Community feature: Fundraising meets fantasy football with Columbus startup

Erica Thompson
CEO Matt Golis, left, with the DraftMates team [Photo by Rob Hardin]

If you've played fantasy football, you know how intense the game can be, including sweat-inducing drafts, brutal trash talk, crushing defeats and lucrative victories. It's a world so unique, a whole TV show, FX's “The League,” devoted seven seasons to the pastime.

With the NFL season now underway, millions of people have already picked their roster. And most of them will lose.

“People play with real money, but they're losing against people they don't know 80 percent of the time,” said entrepreneur Matt Golis, who researched success rates. “If you don't do a lot of research and you don't know all the players on all the teams, it can be very overwhelming.”

Golis saw an opportunity to provide a simpler way to play: give people an opportunity to start fresh each week and change their lineups (rather than keep the same roster all season). And remove the whole gambling component by allowing them to either play for free (or bragging rights), or donate their winnings to charity.

In early September, he launched the DraftMates Android and iOs app. If individuals decide to pay, they spend either $5, $10 or $20 per week and select a 501(c)(3) of their choice to benefit. The individual with the highest total wins, and his or her charity receives 85 percent of all of the participants' entry fees.

“It's really much more like GoFundMe, but it's using the fantasy sports as the engagement to drive people to give,” Golis said.

In addition to private contests among friends, gamers can also participate in public contests led by nonprofits. Through a partnership with DraftMates, organizations are provided with email marketing and social media links to encourage people to play strictly for them. The Kluber Family Foundation and Miami University's Interactive Media Studies Fund are the first two nonprofits partnering with DraftMates for public contests.

“Young people aren't philanthropic in the same way previous generations were,” said Dr. Glenn J. Platt, director of the Interactive Media Studies program. “I think young people are interested in a much more tangible return on investment. They want to feel like they're engaged in it and not just throwing money over the wall.”

And motivating young people is key to sustaining the program, which is new compared to other, more traditional departments in the university.

“There's not alums who've endowed funds to provide scholarships,” Platt said. “So we're really desperate for ways to help fund scholarships for our students. And so this is a perfect way for recent alums [to donate] instead of being hit up for five- and six-figure checks.”

A Miami University alumnus himself, Golis moved to San Francisco in 1999 to establish a career in Silicon Valley. He founded an electronic payment company, YapStone, Inc., and served as CEO for more than a decade. But he longed for another challenge.

“I really wanted to get back to starting a whole new company all over again,” Golis said. “By the time I left, we were already at 150 people, and it wasn't as much fun as when it's small.”

With plans to open DraftMates to all sports, and international interest in the app, the company is positioned to grow. Golis, who relocated to Columbus only a month ago, intentionally selected the city for its headquarters, located Downtown across from Wolf's Ridge Brewing.

He cited “rabid sports fans,” support for sports entities and receptive nonprofit organizations as primary reasons. And Columbus has less competition in the startup realm, more access to talent and affordable operation costs, he added.

“I am absolutely convinced that this business is going to be far more successful doing this in Downtown Columbus than San Francisco,” he said.