Dan Zimmermann of Verse Gaming talks about his journey from Barstool Sports Syracuse to launching his own company. Listen in on episode #132!

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Ryan Knuppel:

Hey, what’s going on, everybody? How is everybody doing today? Welcome to episode number 132 of The Knup Sports Show. I’m your host, Ryan Knuppel here with you each and every time and we’re back at it again July 1st. We start a new month. I’m super excited for the month of July. Hopefully you all are having a big summer on your plans as well. Hey, today we’re joined by another special guest as we do each and every time on The Knup Sports Show. Today I have Dan Zimmerman of Verse Gaming. Dan, are you with me?

Dan Zimmermann:

I am. Thanks for having me, Ryan.

Ryan Knuppel:

Hey, my pleasure. I’ve been wanting to have you on for a while and you reached out the other day and the stars aligned. So I’m glad we were able to connect and have you on the show. It sounds like you have a super cool story to tell, but how are you doing today?

Dan Zimmermann:

I’m doing good. I’m here in Israel right now dealing with some vacation. Small vacation, about a two-week or so, but a good R&R and then get back to the grind in New York. So I’m excited to join you.

Ryan Knuppel:

That’s awesome. That’s cool. Well hey, let’s jump right into it here. Verse Gaming for people now listening, I’m curious just to hear a background about that, but first of all I want to dive into you. You as an individual. Obviously you’re into the gaming space now, but have you always been into gaming? What’s your career path looked like leading up to Verse Gaming?

Dan Zimmermann:

For sure. I’d love to share. Really, I’m 23 years old. I graduated from Syracuse in 2020 and I really got my start in this field as an intern for Barstool Sports. So if you’re familiar with the Barstool Sports Viceroy Internship Program, basically they wanted to have an affiliate at every major university sharing the brand, sharing content. So I was one of the first of three guys to get started with Barstool Cuse. Grew that from around 1500 followers to over 50,000. Became the first major media sort of outlet on campus that wasn’t just The Daily Orange Newspaper, and really it just became sort of people use Barstool Cuse to determine, do they want to go to Syracuse or what are their thoughts of it?

Dan Zimmermann:

I just saw the power of content and marketing from that and I really got started looking towards the next step of media, which as Barstool also feels is betting. So this came to me in my time as an intern for them as well as I lived in England for my high school years, where of course the market is very mature. There’s no taboo. People don’t say, “Oh, you sports bet?” It’s on every corner. When I was in high school, I was always thinking, “When the U.S. gets this, this is going to be a tremendous market. It’s a tremendous opportunity.” I was really thinking of ways to enter it before I got to school at Syracuse.

Ryan Knuppel:

That’s amazing, you know? I’m assuming that experience with Barstool was a great experience for you. I mean we all know and love what Barstool has done and what they’ve grown to be now, but it sounds like you were kind of with them back before they were the Barstool they are today. Tell us a little bit just more about the experience with Barstool and how … When we see and think of Barstool, everybody thinks edgy and everything is way off the cuff. Give us a little more about that experience that might have led you to go down this path even more.

Dan Zimmermann:

Absolutely. Barstool was an awesome opportunity for me. Really, we did work sort of outside of their corporate headquarters. We worked as an affiliate, so they gave us a lot of leash really to build content, to create relationships, host nights at the local bars for students to come and so on. So I got to really try out a lot of my own ideas with the power of the brand that Dave and Erica and those great folks over at Barstool had built up. I did join when it was earlier than it is now, but 2016, they were still off to the races up at least in the northeast where everyone knew the Barstool Sports brand and that made our job so much easier, having that beloved brand, having that hometown hero feel to some of the characters that Barstool has.

Dan Zimmermann:

Upstate New York was a very fertile market for Barstool Sports and it was about time for them to have their own sort of Barstool market because Barstool Cuse applied to a lot more than just the city or school of Syracuse. It was really all of Central New York felt like that was their account, that was their content.

Ryan Knuppel:

So that kind of got your blood going. That kind of got you really interested in this space, right? So I’m assuming … Let’s jump down to Verse Gaming. When was Verse formed and where did this idea … First tell us what Verse Gaming is, but then secondly, how did you go from that to this? Right? Get into that story a little bit.

Dan Zimmermann:

100%. In my time at Syracuse, I’ve got to say I wasn’t a huge class guy. I didn’t go to a whole lot of class. I hope my parents don’t listen to this one, but they’re pretty aware. Because I was so busy with Barstool Cuse and some other clubs … I started the Basketball Analytics Club on campus. So I was always sort of do your own thing, right? Fortunately for me, the Syracuse campus had a launchpad funded by Techstars built into the campus.

