Show notes from John Culver Interview
Ryan Knuppel: All right, welcome back to another episode of the Knup Sports Show. I’m your host Ryan Knuppel here with you each and every time. Thank you so much for carving out a little bit of time in your day to spend with us here on this podcast. Hey, today we have a very special guest with us, we have the co founder and CEO of Fanvest Wagering Exchange, John Culver is on the line. John, are you with me?
John Culver: Hey, Ryan. Pleasure to be here. Thanks.
Ryan Knuppel: So, so excited to have you on, John. It’s been on my list to get you on the show here and now you are here, so thank you for taking a little bit of time and telling us a little bit about your career path and what Fanvest is all about. So thank you.
John Culver: Absolutely, my pleasure.
Ryan Knuppel: So, what’s new with you? Before we get into business, let’s talk a little personal. What’s up with you? Have you been adjusting through this COVID-19 shutdown? Give us a little bit of your life through this.
John Culver: Yeah, yeah. I’d say adjusting is certainly one, I guess, a polite word I would use for it, for how it’s been. On the home front, I’ll say first my fiance Kate and I were actually supposed to be getting married this fall. So that got blown up, obviously with everything going on. And there’s a lot of that up in the air. On the business side, there was disruption of course for all of us, but we’ve had a kind of decentralized virtual team since we corporated back in 2018. So we’ve actually kind of picked up business as usual. We’d actually been growing our team and frankly, this period of time this summer and everything we were going to be working on kind of our products anyway. So we find ourselves to be quite fortunate to not be as adversely impacted and really eager to finally come back to the sporting world, hopefully, knock on wood, this fall.
Ryan Knuppel: Yeah, I’m kind of in the same boat here. We have to have a remote team that has always worked remotely and I always joke with people, I’m like, well, now you get a taste of what it really should be like. You don’t have to have an office. You guys can all work remotely and work from Zoom and all of that. That’s what we’ve been doing for three years. So now you can kind of get a taste of what we are enjoying. So it’s kind of fun to see the rest of the world catch up in that manner to what we’ve been doing.
John Culver: Right. Absolutely. It can be frustrating for the people that can’t figure out Zoom yet, I know that’s a hard one for a lot of people, but I couldn’t agree more. We’re lucky I think at this point in time to have such affordable technology like Slack as well, that really, really just helps productivity and there’s talent everywhere. You just got to connect with the right people.
Ryan Knuppel: Oh yeah. Yeah. Amazing amount of tools and technology. And we’re seeing that 100% right now. So let’s jump into a little bit about Fanvest, but before we get the Fanvest actually, give me a little bit of your background I guess more from a career standpoint, where you’ve been in the gaming space or outside of the gaming space and how you got to where you’re at today.
John Culver: Yeah, I would say I’m more of a kind of an outsider from the gaming space. My background is in finance and investing in particular. And so from a professional standpoint, I’ve worked in a small value investing kind of wealth management firm. And then I worked at a big private bank on the investment side. And so there from a career standpoint, I was all kind of in banking and investments. I’ve been a lifelong sports fan and pretty avid fantasy player and sports better, particularly with the NFL from a more kind of technical or kind of quantitative base from both places.
John Culver: And it’s really from my background in finance and investing that really actually gave birth to the Fanvest wage and exchange idea, which I’m sure we’ll get into as well as a lot of the approaches that I used in my handicapping in fantasy and also in just sort of longterm bankroll management, sports betting. I found a lot of the kind of processes I’d learned from the security world, the investment world, to kind of be modified and applied in some really profitable ways. And I felt like it was a really interesting way to kind of approach the gaming and the fantasy space. So bit by bit, I got deeper and deeper into it and I was ready to say goodbye to the banking world, knowing that world could always be there, hopefully at some point, but I’ve never looked back since then. But I really feel like it gave me a unique perspective coming into this space.
