Business Startup Spotlight: Virtual Fantasy League
Virtual Fantasy League is a simple to play, easy to learn, highly social fantasy sports game.
Name: Virtual Fantasy League
Location: Vancouver, Canada
Product / Service Offering: Free to Play Fantasy Sports Mobile Game
Co-founder Interviewed: Gary 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.