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rant

What’s Your Angle?

This post might bite me in the ass one day, but what the hell right?

Running your own start-up is not easy.  In fact, its insanely frustrating for many reasons. Try telling ‘regular’ people your idea over and over and for it to just go straight over their heads.  Either that or they’ll instantly think its crap because they don’t understand it.  Then they’ll wonder, “seriously, what do you REALLY do for work?”  You get to the point of asking yourself: “Why bother even mentioning it?”.

Worse yet, try pitching your start-up and/or idea to a tech blog.  I recently sent an email to a tech blog explaining what FantasySP does and why its a neat place to go for fantasy sports fanatics.  It really works and it really provides an incredibly useful service.  I even provided my Google Analytics stats.  The response?  “Nice, just trying to think of an angle…“.  An angle? Are you kidding me?  The angle is that it’s a bootstrapped profitable start-up with loads of cool features.

He doesn’t give a shit that the business is profitable with me working on it 20 hrs a week.  He doesn’t give a shit that I’ve coded a product that people use, to the tune of 700,000 pageviews in September.  Or that I’ve managed to keep costs under $300 per month and make approximately 10X that in revenue.  Or that my start-up outperforms some that have 10+ employees with over a million dollars in funding.  Or that I’ve done it all myself with no prior experience of the business world.  I can go on and on, but none of that matters.

But this is my fault for foolishly not knowing.

What matters is that my start-up needs an angle that they find interesting.  It doesn’t matter if your startup even does what it claims to do or if your profitable.  If I pitched some shitty idea revolving an iPad app and daily deals with facebook integration I bet they’d be at least following up my email with questions.  Why?  Because its on-the-surface buzzword bullshit that attracts them to write and bring in the pageviews.

If you want your product mentioned, then modesty is not going to work.  You have to play their game by overvaluing your product.  Make outrageous claims like its the next Twitter meets Groupon.   Lets look at a start-up like Color.  I mean, why the hell did anyone even write about that shithole of an idea to begin with?  Because Color is a product of arrogant bullshit from people who have been successfull before, and it will outweigh any logical thought or reasoning as to if it might work.

Everything about startup culture is complete bullshit. People would rather believe and write about pompous arrogant assholes who lie through their teeth about their product.  I bet half the time, the things written in articles are BARELY half-truths.  Why else would all of these start-ups go belly up within a few months?

I give people in the start-up world too much credit (which, if you knew me, is actually pretty remarkable).  People only skip across the surface, and I just have to face the facts and move along.  I’m no longer focusing on getting an investor on board, or trying to be mentioned in a tech blog, or trying to be acquired.  If these things happen, great, but I’m not about to waste my time when I could be improving my existing product.

7 replies on “What’s Your Angle?”

If I hired a few writers for content, then the site would not be profitable. However, if FantasySP was funded, then I would go this route.  I can’t afford to pay writers and be in the red with no funding.  So I rely on my tech, but that can only take you so far. 

Most fantasy firms have more employees and a lot more money to work with than I do.  I need to take shortcuts that other firms don’t have to worry about.  So it has its pluses and minuses.

You say that you are profitable, but in truth, that’s only true while you:

1) Use other firms’ content without payment or hiring your own staff
2) Use stats without paying a provider fee

Frankly, in the fantasy sports world, it’s pretty easy to run a business if you don’t pay the big ticket items of original or syndicated content and weekly or live stats. All firms, big and small, consider those a standard costs of doing business in the fantasy sports market.

So it’s one thing to make a big deal about making 10X your expenses, but in reality, if you paid writers or paid a firm to supply the stats, your profit goes away. In the business world, your noted profit is considered unsustainable, especially when a typical non-live stat feed is around $10K per sport, per season and syndicating content is almost double or triple that per sport, per season.

I think you take for granted that all of the other firms you compete with have big staffs and venture capital, and that’s hardly the case in the fantasy sports industry. The VC world has learned quickly that the ROI in fantasy sports is not easy and thus OpenSports, RotoHog, and SportsBuff are now gone.

And not only the big firms pay their writers. I work with a firm that doesn’t make much profit because they pay for a full writing staff and stats and tech maintenance. Yet your site syndicates their news feed without any payment and none of the analytics shows any return traffic from your site despite the source links you place in the news items.

You also pull in feeds from ESPN, Yahoo, and CBS, but according to those firms’ terms of service, their feeds aren’t available for business use. The fact that you CAN pull them in doesn’t make it a legitimate business practice.