Ryan Knuppel: Yeah, that’s really cool. I mean, it’s funny, all different backgrounds. Everybody I talk to has a little bit of a different path to get to where they are today, but now we all have one common thing, we all love sports, we’re all passionate about sports. And you said that, and that’s kind of what drives, I think, what you’re doing with Fanvest here. So give us a little bit about what Fanvest is. Give the audience the pitch of what Fanvest is, Fanvest Wagering Exchange.
John Culver: Sure. Yeah. Fanvest Wagering Exchange is the stock market of sports. We like to think about kind of imagine Robin Hood meeting DraftKings in the best way. We kind of like to describe where we fit in the whole sort of sports betting, sports investment ecosystem is I like to kind of talk about two verticals. You have your fantasy sports vertical, both daily, your DraftKings, FanDuel, season long or traditional fantasy, Yahoo, ESPN, et cetera, kind of being one big vertical plus 60 million North Americans participate in that and growing. And then you have your traditional sports betting, which of course, has for a long time, a much bigger market than this kind of the numbers that we’re looking at forecasting, but maybe around a 30 billion addressable market in terms of what’s coming to light.
John Culver: We like to consider ourselves sitting right between fantasy, that vertical, and the sports betting market, where we see ourselves as this complimentary product that unlike fantasy or sports betting which kind of both can be plagued by the sort of house versus player dichotomy if you will, low to average negative returns on investments, we believe that in market based experience where we create the forces of supply and demand and kind of your market forces into a whole new game that allows players from the fantasy sports world and the betting world and sports fans in general who do neither to come on the platform and buy and sell teams like stocks and play to win real cash prizes in weekly, season long and contest style formats.
Ryan Knuppel: That’s very cool. So where’d this idea come from? I mean, is this something that’s just, I mean, obviously with your background in finance and numbers and like that, that’s probably where it is, but I mean, did you see a gap in the market and think this is something that you should create or was it modeled after something else to kind of get going? Give me a little bit of background of where the idea came from I guess.
John Culver: Sure. So it was kind of an evolution. I’d say about seven, eight years ago when I was in a couple of some of my first few years into kind of playing some serious traditional or season long NFL fantasy, I wanted to get an edge against my buddies and other groups I was playing with. And at that time kind of right out of college, right out of graduate school, the kind of money you are playing for, it meant a lot more I think then as we get older. It’s more about the fun and the comradery and competition. And again, kind of going back from the investment world, I learned a lot of ways to analyze stocks and how to kind of apply certain principles.
John Culver: And so I started applying those first into the fantasy sports world and kind of tinkering with them a little bit, fitting them to the games and leagues. And I started finding a lot of outside success. Of course there’s a lot of luck in all these things, but there is certainly strategy to get certain outcomes, to put yourself in the playoffs, to do certain things. And I was pretty surprised, pleasantly surprised by that. So I then shifted into the sports betting world, knowing that I really enjoyed markets and in particularly stock markets.
And I again, took the next step where in my investment experience, very kind of classic kind of Warren Buffet style, I’d sit down and I’d try to understand a company looking at his financials and sort of some of the qualitative aspects. And then to try to value that company kind of in isolation. And I’d come up with a price and then I’d look at the stock market and if it’s on sale, I would try to buy it. So I kind of took that same basic formula and using NFL data, analytics, a lot of the cyber metrics type stuff, I tried to go ahead and answer the question, what makes an NFL team win? What data’s most predictive?
John Culver: And so I also built kind of models to create my own handicapping system, my own kind of valuation system, and understand how the sports betting market functions and how inefficient it was kind of by design. And ultimately I kind of did that and kept iterating and saw some success, but thought, hey, both of these experiences are fine, but there really ought to be another way other than these kind of two primary fantasy or sports betting avenues to invest in sports. And knowing that there had been other companies that tried to kind of do some secondary market or market based products with traditional sports gambling or with traditional fantasy, I thought creating a whole new system at the team level that was intuitive and fun, easy to play, had to be done.
