Columbus native Matt Golis moved to California during the dot-com boom of the late ‘90s and early 2000s, and started an online payments company that introduced to the world the idea of paying for rent with a credit card online. That startup is now the largest online payment company for real estate and apartment rentals. Eighteen years later, he remains an equity shareholder and has moved “back to the garage” for his latest venture.
Golis came up with DraftMates in 2017, while he was still out in California. The fantasy football platform provides a simpler way to play, for free or while raising money for verified, 501(c)(3) charities.
The app targets nonprofits looking to build engagement with supporters, reach new and existing donors worldwide, and move one-time donators toward recurring giving. And unlike other daily fantasy sports sites, DraftMates users aren’t playing for cash, but for bragging rights and the opportunity to give back in a new, unique way.
“With this, we’re making it easy for people to give, effectively a smaller amount, but do it over a period of time and have the fun of playing this game while they’re giving,” says Golis.
San Fransico mobile design firm Appstem built the base app, which includes unique features like in-app chat capability for self-contained trash talking and the ability to auto pick lineups, for donors less interested in the game itself.
DraftMates is built on a free-to-play model where users can choose to set up private leagues for free through phone contacts or a private link. The app only charges an entry fee for players choosing to raise money for a cause in private leagues or public contests.
At no cost, 85 percent of the payout from donations goes directly to nonprofits. The company is also able to generate reports for nonprofits on who is donating, and end of year reports allow donors to receive tax deductions for giving.
Only recently has DraftMates moved away from simply attracting sports fans and toward going directly to charities, from household names to celebrity and company foundations, schools, local nonprofits, and the like.
“This is a classic pivot that many startups go through in that, you think you’ve built it targeting one audience … and we really realized that there’s a much greater opportunity for all of the people who want to give to causes, and aren’t getting a whole lot of excitement around donating,“ says Golis. “We realize that as more nonprofits find value in this, that we need as many ways to make it easy for their donor supporters to give [as possible].”
DraftMates has raised about a half million dollars in funding so far. The company is in talks with venture capitalists in the Midwest and the Bay Area, and expects to close at about $3 million toward the end of the year.
Golis says in the Midwest, there are fewer venture capital firms, many of which choose to invest later on when companies are close to profitability. In the Bay Area, venture capitalists are more likely to invest in people and “cocktail napkin” ideas. Golis still has connections in the Bay Area, where it used to be investors were only interested in funding Bay Area startups. Investors are increasingly open to funding projects in other parts of the country, specifically cities like Columbus, largely because their money goes twice as far.
The tradeoff then became less access to investors, in exchange for employees who are easier to recruit and easier to keep. Between Ohio State and other universities, a large access to talent has helped Golis hire a small, talented team who are actually interested in sports, empathetic to sports fans, and less likely to jump ship for competing employers.
“And that’s quite honestly one of the things that dooms so many startups is continuity of the team. When there’s a lot of opportunities for people, you get better offers other places and other parts of the country,” he says. “You can really invest in them and their professional development…and give them an opportunity to grow with the company.”
Along with a better talent pool, Golis says Columbus was the right fit for DraftMates because of the “rabid” sports fans and the ample amount of foundations and nonprofits in the area, more so than he realized.
“This community, both on the tech startup scene and with sports and charitable giving, has really come a long way, particularly in the last 10 years,” he says. “It’s a very different Columbus than the one I grew up in.”
The DraftMates team is in the process of incorporating new features, such as a desktop version of the app and adding more sports leagues and events — including basketball, baseball, hockey, tennis, March Madness, the SuperBowl, and more — by the end of 2019.
Other features in discussion are a subscription-based giving component built around a given sports season and introducing the ability to raise money in contests centered around award show predictions and other non-sporting events.
For Golis, DraftMates is less about the game specifically, and more about a play and give component to gaming that hasn’t existed before.
“There’s an audience for everything,” says Golis. “We just want to bring a fun gaming way to give, and that doesn’t necessarily have to be sports.”
For more information, visit draftmates.com.