Business Startup Spotlight: Virtual Fantasy League

vfl

By Sandra Sloan, FundingSage – February 28, 2017

Virtual Fantasy League is a simple to play, easy to learn, highly social fantasy sports game.

Name: Virtual Fantasy League

Location: Vancouver, Canada

Website: www.virtualfantasyleague.com

Product / Service Offering: Free to Play Fantasy Sports Mobile Game

Co-founder Interviewed: Gary Ma

Other Key Management Team Members: David Uy, Winston Kuit, Owen Ma

This article is part of our Business Startup Spotlight series featuring entrepreneurs and their companies. We hope that these founders’ interviews will inspire and motivate you as you undertake your own entrepreneurial journey.

Tell us a little about yourself with a focus on what motivates you.

I’m a serial entrepreneur and have built businesses in a variety of industries ranging from live music entertainment, to retail, to technology.

No matter what current life cycle my business is experiencing, I will always have a passion for this stage – the startup phase. It’s exciting and fast paced. You can learn and adapt. You can create something from nothing, which motivates me. Another aspect that motivates me is the teamwork. In a startup, your cofounders are your family, quite literally. You spend more time with them than anyone else. They are the ones you communicate with most, and you depend on them at this moment in your life more than anyone. I’m fortunate to have the best team and cofounders out there.

When did you establish your company and where did the idea originate?

The company was incorporated in October 2015, but David had begun doing extensive research into the market and opportunity early in 2015. One year after incorporation our company launched a fantasy football game on the App Store in September 2016; and will be following up with basketball and baseball early in 2017 as well.

The idea for Virtual Fantasy League (VFL) first spawned when David, who is a die-hard fantasy player, witnessed the problems plaguing the industry. Some of which were lack of transparency, real money wagering, and insider trading. David himself is not a “gambler” so immediately wondered why there isn’t a product where you can play for free and for fun.

Our team has lots of experience with social networks, having built China’s first bilingual social network. David is also an inventor of two social search technology patents. So with our background, we knew we could create a much better experience for sports fans, connect the casual with the die-hard and bring fantasy mainstream. Our mission is to spark and spread the love of sports, one person, one game, one day at a time.

What need or needs does your company seek to fill for its customers?

Fantasy sports can be difficult to learn, is time consuming, and recently has become associated with real-money wagering. The Virtual Fantasy League is a simple to play, easy to learn, highly social fantasy sports game. We make fantasy sports accessible to everyone, and connect the casual sports fans with the die-hard, creating one universal platform where they can play, talk and research sports.

What is the one thing that sets your company apart from its competitors?

One very apparent differentiation is the business model. Our competitors are gambling platforms. Players wager real money in contests against other players and the winners win real money. As a result, highly skilled players win all the money, and 90% of the players end up losing money. This is an unsustainable model.

The Virtual Fantasy League is a free-to-play model, which means everyone can enjoy the entire experience of the game for free. It has nothing to do with gambling. Now everyone can be included risk free, including the fastest demographic of fantasy sports players (teens and people under 21).

Just like other highly successful casual games (Candy Crush, Clash of Clans), Virtual Fantasy League makes money from the small percentage of people who choose to spend money and enhance their in-game experience (in-app purchases). This model is proven, and sustainable for all users on the platform.

What was the biggest challenge you faced while getting your company up and running, and how did you overcome it?

A challenge we faced early on was communicating what was special about our offering to those less familiar with sports.

A unique challenge we faced was the fact that our offering is a hybrid product. On one hand, it’s a fantasy sports app, on the other, it’s a casual game.  Traditionally these two types of product have different characteristics. I believe we are able to overcome this with our unique approach using, patent pending, gamification, and now VFL benefits from being a hybrid. We have the loyalty and retention of sports fans and the mass audience appeal of the casual gaming market. VFL is positioned to really disrupt the fantasy sports industry.

Are there resources you have utilized that other founders might find compelling or useful?