Dan Zimmermann:

So I was able to go to them, say, “Look. I have this idea. Tell me if I’m crazy or not.” Then they gave me really great advice, professional counseling and resources that made me go from a concept to a company. Really to get into what Verse Gaming is is we’re the first social marketplace built for peer-to-peer betting. What that is is there’s no house. There’s no casino taken on the other side of your crazy bets. Everything is another user on the platform. Really what this was born out of was living in my fraternity house, living in my dorms where people don’t want to go through the process of making an account on a Draft Kings app per se or using a book-E which of course every house had one or two.

Dan Zimmermann:

So that sort of casual, “Yeah. Let’s put $10 on this game instead of a $50 parlay.” We just saw that behavior being way more common than traditional sports book behavior. I felt there was a huge hole in the market for something that would allow a casual gamer or a casual better to put some skin on the game, have a little bit more invested in their time, watching an event but not necessarily have to feel like they’re doing something crazy or intense or professional even. Just a casual bet and that’s really what Verse aims to do. We want to change that psychology of betting of, “Look. You want to put $10 down on a game against your friend and improve your record, head-to-head record against them. That plus one in the win column actually may mean more to you than that plus 10 in the wallet column.”

Dan Zimmermann:

Just from our beta testing, we’ve seen that that is what people truly feel. We get a lot of one to four-dollar bets. You know, small stuff, but it’s just for the love of the game and for the ability to be able to put your opinions out with actual backing behind it. That’s something that people love to do on social media but they don’t have an opportunity to put anything behind it and Verse is built for disagreements.

Ryan Knuppel:

I love this space. I love the peer-to-peer concept. I love the space 100%. I think you totally nailed it, right? It’s absolutely something people want to have, they need to have. Now you kind of led me into my next question. You mentioned through your beta testing. So where are you guys at currently? Are you currently in beta mode with Verse?

Dan Zimmermann:

Yes. Our beta has been available since the weekend of the Super Bowl. For our early users, it’s really been a journey to see how it’s evolved just since then. Our beta currently sits as a … It’s a closed beta. We use referral codes to let people get their friends on, but we’re not putting a whole lot of money into marketing it, of course. So really what we’re looking to aim is to prove our theory of the behaviors that people like to do.

Ryan Knuppel:

Yeah.

Dan Zimmermann:

Do they want to place $50 bets only or do they like the smaller casual wagers? What we’re looking at from a timeline perspective is … And our recent partnership with Sportradar helps us with that is getting to market our iOS application. We’re looking for Thanksgiving of this year. We’d like to be in at least one U.S. market and then next year really take off from there, but really what sets us apart as a peer-to-peer platform rather than a casino operator, you see casino operators target big states with big cities, like Illinois with Chicago or of course New York.

Dan Zimmermann:

That is because they have massive populations that are going to go and lose a lot of money at the casino, right? But for us, we don’t need to think like that. We don’t need to build like that. I want to go to Iowa, a very small licensee compared to other states. On Iowa versus Iowa State football weekend, we could prove our whole concept in a single weekend just because everyone will probably have a friend that goes to the other school, match up against. Really, that opens the door to us to be a lot more creative in the way we market and just be a more trustworthy product. You know, someone’s always going to win on Verse and it’s never going to be us.

Ryan Knuppel:

Lots I could go into here. I have so many questions for you and I know for the sake of time I won’t get into them all, but I do have a few. The licensing process for you guys is very similar to an actual operator then. So you need to actually get licensed in states. Now how does that work? Can a friend in Iowa make a bet against a friend in New York if you’re licensed in both or how does that work? Explain a little bit about that more from the high-level business sense.

Dan Zimmermann:

Certainly. This is where we get into even maybe past what regulation in different states has even thought about yet. We’re in a gray area. Really, I do say that our game plan is to go through the licensing process. I do think there’s an argument to be made in the game of skill versus the game of chance that a peer to peer bet is not the same as a bet against casino because that casino is always going to accept your bet whereas I send Verses to my friends. Friends send Verses to their friends. They don’t accept every one. That’s natural because they don’t necessarily agree that they’re going to take that.

Dan Zimmermann:

So there is an element of skill there and I do look towards Draft Kings and what they have done with tests and so on to showcase game of skill. So I wouldn’t say the door is totally closed on operating without a license, but just overall, our plan moving forward is to go forward with the licensing process or partnering with a license holder that would allow us to access markets. As for getting into the Wire Act and how payments work, it’s really going to come down to the interpretation by the state commissions, but we’re able to build the technology in a way that the transactions are happening on the platform. They’re not happening with any interstate wires necessary.

Dan Zimmermann:

So we really feel like we’re on that cutting edge and we’re going to have to work with the regulatory spaces to make sure that we all know what’s going on and we’re on the same page, but certainly that’s what’s been … As the CEO, that’s what I spend a lot of my time working on is that getting the market. We will be having a game of skill version of Verse coming out as well on our iOS app, which will allow you to make multiple picks, set lineups and it’ll be much more akin to Daily Fantasy, but it’ll still be that peer-to-peer competition mentality.