I ran a firm four years ago that was in the same boat: we were “bootstrapped”, we didn’t pay for stats, and we didn’t pay for content. I shut the business down because I knew the revenues would never exceed the expenses I was skimping on.

The bottom line is that while you do excellent work on the tech side, your admitted shortcuts mean that you aren’t competing with the rest of the industry–startups, small firms, and big firms–with the same expenses that they all have to pay for BEFORE they call themselves profitable.

I guess my point is, don’t pound your chest about being a profitable startup until you’re really going to play the game with the same constraints that everyone, big and small, has to face.

I see your points and agree for the most part. I’d run this site if it just broke even because I believe in it and its fun to code.

You clearly have been in this way longer than me and know tons more in the business side of things. Is my start-up a viable business model in the long-run? I have no idea. The last site I created and sold for 35k had no business model either.

What I do know is that most sites in the fantasy sports realm are lacking tech. I proved this in my post that showed the poor performance in some of the TOP fantasy sports sites. I can only imagine what else is out there.

All I know is that I’m able to have better site metrics than startups with multiple employees and millions of funding. (How? Because I’ve seen it. I have a day job.) That has to count for something right? Maybe I don’t have all the answers to the business side of things but I know how to code a useful product.

When it comes to paying for stats I don’t know where you came up with $10K per sport. It costs roughly $650 – $750 to buy 18 weeks for the NFL season through http://www.xmlteam.com/fod/ as long as you buy credits in bulk.

What I do with content is 100% legal. I never post the original article and I also provide credit. If any site such as ESPN or CBS does not want to be syndicated or violates their TOS, then they can simply email me. I have spoken to many big sites about them asking to take down their feeds.

I tell them all pretty much the same thing and they eventually see my point and we agree upon ways to make it work.

At the same time I can understand why a site might be frustrated with the lack of referral traffic from my site. Just because it’s syndicated, doesn’t mean it gets a lot of pageviews for me.

Furthermore, the links back to the original sources are extremely valuable. I have over 1 million pages index’d in Google and these syndicated sites get thousands of free one-way links headed their way. The added exposure and links do not hurt their bottom line in any way. I am helping them in SEO bigtime without them doing anything in return.

Having said that, the tech behind this site is valuable and for others not to realize that is unfortunate and frustrating. I’m doing things with real-time player trends and fantasy syncing that no one else does.

The real point of this post is not about profitability. It’s about peoples inability to understand what is cool and useful and what is a shitty product.

You said your point was not about profitability, yet you talked about bootstrapping and profit as the reason why FantasySP should not be ignored by the writer who wanted an angle.

The point of my reply is that you call out firms about “shitty products,” yet you don’t take into account that those firms have budgets directed towards writing staffs, technical staffs, and stat feeds which you either don’t have to pay (tech) or decide not to pay (content, stats).

Companies have to pick and choose what projects they can direct resources towards when their tech staffs don’t work for free.

So what if RotoWire doesn’t have the fastest site? They write their own content, pay for stat feeds, run multiple services and applications, and pay salaries to feed the families of multiple employees. And they do this without VC funding nor ownership from a larger firm.

It’s one thing to say “FantasySP does X and Y well” from a tech perspective, but it’s another to call out others and brag about profitability when you don’t account for the cash or hard work other firms are putting in to produce the content you pull or stats you post without spending a dime. I’m not saying you’re doing anything illegal, I’m just saying your argument is unfair.

Finally, you can’t ignore that your time spent working on the tech side is indeed a cost. Based on what you’ve shown–that you can build apps and you have advanced web tech skills–you should take the total hours spent building FantasySP and multiply it by about $100 per hour (typical market rate in Chicago for freelancers) to find out the true cost of building/running your site.

Once you consider your economic value of tech time spent, the cost of a content team, and the cost of licensed stats, then I think you can decide how far ahead FantasySP is from the competition from both a tech AND business perspective.

Sorry about getting to this reply late, somehow the email notification fell through the cracks.

You make a lot of good points here and there isn’t much I can disagree with. Maybe FantasySP isn’t profitable after all of that is taken into account.
What I will say is that proper investment in tech can actually boost sales in the longterm with a shorterm loss.  (Obviously when it comes to the fantasy industry where funds are tight would be incredibly difficult to pull-off.)In any case, I appreciate the dialog as this has been pretty eye opening for me. 🙂

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