Finding the right tools can really set your company in the right direction and waste less of your valuable time. Some of the ones we use are:  Nimble (CRM), Hubspot (CRM, Marketing), Kickoff Labs (Landing page and referral system), Hotjar (Heat mapping), Growth Hackers Projects (Idea mapping), Trello, Slack, and Branch Analytics.

What steps have you taken to secure funding for your company and what, if anything, would you do differently if you had to start over?

We’ve been fortunate to have great support early from friends and angels that have witnessed the successes our team has achieved together in the past and know what we are capable of. We have raised $450,000 to-date.

A suggestion to my earlier self would be to develop a more defined sales process for the fundraising. It is using a CRM tool, creating a funnel and a sales process, and also delivering consistent updates to our prospects with our progress so investors see a progression rather than a snapshot of our company.

What is the most helpful tip or “hack” you’ve ever learned, stumbled across, or been given?

Well, while no hacks have yet to be given, guess there’s no such thing as a free lunch, there have been some that have been immensely helpful to us. Through Blue Startups, Henk Rogers is a shareholder in VFL and is also our lead mentor. We meet every week and his guidance has been phenomenal. Here is the man who brought TETRIS to the world. It is the most popular casual game of all time! Now he is working with us to create the first casual fantasy sports game.

Women Entrepreneurs Spotlight: MOJO Yoga

 MOJOYoga

By Liz Bennett, FundingSage – February 23, 2017

MOJO Yoga is uniquely special for our focus on helping yoga teachers, or what we like to call “yogapreneurs.” MOJO is the only platform dedicated to helping yoga teachers sharpen their skills and accelerate the growth of their businesses.

The Company

Name: MOJO Yoga

Location: Maui, HI

Website: mymojoyoga.com

Product / Service Offering: MOJO Yoga is a platform for yoga teachers to grow their businesses and connect with their students outside the studio in one convenient web-based platform, offering on-demand videos, premium courses, and live group and 1-on-1 sessions for students with any of our community of international yoga teachers.

Co-founder Interviewed: Jean Marie Johnson, CEO and Co-founder

Other Key Management Team Members: Bella Doty, CMO and Co-founder; Jen Fry, COO and Co-founder; Scott Johnson, CVO and Co-founder

This article is part of our Women Entrepreneurs Spotlight Series featuring female entrepreneurs and their companies. We hope these founders’ interviews will inspire and motivate you as you undertake your own entrepreneurial journey.

Tell us a little about yourself with a focus on what motivates you?

I’m a gritty yogi, frothing surfer, technology lover, obsessive doggie mom, serendipitous entrepreneur, and persistent optimist.

When I completed my degree in Peace and Conflict Studies from the University of California, Berkeley, I had no idea how handy it would be for my future of creating and implementing the kind of outrageously ambitious world well-being ventures I work on today.

To date, I’m a registered yoga instructor with E-RYT500-level certification, the highest level currently certified by Yoga Alliance, the nation’s largest certifying body. I’ve worked hard to co-found and boot strap a few yoga and lifestyle business iterations along the way and have finally found my happy place with MOJO Yoga. I’m thrilled to bring my vision of personalized online yoga to a growing worldwide mob of students and teachers alike.

My ultimate vision is to make MOJO a hub for all the tools one might need to create and live a balanced, happy, fulfilled lifestyle.

When did you establish your company and where did the idea originate?

We started MOJO Yoga as a team in April of 2016, and it grew out of our shared passion for improving our own lives, and a vision of helping others develop that skill, too. At the heart of all of our personal transformation is yoga. We want to make this practice more accessible than ever for anyone else who shares the same desire to become better human beings each day.

We are excited by and driven to realize our vision of MOJO as a global hub that improves the lives of yoga teachers and students one yoga practice at a time.

What need or needs does your company seek to fill for its customers?

As a yoga teacher, I saw huge barriers for teachers to access a monetized online platform for our teachings, in order to expand our teaching businesses beyond the limited reach of a local studio. Let’s face it, YouTube stardom is hard to come by, and the big online yoga companies focus on celebrity teachers who’ve already “made it”. Sure, a teacher could try to build and maintain a membership website by herself, but that’s a monumental time and money suck.

