Founders Focus – FanReact CEO Chris Buckner.
Welcome to the next installment of Founders Focus! Earlier this week, Cannon Director of External Relations Brad True sat down with FanReact Co-Founder and CEO Chris Buckner to talk about their recent expansion into esports, how the company went from almost shutting down to now having almost 40 employees in just two years, and Chris’ thoughts on the beginning of the universe.
Brad: Congrats on your amazing event earlier this month, how did that all come together?
Chris: Hah well…last minute, would be the perfect way to describe it. We had planned to originally throw a party with maybe 50-75 people for the Houston team in the new Overwatch League. So we reached out to the Outlaws management to see if they would give us swag that we can give away to the fans, and they basically came back and said that they wanted to host the actual official watch party here. Which was actually agreed upon only 9 days before the event was supposed to take place, so pretty tight from a planning standpoint. But major shoutout to the Mainline.gg team and Keith Landry, who’s our Director of Operations.
B: Hi Keith.
C: (Waves) But yes, they were a huge reason why it was such a raging success.
B: Wow, some amazing scrambling by your team there, and we love to hear about our Founders having successes like that. Diving into FanReact itself, can you give me a 60 second history of the company?
C: Absolutely, so we started in 2014 as a sports only social media app, and we built a hybrid HTML application that was just mobile at first, where we allowed fans to talk to one another about their favorite teams, and it was clunky, it didn’t’ really work.
B: Oh yea, that whole “actually working” thing.
C: Hah yea, kind of an issue. But it did what we needed it to, which was validate the idea. So next we were acquired by WAC in September 2016, and we pivoted to a white label tech solution for communities. So we provide any type of league, team sport, company, fan forum, etc. with their own forum/social platform. Basically, a social CMS (Community Management System). And we signed our first really large partner immediately which allowed us to grow from 1 employee to 17 within six months of being acquired. And then, once we saw the esports industry taking off we actually whitelabled the tech to ourselves and created Mainline, which is the esports version of our technology, which has really taken off despite not even launching yet.
B: And now, all together you’re at almost 40 employees right?
C: Yessir, almost to 40 and still growing.
B: That’s amazing, and from knowing you for a while I know it wasn’t always easy. Before Work America Capital stepped in and things weren’t going as well, what stopped you from walking away?
C: So, I like telling this story, because I do think failure is a key to success, as backwards as that sounds. I called my Dad in July 2016, and we had run out of our seed funding and I wasn’t able to secure new funding, so we were basically on our last legs. I hadn’t paid myself in 4 months, and I told my Dad “I can’t believe it, we’re going to have to shut down.” I mean we had about $1,000 in the account, which wasn’t even enough to pay for the servers. And then I actually cried on the phone to him, so I thought it was over. But a month and a half from that call, we were acquired by Work America Capital and everything changed. Just because someone saw our vision and let us take the next step.
B: What was that final call from Mark and the Work America Capital team like? The moment you received that final yes?
C: Well, I actually remember all of this. It was a rainy evening and Mark called, and I was looking out the window and he said, “it’s not going to happen,” and I was devastated. So I texted him back and I was like “no, we have to make this work.” So sure enough, I called everyone the next day and we worked out the final details and that moment itself was kind of euphoric, but then immediately it was like “ok what’s my next step?” which was, who am I going to hire.
Ken Myers was a co-founder, but until then he had a full-time job separately and was more or less working on sweat equity. But he’s come from successful startups, as a CFO, CTO and even a CEO, so he had this background that filled in a lot of gaps in areas that I lacked. I definitely learned the importance of not going at this alone.
B: I agree, and with that you guys are a diverse company with your hands in a lot of different areas, how do you keep everything moving in the right direction and not become overwhelmed by the opportunities?
C: One of the biggest challenges in a startup is to deviate from your core business or mission, but while we have a lot of irons in the fire all of them are based off of our core technology. So we have sports (FanReact), esports (Mainline), business (Referral Ring), and then our work building out platforms for companies like Vype, Verified Athlete and Gameday Films, but all of that is still built off our main technology. We aren’t changing our mission overall, but it does give us the opportunity to see which one sticks.
B: So we’ve talked enough about serious work things, let’s say someone offers you 100 billion dollars tomorrow to take FanReact off your hands, what would you do next?
C: First off, back when I thought we were shutting down I had already planned out a 3-month sailing trip in the Caribbean, so that would be step 1. And then second, as you know I love public speaking.
B: This is the part where say you were a yell leader right?
C: (laughs) Absolutely, but a dream of mine is to do a Ted Talk. However the problem is that I listen to the talks and these people are amazingly smart, talking about quantum physics and the expansion of the universe. And I’m like well…
B: I’d like to hear you talk about the expansion of the universe.
C: Hah oh it would be great, you’d have to allow drinking at the conference.
B: “Well here’s what happened…there was a boom, and then a bang, and then some things expanded…”
C: And they’re still expanding?
B: Right. Then a rock or two transformed into a few planets…
C: Then some decided they’d become stars instead. And some have life? Who knows how many though.
B: I bet the government knows. It’s probably just like Men in Black.
C: But, I do love cultivating ideas and would probably look to come back to Work America Capital and help people start their businesses. I think one of the great parts about starting your own business is that even if you fail, you still have a ton of experience and are set up for a great amount of success with whatever you do next.
So, I don’t even remember what the question was.
B: I think we got it, you’re going to be a sailor, then a Ted Talk speaker about the creation of the universe.
C: And then come back, and I do want to invest in the fund, and let others invest my money.
B: Other smarter people.
B: Well thanks for joining us today, like I said it’s great having a company like you all doing so well in our space. I think this is where I say “check out FanReact.com and Mainline.gg to learn more, and be sure to follow Chris on Facebook for hilarious takes on Aggie Football”
C: Nailed it. (high five)