It's time for our annual sit down with Footballguys owners Joe Bryant and David Dodds. We threw tons of questions their way - most fantasy related, but some personal. They did their best to answer fully. We broke them down by category as best as possible. Enjoy.
What's happening in 2015 on the site?
Bryant: Bigger and better is the natural answer I think. But my focus is on more useful. We've got tons of content. What I want is to work on ways of making that content more useful to our customers. I want to transfer the experience of what I call "The Over The Shoulder Coach" where it's as if we were sitting down with a customer and giving him personalized advice on his team. Most of that will come through expanding our MyFBG area where we throw generic lists and information out the window and instead drill down to what really works and applies to the customer's league. Basically, we want to make an Insider PRO Membership so valuable to a customer that they can't think of doing without it.
With that said, an area where we're adding tons of new content is with our Daily Games coverage. And when I say "adding tons of new content", I mean we'll be almost doubling the amount of material we provide our readers this year. We considered making FootballguysDaily.com it's own separate site but at least for now, it's all under the Footballguys banner. Daily has clearly become a huge part of how Fantasy Football is played and it's our intention to be the leader in Daily Fantasy Football.
In years past, there's been a pretty significant divide between the sharks and fish in the Daily ecosystem. Our goal is to destroy that divide. We'll be equipping our readers at scale with the tools and information they need for success in Daily. It's going to be fun.
Dodds: It might be easier to discuss what's not happening at the site in 2015. We have a lot in store for 2015. Specifically we are doing these things:
- Daily Fantasy
- Creating two books (approx 200 pages each) for the industry on how to beat FanDuel and DraftKings
- Creating two blogs (one each for FanDuel and DraftKings) that we will man with 10+ staff. Our goal is to create the best blogs in the space
- Creating 20+ weekly features for FanDuel, 20+ for DraftKings, 8+ for Fantasy Aces and 8+ for Fantasy Score
- Creating FanDuel and DraftKings specific weekly podcasts
- Major revision to the Draft Dominator app which greatly improves the interface and usability. This will debut sometime in June
- Releasing our Dashboard App which will pickup where the Draft Dominator app ends. Subscribers will be able to access nearly everything they can now do at the site remotely. This will debut in late August
- Releasing our Daily App which will bring in everything we are doing in the Daily Space into one area. It will include Optimization and research tools and will be a must-download for anyone serious about winning in daily contests
What was the original vision for Footballguys, and what has it morphed into now? Where will it be in five years. What's the end game for Footballguys?
Dodds: My vision was to create the best fantasy football site period. Not the best free or pay site. Not the best site constrained by costs, limited staff, etc. We keep changing what perfection is so our work is rarely done. We will continue to evolve the site to the tools / products that our customers demand. We would not want it any other way.
FBG in 5 years: The last 10+ years have went by pretty fast. I sense that we will still be leading the innovation charge on tools, apps, and information. We are not looking to mail things in. We have lots of things we still plan to build.
End game: I always find it somewhat amusing that most people expect entrepreneurs to create something and then sell it off. I have never really cared about doing that. I sense FBG is going to be around and controlled by Joe and me for a good long time. And if not Joe and me, then run by people currently employed by us that share the same vision and ideals of what this site is. Our end game is the same as ESPN': to dominate this space forever.
Bryant: The way people play fantasy football has changed a lot in the last 15 years. But my vision for the site hasn't changed at all. We still have the singular focus of helping people win their league. It's not a lot more complicated than that.
Outside of a few fluff entertainment pieces (Random Shots, anyone?) everything we do has the goal of helping our reader win in mind.
It's important to note we have all kinds of customers. Some are super hardcore spending 40 hours a week studying the game playing fantasy sports as their full time occupation. A much larger percentage are regular busy people who want an edge over their buddies. Some are very casual players that just want to join in with the office league. But we do the same thing for all of them - help them win.
Five years from now, I expect we'll be doing the same thing. Again, how they're playing in five years may very well be different, but the bottom line will be the same.
For an Endgame, we've never had one. One thing I hate about the startup culture and the business climate today is I see so many companies with the business plan of:
- Create something cool and interesting.
- Garner a zillion "eyeballs" with no regard for sustainability.
- Sell to Google / Facebook / Twitter.
That's not a business plan. That's a lottery ticket. I don't remember business owners thinking like that years ago.
I guess I'm old school, but I much prefer the business plan of creating a product of value, delivering the product and satisfying customers. All the while taking in enough money that allows you to be profitable and continue the process. That's what we've done.
