An interview with Matt Maroon, co-founder of Draftmix.com

DraftmixDraftmix is a website that offers a novel approach to fantasy sports. A Draftmix “league” is a very short-term commitment – it lasts only a week. You participate in a normal fantasy football-style draft on a Wednesday, drafting players who you think will put up the best numbers in just that given week. The following Tuesday, payouts are awarded and that’s it – league over. Draftmix is aimed at those people who like playing fantasy football for money but are looking for some short-term gambling gratification.

Brandon and I first heard about Draftmix last year when we were invited to join the Draftmix Blogger Challenge (and thanks to big games from Joseph Addai and Hines Ward, we won). I’ve been keeping an eye on Draftmix ever since. I think it’s a fun concept that’s implemented very well. They’re still flying a bit under the radar at the moment, but they were just getting started in ’07 and I think they could really catch on in a big way this year.

This afternoon, I had a chat with Matt Maroon, part of the three-man Draftmix team (and a former professional poker player).

To start out, could you tell us about the people who run Draftmix? Were you friends before you started Draftmix?
Ok, our names are Matt, John, and Chad. John and I used to play poker together a lot. That was actually how we came up with the idea for Draftmix.

What about poker gave you the idea for Draftmix?
John started playing fantasy sports and noticed that the game had a lot of similarities but was missing a lot of what made poker so successful online. For instance, you couldn’t play for money, except at a few very bad sites that raked half of the prize pool. Or it took 17 weeks for the league to end. Gamblers like an immediate resolution.

Because you’re modeling Draftmix after online poker in some ways, do you worry that you’ll run into some of the same legal issues that online poker has encountered in the US?
We spend a whole lot in legal bills to prevent that. Thankfully fantasy sports, unlike poker, is recognized as a game of skill at the federal level. At the state level it differs from one to another, so it’s something we try to stay on top of. We prohibit 11 states right now from playing for cash.

So are you guys bigger fantasy football fans or poker players?
Hmm. I was more of a poker player for sure. Chad didn’t really play either. John would sometimes play a ton of football or baseball leagues in a season.

Is Draftmix now a full-time pursuit for all three of you?
Yep, has been for over a year. We started pursuing it full-time in April 2007.

I read that you share an apartment. What’s it like living with the people you work with?
We don’t anymore, but we did. It was efficient for getting work done, and very cheap, but makes it hard to separate your social life from it. Really I don’t think I’d recommend it.

I recently joined your Facebook survival pool. Is being on Facebook helping you attract a lot of users?
We’ve only really been trying that for about 5 days now, but the app is growing pretty well. There are millions of football fans there, so if we can reach them it should help a lot.

What’s been the most popular kind of league on Draftmix so far?
Football. We had pretty solid growth during the last NFL season. We launched near the end, but got more customers every week.

Any particular format that’s been popular? I’m wondering if the users have sort of settled on what they feel is the “killer app” for Draftmix.
Well, for football we pretty much can only offer the 1 week leagues. This year we’ll have auto drafts as well as live. In baseball we have both 1 week and 1 day, and both seem to get a decent amount of action.

What has surprised you the most about running a fantasy sports website?
How hard it is to get the word out. There aren’t many big websites like there are in the tech or poker worlds which I was familiar with. Guys like yourself are all too rare. Also, how much data there is to deal with. It’s a ton.

So is the Facebook promotion a preview of things to come – do you plan to use social networks heavily to promote the site?
We do. We want to expand into all sorts of sports-based gaming on all sorts of platforms. We want to offer fun games to sports fans on the web, on Facebook, maybe on the iPhone or Xbox, wherever they are.

Cool, sounds like you’re planning to expand your product directly into other platforms.
Hopefully. There’s always a lot of unknowns with proprietary platforms. They might decide we’re too much like gambling, or they might sell the right to run fantasy sports on their platform to one of the big companies exclusively. So the web will probably always be our (and most people’s) bread and butter.

Speaking of the big companies, another fantasy football startup, FleaFlicker, was recently purchased by AOL. Do you have any interest in pursuing a similar arrangement with a large company?
That is pretty awesome for FleaFlicker. I’ve heard a lot of good things about the site. It’s nice to see people who are trying to rethink an industry that hasn’t changed at all in a decade. I could see us making some sort of distribution deal with a major presence at some point.

But nothing specific yet? No big acquisition news you want to break right now?
Haha, there’ve been a couple of offers believe it or not, but none we took.

So what’s next for Draftmix? Any plans for new features or league types?
Right now we’re just polishing the product for football season. We’ve added a whole bunch of little stuff, improved a lot of back end stuff that customers don’t really see but that makes it run better. As for the future, we pretty much try to solicit feedback from our customers and use that to determine what to build next.

Sounds like you’re going to be ready to rock come week 1. I think your concept is great and the site is really well-built. Definitely looking forward to seeing it grow.
Thanks, me too.

Thanks for taking the time to talk with me.
Any time.