A lot of our readers are students looking to start their own thing. What did your journey look like?
I started getting interested in tech at a very young age, probably 14 or 15 years old. Back then, there wasn’t a breadth of content on YouTube. Learning how to code and doing all this stuff was incredibly challenging.
I decided to learn to code because I wanted to be my own boss. It wasn’t that I loved math. I actually suck at math. I didn’t study computer science or anything. I was completely self-taught because I wanted to be my own boss one day.
Out of school, I joined a startup called Skillshare, where I met my co-founder Alex. We worked there, and then we worked in another startup called Grailed together. He and I have a long history of being my first friend in New York and us knowing each other for a while at two other companies.
The conviction of doing my own startup came from the fact that it didn’t matter how much money I made. I was making $200,000 as a 25 year old. You can’t ask for much more than that. There was always this cloud over my head, which was, “Damn, it doesn’t matter how much you make, you literally got into this to be your own boss. You’re building someone else’s dream day in and day out.”
COVID expedited that for me, where my position at the company changed. I was a product manager, and then they asked me to go back into engineering. I realized I have to create my own destiny. I worked so hard to get out of engineering and into product management.
It made me look in the mirror and say, look, the only person that’s going to have your back is you. It doesn’t matter how much you make in this world, if you’re not your own boss, nobody is going to care about you or your dreams. The whole reason you got into this was that you wanted to build your own dreams.
That’s when I teamed up with my co-founder, and we decided to work on 1v1Me. It was a collection of built-up emotions over the years of understanding why I got involved in tech in the first place.
That’s an awesome story. I relate to that on several levels. Is there a timing piece that makes 1v1Me possible now versus, say five years ago?
On the regulation side, it’s obviously great because sports betting is becoming legal state by state. While we don’t classify under sports betting, I would say that it is a good sign that platforms like this should exist. Five years ago, DraftKings and FanDuel were probably around, but it was still playing in that weird regulatory space with skill-based gaming, which is what we fall under, so it’s a lot easier for us to be legal.
The combination between video games being more popular and then the competitive financial aspects around Robinhood and Cash App are good for us as far as growth opportunity. If we tried this five years ago, people would be like, playing video games for money, that’s nerdy.
How do you work with influencers? Is it for promotion or some sort of a platform for them to reach an audience?
It’s actually both. To get into the app, you need an invite code, which is very similar to Clubhouse, where creators can invite codes to their fans. On the 1v1Me app itself, to play against someone else, both people have to stream the match to Twitch. We believe the next wave of content and creators are around wagering. People want to watch other people play games for money.
It’s both, it’s working with these content creators to compensate them and onboard their fans. It’s also a little bit more than that because it can help someone who’s not popular grow. On our app, you can not only stream directly to Twitch, but you can also watch the streams as they happen on Twitch.
You can imagine a world where we have a million people on the platform. Someone overnight can blow up depending on what they’re playing, who they’re playing, and for what amount of money.
It’s a brilliant strategy. It makes sense how you fit the content piece in as part of the growth strategy. So you described what you’re doing now, building up a waitlist with influencers. How do your next six months look?
We’re tracking one main KPI across the business: the number of matches, which are the people who play against someone else 1v1 in a game. There’s a ton of other product and engineering stuff that we’re going to do and a ton of different marketing campaigns. I would say the main focus is making sure that the number of matches KPI climbs month over month.
Now that you’ve raised, what do you wish you knew before getting started?
In the beginning, a big blocker for us was why us, why are we going to win in this space? Why are we better than the competitors? We underestimated how many companies have tried this concept in the past. That was some of the early feedback we got from our investors and people that denied us initially. It caused us to go back to the drawing board and make us realize what’s important to us.
There are two things when I think about the “why us?” The first is that the team. Alex and I have worked together for four years. I also worked with two of the other engineers that are on the team for two and a half years.
At the earliest stages, I had a feeling that the investors were investing more in the team than 1v1Me itself. I would say that a lot of the early conviction our investors had was because I moved fast and refused to quit. When I would get a rejection, I would figure out why and come back with a new deck or new thoughts about it.
The second is the product. We had to rethink our business model. We had to rethink how we were going to make money. How is that different than the competitors we had to rethink our UX UI experience? How is that different? Why would an influencer sign up to use this versus PayPal?
If I had to advise someone starting a business, it would be to have conviction on what you want to build, but then actually think about why you are different from the competitors? If you’re not different, you need to figure out if this is the right product you should be going after. I’m not a fan of staying away from something just because there’s competition. I’m more of a fan of making sure that you could strategically hurt the competition and benefit from it.
The last question I wanted to ask is it seemed like you brought in a lot of named Angel Investors. What are the biggest things you were looking for them to bring to the table other than capital?
We raised 750k back in December after I joined the On Deck fellowship. On Deck and Village Global took a huge bet on us. They were like, “we’re going to be the first check into your company.” On-deck didn’t even have a venture vehicle at the time. From there, I wound up getting Turner Novak and Ian and a bunch of other great people.
A lot of founders just want to close the money right away. I strategically picked people and figured out a way to get in touch with them. I got an intro to Ian through Turner, but I had already DM'ed Ian. They always felt like I genuinely cared about them cause I did.
Ian introduced me to Anthony Pompliano, and I didn’t even know who Pomp was, as dumb as that sounds. I purchased Bitcoin in 2014 but never followed the crypto landscape. It helped my conversation with Pomp because he knew I wasn’t hitting him up because I wanted his clout. It’s because I thought he could be valuable to the business on the FinTech side.
Honestly, it was great to take the money for multiple reasons, but more strategic than anything. You’re getting a pro e-sports team to invest in you. You’re getting a content creator with over a million subscribers to invest in you. That moves the needle on that number of matches KPI.
Starting a business, especially fundraising, is a chess match and trying to pick the right pieces and move them in the right places before someone else does. If I had to pick the direction I would go for my next business, it would be 100% handpick the investors you want to go after. Hopefully that they’ll build conviction and commit. If not, you go back to the drawing board. Do not, under any circumstance, take money for it from whoever’s offering it because there’s much more value in having a stacked cap table from a signaling perspective.
That’s the way I think about it. It’s okay to deny people. It’s okay to turn down money because, at the end of the day, it’s your business. You’re the founder. You’re giving up equity, and you want to protect yourself and keep as much equity as possible.