And it's what we plan to continue doing. I'm 51 years old. That's old I guess. But I feel like I've got another good 25 years to go. I never say never and if someone makes us an insane offer, we'll listen I guess. But I love doing what we're doing and my expectation is we keep this rolling stronger each year for a good while.
What are your thoughts on the fantasy football landscape?
Bryant: I say Know Your Role. Look. We're a service industry helping fantasy football studs win their league. We're not curing cancer. And we get that. But we also get that fantasy sports are a big deal. So while it's not a life and death product, it's one we take incredibly seriously.
As far as the fantasy football landscape goes, my thoughts on it are that it's more competitive than ever. We realize full well that charging $32.95 for fantasy football information comes with expectations. Especially when there is some free information available from other places. So the pressure is on us to deliver way more value than the cost of the Membership. That's how the free market works. You guys decide our fate.
As far as other companies go, it's fun to watch technology and innovation happen. And the move to mobile has been exciting. I can't imagine a better time in history to be alive than right now. Enjoy it.
Dodds: The investment into daily fantasy sports (DFS) has brought new energy and excitement into our space. It's beyond exciting. Companies like Disney, Yahoo and Pokerstars all have announced plans to expand into DFS. FanDuel, DraftKings, and others keep improving their sites, game play, and apps. As an information company, there has never been a better time to be in this industry. We sent out a Twitter request stating we are looking for writers. We had over 200 applicants to fill about 10 jobs. I can't think of a hotter industry anywhere in the country right now.
Knowing what you now know about the industry, what would you have liked to do differently?
Dodds: I want our own mobile league management system. As good as the Yahoo, ESPN, and NFL free systems are, I am certain we can do a lot better by vertically integrating a lot of our content into a platform we design. We have been taking steps down this road with our Draft Dominator app and will push the league management piece with our Dashboard app as well. If all goes as planned, I am hoping to introduce our all-mobile league management piece in 2016.
I feel like we are playing catch-up a bit in DFS coverage. We can and will do a lot better starting this year.
Bryant: I would have started FanDuel 15 years ago and any money I had left over would have gone towards stock in Apple...
We've always been a company that doesn't hesitate to try new things. Some don't work out. And that's fine as part of growing is falling down at times. There's a fine line between moving fast and being reckless. I think we've walked that line pretty well over the years. That's not to say we haven't made mistakes as we have for sure. But I don't know of anything significant we'd have done differently.
FBG sold 96,000 mobile Draft Dominators in 2014. What changes are planned with this product?
Bryant: When we hit a few weeks on the #1 sports app in the iTunes chart last summer, I made the comment to the staff that I had my sights on MineCraft in the sales charts for ALL apps, not just sports. I think some thought I was kidding. I wasn't. We finished #2 to MineCraft for a few days. Now we're on to this year. The response to the Draft Dominator has been super encouraging and the fun part is that it's been the same formula as we've always used with the website - just give users the product we'd want. With phones and tablets such a part of the market these days, we're excited to be riding this wave.
As well as the app did last year, we felt like we have lots of areas to make it better. My angle on it would be if you liked the 2014 Draft Dominator, you're going to LOVE it this year.
Dodds: It's all about usability in 2015. Yes we sold 96,000 products last year. And for nearly any of our competitors, finishing behind just Minecraft on all paid iPad apps for most of August might be sufficient. But with that much traction in the marketplace, we also received a lot of suggestions on how to make the app so much better. We have been tirelessly working through the user feedback and believe we have the best product in it's class. We are ready to shift the paradigm to where the guy NOT DRAFTING on his phone or tablet is playing from way behind.
Anything new coming out in mobile?
Dodds: We will be releasing these apps: Daily, Dashboard and also redoing the magazine app for 2015.
Bryant: Oh yeah. We'll be unveiling our Daily Crusher app this year and it very likely may be bigger than the Draft Dominator. The daily game feels almost built for a mobile experience and we're going to deliver the app I think users will love. It'll feature way more "tweakability" with more gamescript projections than ever. Putting as much power for customization in the hands of the user as they feel comfortable with. But it'll also be incredibly effective right out of the box. I kind of compare it to a camera that you can take fantastic photos with on a "point and shoot" setting. But also still give you the flexibility to customize and dial in controls when you want to. And the Dashboard app will be what we've always wanted for Footballguys on a mobile device.
Tell us more on your Daily App
Bryant: I've probably said too much already... We'll have more info soon. But trust me on this - you're going to love it.