John Culver: And so I set out for another couple years, iterating, building models and ultimately wanted to create a model where the performance of shares of these teams would mimic the underlying performance of the team throughout the season. And once that happened, I had two more bets left to make. This would’ve been in the Fall of 2017. I had one bet was that it was more likely than not that PASPA would be revealed in the Spring of 2018. And the other bet was that I had enough of the right stuff to give this whole thing a shot and to figure out who I needed to surround myself around for all the people who knew a lot more about certain things than I did. And so far, first bet certainly happened with PASPA, and I guess we’re pending on the second bet, but things are really moving in the right direction.
Ryan Knuppel: Yeah, that’s amazing. I wanted to touch a little bit, I’m glad you brought up PASPA and some of that, because that was one of my first questions that I wanted to bring up to you is when people think about this space and this is rightfully so for the last many years here, especially in the United States, sports betting’s been illegal, there was some gray area around DFS even being legal and things like that. So I think people will still have this mindset that maybe is this legal, is this not legal, they’re kind of in this gray area in their mind. Explain how you had to go through with Fanvest, I guess explain to me how it is legal.
John Culver: Yeah, totally.
Ryan Knuppel: I mean, is it money based, is it free to play? So a lot of questions there, but explain to me kind of that process around it.
John Culver: Yeah, absolutely. And so that was something, actually some of the investing kind of securities licenses I had to get and some of the work I was in the investments and fiduciary side, so kind of had a pretty good kind of layman’s understanding of, for example, like securities law. Never, ever claimed to be a lawyer or anything close, thankfully. But I knew that there was a lot of red tape around the securities industry and in my kind of research, I was looking at the gaming regulations out there.
John Culver: And one thing before I kind of jumped ship and started a company, I spent some time really learning a lot about what DraftKings and FanDuel had successfully done and kind of creating a game of skill versus game of luck and kind of created that carve out that was outside of sports betting. And so there was a lot of gray area and there is a lot of gray area when you actually also throw in, you’ve got traditional gambling, which is coming now at state by state level, this game of skill, game of luck available, daily fantasy available in most States.
John Culver: And then you’re also looking at, for me, for the financial perspective, all the kind of ongoing litigating over cryptocurrencies, and there’s a lot of evolution there. So part of my design was to first get a lawyer and that was one of the first people I was talking to. And then make a plan where we would kind of have an evolution for our business plan. So to answer your question directly, today, we are legal and we’re legal primarily because we’re free to play. We do award cash prizes. You have to be 18 or older. But we do have a different game than from a business perspective, when we do change to kind of turn on revenue, we don’t function like a sports book or a DFS operator. We’re not setting all these prices, we don’t profit from the outcome of games.
John Culver: There’s a lot of area there now, I don’t want to speak on it because there probably could be some lawyers listening saying hey, what’s he talking about? But we’re doing today, we have been working heavily with our legal team to tailor our first kind of line of products to make sure that they are legal. And our longterm evolution though, does involve some ambitious plans where I personally believe there needs to be a ton of legal and regulatory evolution in this space. I look again to the financial services industry and there are private public bodies like FINRA that exists there when you’re looking at sort of like a broker dealer.
John Culver: And there need to be other groups out there because this is just the beginning of what I call sort of innovation within sports as an investment space. And I think the future for all of this is sports betting will be around, fantasy definitely will be around, and we love both of them. But we also think something moving more towards like a financial productization is in inevitability. Something more like on the investment side, a diversity of options for these were people of all different backgrounds and interests levels will find their opportunity that matches their interests.
Ryan Knuppel: Totally. Totally makes sense. This is John Culver, John Culver with Fanvest. Thank you guys so much for listening. Hey John, I got several more questions for you here. I’m curious, where are you guys at I guess in the development of your platform? So, I mean, do you guys have people using this already? Is this an app? Is it just a website? What do you have going on I guess with the current version of Fanvest?
