Listen in as Carter Russ of Champions Round talks about his startup journey as an entrepreneur. He also talks about the future of Champions Round and how they are using content to help with user acquisition.

RYAN KNUPPEL

Hey, what’s going on everybody? Ryun Knuppel here, Knup Sports Show, episode 167. We are here today with another special guest who I’m going to introduce here in a minute, but first of all, hope everyone is doing well, hope everyone’s enjoying the beginning of the summer as we get into June here fairly shortly. We’re actually recording this last day of May, but hopefully, you have a good summer in plan, we really appreciate you giving us some time, listening to this show, digesting it however you are watching it, Youtube, Spotify, Apple, iTunes, whatever they call it these days. Uh, we really appreciate your time and your attention. Without further ado, I’m gonna bring on my guest today. Today, I have another special guest:

CARTER RUSS

.

CARTER RUSS

of Champions Round is with me, Carter, how are you doing today?

CARTER RUSS

I’m doing well Ryan, thanks for having us.

RYAN KNUPPEL

Really appreciate you giving me some time, I cannot wait to dive in and see what you guys are doing with Champions Round, but first of all man, how are things out in sunny LA. You’re out in LA, or in California?

CARTER RUSS

So I’m in LA.

RYAN KNUPPEL

LA, okay.

CARTER RUSS

Uh, you know, big surprised, big shocker, it’s about 70 degrees and sunny out here, so, same day. I’d imagine you guys in Orlando are probably having something similar though.

RYAN KNUPPEL

You know, it’s uh, every day is a sunny day. I mean, we get a lot of rain out here, but it’s not rainy right now, so we are very sunny here in Florida.

CARTER RUSS

Yeah, you know I lived in the east coast for a while, and I got kind of accustomed to checking my weather app every day when I was there. Bad habits of spending the last five years in LA though. I never do it and I’ll walk out to realize, “Oh crap, it’s actually raining, great!”. Forgot about that.

RYAN KNUPPEL

Exactly, it happens, it’s weird. That’s funny. Well cool Carter, I mean co-founder, CEO of Champions Round is your current position, that’s probably what you’re up to, but I want to hear a little bit about yourself in the past. You know, what makes you tick, where have you worked in the past, and what kind of got you to where you are today.

CARTER RUSS

Yeah, uh, great. Well, it’s a lot of ways I can feel that question. Uh, but, kind of in a nutshell, I think really what was my motivation for starting a company was I’ve kind of always been the type of personality that when I find something that isn’t the way I think it should be, um, I’m not gonna spend too much of an effort looking for it, I’d rather just make it myself. Um, more often than not, you’re not going to find exactly what you’re looking for. Um, and I’ve had a pretty interesting career journey. Um, I actually started in commercial real estate, uh, working in New York for large real estate developers, and, um, I was naturally a data analyst, very analytical by nature. And uh, something that served well when I was doing insurance for very large developments. Uh, but it became clear that wearing a suit and tie every day was not going to jive for me, and I actually moved to California to the Bay Area for about three months, and uh, I almost got a job at Bleacher Report, um, I applied for a journalism position. I had no journalistic experience, did not have any of the three years, you know, requisite history, really none of the credentials necessary, but I just cold emailed them three articles that I wrote that day, and they liked it enough to bring me into several rounds of interviews. Uh, went on for about six weeks, didn’t get the job, but I realized, “Okay, sports, sports tech is an area I eventually want to work in”.

RYAN KNUPPEL

Sure.

CARTER RUSS

Yeah, and uh, yeah I kept looking around there, but ended up moving to Los Angeles, and actually took a job in another passion of mine. Uh, I worked for a sustainability company. Essentially, they were electric vehicle car-sharing. And uh, yeah. A cool company. They would, uh, partner with large hotels, large apartment manufacturers, anyone that had, you know, a lot of units, and would offer one car, EV, in the garage. And you could just rent that if you lived in that community, uh, you know, really for each month. And uh, one, it was a good plan for my previous experience in real estate. Had a lot of good contacts there, but, two, I kept wanting to break into tech.

RYAN KNUPPEL

Yeah.

CARTER RUSS

I always knew that’s something I had an aptitude for, kind of similar to my Bleacher Report experience, you know, my resume didn’t say that I had, uh, my resume didn’t really exude the experience that I knew I had. You know, I was always good with computers, it all kind of made sense to me, uh, to my dad, resetting the TV and turning it on was magic, so, therefore, you know, ready for tech basically. And uh, while I was there learned a lot, you know, I was responsible for setting up their tech systems, fundraising, grant authoring, kind of some policy work. Um, you know, it was their first hire, and prior to that I had failed my first company, and when they were interviewing me, asked what I was looking to get, I told them “Well you know, I just failed”. I was 23, didn’t know what I was doing, and I really wanted to figure out what it takes to build something from the ground up, especially something where you have to go buy vehicles, create an app, sell it, really something that sounds capitally intensive and a lot of work. It was a great experience, and uh, fast forward a couple years, I saved up a lot of a money, invested in crypto really early, realized you know, it was time to pursue something that was a passion of mine.

