June 1st, 2009

Personal Profile: Rudy Menendez

Monday, June 1st, 2009

Name: Rudy Menendez
Nickname: @X42
Job title(s): Hollywood Draft, co-founder; Independent Internet Professional
Full-time in fantasy? Very much so. When not playing fantasy games, I’m probably building them.
Age: 43
Education: Accounting and Computer Science
Family status: 12 years married to my very understanding and loving wife Sharin and two wonderful kids Mia and Michael.
Favorite fantasy sport to play: Pro Football. But also thoroughly enjoy fantasy entertainment games during the football hiatus.
Favorite sport to watch: Pro Football. The NFL Sunday Ticket has come a long way since 1994.
Favorite team (any sport): Miami Dolphins. Although playing fantasy sports definitely makes it tough to root for your favorite team. I first realized this early on when I was at a Patriots/Dolphins game and I found myself rooting for Curtis Martin to score so I would win my match even though it meant the Dolphins would lose.
All-time favorite athlete: Barry Sanders. This is based purely on entertainment value. He even made the Lions fun to watch. ’nuff said.

Years playing fantasy: Since the 1994 NFL season. I was a replacement owner joining a group of veteran fantasy players. I proceeded with very little information on how to play, a copy of Fantasy Football Index magazine and the recommendations you’re not supposed to listen to from the other owners. With my very first pick (5th), I drafted Barry Sanders. I went on to win that season as a rookie, and, needless to say, I was hooked! What I learned about the game that year became the root for what would drive me to enter the fantasy industry.

I got my start in the fantasy industry when: I first launched Exit42.com for the 1996 NFL season. Exit42 was just one of handful of fantasy football game sites available during that time. I actually started building the site a year prior with the intention of simply moving my group of friends away from using faxes, weekly mailed standings reports and Friday 5 p.m. lineup deadlines. The site officially launched in 1996 and was free to join to anyone that stumbled upon it. About.com happened to do just that and published an article about the site. Soon after, with the site’s viral approach on membership, Exit42 quickly started gaining popularity. Within a year, a startup by the name of Fanball.com heard of the site and acquired it. I would eventually also join Fanball.com.

Since then, my fantasy résumé includes: Five years as CTO for Fanball.com since 2000, where I had the pleasure of working with a talented group of individuals of whom each provided their own special flair for fantasy sports, which helped make Fanball.com an early success. My early role involved the development of key products like Bid2Play auction-style game and Fanball Football Commissioner. Due to the success of such products, Fanball’s technology credibility helped land key partnerships with NASCAR and AOL. During this period, I was also responsible for assembling teams with diverse and unique skills for developing highly scalable Internet products — products that were uniquely architected for fantasy’s unusual high-peak traffic patterns. Alongside of building fantasy products, I also organized and led Fanball’s stats gathering and publishing business. This included architecting a state-of-the-art data-entry center in which data was gathered and served live to a user’s web browser faster than any other stat delivery method during that time.

In 2005, Fanball was sold to FUN Technologies, a publicly traded company. I remained on board and was promoted to CTO of their sports division. FUN Sports comprised Fanball, Don Best, Fantasy Cup and CDM Sports. In 2008, I took a break from fantasy sports to focus on fantasy entertainment. Since then I have been building Hollywood Draft, a fantasy entertainment venture.

Before fantasy, I worked in: I designed and implemented systems as an “Independent Computer Professional.” That’s right … that was before the Internet. I was an owner and consultant of a Florida-based company that specialized in creating customized accounting software solutions for vertical markets. I did this for eight years before switching my attention to fantasy sports.

Three questions

1) Can you describe your fantasy work that preceded your role with Fanball? Did the Fanball job lead to anything you have done since?
My fantasy work prior to Fanball was fully supporting Exit42.com. I launched the site in 1996 and managed every aspect of the site. From site development to customer service. It was quite the experience to manage all of it during it’s early stages.

Since my time with Fanball, I’ve had the opportunity to participate in consulting for some key players in the industry. There have also been a few interesting ventures presented but my early commitment with Hollywood Draft nixed the idea for any participation. Things have since settled and although I currently play a role in Hollywood Draft, I am also open to expanding my role in the fantasy industry.