John Culver: Sure. So last year in 2019, as part of our kind of let’s call our business and product evolution, we have a three phase business and product evolution with our phase one, or our beta phase. And so that consisted of a very, very basic minimum viable product, like a very vanilla March Madness product that we had released in 2019. And then our beta series began with one of our weekly contests for our pro football season, a postseason contest. And then we actually ran a simulated March Madness in 2020 due to the COVID breaking out and everything.
John Culver: And the beta series was available through a mobile friendly web application. So you could play on desktop, you could play on mobile. It was not available in app store or on Android for a variety of reasons, but primarily despite our being legal, I’ve talked to a bunch of CEOs in the space who just had nightmares with certain admins on the Apple store, even though they’re completely legal or free to play on Android. And we wanted to keep a lot of versatility, especially as we’re iterating on our products. So we had released those products primarily to get a ton of feedback from our users. We marked in house, got great, great kind of marketing results.
John Culver: And then we took a lot of data. We learned a lot about the products. We took surveys. We personally interacted with our users, got their feedback on all kinds of things. And so we had exit surveys for all of our products and our goal was kind of over that first year one, do we have a product market fit? We all love this idea. A lot of people we talk to love this idea, but is there a market there? And that was absolutely validated. Two, in the surveys, we learned so much from our users, both in terms of explicit feedback and then kind of trying to read between the lines and learn about how to build a better product, improve scoring, clarity, all kinds of things.
John Culver: So our plan was after this March Madness was to begin this kind of next phase. We’re calling it sort of Fanvest 2.0. So after our simulated March Madness ended just this past spring in 2020, we all went back to the lab and I moved my focus, a lot of my focus had been out outside, trying to help with fundraising, marketing, a lot of other efforts on design. We all kind of put an extreme focus and spent just hours going over all of the surveys, kind of crunching everything, discussing, arguing about everything.
John Culver: And we also had this great new addition to the team, this director of analytics joined who’s also an engineer, Kellen Bloomberg. And together, we were able to kind of totally revamp the best kind of version of vision of this product based on all of our kind of users, based on all of our ideas. So we have been fiercely kind of designing the whole new product experience. This time we’re going to be, as we get ready for this NFL season this Fall, knock on wood, we’re going to be releasing our weekly product and our season long, which will be a separate product in a whole new kind of sleek, simplified, intuitive, and really fun experience.
John Culver: And this time we’re also going to be releasing our self contained dynamic market. So we’re talking about on our weekly product, you’ve come on just as if you’re on checking out Yahoo Finance or Robin Hood or an investment app and prices will be flickering and there’ll be a lot of price movement. There’ll be a real, genuine trading experience, which has always been part of our plan. And free to play again, and it will be real cash prizes, but we’ve got some very ambitious goals, but we have been working around the clock and I’m so proud of this team and we are all, one thing I’ll finally add, we’re all unpaid. All of us have put all of our resources in and we’re all in it for equity and we work so hard because we believe in this and we’ve already gotten a really great kind of core loyal following. And we’re so excited about the future.
Ryan Knuppel: That’s so cool to hear, John. I mean, to hear when you say you guys are all working for equity and everybody, that really shows the passion and the drive that your team has. And it’s really hard to form a team that has that much common passion. It’s easy for one or two people to kind of have that, but to form a whole team like you have done here is not an easy task to do. So I commend you on that. One question I have, and it’s not really about the platform, but it’s more about running and owning a business, for all the up and coming business owners and maybe the want to be entrepreneurs that are listening to this, give us one of the biggest I guess takeaways or maybe challenges that you’ve had to overcome from the startup and Fanvest that you’ve had. And maybe what advice you’d have to kind of overcome that as a startup or an entrepreneur?
John Culver: Yeah, no, that’s a fantastic question. I have to pick one I think. I might have a little bit of a unique perspective when it comes to advising others and it is something that I do and something I love doing is kind of part of, I guess part of being a founder and a co founder and building a business. And I’d actually offer that too, there’s some people, some of your listeners now, I don’t have much time, but people who are persistent, I always like to try to find time for people who are committed, passionate, persistent.