Our solution is a grassroots-style approach: any quality teacher can create classes on their schedule for MOJO to share their teachings globally and earn recurring commissions on the memberships they sell to students every month. It’s like getting to teach a class once and earn recurring income on it indefinitely. Plus, with our live group and 1-on-1 class offerings, teachers can still fulfill that need for direct teacher-student connection that we all crave for our practices to grow. With these truly unique offerings in the online yoga landscape, MOJO will be the go-to hub for all yoga teachers who want to teach online.

What is the one thing that sets your company apart from its competitors?

MOJO Yoga is uniquely special for our focus on helping yoga teachers, or what we like to call “yogapreneurs.” MOJO is the only platform dedicated to helping yoga teachers sharpen their skills and accelerate the growth of their businesses. Our teachers love MOJO Yoga for the full-service website we offer, so they can avoid the hassle of building and maintaining their own membership site, and instead focus on sharpening their business and teaching skills in our expert training portal, so that they can offer top quality content to more students than they could ever reach in local studios and earn more revenue for their own teaching business.

What was the biggest challenge you faced while getting your company up and running, and how did you overcome it?

We’re a small, non-technical team with a technical product. So, we’ve really had to be creative problem solvers along the way! Our best asset really has been our ability to constantly think outside the box, create something out of nothing, and assemble seemingly unrelated puzzle pieces of technology into a beautifully functioning machine.

Are there resources you have utilized that other founders might find compelling or useful?

So many! We utilize literally hundreds of resources all the time. But by far and away our best resource to date has been the Blue Startups Accelerator program we’re currently participating in here in Honolulu, HI. It’s a startup bootcamp that’s pushed us along at a faster pace than we’ve ever hit to date. To be clear, it’s exhausting and challenging, but so worth it. The access we’ve had to expert advisors and mentors has been invaluable to say the least. If you have a startup, do everything you can to get into an accelerator like this as early on as you can.

What steps have you taken to secure funding for your company and what, if anything, would you do differently if you had to start over?

The Blue Startups program was the first investment we secured, and we’re getting a lot of help in securing more through the program and the contacts we’re making here. The only thing I would do differently is start earlier. I simply lacked the confidence in myself as an entrepreneur to even apply to accelerators for fear of being rejected or not being good enough. Today, I would tell my past self to tackle that fear of rejection head-on, and the sooner, the better. The worst you can hear is “no.” Keep going until you get a “yes!”

Have there been any questions you have had as an entrepreneur of a fledgling startup that you had a particularly hard time finding the answers to?

I’ve found it very difficult to wrap my head around funding, valuations, negotiations, terms, etc. It’s one aspect of running a startup that seems to have the most conflicting opinions, arbitrary numbers, and shifting definitions. You could talk to 100 people and get 100 different opinions. That can be a very difficult thing for an early-stage founder to navigate.

What challenges, if any, are you grappling with?

As a 3/4 women-owned business, and a yoga business at that, we’re finding it difficult to present our business to investors who don’t really “get” the industry we’re in, and perhaps don’t see too many female founders either. Overcoming that challenge lies squarely in our hands. We have to seek out as many new and different types of investors as we can. We know that the right investors for us are out there; investors who will be excited by the unique perspective of our female-dominated team and the disruptive product we’re bringing to a massive yoga market.

What is the most helpful tip or “hack” you’ve ever learned, stumbled across, or been given?

Affiliate marketing and social media campaigns. We work with affiliate marketing both within our business, making our teachers and ambassadors affiliates who promote membership, and with relevant partner products, especially on our podcast. We also have a lot of fun with social media campaigns to grow our audience, like yoga challenges, personality quizzes (i.e. “What’s your yoga spirit animal?”), polls to choose our newest clothing items to offer, and farting stick figure videos that explain our business (seriously, our most successful campaign to date by far). Those campaigns allow us to connect with and grow our audience in a fun and engaging way.

Is there anything else you would like to share about your company?