RYAN KNUPPEL

Really cool, so Champions Round was born, right? Champions Round was born, the uh, the baby, the child, you know, I know how it is in the entrepreneurial space when you have a start-up, and you have something that’s like, man, it takes all of your energy and all of your effort to get it going. Uh, you know, I wanna hear about this journey with Champions Round, but first, give the audience that elevator pitch of what Champions Round is.

CARTER RUSS

Yeah, so Champions Round, uh, we’re a sports entertainment gaming company and content company. One, we really focus on podcasts, articles, really touchpoints from a variety of creators, and from there, we host new ways to play both fantasy sports and sports betting. Basically what we recognized was fantasy can be a really “two-horse race”. You either play all season long with your friends, or you play for one single day on something like DraftKings, FanDuel, some DFS product. And in between the two, there’s a lot of, uh, a lot of gray area. But when it comes to fantasy, the thing that’s most fun is drafting with your friends, playing with your friends, kinda that season-long banter. uh, we realized there should be opportunities to do that all year long. It shouldn’t just exist the month before the NFL season. Uh, there should be drafts all the time, things to win all the time. So, that was kinda really the genesis that we built the company one. Um, but, you know, sports betting is, uh, really the top for us, what we’re really excited about, uh, but when you actually do sports betting, why would you go to one platform over another? You know, does BetMGM really offer anything different than DraftKings?

RYAN KNUPPEL

Sure.

CARTER RUSS

Um, maybe you’re going to get a slightly different line, but not really. So, we’re really kind of building it from the ground up. You know, what really appeals to someone to actually collect, build, and grow, within a community, in a sports betting community? How does that combine with their content approach, how do you connect with you friends, how do you show off your winnings, and how do you get something really for a consistent play, all while integrating it with new game modes, and new game designs?

RYAN KNUPPEL

Yeah, yeah, that’s really cool. So you, I mean, you kind of led the discussion and led the description of what you guys are, with, uh, into content. Right? So that really, kinda, I mean, I’m a content guy through and through, so that really piqued my interest. I’d love for you to explain further, what you guys are doing in the content space, and what you really mean by that.

CARTER RUSS

Yeah, so, um, actually, it’s funny. I’m excited for my team to see this, because they host three different podcasts, multiple times a week. And uh, they’re the pros, they’re not used to seeing me actually out and doing podcasts, so. [Laughs].

RYAN KNUPPEL

[Laughs]. They’re like, “What? You’re doing a show?”

CARTER RUSS

Yeah, exactly, and you know, um, we’re a start-up.

RYAN KNUPPEL

Yeah.

CARTER RUSS

If we’re gonna win in this space, it’s not going to be on the backs of hundred million dollar ad spends. You know, there’s, in every single ad you see in this space, is, in my opinion, kind of boring. They’re all the same thing, you know, promise of X prize, become a millionaire, and it’s all kind of static for me, and you know, the big guys are always going to have more money than us.

RYAN KNUPPEL

Yeah, sure.

CARTER RUSS

Uh, yeah, but what matters as sports fans is, one, connecting with your friends, but, two, there are personalities that we all start to love, that we start to follow, that we start to care about, and really focusing on building up, you know, a great team of content creators and personalities. For us, we think it’s a winning recipe to ultimately grow our app and grow our gaming products. So we have, uh, three kinda content creators. We’re expanding our team now, as well. Um, but three podcasts a week, posting on social media all the time, doing articles every single day, kind of really the whole gambet. We do giveaways, in which, you know, you can win signed memorabilia by them, signed memorabilia by actual players, play in their contests, really, kind of that community and content strategy where our personalities are at the forefront of everything.

RYAN KNUPPEL

Yeah, I mean, because as we all know, you know, user acquisition is the name of the game in any of this type of space, so you’re using content, really, as a vehicle to get people in the door to the app and to what you guys are doing with the game. I mean, it’s a, you know, another acquisition strategy, and I think that content is a huge one, that I think a lot of startups, to be honest with you, I love that you’re talking this way, because I think a lot of people miss that. Because I think they try to go down that route of like, “Man, I just need to get as much money as possible, and then do a bunch of this other stuff,” and they kind of don’t just start with the basics, of like, “Let’s talk about sports, and build some content around it, and like try to get, like, people actually engaged with what we’re doing,”, um, so I really respect and love that you’re doing that.