Dodds: This is the app that players NEED to experiment with weekly lineups. We had this app done by week 15 last year, but thought it was silly to release so late (only to watch a bunch of imitators copy what we were doing). I really do want to scream about what we have created here (as it is definitely going to change the industry), but we gain nothing to talk about this is in great detail today. Our DFS books will get released around the 1st of July. There is a whole section that talks about our app with screenshots, etc. We will release a lot more articles and guidance on how to use this app once we have it ready for publishing.
Tell us more about your vision of the Dashboard app?
Dodds: This is a two-year development project. In 2015, the Dashboard App will replace the FBG mobile free download that was created 4 years ago. As a subscriber, it will allow you to access nearly everything we do remotely. Even as a non-subscriber, it will give you access into all of our offerings. It will also allow free users to buy a particular week of content. It is being built out as a gateway into your leagues on the various platforms. This is where I think we can do some amazing things like helping analyzing weaknesses, suggesting trades and trading partners, start/sit advice, etc.
Bryant: Dashboard is essentially a Footballguys Insider PRO made specifically for mobile. It's an interesting situation as Footballguys was already well established online with desktops and laptops well before smartphones were common. So mobile has played catchup. I think of the Dashboard app as more like what Footballguys would look like if we'd started today. Meaning, a company starting today has to come out of the gate focused on mobile. We created an app a few years called Footballguys Mobile. But compared to what Dashboard will be, the old Footballguys mobile app was almost just like a bookmark to "FBG Lite". Dashboard will be a no compromises ground up representation of a mobile experience for Footballguys. It won't be fully realized for a couple of years. But it's going to be exactly what you're looking for on a mobile device.
Daily (DFS) in Detail
FanDuel generated $370 million in entry fees during the 4th quarter (football season) last year. Pokerstars and Yahoo have recently announced they will have DFS sites. How big can DFS get?
Bryant: Who knows? I do know that a lot of really smart people who put their money where their mouth is when it comes to investing in companies think DFS can be huge. Both FanDuel and DraftKingss have raised large sums of money to fuel their growth. This venture capital money is flowing because of the huge potential in this space.
And I think there's way more than just buzz and hype. FanDuel put out one my favorite commercials a few years ago perfectly illustrating the appeal of Daily. Anyone who spent big for Tom Brady in 2008, Jamaal Charles in 2011 or Adrian Peterson in 2014 knows exactly what I mean. It's not just about winning money. I think it can be a better way to play Fantasy Football. Period. I think one thing we'll see in the future is a merging of season long leagues scored with a Daily Format where teams can pick new each week. But the beautiful thing is that it's not an "either / or" type situation. If you love season long and hate the idea of switching teams every week. No worries. We've got you covered with Season Long. If you hate how Season Long takes 16 weeks of games to determine a winner, come on in, DFS is for you. Both co-exist easily with each other.
Dodds: I would say that is the million dollar question, but we are so far beyond those levels already. Salary cap weekly games are already the preferred way to play for some people. I think more and more people will gravitate towards these games as they start to experience them and as sites like ours reduce new players learning curves. It feels like this style of play can be as big as online poker got which I believe was tens of millions of players.
What is Footballguys doing for daily fantasy sports in 2015?
Dodds: To use a poker metaphor, we are going all-in with our coverage of DFS in 2015. We will have these things at a minimum:
- FanDuel ebook (200+ pages) available free to subscribers
- DraftKings ebook (200+ pages) available to subscribers
- FanDuel and DraftKings blogs tailored to their specific games. Each of these blogs will be manned by 10 staffers always ensuring fresh content during the week. (Free access, coming in late July)
- 20 weekly features to beat FanDuel's games
- 20 weekly features to beat DraftKings' games
- 8 weekly features to beat Fantasy Aces' games
- 8 weekly features to beat Fantasy Score (USA Today)'s games
- Interactive charts for most of the daily games out there
- Weekly FanDuel and DraftKings podcasts (free - will debut in late August)
And all of this tied together nicely in our Daily App
Bryant: As I said earlier, we're going to be creating what could stand alone as an entire DFS site and putting it under the Footballguys banner. And this content will also be part of our Daily Crusher mobile app.
We'll have tons of new features specific for FanDuel, DraftKingss, Fantasy Aces and Fantasy Score's game. Not generic "this guy is a pretty good value" stuff. But "Russell Wilson is a steal on DraftKingss this week" detail. We'll drill down to give our customers the edge they need.
