As the Business Development team for Comcast Ventures, Greg and I have interesting jobs that straddle financial focus and relationship building — a mix of right brain and left brain thinking. The startups we work with are all in a race against time for growth. We can support them in multiple ways. First, we are operators ourselves and have both worked in growth-focused and constantly changing environments. We can appreciate the needs of the startups we work with and the needs of our colleagues within Comcast and NBCUniversal. Seeing both sides of the equation gives us unique insights, allowing us to help with introductions, distribution, promotion, trials and even customers. No one else can offer up the strategic advice and support that we can and do.
This past quarter, we’ve facilitated hundreds of meetings between our portfolio company entrepreneurs and Comcast and NBCUniversal executives. A few of examples are; BodyMedia partnering with TheBiggestLoser to supply their on-body monitoring device for this past season. They received product placement and promotion which resulted in orders of magnitude improvement in sales conversion rates on web site visits. Videology ran a test with Fandango and Universal Pictures on marketing the movie release “Mama”, which generated higher conversion rates from their targeting capabilities.
Many of these opportunities resulted from one of the most unique meetings that Comcast and NBCUniversal holds, “Symphony.” Held several times a year on the SaturdayNightLive set, 100+ executives at every brand
level collaborate on big, company wide initiatives and Comcast Ventures has the opportunity to showcase our entrepreneurs. Steve Ellis, CEO of WhoSay recently presented their story which lead to pitching the marketing counsel and on to individual brand discussions, like NBCSports to get ideas implemented.
Our efforts don’t stop there. We host pitch sessions with NBCUniversal’s ad agency, Ignited, where portfolio companies have the opportunity to tell their story to over 50 Ignited & NBCUniversal execs. We coordinate internal demo days, most recently with DocuSign, to get business units using their products. And, several technology trials are in the field with EdgeConneX, Benu Networks and TelyLabs.
Our roles allow us to back channel, drive quick follow-thru, help execute & showcase value for entrepreneurs. Engaging startups with the incredible Comcast and NBCUniveral platform creates game changing opportunities that leave the left side of our brain with many results to analyze!
Here we go again! It’s hard to believe that DreamIt NYC is back so soon. Tonight we will welcome the arrival of 16 startups to the NYC tech ecosystem. For the second year in a row, this program will include DreamIt Access sponsored by Comcast Ventures. DreamIt Access is a concentrated effort to launch more minority-led startups and has had Comcast Ventures as an investor since its inception in 2011. Including this summer’s class, over the past 2 years, DreamIt and Comcast Ventures have worked closely to accelerate the development of 20 startups with highly diverse teams.
If you’re unfamiliar with the DreamIt model, it is essentially a “boot camp for startups”. In a very intense manner, entrepreneurs are placed under one roof and exposed to a plethora of resources, mentoring, guest speakers, venture capitalists and angel investors and networking. All of the activity culminates in Demo Day, an opportunity for each startup to pitch their company to a room filled with startup investors and potential business leads.
I am particularly excited about this new class, largely because of the level of competition each company had to withstand in order to be selected. We received a record number of applications and getting the list down to a manageable group of finalists was very difficult. Each time we have announced a DreamIt Access cycle the application volume has been overwhelming. This time was different in that it wasn’t just the volume, rather it was also the quality of the companies that was on an unprecedented. Selecting the five companies for the summer program was harder on the committee than ever before. Join me in welcoming the following companies to the DreamIt Access family:
- Callida Energy: Smart building SaaS solution for commercial facilities.
- Perkle: An online community that connects consumers, businesses and charities, and rewards them all with great perks for helping each other.
- Serviceful: Makes it easy to find which House Cleaning Companies are available to clean your house today, without the call or search.
- TouchBase: Business cards you can tap on any smartphone to download their content immediately and accurately – no camera, no NFC, and no QR codes required.
- WeDidIt: A web platform and mobile app for nonprofit fundraising.
We will have far more information to share about each company and the team behind the idea in the coming weeks. For now, you can learn more about this summer class here and can get the latest updates on the accelerator experience and upcoming activities at the DreamIt website www.dreamitventures.com.
I recently had the privilege of representing Comcast Ventures on a panel hosted by Michael Frank of Net Service Ventures at the Twitter headquarters in San Francisco, titled “Innovations in Fantasy Sports and Sports Betting”. I was joined by Guy Lake, Product Lead at Yahoo Fantasy Sports; Gill Alexander, Host on Pregame.com; and Brandon Ramsey, Co-Founder and CEO of Fanhood Sports.
The sports gaming space is heating up, reflected in recent deal activity and the 400+ attendees in the crowd, including many folks in town for GiGse, the Global iGaming Summit and Expo. In the last year, landmark legislation has been passed in Nevada, New Jersey and Pennsylvania to allow real-money online gaming, including in some cases sports betting, on an intra-state basis. And this long-anticipated liberalization is contributing to an influx of capital into early stage venture-backed startups in related, unregulated gaming verticals, including social casino (free-to-play casino-themed social and mobile games), virtual currency betting games and real-money fantasy sports games. These include high-ARPU (average revenue per user), skill-based, entertainment-oriented products, which have the potential for downstream exits to commercial gaming operators, as the US market begins to open up. This regulatory anticipation was reflected in the questions from the crowd.
A quick recap of the last 12 months of funding activity in fantasy sports and social sports betting include Kwarter’s $4M raise from Deutsche Telekom/T-Venture for their P2P social betting product; Predictive Sports’ $4.7M raise led by Trilogy Equity Partners for their 2nd screen companion app for live events and P2P social betting, and Comcast Ventures’ investment in FanDuel’s $11M Series C led by my colleague Andrew Cleland. FanDuel is the leading Daily Fantasy Sports gaming platform.