CARTER RUSS

Yeah, and if it’s a money game, you’re always gonna lose. You’re always gonna lose on spend. But someone gave me a really good bit of advice when first starting the company. And it resonated with me. It was: “Most founders, especially early on, will hide behind their product as an excuse not to market,”. You know, content is hard, and community building is really, really hard. It’s a grind. And there will be a lot of times when you post something and it gets absolutely no response. You know, you put it out in the world, and no one saw it. Um, but more often than not, you know, you start a company and you’ll spend the first eight, nine months building an app.

RYAN KNUPPEL

Sure.

CARTER RUSS

Uh, you don’t need that app to be done to do, you know, to do this sport. And um, yeah, you know, we really made sure we focused on that, kind of the grassroots organization, and we’re kind of excited to tie it into, you know, a whole brand.

RYAN KNUPPEL

Yeah, no, that’s amazing. So tell me a little bit more about where you’re at in the life cycle of this all. You know, with the product, and the game, and all of this. Just tell me where you’re at in terms of, you know, I’m assuming you’re live, I’m assuming you have apps out here, but looking at the site, where are you at in the life cycle of this product?

CARTER RUSS

Yeah, so we’ve had, we’ve launched our version one apps in September, coinciding with this last NFL season.

RYAN KNUPPEL

Cool.

CARTER RUSS

Uh, we’ve raised, uh, over $3.5 million in seed funding, uh, venture-backed, got a few angel groups, went through a few accelerators, uh, so definitely cleared the early-stage hurdles. Got to the point where we have quite a few, a number of users, that absolutely love us, play every single contest we put up. Uh, at one point, we hit #6 on the App Store for sports apps.

RYAN KNUPPEL

Cool.

CARTER RUSS

Um, and, you know, it’s like what you said earlier; it’s really kind of a focus on the inner economics. Um, are you acquiring people at sustainable numbers, and are they actually staying and engaging in your app. Why would they, you know, why would they play Champions Round when they’re seven or so basically clumped. When everyone’s doing DFS, or when everyone is building out a betting platform, or really the only difference is the color scheme.

RYAN KNUPPEL

Yeah.

CARTER RUSS

You know.

RYAN KNUPPEL

Well, let’s talk about that a little bit. Uh, you know, because we’re in this space, you know, this sports betting/fantasy sports, there’s so much attention, you know, especially focused here in the United States, where we both live, the attention and the interest and number of companies just popping up all the time is astounding to me. And like, talk about that from your side, you know, I realize that you want to get into something you’re passionate about, but, did you look at that side of it at all? Like, “Oh my gosh, there’s gonna be tons of competition, and like, how are we gonna then compete?”, or did that not really cross your mind when starting this?

CARTER RUSS

Yeah, it’s actually funny you say that, because, uh, when we first started the company, one, I knew it was time, I had, I felt like I was ready to start something, and two, I had a kernel of an idea, you know, I’ve got this basketball lamp behind me. I’m a massive hoops junkie, and uh, really the first genesis for starting the company, was, I got really annoyed when the NBA playoffs started and there was no fantasy. So it’s, like, two and a half months of this, yeah exactly. So, you know, out of opportunities, I never expected it to be a really big thing. Uh, met my cofounder, Chase Payne, absolute genius in this space, who’s been part of fantasy gaming for, you know, his entire career, whereas I was coming in as a novice to the space. And then after meeting him, within the week, sports betting was federally legalized, so it was like, “Oh, this is, uh, trending in the right direction”, serendipity pointing towards this being something to pursue. So at first, I was just kind of super excited. Uh, I was kind of just talking about the start-up journey, and it’s so easy to start a company early on, when you’re like excited, and everything’s going well, um, and then, you know, fast-forward a few months where it’s like, late nights, all of a sudden you’re spending money, uh, realizing that things are going to be bigger and harder than you ever expected.

RYAN KNUPPEL

Yeah.

CARTER RUSS

Uh, where it’s like, but you haven’t actually done anything yet, so you could stop. Um, those are kind of the moments where it’s like, “Alright, I guess this is what being an entrepreneur is all about,”, uh, but yeah. You know, it’s a competitive space. It’s a really competitive space, and I was watching an interesting analysis on Netflix the other day, about how, you know, their time in the sun was very bright, but realistically, they operated in a space that didn’t have much defensibility.

RYAN KNUPPEL

Sure.