Ryan Knuppel:

Sure.

Dan Zimmermann:

We’ll get that out to a lot of different markets. 30-plus, but the peer-to-peer single bet is where we’re looking at starting off small.

Ryan Knuppel:

Great answer. I mean that was … Thank you for that. That was an amazing answer. It’s such a gray area and it’s such a big area, an important area. As we know here in the United States, it’s very complicated. All the states have different regulations and some you can, some you can’t. Then like you said, just that gray area of what’s skill and what’s not and all of that is just … Blows my mind. So thank you for that very detailed answer.

Dan Zimmermann:

Of course.

Ryan Knuppel:

That was amazing.

Dan Zimmermann:

Well, just to add on quickly, one thing that further complicates it is we are feeless betting. We do not take a cut on the bets and we do not have a house tact built into the lines. I can get into that all day, but we call them inverse odds. The pun is intended, but what that means is if you’re risking 10 at minus 200 and you’re Versing me, I’m risking five at plus 200. Winner gets $15. There’s no money created or destroyed by a fee and users are able to bet with no fees.

Dan Zimmermann:

So we get that a little bit from Robinhood. We’ve really felt that was a compelling way to attract users. Before Robinhood’s PR fell out the window … Really, the fact that we’re not taking a fee on the actual activity further complicates it for regulators just because they don’t know … How do you tax this?

Ryan Knuppel:

Crazy. Crazy. Hey, everyone listening. We’re watching Dan Zimmerman, Verse Gaming. Hey, if you have any questions or comments, we are live. So feel free to put those in the chat. We can take those as we go. We’re on the fly type people, so if you do have comments or questions, please put them in. I’ll pop them up and Dan and I can attack those. Just wanted to throw that out there. I didn’t say that at the beginning. Dan, you mentioned this earlier. You had a partnership. Recently you made some news I think it was last month, maybe mid June, early June, that you guys had partnered with Sports Radar. Sportradar.

Dan Zimmermann:

Yes.

Ryan Knuppel:

Explain that a little bit. How did that come to fruition and what’s that going to do for you guys?

Dan Zimmermann:

Absolutely. Sportradar, the leading provider global odds, data, APIs, really a dream partner for someone like us. Luckily for us, they offer what’s called the Acceleradar program, where they bring in 10 to 15 on a rolling basis companies in sports technology and they provide us with mentorship and their product, their API product for a duration of time at no charge.

Dan Zimmermann:

What that partnership is going to allow us to do is build our product with Sportradar already on board. Gives us access to up to the minute data feeds, insights, odd shifts, everything you could ask for. We’ve implemented it in the beta, of course, to test that but really where it’s going to make the impact is our iOS application. So our developers are … I like to say the tools at our disposal now has lit a fire under our developers because all of these things that previously were, “Oh, where do we get that data? How do we get these odds updated?” Sportradar is a one-stop shop. So we’re super excited to be working with them and to be selected as an innovative partner of theirs that they see potential in. It doesn’t get better than them and we’re excited. We’re just getting started in this relationship. So the sky is the limit here.

Ryan Knuppel:

Congrats on that. That’s huge news and that’s awesome. I’m excited to see where that leads. Let’s talk about where it’s leading. Where are you headed? Where’s Verse Gaming headed over the next three, six, nine months? You kind of gave us a little timeline of what you’re looking at, but what types of things are you going to have your eyes on and where’s Verse Gaming headed here in the next let’s say six to 12 months?

Dan Zimmermann:

Certainly. Of course, our goal at Verse is getting to market as soon as possible. That’s every startup’s goal and it’s what leads us each day, but once … Setting aside that sort of obvious answer, what we really want to get into is influencer marketing because Verse is specifically built for a way that an advertisement would provide value to everyone involved. This means you’re … We get Shaquille O’Neal and Charles Barkley and they disagree on the game almost every night. They basically Verse each other on TNT every night. So if we can get them Versing each other or even sending out tweets with links to their Verses to allow them to Verse the public. How cool would it be to literally win Shaq’s money? I think it’d be pretty awesome and I think Shaq would have a blast doing it.

Dan Zimmermann:

Stuff like that, we really want to get into. We feel like we just fit the bill of influencer marketing in a way that’s better than a 30-second advertisement of a company that sells a product. Instead when you’re doing a Verse and you’re doing an advertisement on … For Verse, it’s going to be valuable to your network because it’s stuff that they care about. So that’s really where we feel we can take that next level and go viral with that marketing customer acquisition strategy.

Ryan Knuppel:

That’s amazing. I’m going to put you on the spot here a little bit. So I have a heart for people looking to make an impact and you obviously … Your story really resonates with me. The way Verse was born through an internship program at Barstool and in the college dorm room with a buddy and like, “Oh, let’s do this.” That really resonates with me and I guarantee it resonates with a lot of people listening because everybody out there kind of has ideas. They have thoughts. They have, “Oh, this would be cool or that would be cool.”