John Culver: But I believe everybody’s is incredibly unique. Everybody starts with different variables, different connections, just different legs up mentors, no mentors, whatever it may be. My main number one question is, are you obsessively committed to this? Are you ready to make it? Are you willing to do almost anything to make this succeed? And I say that because the amount of work, strife, challenges, ups and downs and dead ends that seem almost immovable obstacles. If you don’t have that, I would have quit within the first few months. There’s so many off-ramps.
John Culver: So I think that is kind of I think the question, I know in my experience, if this can kind of help, I had this visceral kind of burn in my gut. I had a comfortable job. I was, let’s see, I was 27 at the time. I’m 31 now and I had this comfortable job, but all of my free time, I was obsessed with building this kind of marketplace. I was obsessed with tinkering every single day. I’d get back from work and throughout the weekends, can I build this? Can I build this? And I try to live my life with the idea that by the end of it, I want to minimize the amount of regrets I’ve got. And I knew that I’d be comfortable, I’m comfortable with failure. I don’t want to fail, but I’m comfortable with failure. But I’m not comfortable with what if?
John Culver: And I decided that that burn, I was either going to pay attention to it at that time when I ended up quitting my job in private banking. These opportunities don’t just happen. You need to go out and seize them. And one other thing I’d add, I’m sorry for going on a little long.
Ryan Knuppel: It’s great, keep going.
John Culver: I am not a Silicon Valley guy. I had some friends who went to Stanford, who helped explain what a full stack developer was for me at the time. And I quickly learned that we’re a technology company first. But I didn’t know any engineers who were going to be in a position to work. So don’t let any of that nonsense or BS that people say, well, you don’t need any of this. Just keep pushing, keep fighting. And if you have a dream and you have an open mind and you just keep fighting towards that dream and you are relentless in your pursuit of finding the people who can help and make that happen, then you are going to find yourself.
John Culver: I think, my opinion, ups and downs, success and failure, quite satisfied deep down when you take a moment to stop. And I’m always learning, still have so much to learn, but I’ve never, not even on my worst day, thought, why did I quit my job? And that’s something I’m grateful for and the team that I’ve been able to simulate and they’re like a second family to me now, and I’d do anything for them. And that is just such an incredible thing.
John Culver: So you don’t want me to go too in depth on that, but that’s kind of like that’s my only litmus test if somebody is talking to me. Hey, I’m thinking about doing this or doing this part time. You can sell t-shirts part time, you could sell t-shirts full time, but there are certain things that require in many ways just immense sacrifice that you need to be more than willing to make.
Ryan Knuppel: Super advice there, John, I think that was, I don’t have anything to add, that hit everything, that was the exact same way I feel as well about business and I’m so glad that you expanded on that and went further and deeper into your thought process. Hopefully that helps one of you listeners out there that’s maybe on the fence about doing a project or doing something, really take that to heart and think about what John said, because very much truth into a lot of the things that he just brought up there. So John, so tell me is there anything, any challenges you’re currently having or anything that you’d like to just tell the listeners or ask of the listeners? I mean, maybe there’s somebody listening here that wanted to connect with you or that maybe you want to be a part of Fanvest or just wants to chat about what you’re doing.
John Culver: Sure, yeah.
Ryan Knuppel: Just give me a little bit about what you want from the listeners.
John Culver: Yeah, totally, totally. Now in an ideal world, I would love to be able to just chat with folks about the company and get their ideas and stuff. The reality is, and I used to think that this was hogwash before. My time, like everybody, becomes such a precious commodity and it’s not because I’m so special and all this stuff, but it’s because there’s so many things I’m involved in with the business, with meetings and with design and production.
John Culver: So I think one of the things we are looking to do, we’re going to change up some of our marketing this summer and we’ve already spoken to a few people who have reached out to us. That’s another piece of advice. If you really want to be a part of something, reach out, find out how to get in contact with somebody. And if somebody doesn’t respond, it’s not because they just don’t care. Be politely persistent and sometimes maybe they’re too busy or whatever it may be, but we’ve had some folks that we get some time to kind of weed through.