CARTER RUSS

You know, yeah. I mean, everyone’s started a streaming service now, and there wasn’t anything that Netflix could do other than just offer better content.

RYAN KNUPPEL

Sure, sure.

CARTER RUSS

Quite frankly, lately, they’ve failed at it. And that kind of laces into why content is super important for us, while also making sure our games are really different. Uh, competition is, is, you know, there’s a lot of entrance in this space. Almost every single day I find another one.

RYAN KNUPPEL

Exactly.

CARTER RUSS

Yeah, so, it’s how do you stand out, if you do ads, are they going to be that boring, you know, really making sure you’re building an entire cohesive brand, uh, that really stands out and is unique. But succinct proposition.

RYAN KNUPPEL

Yeah. I mean I love that answer, because, I mean, some entrepreneurs and business owners can get really down and frustrated when there’s competition, right? I mean, not really wanting to embrace that competition, whereas I think if you are a true entrepreneur and business owner, you somewhat have to embrace it. You somewhat have to welcome it, right? Because we know there’s gonna be competition, and as a competitor, a business owner and a competitor, which I think any entrepreneur has that competitive spirit in them, I think they welcome that and they challenge that, and they say, “Okay, bring it on, I’m gonna do something better”, or, “I’m gonna do something different, we just gotta figure out how to stand out”. You’re naive if you think nobody’s gonna try to come up and succeed with you. So, I love that answer, and I think that mindset is spot on.

CARTER RUSS

Thank you. And, you know, uh, one thing that’s kinda interesting, and that I would suggest to anyone that’s starting a company not to get discouraged by this, you’re gonna think your idea is the greatest thing ever created, and then you’re gonna go online and figure out that someone’s already doing it.

RYAN KNUPPEL

Yeah.

CARTER RUSS

Uh, and you’re gonna be like, “Oh, what’s the point?”. It’s like, well, are they, you know, are they Facebook? Are they DraftKings? Have they already established something that is completely indefensible? Um, and you know, even with those examples, you know, MySpace had complete control over social media, someone just went around and built a better one. Can you out-execute? And if your answer is yes, then go for it.

RYAN KNUPPEL

Sure. So where are you guys headed? You know, where are you guys headed in the future? I mean, what’s, uh, what’s the future look like for you guys? You got big plans, I’m assuming, um, but give us a little insight into the future of Champions Round.

CARTER RUSS

Yeah, well we’ve laid a foundation which we think is really sustainable for continuing to grow the business. People like our apps a lot, you know, if you look at our App Store reviews, you’ll see we’re constantly about as high as they come in the space.

RYAN KNUPPEL

Cool.

CARTER RUSS

Uh, we have people that play every single competition, uh, they’ve come to know our personalities. Uh, we want to make sure we can continue to do that at scale, but the next opportunity for us is we’re getting into live-action, live-action games.

RYAN KNUPPEL

Cool.

CARTER RUSS

Uh, over the next month we have two game modes coming out that I’m really excited about. Can’t talk about them too much, but let me tell you, it’s gonna make watching baseball games a lot more fun.

RYAN KNUPPEL

We need that.

CARTER RUSS

Yeah, exactly. Like, what is the reason that will get you to watch an entire inning without checking your phone? Or, if you’re checking your phone, you’re on our app.

RYAN KNUPPEL

Yeah, yeah, yeah. Well, cool.

CARTER RUSS

Yeah, from there, really, next steps. You know, fantasy sports, sports gaming is here to stay. Uh, but no one has really become a winner yet. And almost every, pretty much every major entrance into this space is hemorrhaging cash. Yeah, so how can we continue to build something at scale that is pretty sustainable and actually stands a chance to be profitable, while growing better than anyone else.

RYAN KNUPPEL

Sure. That’s amazing, that’s cool. So where would everybody get this? Do you gotta give us the links, gotta give us just in the App Store, uh, I pulled up the site earlier, so it’s at www.ChampionsRound.com, and I’ll add that again here to the stream so people can see it, but, uh, just what’s the pitch? Just head out to the App Store, download the app, and get going?

CARTER RUSS

Yeah, exactly, so, our website’s kind of a landing page, but, download our apps, search “Champions Round” on either the Google Play Store or Apple App Store. That, or, uh, take a look at our Instagram, our YouTube, our Spotify, check out our playlist, check out our podcast, check out our social media, and if you follow us on Discord or Instagram, almost every single day we’re giving away signed jerseys.

RYAN KNUPPEL

Nice.

CARTER Actually, tonight we’re announcing a Giannis Antetokuonmpo giveaway.

RYAN KNUPPEL

Really?