Ryan Knuppel:

Give the listeners, maybe the people listening that do have that idea, give them just one piece of advice. Maybe your best piece of advice you would have from a business sense if you may have that idea. What do you do? Where do you go?

Dan Zimmermann:

Yeah. I know exactly the type of person that you’re talking about right now because that was me as a 16-year-old in high school. I didn’t want to go into an office cubicle job and I knew I wanted to work in sports or technology in some regard. I was fortunate to have the launchpad that I mentioned at Syracuse that really set me up, but what I’ve learned is there are a lot of people that have had success in their life, in their careers, that are looking to turn around and help that next generation.

Dan Zimmermann:

So my advice is if you have a concept, if you have that drive, 90% of that work is going to need to come from you, but there are people out there that will and absolutely want to help you. You’ve just got to put yourself in a position to ask. What I always told students at Syracuse was don’t just go to a professor or someone. Say, “Hey, this is who I am. I’d love to connect.” Bring value to that relationship. Bring value to that connection. Say, “Hey, this is what I’m doing. This is where I think you would really help me in this specific area. Can you please let me know?”

Dan Zimmermann:

I really think being active and being really bold in your approach is necessary. I got to see the merits of that success with Barstool Sports because we had to ask for forgiveness, not permission mentality from the top down. I was able to experiment. I was able to see what people liked, what people didn’t like, what sold, what didn’t sell. That would have never happened if I didn’t just swipe up on that story and say, “Hey, I’m interested in learning more about this.”

Dan Zimmermann:

I would always say that we’re still young now. We haven’t gotten to where we want to be, but we’re well on our way to it and that wouldn’t have happened if we didn’t take that leap. So definitely take that leap and find people around that are particularly informed on what you need help with because I think more than often, they’re willing to listen.

Ryan Knuppel:

Great advice. Great advice. This is Dan Zimmerman, CEO at Verse Gaming. Dan, I appreciate all your time. I know you’re short on it. You have tons of stuff going on. Hey, give the audience just a little idea of where they can get ahold of you or find more about Verse Gaming.

Dan Zimmermann:

Absolutely. Verse Gaming is just www.versegaming.com. If you’re interested in trying out the beta, there is a link on the website and you can use my referral code is the only way you’ll get on is verseceo. Just plug that right in to the sign up. If you’re curious, follow us on social. It’s just verse_gaming on Instagram, Twitter. You’ll find it pretty quickly. Then myself, I’m available on Twitter at danzman and on LinkedIn. I love LinkedIn. Ryan, you and I both love LinkedIn. It’s a great platform.

Ryan Knuppel:

That’s it.

Dan Zimmermann:

Happy to connect with anyone on LinkedIn. Thanks so much for having me, Ryan. This was awesome to share a bit more about Verse and get this out to your network, so I’m really looking forward to next time we talk.

Ryan Knuppel:

No, it’s my pleasure. I really appreciate you being here and I love hearing about Verse and what you guys have going on. I’ll have my eye on you guys over the next several years here to see where it leads. Yeah. Encourage everyone watching and everyone listening to definitely get out there, check out the beta if you can. Take advantage of that code. It’s not easy to find, so he gave you the code right there. Get into the beta, check it out, try it. Then when it goes live, you’ll have a heads up over everyone else in terms of how things work and how things … I love beta programs for that sense only.

Dan Zimmermann:

Yeah.

Ryan Knuppel:

You are part of the game when it actually goes out live.

Dan Zimmermann:

People love [inaudible 00:20:17] username, too. It’s all about getting that first name.

Ryan Knuppel:

Snag that username. You’re right, Dan. I love LinkedIn. I love LinkedIn. I don’t use Twitter a ton. I need to use Twitter more personally, but sounds like you’re out there on Twitter a little bit as well. Hey, I encourage everybody to check out Dan. Check out Verse Gaming. Dan, this was a pleasure. This was awesome. Thank you so much for your time. Really appreciate it.

Dan Zimmermann:

Thanks so much, Ryan.

Ryan Knuppel:

All right. That was Dan Zimmerman of Verse Gaming. Really appreciate him tuning in. Really appreciate all of you joining us on The Knup Sports Show. Hey, we’ll be back. It’s July 1st. We’ll be back with several more episodes over the next several months. Several weeks, actually. We have several already planned and already going live here in the next few weeks. So until next time, take care. Everybody stay safe and we’ll talk to you all soon. Bye bye.

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Ryan is a veteran to the sports betting industry. He owns and operates Knup Solutions where they provide the highest quality sports betting and igaming content to affiliates and operators. His contributions on Knup Sports show his pure knowledge and love for the sports and gaming industry.

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