Yes! MOJO Yoga is for all certified yoga teachers, and we want to grow a global teacher community. If you or anyone you know is a yoga teacher, spread the word and join us on our website at mymojoyoga.com. Let’s face it, we could all use a little more yoga in our lives. Let’s connect and grow together through yoga!

Advice to women entrepreneurs:

Be confident in yourself and your abilities. Know that you can take on anyone and any task that comes your way. Don’t let any stodgy old men get you down. Play their game, but play it by your rules. Always attend to your vision and your mission, and let that guide your way. The landscape of your business might have to be fluid and flexible every day, but a strong mission will always keep you on track to your highest and best good. Know that you are truly special and valuable for the work you’re doing, that you’re an inspiration to all the girls who will follow in your footsteps, and your work will change our world!

Business Startup Spotlight: Hostfully

By Sandra Sloan, FundingSage – February 21, 2017

Hostfully helps hosts (both individual hosts and vacation rental management companies) be better hosts.

Name: Hostfully, Inc.

Location: San Francisco, CA

Website: www.hostfully.com

Product / Service Offering: Hospitality platform for vacation rental management companies

Co-founder Interviewed: David Jacoby, Co-founder and President

Other Key Management Team Members: Margot Schmorak, Co-founder and CEO; Noah Neiman, Co-founder and Head of Product

This article is part of our Business Startup Spotlight series featuring entrepreneurs and their companies. We hope that these founders’ interviews will inspire and motivate you as you undertake your own entrepreneurial journey.

Tell us a little about yourself with a focus on what motivates you.

I am a startup enthusiast and have worked my whole career in startups. I enjoy getting my hands dirty and solving real-world problems and improving efficiencies. I love learning by doing, and learning all aspects of how a business is run.

On a personal note, I love to travel, as well as host travelers in my home from around the world. I think travel makes the world smaller. It creates more connections and understanding of different cultures, which is what we need in times like these.

When did you establish your company and where did the idea originate?

In 2010, my wife and I took a one year sabbatical and traveled around the world. We visited 27 countries in five continents, and stayed in 38 people’s homes during that journey, including places such as Lima, Cairo, Jerusalem, Kigali, Hanoi, and Phnom Penh (from traditional vacation rentals, to Couchsurfing, to friends of friends). It was then that I realized the incredible influence a host has on a guest’s stay! Anything my host told me to do immediately was at the top of my priority list, above other travel guides like TripAdvisor, Lonely Planet, Yelp, etc.

After that trip we moved to San Francisco and started doing home sharing in our home, on both Airbnb and Couchsurfing. We’ve had over 100 guests in the past few years and I’ve become an Airbnb Superhost. During this experience, I’ve realized two things:

  1. The incredible pain-point of having a full-time job, trying to provide a consistent five-star hospitality experience to my guests, and being in constant communication with guest after guest (both before their visit and while they are here).
  2. The pleasure of hearing that they went to my favorite local recommendations. Sure, they went to Alcatraz and Fisherman’s Wharf, but it was visiting my local favorite brunch spot, coffee shop, etc., that made their trip truly memorable and unique.

In looking into the vacation rental, I realized there are many platforms (like Airbnb, HomeAway, etc.) that focus on getting the booking, and there are other tools (like property management software and dynamic pricing companies) to help with that. Once the reservation is made; however, there are not many services to help the host be a better host and provide five-star hospitality to their guests. That’s where we come in.

What need or needs does your company seek to fill for its customers?

Providing five-star hospitality on a consistent basis is hard work. Equally hard is communicating with a never-ending flow of guests and all their questions. Hostfully helps hosts (both individual hosts and vacation rental management companies) be better hosts.  Our value proposition is two-fold:

  1. We help hosts provide a more professional-looking experience to their guests. Our flagship product is beautiful guidebooks, available both digitally and in print.
  2. We save hosts time and money by decreasing the amount of unnecessary questions they get from guests. We make important information and local recommendations more readily accessible than the traditional, old-fashion method of out-dated and ugly binders.