2) How did the HollywoodDraft.com gig come about, and what do you honestly see as the potential for this area of play?
Hollywood Draft came about during a transition phase. I had completed my term with FUN Technologies and I didn’t want to immediately jump back into what I had been doing the last eight years with sports. Hollywood Draft was a growing startup that was in need of technology specialists that could build the site to scale. At the time, I was intrigued with the business potential of fantasy games for the media and entertainment sector. I offered to join with the option to participate in a larger role.

Unlike the current fantasy sports models, which offer services for free and pay, users participating in fantasy entertainment expect just free (for now). The key potential for fantasy entertainment is not unlike fantasy sports, which keep users on sites for extended periods of time. This is extremely valuable to advertisers looking for non-traditional advertising outlets (see ESPN). And depending on the entertainment sector — from gossip, TV, movies, news, etc. — you have the ability to tap into the key male and female demographics advertisers are looking for. The formula is really not much different than what TV networks have been using to monetize shows. And we are not far away from seeing home television sources (as we know it) being replaced with computers that can provide interactive content to match what you’re watching. We’ll soon be playing fantasy sports this way along with fantasy entertainment — a la news, shows, etc. When you take a look at the ratings shows like American Idol, Lost and others produce, it’s not far fetched to see acceptance for these types of games. I don’t expect fantasy entertainment to replace sports, but when a user’s favorite sports season is over, they may easily turn to fantasy entertainment, which just happens to be available year round.

At Hollywood Draft, we’re still working on the formula. Adding more of what user’s want and removing what doesn’t work. This is still very new and the landscape and branding is up for grabs. Hopefully, Hollywood Draft will one day play a part on how fantasy entertainment is played.

3) I kind of stumbled upon MyEmailDraft.com one day, which you and your brother say right on the site is a project you kind of threw together in some spare time. What have you done with it so far, and are there any particular goals for it?
The idea for the site came about during our Fantasy Movie Spring Draft. (That’s right, a fantasy movie league.) These types of drafts are normally held via email where one person starts the draft and then CC’s everyone else in the league with their pick and follows it up with “X is next!”. If you’ve ever participated in these type of drafts, you would agree that the email replies soon become unmanageable to track and difficult to read. So the purpose was to produce a site that was as easy to use as email but still provided a system to easily track all the picks — simple concept. The product even allows you to make your pick by replying to an e-mail notification just like you would have done if it were only managed via e-mail. The site was built using the GEM (Game Engine Manager) framework. It’s a framework that was originally designed and created in 2008 (by us) to support the rapid construction of scalable fantasy games. In fact, Hollywood Draft also shares the same base framework for its games.

MyEmailDraft.com is free to use, and since it’s launch we’ve seen a few drafts take place. No real advertising has been done other than posting on Twitter and Facebook. We’ve received some good initial feedback and suggestions. We plan on making a few enhancements before the football season and then making an effort to let users know about the site. We’ve also kicked around the idea of approaching fantasy sites that may feel their users could benefit from this kind of draft service and provide them with ability to strategically offer their products to their users during the draft. Basically allowing these sites to continually offer their branding and products for the extended period of time users participate in drafts. Nothing is set in stone yet, but we’re open to ideas with anyone who finds an interest in the product.

Bonus: People can find you listed as an “independent internet professional.” Can you please explain for us the subtle differences between that and “unemployed” (assuming there are differences)?
I’m assuming you are referring to my current “Professional Headline” on LinkedIn. I guess the easiest way to describe the headline is that it’s in reference to being a “Consultant” but it defines what area I consultant in. Too fancy? If we look up the word “unemployed”, we find the definition 1) Out of work, especially involuntarily; jobless. 2) Not being used; idle. Hmm … I’m currently voluntarily choosing to make my services available in this manner but you bring up an interesting question nonetheless. I guess one can say I’m choosing to be unemployed or that I’m choosy about the type of work I do. Is there a difference?

I think I need to update my LinkedIn professional headline at www.linkedin.com/in/rudymenendez to “Independent Internet Professional for Make Benefit Glorious Industry of Fantasy Sports and Entertainment”.

It is nice. I like.