RotoQL interview DFS evolving post-PASPA

Justin Park, CEO of daily fantasy sports (DFS) analytics provider RotoQL, speaks exclusively with Gambling Insider about the regulated US sports betting industry and how DFS platforms have stepped into a new market.  

Your previous experience involves working as CEO for Vidaao in quite a different market. What kind of knowledge do you carry into the gaming industry from video production services?

The reason I got into the gaming space was pretty random. One of my best friends from college was the world’s number one daily fantasy player in 2015 and 2016, so that’s how this all came about. He had a really strong footprint on social media and also knew the space really well. I had just sold my business a couple of years prior and it was very apparent that it was a great opportunity to leverage both of those attributes he had.

What I bring to this business is a general background in building technology companies, and I come with a very fresh set of eyes. I’m not a big sports fan, or a fantasy player or bettor, and I think that’s been an advantage. One of my co-founders is essentially the target customer; he is a very avid fantasy player and sports bettor. From a product perspective, we have the voice of the customer, but me personally, I’m not that person.

So it was really a combination of skills from you and your best friend that got the business going?

Yeah exactly, and my co-founder, Frank, has a strong background in gaming. He started a kids gaming company called Vantage.com, and they scaled to about 30 million kids on the platform. It was essentially a virtual world, and he sold that business to Nexon in Japan. From there, he was at Zynga, so he has a pretty strong B2C gaming background, and he brings that expertise.

When you got RotoQL up and running, how much competition did you face in the market?

We entered the market at the end of 2015, early 2016, and at that time, when it came to DFS analytics, there were quite a number of folks. The two other main players were FantasyLabs and Fantasy Cruncher, but then there were also a lot of other smaller sites popping up here and there.

Over the last couple of years, pretty much everyone has shut their doors or been acquired. FantasyLabs was acquired by the Chernin Group, and we’ve remained alive.

How problematic was it when US states began to make cease and desist orders to FanDuel and DraftKings a few years ago? How did you work around this?

It was definitely scary, but the silver lining was if we kept our heads down and continued to build our business, in the event that the New York Attorney General allowed for daily fantasy again, then we would be in a great position. That’s essentially what happened. During that time, there were no new entrants, so effectively it was a freeze on the market, especially from an investment and access to capital standpoint. It was a case of; we might as well go for it.

Do you think the cease and desist orders limited the involvement of other companies and their desire to enter the market?

Yeah, absolutely. Sports betting in the US, in many ways, has been born out of the efforts that have gone into the DFS world and in that time period, there was a lot of regulatory uncertainty. I think there were a lot of talented and smart people who would have got into the business, but then thought twice.   

We’ve been, in some sense, a by-product of lucky bounces when it came to regulations and law makers.

Do you act as an affiliate at all?

We don’t, but that is definitely the vision for the business down the road, because we’ve amassed a user-base. We have three different product lines; RotoQL for DFS, SquadQL for season-long fantasy sports, and BetQL for sports betting. We’ve amassed a user-base of more than 450,000 registered users across the US. In New Jersey, we have something like 12,000 or 13,000 monthly active users, and tens of thousands of registered users.

We haven’t started that (acting as an affiliate), but we’re in a really good position to push players to sportsbooks, because these are really high-quality leads. These are people that are very engaged sports fans who want to use data to make themselves more competitive.

GI: What makes RotoQL a standout tool for players?

Well first, we are very much a mobile-first business. All of our mobile apps are built natively, so the experience is optimised around the mobile experience, which, in this market, is actually a competitive advantage. Most businesses don’t even have a mobile app, and if they do, it’s typically just a mobile web wrapper.

Second, we position ourselves as a one-stop-shop. A lot of people play DFS and also bet on sports, or play season-long and also bet on sports. Being a go-to source for all of their information has definitely been big for us.  

The mobile apps themselves (RotoQL, SquadQL and BetQL) are very similar experiences and when you’re in one and you go to another one, it feels like you’ve been there before. That’s been another big plus for us.

Given sports betting is becoming regulated in US states, what is the future of DFS?

When you look at fantasy, daily fantasy and betting, people get three types of utility. One is the social interaction with friends, two is the enjoyment of looking at data and being analytical, and three is the opportunity to make money. If you look at DFS, it’s an analytically-driven product and you also get the opportunity to make money. You compare that to season-long fantasy, where it’s very social. You’re playing with your friends. It’s also analytical, but it’s not really about making money, whereas sports betting is neither social and, for the most part, not too analytical, though we’re looking to change that. There is also the opportunity to make money.

The motivations are slightly different. I think with DFS, you’re going to have your core group of customers who will really enjoy that process of building line-ups and they will stay. The more casual folks will likely migrate over to sports betting when it’s legal in their state.

Has it been a natural move into the sports betting market, or has it been a bit of a stretch?

We started building the BetQL product last summer and we have seen great success with it already. We had close to 80,000 active users last month and monthly recruiting revenue will be close to six figures already, in just a couple months of monetising. A lot of our customers are currently playing on offshore sportsbooks, so the market is already there.

We were going to make the move anyway; the repeal of PASPA (the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act) was purely luck.

How do you appeal to the millennial market?

When you look at consumer facing sports data products, they’ve historically been web-based, very clunky and provided terrible user experiences. So for millenials, who are used to a certain design aesthetic, like using Uber or Instagram, there is a certain level they expect.  For us, it’s about marrying modern, contemporary user experience and design in a mobile format with power in the data. 

Do you expect this demographic to change much going forward?

Not really. I think the big transition has been to mobile-first for the audience, and that’s just going to continue.

What are the future targets for RotoQL?

Our vision is to build out our sports betting destination, not only with our data product, but also forum, community and editorial content. We want to be a place where sports bettors, whether you’re completely new or experienced, go for information.