Another huge undertaking is we're writing what we think will be the definitive books on beating the FanDuel and DraftKingss game. Again, each book is specific to the company. No generic fluff here. The book alone will be worth the price of the Footballguys Insider PRO membership.
One of the best features we've had in the past were our Interactive Value Charts and those will be even better this year. We want to create a tool that can quickly help our customers create optimal lineups. And still give them plenty of control over how it's tweaked. If you liked the Interactive Value Charts in the past, you're going to love them now. Our goal is to have the sharks squealing about how we're "making the game too hard" as we elevate the play from our customers.
The Footballguys Podcast, the Audible is one of the most listened to podcasts in sports. This year we're diving into DFS in a big way with our podcasts so expect to see the same quality of information but devoted to Daily.
Tell us about the DFS books.
Bryant: "Groundbreaking" and "Definitive" are words that are too easily thrown about. But I think they apply here. The DFS books are going to must reads for anyone serious about DFS. They're that comprehensive and that good. As I said above, they'd be worth the cost of the Footballguys Insider PRO membership if there was nothing else but the books.
Dodds: My goal from the blog was to always write a DFS book. But as my knowledge got deeper, I realized that it was going to be tough to try and do this alone. I also doubted one person alone could write the most thorough books on DFS. Instead we decided to divide up areas of the book giving a section to two people to write. All of the writing was published on a staff forum (that only FBG staff could access) so everyone could comment, disagree, expand, etc. In my opinion, this process has led to some of the best work ever published covering DFS topics.
We are aiming to release the PDF ebooks free to subscribers before the July 4th weekend. Everyone reading the ebooks will be allowed to provide comments and those comments/suggestions will push back to the original writers of each section.
Can you expand on the DFS content and podcasts?
Dodds: For megasites, FanDuel and DraftKings, we will be doing 20 weekly features specific to their games. I don't want to fully discuss each of these features yet (to minimize laying out our roadmap to competitor's sites), but suffice it to say these should be some of the best DFS articles on the subject. With a large and diverse staff, we can do many collaborative type features that cover a lot of territory each week.
We also are ramping up our coverage for FantasyAces and Fantasy Score (USA Today) and will have 8 weekly features for these sites.
Cecil Lammey will host the FanDuel and DraftKings podcasts. They will be recorded Thursday nights and published Friday to the site and iTunes. Our staff, expert DFS players, etc will make appearances. The shows will be outlined independently making each a must-listen to if you are playing DFS at either of these sites.
Bryant: We're still hammering out which features will make the weekly cut but suffice it to say, we'll be covering DFS from every conceivable angle. If anything, we face the challenge of condensing some of the work so it's more manageable.
I am new to Daily Sports. How do I transfer my knowledge from traditional fantasy football to become great on the daily sites?
Bryant: That's the great thing about DFS. At the core, it's all about predicting performance. For a season long player, you're drafting in August based on how you feel the player will perform for the year. Once the season begins, you're selecting your lineup from your roster based on how you think your players will produce that week. DFS is no different. You just project for the entire league each week instead of just your team. But that's where we come in as we already do that every week and it's why Footballguys has such an edge. We take our weekly projections, match them against the salaries set by the DFS companies, and see which players are values and which are over priced. Then construct a lineup based on value. And scarcity. And supply and demand. Basically all the things that drive value.
Dodds: Let us be your guide. We wrote the books with the goal of educating traditional players to the nuances of DFS. We are stepping up our coverage so that you can and will compete against the "sharks" in the industry.
Stolen from fellow staffer Austin Lee:
"Give a fish a DFS lineup, and you feed him for a day. Teach a fish to play DFS, and you feed him for a lifetime. Train enough fish, and the sharks will go hungry." -- Ancient DFS Proverb
What is getting cut to make room for all of the new daily content?
Dodds: Not a thing. We have hired seven people already this offseason and have plans of adding eight to ten more. We have not changed our coverage in traditional leagues at all. We have just added bodies to better cover DFS.
Bryant: This is a simple one. NOTHING. As we looked at how to add the DFS content, the driving force in all of this was a non negotiable stance that nothing would change with our regular season content. If anything, it'll improve as we've added talented staffers for DFS who also will contribute to our Season Long content. 2015 is a year of pure addition. I was adamant that nothing would be cut to make room for DFS. As there was no need to. Part of the beauty of a virtual company like Footballguys is there's easily room to grow. It wasn't like our conference room only had space for the season-long writers. Or our store only had shelf space for season-long content. With a virtual company, adding a ton of DFS content is as difficult as acquiring the writing talent and putting them to work.