Here’s a quick rundown of some of the questions the panel was asked, as well as my responses. I’d like to thank Michael Sroka, a former Zynga colleague, sports gaming expert and now VP of Mobile at Fanhood Sports, for helping to shape the thoughts below:
What is the impact of both mobile and social on both fantasy sports and Sports betting?
Sports is a huge market. There have been a lot of attempts to create mobile and social product, and not really that many big wins, yet. Bleacher Report’s $200M sale to Turner Broadcasting being one of the few material exits. Part of the reason for this is the complexity of licensing data, and procuring team and player likenesses to build a compelling user-facing product. However, social media is a great avenue for consuming sports content, and sports gaming content. Facebook’s open graph is designed and intended for media consumption and Facebook is beefing up the newsfeed over other viral channels to surface relevant, live content – and few content genres fit as well as sports. Sports gaming companies that can harness these changes on web and mobile can start to create a distribution advantage.
What ways do you see potential regulatory change effecting these industries and how are different participants (gaming companies, sports books, betters, investors) getting ready for these?
There are great businesses to be built regardless of changes in regulation – and not just in virtual currency betting products with no cash out. Fantasy sports and pari-mutuel betting are skill-based, real-money genres receiving increasing attention, and are specifically carved out of the UIGEA. They can be big businesses today without further deregulation. However, changes in regulations may enable higher LTV business models for sports games vs. other media or gaming products. Anyone who can aggregate and engage these audiences will be valuable down the road if regulatory changes continue on their current path.
How do both gaming companies and sports books think about the catering to casual users vs. hardcore users?
As Michael Frank, our moderator pointed out, approaches may be very different if you are a line setter vs. more of a marketplace. Leading sports gaming product managers think about market segmentation by type of user: Hardcore, Midcore and Casual. Hardcore players are people who participate in real money gaming (offshore or offline) and who manage pay-to-play fantasy leagues. Midcore players participate in fantasy leagues on a regular basis. Casual players watch ESPN SportsCenter a few times a week and are most underserved. There are 35M Fantasy players (85% Football) and 75M people who fill out at least one fantasy sports bracket a year. The opportunity in casual is also huge. It also requires a product that is lightweight, low-time commitment, low knowledge. In contrast, hardcore and midcore crowds seek a more involved experience.
What are the most exciting new products in both fantasy sports and sports betting?
We’re seeing lots of great ideas come to us for funding. Some of the more exciting ones include Short duration fantasy; Live betting (mobile is particularly well suited to engage in-game); and Sports simulation games (stats based games that are not real event driven. Top11 is killing it – I’m a big fan of the category, having grown up playing games like Championship Manager).
What are the attributes that make a sports gaming startup fundable?
1.) Market opportunity; 2.) A high-engagement, entertainment product that fits with the opportunity; 3.) Real competitive differentiation like first mover advantage in a market where liquidity matters; 4.) Compelling unit economics (CPA vs. LTV) ; 5.) The right team; and 6.) A fair valuation.
I’d like to express my appreciation to my fellow panelists Guy, Gill and Brandon for their insightful comments, to Michael Frank and Net Service Ventures for hosting and moderating, and to Twitter for the great venue.
We at Comcast Ventures look forward to more exciting innovations in fantasy sports and sports gaming. If you’re working on a startup in this area, we’d love to hear from you. You’ve picked a market that has some strong tailwinds behind it!
As the population soars (7 billion today, 9 billion tomorrow), and more people choose city centers over suburban sprawl (three-quarters of the U.S. population lives on just 3% of U.S. land, and 70% of the world population will live in cities by 2050), there is a new premium on space, and a new cachet in having a physical presence. Case in point: in a recent survey in The Curve Report, digital trendsetters (those who regularly tweet, post, pin, check-in and try out the latest digital platforms and tech devices) ranked, ironically, a brand’s real world presence as two times MORE important than a brand’s digital presence (including its Facebook page, Twitter activity and apps). This doesn’t signal a shift away from digital (online shopping and cloud storage are here to stay – and grow) but, rather, an increase in the desire to supplement all-things-d with more-things-p (physical, that is). So what do you do if you are a start-up still flirting with getting out of beta, let alone kicking around the idea of opening up shop? After all, getting a URL address is a cinch, but getting an address IRL isn’t as easy as ‘Go Daddy’. Fortunately, a surge in elastic environments, or “beta spaces,” may just help digital brands find their footing in the physical world, sans additional rounds of funding. Elastic environments are flexible, multi-purpose infrastructures that can adapt to meet an evolving set of needs, and they are likely to be commonplace in future urban centers. On a small scale, these beta spaces can look like Sao Paulo’s The Gourmet Tea, a compact Mondrian-style cube that unfolds into a boutique shop that can suit a variety of retail needs; on a large scale, they can take the shape of 11 11, a multipurpose, premium parking garage in Miami that doubles as a venue for weddings, wine tastings, yoga classes and more. Like ready-made pop-up shops, these multi-purpose stores and venues can provide real world shelf space and low-cost leases for new brands eager to “get real” without the commitment of brick-and-mortar. Elastic environments make sense not only for a world with limited space, but also for a population with limited attention: with 35% of 18-49 year olds in a recent Curve Report survey saying “the pace of life is so quick today that what happened a year ago feels like “history”, a year-long lease may be a serious liability.
Our take: Physical is knocking off digital and going “beta.” Whether you are a big brand with seasonal foot traffic, or a start up that wants exposure outside of the 2D screen, keep an eye out for beta spaces that offer a more flexible way to get physical.