By Ashley Katusa
The Gabelli School of Business introduced their Speaker Series last Wednesday and featured Mark Nerenberg, Vice President of Game Operations and Development of DraftKings and the founder of Draftstreet, acquired by DraftKings in 2014.
DraftKings is an innovative sports-tech entertainment platform which offers daily and weekly fantasy sports contests across ten professional sports in the U.S., Canada and the United Kingdom.
Nerenberg spoke about his experience with a startup company that experienced a significant growth spurt, his involvement with DraftStreet and his insight on what the future of DraftKings holds.
“I learned quickly to work with a new business,” said Nerenberg.
Mark Conrad, an associate professor of law and ethics at the Gabelli School of Business, interviewed Nerenberg at the event. After Conrad prompted the conversation, the floor was opened for audience questions.
Nerenberg hails from the University of Maryland with a finance degree, and currently lives in Brooklyn with his wife. Mark grew up with a love of sports and began playing fantasy sports with friends in high school and against his co-workers at his prior job. He came up with fantasy sport games for he and his friends, and DraftStreet evolved from there, launching in June 2009.
Like many entrepreneurs, Nerenberg faced the issue of funding for his startup. However, Nerenberg said “we had it pretty easy in the beginning,” referring to the time prior to DraftStreet’s exponential growth. Mark and his friends invested $100,000 of their own money, and six months later, raised $300,000 from angel investors, investors who invest in small startups, entrepreneurs, or early-stage products. By the beginning of 2011, DraftStreet had raised $1.7 million. DraftStreet skyrocketed to the third-most popular daily fantasy sport (DFS) site.
“We definitely did not see this [DFS] becoming a multibillion dollar industry,” said Nerenberg.
When asked about the acquirement by DraftKings in July of 2014 that combined the second-leading and third-leading DFS sites, Nerenberg said that it “worked out better than I could have thought.”
DraftStreet helped to fill DraftKings shortcomings, especially in introducing niche sports such as Fantasy Golf and even Leauge of Legends. Nerenberg did admit to particularly liking the feel of a startup company, however. Startups allow for more communication and intimacy between employees and sometimes this communication winds up creating a stronger product.
Yet this transition from DraftStreet to DraftKings allowed Nerenberg to take a step back, and a breath, from his otherwise consuming role as co-founder. DraftKings allowed Nerenberg to discover what he was best at in the DFS industry, he assumed the role of Official Gamemaker of DraftKings, where he oversees things ranging from game operations to development of new games. In his time at DraftKings, Nerenberg has lead the launch of five new sports: soccer, mixed martial arts (MMA), NASCAR, League of Legends and the Canadian Football League (CFL).
DraftKings has become one of the most popular DFS sites, due to their acquirement of DraftStreet, Nerenberg’s contributions and increased awareness of the DFS industry.
DraftKings sets itself apart from other DFS sites because it allows for more user freedom. For instance, users don’t have to commit to playing full seasons – there are “contests” which vary in length. Nerenberg said he looks forward to incorporating new sports into the website.
“The most exciting part is launching new sports,” said Nerenberg. “I think we’ll evolve to have focused teams based on location.”