be good so that keeps me grounded.
Mid term - When everyone else said Reggie Bush's upside was Gale Sayers I said he should be thrilled if he winds up being Warrick Dunn.
Short term - I was an early believer in Alfred Morris last year. But I'll confess it was mostly because of his car.
David: More than a single player, I have been advocating using QBBC way before it was popular. The world is finally catching up. I remember the decision to put Tiki Barber on the cover of the FBG Magazine, and he exploded with his best season as a pro. That was cool.
25. If you told the teenage version of yourself that you would be a big fantasy football star later in life, what would they say?
David: I am not sure I would be all that shocked by it. I was a world-class backgammon prodigy at 16. I won tons of Rubik's cube contests in high school (once solving in less than 23 seconds). I excelled at all board and card games. I solved the SAT math section in half the allotted time and still only missed two questions. So telling me then that I would run a website that utilized my math brain would make complete sense to me.
Joe: I would have laughed. But then, I'd laugh if you told me today that I was a "big fantasy football star".
26. What is the most extreme food-related event either of you have participated in (eating contest, fasting, etc)?
Joe: I don't get the eating contest stuff. Food is fun. Chugging 90 hot dogs doesn't seem fun.
David: In college I participated in a mile eat/run challenge. You ran a quarter mile and then ate a quarter pounder then ran a quarter mile, etc. I was sick for many days after finishing that race. I am still not sure how I ate those four burgers on my then 140-pound frame either.
27. Which weather extreme is more tolerable for you: hot or cold?
David: The cold is the absence of heat. Absence is another word for nothing. Therefore cold does not exist. I hate hot weather with a passion.
Joe: Hot for sure. I'm a son of the south having lived most of my life in Tennessee and Texas.
28. Do you have any parting thoughts?
Joe: Just gratitude. If you're reading this you have some role in us being able to do what we do at Footballguys. And for that, I want to thank you. We started this thing together with people like you, we've built it with people like you. And we'll see where it takes us with people like you. Thanks a lot.
David: I am the luckiest man in the world. I get to do a job I absolutely love and work with the sharpest staff ever assembled. As much as I feel like FBG has already been a success, in some ways I feel like we are just getting started here. Thanks for all the support over the years.