John Culver: We’re going to send people writing some articles for us about daily fantasy, sports betting. We have a sports blog and we’re going to create a new one for the company, but we want to do a lot of user education about how the research and the knowledge that you get as a result of daily fantasy or sports betting or traditional fantasy or just being a sports fan or an NFL fan, how you can apply that easily onto our platform. And all of our guys, we all play fantasy, we like sports betting, and we’re really excited about kind of trying to educate and provide both insight and stuff.
John Culver: So people who are interested in that, we’d love to help kind of organically promote that, tweeting and everything. We’re @FanvestWEx is one area we’re trying to grow. But today, if you’re interested in learning more about us, we are free to play and you can sign up and get free early access at fanvestwageringexchange.com. I know that’s a mouthful, it’s going to shorter, but fanvestwageringexchange.com. And you can also start referring friends to join and you can earn fan bucks after you’ve joined a contest.
John Culver: And it’s one thing I’d add, our whole platform runs on fan bucks, which is like our monopoly money. So everyone based on weekly or season long, you get a balance and you’re buying and investing in teams and so whether you’re in one of these season long locked pools or pick ’em pools, it’s a great way, a complimentary product, that we wanted to build for ourselves. We’re still going to be in all those pools, handicapping, fantasy. It’s just such a fun way that we can monetize our knowledge.
John Culver: So for one, if this is something that you think you’d be interested in, we’d love to hear from you, we’d love for you to sign up and join. We’re probably going to be doing a limited beta test in late August. We already have a bunch of people signed up for that. So that’s one great way to help us get in touch and we’d love to get your feedback.
Ryan Knuppel: Awesome. Well, we’ll put all those links in the show notes of this so nobody has to try to remember all of those or anything. We’ll put all that information on how to get ahold of you and all of that in there. And so, John, I truly appreciate all of the time you’ve given us, like you said, time is very precious these days. So I truly respect you for coming on the show and definitely enjoyed having you. I think you brought some great value to the listeners today, so thank you again for being here for sure.
John Culver: Well, thank you so much, Ryan. I really, really genuinely enjoyed it and yeah, I look forward to hopefully connecting again soon and thanks so much for having me on.
Ryan Knuppel: Absolutely. Let’s hope that we get some sports so we can actually trade the teams and watch the team tickers move up and down after US sports actually start again here.
John Culver: Oh yeah.
Ryan Knuppel: Let’s cross our fingers.
John Culver: Oh yeah, that’s where I’m going in. We’ve also have already built a prediction, a simulation engine just in case. But let’s get the real thing, that’s what we all want, but we always like to have another plan, but I can’t wait to be watching football again.
Ryan Knuppel: Oh, I know, we’re long due here for some football, basketball, baseball.
John Culver: Oh God. Yes. I mean, totally, I’m single minded here, but I am like, gosh, all of it. I mean, I’m a nationals fan so I want to be out of the ballpark myself.
Ryan Knuppel: Gotcha, gotcha. Well, I’m a St. Louis Cardinals fan so maybe we’ll meet up in the NLCS.
John Culver: You guys have owned us, owned us though.
Ryan Knuppel: We had some pretty good battles there in the day, you guys had some pretty good pitching, but we just had a pretty balanced team as well.
John Culver: It’s just some good battles. Great battles. Such a well run organization too, model franchise.
Ryan Knuppel: For sure. For sure. All right, John. Well, I won’t keep you any longer. I definitely appreciate it. And if you ever need anything from me or anybody on the show, don’t hesitate to reach out. This was John Culver, co founder, CEO of Fanvest Wagering Exchange. John, appreciate you being here. Thanks again.
John Culver: Thanks a million, Ryan. Take care.
Ryan Knuppel: All right. Thanks everybody for tuning in. Until next time everybody stay safe and we’ll talk to you soon. Bye bye.
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