The Footballguys Players Championship sold over 7,000 teams in 2014. What's in store for 2015?
Bryant: This thing continues to soar because it's a great price point with great payout. I love the $350 entry fee as it's serious owners and the prize pool is nuts at over $2,000,000. Again, it was a case of "create something you'd want for yourself" and this contest is exactly the kind of game I'd want.
Dodds: IMO, this continues to be the best season-long contest in the space. At $350, the entry fee is affordable for many and it results in a prize pool of over $2 Million. This year you will see a big push from us selling $35 satellites (where the winner wins a $350 seat for next year's FPC). Everyone that purchases a Footballguys Insider Pro Subscription will be able to get ONE $35 satellite ticket for half-price ($17.50 to win $350).
What is RotoPass and why should I buy it?
Dodds: This is Matthew Berry's brainchild. He has bundled together the biggest sites covering football and offers them at a significant discount. It's ridiculous value for the person who wants tons of different takes. It includes subscriptions from Footballguys, Rotowire, ESPN Insider, PFF Fantasy, RotoViz apps and a $12 credit into your DraftKings account. All for $65. More info here.
Bryant: Rotopass is a cool venture put on by my friend Matthew Berry of ESPN. Matthew's plan is pretty simple, package the Premium offerings from several Fantasy Football sites for a significant discount over what someone could buy the subscriptions for individually. It's a nice way to get a diversified view of advice and information beyond just what we're offering at Footballguys. Matthew tried for years to get us into the mix but we never felt it was a good fit because Rotopass mixed both baseball and football sites. Last year, he decided to make two separate Rotopass packages, one for baseball and one for football and we jumped on board. I love it.
Outside of people on your staff, Who in the industry do you look up to?
Bryant: There are tons, but I'll throw these out:
- Bob Harris has been a friend for 20 years and is a pioneer in the business giving me my start in the industry. He personifies what it looks like to work hard at your craft every single day. Inside secret - he's not nearly as tough and mean as his Slayer t-shirt would lead you to believe.
- Nigel Eccles and Cameron Boal at FanDuel have become great friends and watching them build their company from nothing to the juggernaut it is today has been tons of fun. I love seeing good things happen to good people.
- Matthew Berry is a long time friend as well and he's shown us what a Rock Star Fantasy Football personality looks like. Truth be told, he's a regular guy like the rest of us.
- ESPN's Colin Cowherd rubs some people the wrong way, but he's super talented. People don't realize the skill necessary to talk on the radio mostly by yourself for three hours. He's admittedly more concerned about being interesting than right but he's a fun listen.
- Greg Cosell is a guy I always listen when he's talking about game film. He knows what it takes to succeed at the NFL level and I find his takes both interesting and useful.
- Trent Dilfer is a grinder and I love his takes on QBs. It's a quarterback driven league and I'm always interested in how he's seeing the guys under center.
- Adam Schefter and Chris Mortensen. Both are super stars in the industry but still as down to earth and humble as anyone you'll ever meet. My favorite Mortensen story was I sat next to him at airport gate ready to board a flight. He told me he was on Stand-By and wasn't sure if he'd get on the flight.
I said, "Stand By? You're Chris Mortensen! You don't do Stand-By. Make something happen!"
He acted surprised and said, "Oh no way. These people want to get home as much as I do. That wouldn't be right".
The flight started to board and we said our goodbyes and I got on the plane. And Mort didn't make the flight. I've always thought that was pretty awesome he didn't throw his weight around there.
- Ian Allan, founder of Fantasy Index Magazine. Ian's a "Founding Father" of Fantasy Football. Sure, print magazines aren't the only game in town like they used to be but Ian's company continues to be a pillar in the industry. Everyone who's played Fantasy Football for any length of time remembers the "Christmas Morning" feeling of the Index finally hitting the newsstand.
Dodds: I could go on for a while, but here are some names:
- Bob Harris (Diehards, Sirius Radio, FSP Publications) - A legend in this space. He helped out a lot of us as we were getting started calling out my mrfootball website every chance he could. I dare anyone to find me someone who works harder in this space than Bob Harris.
- David Gerczak and Alex Kaganovsky (FFPC) - They run the best season long contests and they have become dear friends of Joe and I. I love our Vegas meetings eating crab at Joe's Stone Crab.
- Mike Clay (PFF, Rotoworld, Twitter) - This guy is everywhere. To everyone that says they want to work in this industry, but don't know how...Just look at what Mike does. It's called hustle and he is everywhere.