CARTER RUSS

Signed jersey, yep. So, come check them out, play our apps, instructions on how to win will be entered there, and uh, talk to people in Discord. They’ll let you know that there’s realistic chances of winning these prizes. Yeah, they aren’t just a carrot on a stick. You know, we’re constantly engaging with our community, and you’ll find a few of our members that have some awesome backgrounds behind them that came exclusively to Champions Round. [Laughs.].

RYAN KNUPPEL

[Laughs.]. That’s cool. That’s awesome, well Russ, I know you’re, Carter sorry, just called you Russ sorry.

CARTER RUSS

Happens all the time.

RYAN KNUPPEL

Uh, I know you’re a busy man. I really appreciate you giving me some time. What did we miss? Any last words for the audience, anything you wanted to touch on that maybe I didn’t lead you into speaking about before we get off here?

CARTER RUSS

Yeah, well, uh, I guess to kind of touch on entrepreneurship, uh, one, obviously find your passion for it. If your passion is to make a bunch of money or to your own ego, you’re gonna fail.

RYAN KNUPPEL

Yeah.

CARTER RUSS

You know, for me, it was kind of a personal challenge. It was something I always knew I wanted to do, but there’s a confluence of life events that really pushed me towards it. Uh, but two, we talk about ego a lot. If you’re going to start a company, and you’re going to be successful, you’re going to have to recruit some of the smartest people to want to work for you, more often than not, when you can’t afford to pay them what the rest of the market can.

RYAN KNUPPEL

Yes.

CARTER RUSS

So, what’s your competitive advantage? Smart people like to work with other smart people, and they like to have autonomy over what they do. I have worked in environments that were absolutely masterclasses in how to lose talent. Uh, like I said early in the show, when I see something I don’t like, I’d rather build it myself. My crux for starting Champions Round was realizing that if you create a great environment and get people to work together with people that they like, uh, while taking your ego out of it and listening to your experts, you’re going to not only recruit great talent, but you’re going to retain that. The thing I’m most proud about as CEO of Champions Round is we have never had anyone quit to date.

RYAN KNUPPEL

Love it.

CARTER RUSS

In four years since starting the company. So, take your ego out, and uh, it’s a great recipe for success.

RYAN KNUPPEL

That’s super powerful, Carter. That was super powerful, I really appreciate you sharing that. You didn’t have to share that tip with the other entrepreneurs listening, but man, that’s super powerful; building that culture, and that team mentality, and just a place people want to be is so, so critical and important, you know, people pass that a lot of times and they’re just so focused on the business, and the product, and being profitable, and all of the above, but you’ve gotta build that team, gotta build that culture first.

CARTER RUSS

It’s an organization, it’s an organization at the end of the day.

RYAN KNUPPEL

I love that. Well, I appreciate you giving me some time here. Hey, one last question: you said you’re a basketball junkie, so you’re gonna have to give me, Celtics or Warriors. Who do you got?

CARTER RUSS

Man, I’m a Lakers fan.

RYAN KNUPPEL

[Laughs.] Well, they don’t count right now, they’re out.

CARTER RUSS

I know, every single time. I’ve been telling myself: “If this Celtics team was in any other laundry, I would really, really like them”.

RYAN KNUPPEL

Yeah.

CARTER RUSS

And, uh, and they are so stacked. If anyone can beat them, it’s Golden State, but I feel like if they play ten times, Boston wins six, and Golden State wins four.

RYAN KNUPPEL

Yeah. It’s gonna be a great series, I can’t wait to, uh, kinda see where it leads. But, uh, Carter, really appreciate you being here, wish you best luck with Champions Round. We’ll make sure we put all the links and everything out in the show notes so people get signed up. Get on the app, get in the Discord, there’s a lot more going around with their community and their content, so I really encourage everyone to check that out. But Carter, really appreciate everything. Until next time man, take care, talk to you soon.

CARTER RUSS

Sounds great, Ryan. Thanks for having me.

RYAN KNUPPEL

Thanks for being here. Alright, that was

CARTER RUSS

of Champions Round. Super cool guy, has a great product going, and really has a lot of content going. I can’t wait to get out there and check out the content they have going around it. Uh, it’s a super cool way to, uh, bring in users and bring in, uh, you know, just, just users to your product. At the end of the day, really, uh, I encourage you guys to check out Champions Round, go out to the App Store, grab it, looks like maybe you can get a $10 on your first deposit, I see, claiming on the website, so maybe go out and get that as well. Alright, hope everybody is well. Thanks for giving me your time today. I’m

RYAN KNUPPEL

, that was Episode 167 with

CARTER RUSS

. Take care, stay safe, and we’ll talk to you soon.

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