What is the one thing that sets your company apart from its competitors?

We are vacation rental hosts ourselves, with a deep knowledge of the industry and pain points. We combine our personal knowledge with the Lean Startup principles. We are regularly testing and iterating on our UX and design based on user feedback.

What was the biggest challenge you faced while getting your company up and running, and how did you overcome it?

Our biggest challenge was “not letting perfect be the enemy of good”, and launching our MVP as soon as possible. There is a never-ending roadmap of new features and design changes, but at some point, you need to trust the Lean Startup philosophy and release what you have, even if it’s not 100% what you want. The benefits are huge, as you get to see real-time customer usage and feedback, which might be different from what you thought.

Are there resources you have utilized that other founders might find compelling or useful?

Your network is your best resource. LinkedIn has been a surprising way of endless introductions. It’s amazing how many people, even distant colleagues and connections, are genuinely rooting for you and are happy to help make introductions upon request.

We also send a monthly “business update” email to connections that have expressed interest in what we’re doing; in those emails we have specific requests for help.

On a daily basis, we use Salesforce, Slack, Pivotal Tracker, and Podio, which are all essential to our business operations.

< see related:  What’s Your Access to Today’s Entrepreneurial Tools? >

What steps have you taken to secure funding for your company and what, if anything, would you do differently if you had to start over?

We would take less qualified meetings at the beginning so you have some low-pressure situations to practice and refine your pitch. By the time you successfully raise, your deck will most likely look completely different from your first version. We actually had some meetings with Series A investors pretty early, and that was quite helpful as the stakes were low. They weren’t a good fit, but we got great feedback.

Is Your Startup Investable? Take the Test and Find Out Now!

Have there been any questions you have had as an entrepreneur of a fledgling startup that you had a particularly hard time finding the answers to?

“What if another company like Google decides to do this?” Unless you are doing a deep-tech heavily-patentable startup, “defensibility” will always be an objection. Don’t stress over it, and don’t keep what you’re doing a secret. There are more important things you need to worry about, such as execution and first-mover advantage. Your ability to be learn, adapt, and execute is your best way to overcome the defensibility objection.

What challenges, if any, are you grappling with?

Staying focused on the big goals and not being bogged-down with all the minutiae of running a business is always a challenge. Luckily we have three senior co-founders and a great team as a whole. Speaking of focus, it is important to know the demographics of your target customer and focus on targeting them specifically.  In our situation, we have seen many unique cases of people using Hostfully for guidebooks. Not only are vacation rental hosts and management companies using us, but so are bed and breakfasts, hotels, travel agents, weddings, office managers, and more. While we embrace everyone using us, we can’t stretch ourselves too thin by trying to market, sell, and customize our messaging to everyone.

What is the most helpful tip or “hack” you’ve ever learned, stumbled across, or been given?

The Couchsurfing community allowed my wife and me to travel the world with free accommodations and local insight pretty much everywhere we went.

Is there anything else you would like to share about your company?

We value strong work-life balance. Many of us are parents, and we try not to work on weekends. We make sure to have some social time before/after meetings, and we don’t micro-manage employees’ hours and tasks. Company culture is important. Make sure you’re having fun. Otherwise, why are you doing this?

Founders Mixer

FoundersMixer

Date and Time: 
Wed, Feb 15, 2017
5:00 PM – 7:00 PM

Location: 
ROC
1110 Nuuanu Ave
Honolulu, Hawaii 96817

Register Now!


Interested in applying for cohort #9 or looking for a cofounder?

Join us for our Founders Mixer! Learn more about the upcoming Blue Startups session (April 17 – July 21). Pitch your idea, startup, or skill and network with Hawaii’s entrepreneurial community.

There will be an opportunity for 30 second speed pitching by attendees.
▪ 10 seconds – who you are
▪ 10 seconds – what you do/are working on
▪ 10 seconds – who/what you are looking for

There will be pizzas, beer and lots of networking!

A big mahalo to our partners!


Sponsors

DevLeague ROC Stafford