- Matthew Berry (ESPN, Rotopass) - He has done so much to put fantasy football in the mainstream. He is very good at what he does and a lot of times is TOLD to say those controversial things. His book was very funny.
- David Kim (Fantasy Pros) - An absolute innovator in this space. He keeps us on our toes by creating some very cool products in this space.
- Nigel Eccles and Cameron Boal (FanDuel) - Despite creating a juggernaut of a company, these guys remain incredibly humble. It's awesome when the good guys finish first. We have grown very close to them as this company has taken off.
- Cal Spears (RotoGrinders) - Great vision to be in front of DFS. RotoGrinders is the gold-standard for DFS coverage that we strive to reach this year (for DFS football).
What is the Vegas Staff Retreat?
Dodds: We rent out two side-by-side mansions for an NFL Playoff weekend where 30+ FBG staffers hang out. It started out as an every other year thing, but it is now annually. It's become the highlight of the year for a lot of us. We talk and watch a lot of football. We have been known to change lines on some sports bets. We partake in marathon poker sessions. We do some serious grilling. We have the most complicated secret Santa exchange ever devised. And most of all we just hang out and be ourselves as we celebrate the past year.
Bryant: Footballguys is a weird company in that none of us on staff live in the same city. Several don't live in the same country. It's what I love and hate about our company. I love it in that by pulling talent from the entire world, we're able to have incredible people. People that would never be able to pull up and relocate to Knoxville for Footballguys. But I also hate it that it means we operate the business with virtually no face to face interaction. And I mean I really hate that. I'm a huge believer in friendships at work and the synergy that comes from knowing a person you're working with. Not just working with them. The idea with the staff retreat was to provide the staffers transportation to Las Vegas and a ridiculous mansion to stay in while we hung out and watched the playoff games for a weekend. Not everything we plan turns out like we hoped but the staff retreat's been a home run. Friendships have developed among guys that stretch across the country and world. I love "creating a space" and putting people in positive situations and just letting happen what will happen. That's been the case for sure with this. From a financial point of view - it doesn't make sense. There's no way on paper to justify what it costs. From a real world angle though, it's some of the best money we spend all year.
Give us some lessons that you learned from building FBG that could help other entrepreneurs.
Bryant: This will likely turn into a novel, but here goes.
Build the product you'd want to buy. Footballguys was born like a ton of other businesses - the product we wanted to buy wasn't available. So we created it. As a Fantasy Football owner looking for information better than what I could find on the free sites there wan't anything I liked. So we created what we'd want as a customer.
But there's a Caveat - Understand how "normal" you are and how "normal" what you want to buy is. Every business needs a market and customer base. Know how well you fit in both when you're creating a company for yourself. The reality is that we have to create a product our customers want. Factoring in our wants is often a great way to get there.
Understand that work is going to be a giant part of your life - surround yourself with people you like. Life's way too short to put up with people in the workplace you'd rather not be around. As an employee, you don't have too much control over that. But when you're creating the company, you have total control. When I hire a new Staffer at Footballguys, the first question I have to be good with is "Are they someone I would want to work around?" Now understand that's a pretty wide range of interests. We have staffers on the political scale left of Michael Moore and some are right of Rush Limbaugh. But they're great people. We've got guys who think Megadeth is light rock and others who are mad Mumford and Sons are too hard on the new album. But they're great people. My point is hire good hearts. The rest is often just noise. On the flip side, I don't care how talented a guy is, if he's a jerk we don't have room for him.
Build a business. Not an exit plan. I contend that business owners who are constantly thinking about how they'll cash out aren't getting all they can out of their business while they're in it. Think long term. Not quick sale. Make the non sexy decisions that may not pay off for a few years. You'll be better for it.
Hire great people and let them do what they do. This one was hard for me as a young person but now I'm really good at it. Delegation isn't a dirty word. It's a way to harness the power of super talented people and get the most output for the team. My job becomes more about creating optimal situations for talented people and letting them run. It's a little scary if you lean towards micro-management. But it's the way to get the most out of people.
Catch people doing something right. Nobody likes to be criticized. It's Dale Carnegie 101 but people respond infinitely better to praise than criticism. So pay attention and "catch" your people doing the right thing. Be an encourager. When people make mistakes (and they certainly will), let your response be way more weighted to "What do we need to do so this doesn't happen again?" compared to yelling at someone. Again, think about how you would want to be treated.
