We celebrate Fan Arena’s five year anniversary this month. A milestone for our company and the perfect time for me, Joey (employee #1) to look back and forward with CEO Octavian.
Chief! We can pop some champagne now, we are 5 years in the bizz. What accomplishments are you most proud of?
We showed and still show the way in fantasy sports software. Fan Arena has had a steady growth: we started from zero and we’ve worked with the three biggest media companies in Belgium, and we are now doing business internationally as well. As a startup we’ve been able to successfully work together with large companies and create added value for both parties. It might sound cliche but it’s not always straightforward and I’m proud to say we’ve grown this product together with our customers. Sport is teamwork! Now that’s a cliché – (laughs).
What has inspired you to keep building Fan Arena?
The start of Fan Arena coincided with Leicester City’s ascent to the Premier League title in 2015/2016, and that left a lasting impression. A true zero to hero story. Ranieri had just had his worst managing experience of his career (he drew one and lost three of his four matches, with a 1-0 defeat to Faroe Islands in his last game for Greece). After that he went on and took a nearly relegated Leicester to the Premier League title. It’s not about experience, it’s about not giving up. What seems impossible today, can be achieved tomorrow – if you persist and chase your dreams.
What advice would you give to other start-ups?
I don’t believe in business plans. I believe in bold goals and learning to navigate towards those goals. A plan might change every day, a vision doesn’t. It helps you develop a strategy and from there it’s easy to reach your goal even without a plan. Look at the COVID pandemic, no one had a plan. We had to make hard decisions, even launched a simulated fantasy sports game in the process. These decisions played out well – even if the current climate is toxic – and we can prevail. Because we can clearly see that our vision is correct. A plan won’t save you, knowing what’s next can.
What is that vision exactly?
Fan Arena believes that it’s more than ever important to engage sports fans. The world definitely has changed and marketing techniques of the past will not survive. Nobody will suddenly care because you bombard them with your brand. You need to build a relationship first. Sports and fantasy sports can facilitate this, especially if your brand has a fit with fans.
What’s important when growing a new business?
The most important thing I’ve learned is to keep focus, don’t jump on every opportunity. You can only deliver value if everything is aligned: from our product to the clients targets and budgets. In the beginning it’s difficult to navigate and know what to base your decisions on. Thankfully, after a few bangs against the wall, we’ve kept our core focus on fantasy sports.
Working on fantasy sports games these past 5 years and being fully immersed in the sports business must have taught you a thing or two. What’s one of those important lessons you’ve learned?
I’ve learned that it’s important to tweak and adapt the game to our clients’ audience, and experiment with the different features. What works for one, does not work for everyone. That’s why we offer a platform. It allows us to quickly implement based on the largest set of fantasy game features and that results in a unique fantasy sports game for each client.
And we’ve built complimentary BI and CMS tools to let each client get the most out of their fantasy game. The BI tool gives real-time insights on business KPIs. Our clients know exactly what’s going on at any given point. Marketing knows if subscriptions are on-track, and the editors can dig up interesting fantasy sports facts to create engaging content. And as Fan Arena we don’t just give our clients access to these tools, but we also provide consulting services to fully leverage their fantasy game. Being fans ourselves has made it easier to understand the needs of fans, and our creativity and talent (you, Cosmin and many others) has been making the difference.
What defines Fan Arena as a company, and as an entrepreneur?
Never settle. Never settle because, as in sports, you are only as good as your last game. You should always want to improve. Leaders have a vision, and can magically predict the future but it takes courage to actually make things happen. I want to improve, to make things happen, because the people who are crazy enough to change the world, are the ones who do.
In 5 years time, where would you want Fan Arena to be?
That’s easy: Fan Arena needs to be the go-to fantasy sports software. When sports fans open a fantasy sports game and see Powered by Fan Arena next to Stats provided by Opta they immediately know that the game is solid and fun. Joey, I guess you now need to dig into that ingredient branding strategy – (laughs).
I certainly will, let’s kick off the next episode!