Thursday, October 18, 2012
The Guts, The Glory, and The (Virtual) Gold of Bragstr, with Jon Knarreborg
Story by Benjamin F. Kuo
Sports fans: how do you prove you're the master of sports knowledge and sports predictions? What's the best way to claim your position among your friends as tops in the world of everything sports? How about an online game? We spoke with Jon Knarreborg, co-founder of Bragstr (www.bragstr.com), a new Los Angeles startup, about how the company's new social game lets you prove your sports knowledge and prediction skills by challenging your friends in a virtual fantasy league, revolving around wagering virtual currency.
Where'd the idea for Bragstr come from?
Jon Knarreborg: A few years back, I was really into fantasy sports. Fantasy sports have grown tremendously over the last five to ten years, and there are now around 40 million people playing fantasy sports. So, I was playing, and saw there were lots of flaws, particularly around letting you show your knowledge of sports. It seems like there was lots of luck involved, and there was a lack of being able to do any social sharing outside of the leagues you were playing in, plus it was pretty much based on professional sports only. Plus, because they were relying on drafting players, you can't do college tams, and you can't go into the post season, because there's a reduced number of players available to pick.
As I sat there, I thought about how to make a better version of the fantasy sports experience, which was not only equal, but which also allowed people to show off their true knowledge of sports, and not rely so much on luck, plus also let you do college teams. There are things like the NCAA, which has not been showing up in fantasy because there was lack of a platform to allow that. So we sat down, came up with the idea on what's the most fair way to pick a game, and thought we'd use betting lines. We were not making a gambling site, but using those to prove your knowledge, using fantasy currency to show your confidence in your picks. We built a social network around that, with activity feeds and stuff like that, and which allows you to share activity through the leagues, Twitter, and Facebook.
People's lives are in Facebook and Twitter, and we let you show your knowledge of sports, things like your official bets against the Lakers or for the Lakers, and the spread. Plus, we include a fun, fantasy currency amount to get people's attention. However, we wanted to the site to be completely free, and we don't take credit cards, and we're not a gambling site. It's all completely fun. It's almost family friendly. You might be watching Monday Night Football with your thirteen year old, and this makes it fun because even if you pick the same team, say you pick the Denver broncos, your son might be willing to risk more and show he has more guts on his pick.
What were you doing before Bragstr?
Jon Knarreborg: I had run a few websites, including GirlGamer.com, and I did lots of partnerships on that site. My partner, Eric Swanson, was running the marketing department for his father's company. We got together, and started to pursue this idea. My experience is in web development, as well as online branding and marketing, and there's a good match between the two of us.
How does the site work for a user?
Jon Knarreborg: A user can come to our site, and join via Facebook or a regular account. We let them provide a little profile--a player's card--and they can include a photo album an ddetails on themselves. Next, they can join some leagues, and win some overall prizes by playing against the community. We have a relationship with the Petros & Money show on Fox Sports radio. You can start by placing a fantasy currency wager and compete the whole community, or you can even create your own league. You can decide what your league will cover, and what sports. If you only want people to place currency wagers on college ball, it will only be college ball. Or, if you want it to be only professional and college ball, plus NBA basketball, you and your friends can make a league around that. You can invite people on Facebook or your friends on email to join the site. That can be a league of twenty friends, or a hundred friends. You also get a reward for sharing on Faecbook when you make your picks, and the more social sharing, the more social rewards you can get.
Are there any specific sports or leagues you are initially covering?
Jon Knarreborg: Because Major League Baseball is in post season, NFL is obviously now America's sport. It's really popular. We did a mix for the Money show, so people can bet on either Major League Baseball or Pro Football. In that, it's not a goal to necessarily win the league, you're actually trying to beat the producer of the show. Two of the people who are able to beat the producer get iPhone 5's.
Did you run into any issues, given that betting (virtual currency) is a part of the site?
Jon Knarreborg: We completely decided to stay away from any chance of getting in trouble with gambling. We don't even take credit cards on the site, we don't sell currency, and we don't sell anything. You only get currency by doing social activities, and each league's fantasy currency is created by the league. People start with an equal amount. Yes, it's gambling, but it's completely fantasy. You can't buy more chips, an you just need to join new leagues to get more currency. We're trying to stay away from anyone thinking we're actual gambling.
Where are you in terms of your launch?
Jon Knarreborg: We launched two weeks ago. There are lots of people now playing, and we're getting a lot of interest and participation. Because of the social sharing aspects of our site, sharing on Facebook, and because we do a status update on your activity feed and allow you to post pictures on your activity feed, we're definitely seeing an increasing number of users, very quickly. We're also truly redeveloping the site constantly, adding new features as we go along, and as our audience enjoys playing the game and continues to grow with us.
How is this all funded?
Jon Knarreborg: We approached an angel investor a year and a half ago and proposed the idea. They have lots of experience in the online world, and I can't divulge the angel, but we're pretty well funded. We now have around twelve employees and developers, and we're going strong.