Expect most of your online feedback to be negative / learn how to receive feedback. This one is tough for older people more used to face to face feedback. Online, don't be surprised when the majority of the feedback is negative. You can unveil the world's best app for the iPhone. And 95% of the comments will be "What? No Android version?" You have to understand that 95% negative feedback doesn't mean that 95% of the audience didn't like it.
On the flip side, spend tons of time listening. This goes back to "build the product you want to buy". As you get more into your business, you gradually start to think of yourself less as a customer and more as the provider. The best way to stay in tune with the customer is to listen. And by listen I mean listen on a broad scale. Hit the sites they're visiting. Listen to the podcasts they're listening to. Stay in their world so you can better anticipate their needs.
Stay flexible. But be firm. Another balance issue. There's a reason small companies like Footballguys can compete against the media giants. We move faster. We adapt and respond more quickly as we don't have the cumbersome infrastructure. So don't hesitate to adjust course when necessary. Which brings the bigger point - understand "when necessary". No customer likes a company that can't pick a lane. Be flexible but not wishy washy.
Stick to what you do. You'll never be all things to all people. That's a recipe for disaster. Do what you do and do it well. It's easy to "extend your reach" and try to grab more than you can handle.
Find your "voice". I don't think there's any real one style for a business. Some work with a formal culture. Others are super loose. Some try to be funny. Some never smile. My advice will be do what works for you and stick with it. Your business should have a "personality" that extends way beyond the product or service you provide. Find what works for you and what resonates with your customers.
Dodds: Here are a few that come to mind:
- Find something you are passionate about. Forget the money aspect for a second. What can you do better than anyone else out there? Create value with this innovation and be passionate about it. Success is earned through hard work. No one is going to give it to you. But if you are willing to work hard, you can slay the mightiest of competitors by paying attention to what your customers want. We compete daily with the likes of ESPN, Yahoo, NFL, etc. I don't care how much money they have. To beat us, they are going to need to work as hard (or harder) than us.
- Engage your customers - Twitter, Facebook, Message Boards, Email list, etc. Seth Godin (of Yahoo marketing fame) says it best. Make a friend. Turn a friend into a customer. Offer more products to sell to friend/customer. Over time, we have built a huge mailing list (It is currently at 390,000 emails). This was not easy though. It required sending a daily email from May 1st until the Super Bowl every day for 15 years. That list now can be leveraged to sell our apps, contests, subscriptions, etc.
- Think of perfection without constraints when building your business / products. What is the ideal solution? Yes constraints (people/skills/dollars) matter, but try your best to design the solution without a care to these things. Once you know the ultimate goal is the time to start considering constraints. Perhaps you will need to scale back A and B and part C comes online in a year after some sales are logged. I call this the "Solution After Next". It's how we approach most everything we do at Footballguys.
- For most people, bail on the idea of a Venture Capital funded / Kickstarter campaign. Most businesses can be "boot-strapped" cheaply and built up from hard work. It's perhaps not as sexy and as fast, but Footballguys is a testament to how big you can make something through hard work. Joe and I each contributed $5,000 in year 1 and there has never been a loan taken out. It is entirely funded by sales of it's products. And it's owned by the staff of Footballguys without the heavy breathing on the neck of the Venture capitalist that wants his return back now.
Why do you have so many people on staff?
Dodds: Our approach isn't to have an absolute black and white perspective on all things football. We are the watercooler talk where people disagree on a lot of things. We think that leads to the very best discussions on player evaluation, strategy, etc. We also run the company very family-friendly. Most everyone does this as a part-time gig. They have "real" jobs as lawyers, doctors, teachers, statisticians, software designers, etc. By having lots of people, we can all take on an appropriate number of tasks that fit our specific time constraints. It's a different approach than nearly every business out there, but it works great for Footballguys.
Bryant: Mainly because Footballguy.com was already taken...
I realized early on that the strength of this thing was going to be pulling together the talents of some really smart people. Way beyond what I could do myself. Going back to the business question above, one of my core tenets has been "Surround yourself with people more capable than yourself". That's what I've done at Footballguys. When I look at our team, it's an All Star collection from a variety of fields. From data miners to writers to strategists to forecasters to whatever it takes to create the site, we've got it.
Does every last thing get done exactly the way I would have done it or wanted it done? No way. But the tradeoff in getting so much more cool stuff done and letting talented people do what they do best is so worth it.
Random / Personal
How is married life treating Dodds?
Dodds: Life has been great. My wife Carri is fantastic in every way imaginable. She lets me be me - which in itself is pretty amazing as I am a weird guy. I went from being a single dad with a daughter in college to having 3 kids, a live-in mother and a dog. It's never quiet or dull, but I would not trade it for anything. It's family. It's taken me a lifetime to find this, but I really would not have wanted the journey to go any other way.
What's happening with the BBQ business?
Bryant: Ha. Calling it a "Business" would be generous. I'd call it more of an obsession that's aggressively acted upon. I love BBQ. I love eating it. I love cooking it. And I especially love the celebration angle of it. It wasn't much different 2,000 years ago than it is today in that when it's time for a party, that means BBQ. And I love that.
The main reason I got into it though was to cook for a Homeless Ministry we work alongside in downtown Knoxville. I created a company called Black Eyed Joe's BBQ (Footballguys nod to our logo / mascot) and my Dad and I built a ridiculous 7 ton trailer where I can cook 650 pounds of meat at a time. We cook nothing but old school method with a live Hickory wood fire. Cooking real BBQ is mostly about staying up all night sitting around a fire. But we have a lot of fun with it. I love the idea of feeding our best stuff, our "First Fruits" if you will, to our Homeless Folks. If you're ever in Knoxville on the last Wednesday of the month, come and hang out with us under the I-40 Bridge and we'll feed folks.
What is your best poker story?
Dodds: I once fell asleep while playing AA under the gun after a long live session. I limped (looking to reraise any raise) only to fall asleep a few seconds later. Someone did raise. The dealer supposedly tried his best to wake me before finally mucking my hand. These days I try not to play the 20+ hour marathon sessions.
Wait - you sold Bryant Boats? Huh?
Bryant: Yes. We started Bryant Boats in 1990 where I was President for 23 years. We started Footballguys 10 years later in 2000. I'm not sure I could have picked two industries that were more different. One was a brick and mortar old school manufacturing with tons of employees selling a product that retailed for tens of thousands of dollars. The other was a Fantasy Football business that provided virtual information selling subscriptions for $32.95. Kind of crazy. But both had huge positives. We sold majority interest in Bryant Boats a couple of years ago as it was becoming evident I needed to make a choice in where I was spending my efforts. Splitting time between the two companies, I wasn't leading either as well as I should have. So I chose Footballguys. It's been bittersweet as I loved the people at Bryant and I sorely miss the face to face time. But being able to devote my full efforts to Footballguys has been fantastic.
How did Dodds' experiment in DFS turn out?
Dodds: I managed to profit over $62,000 in two years on FanDuel, but that really was not my goal. I just wanted to learn the daily fantasy game and figured the best way to do that was diving in head first. I feel like I learned a great deal and we will be sharing that information and more this season as we significantly ramp up our DFS coverage.
Tell us about the Graceland Barn?
Bryant: The Graceland Barn and Dance Hall is in the same vein of ridiculousness as the BBQ Trailer. We moved last year to a very small farm with an old house and a super cool old wooden Horse Barn. I shoveled enough manure as a kid working on our Dairy Farm that I knew I didn't want to keep horses.
But the barn was begging to be brought back to life. I'm a big fan of the Young Life Ministry to high school folks and I wanted to do something for them. Each group has a weekly meeting that's part games, part music and part message and our local high school Young Life team needed a place to meet. So we decided to create a fun space for them. I grew up in Texas where Dance Halls anchor communities so we've gone with the wooden floor and the inside is all old Barn Wood. Decorating the interior has been fun as my wife and I have a bit of "design conflict" going on. I'm thinking Boar Heads and Longhorn skulls and she's thinking the barn wood looks nice as is. We'll see how this turns out...
What's the deal with Elmo?
Dodds: My daughter (like nearly all kids) loved Elmo growing up. When I heard about the Bring Your Own Big Wheel event in SF (where people come screaming down steep curving roads on Easter afternoon in costumes), I thought it would be cool to get a cool Elmo costume when I ride in the event the next year. I looked on eBay and bought a full-size furry one and the rest is history. It comes out for the annual ride down the hill and usually for Halloween as well. Everyone seems to love Elmo (or at least did until the guy doing the puppet turned out to be a sex-offender).
What's your favorite Devo song?
Dodds: I am very old school as I like the first two albums the very best. Mr. DNA/Smart Patrol, Pink Pussycat, Incredible Urge, Praying Hands all are atop my list of favorite Devo songs. I am card member 188 of their fan club. I have seen the band live 6 times. They are now still old as dirt, but I am still a big fan.