FanWagon is currently a platform that allows sports fans to send each other gifts. The company was founded in Texas by entrepreneur Dexter Talbert. Since the emergence of Esports, the executive board within FanWagon has also grown; especially with the acquisition of Michael Pearce who is the former Head of Sports at Yahoo! Studios, and Chris Meza (co-founder, and Vice President).
The platform also offers its growing community of passionate sports (and Esports fans) a unique opportunity to place bets on the games that they enjoy the most.
Dexter Talbert, who is the founder and CEO of FanWagon, grew up 90 minutes outside of Dallas, Texas in the small town of Fairfield. Like most entrepreneurs, their path toward success is non-traditional, and Talbert wasn’t any different. He was first introduced to this world we know now as the tech world at the age of three in 1989. At the age of four, he began taking apart VCRs, using a multimeter, and modifying his toys. Dexter’s interest in technology would graduate into computer science. Before the era we know now as the video content era, thanks to companies such as Youtube and Instagram, Dexter began programming small video games as a hobby, reverse engineering game consoles such as the original PlayStation and Sega Dreamcast, in addition to building websites.
Due to his dedication to tech, his grades in high school were not as great as the administration, and he would have liked. His 9th-grade teacher, Mrs. Henson, responded positively to his talents and expertise, encouraging him to continue working on his core strengths while lifting his grades. She would allow using the computer in her classroom to improve his craft upon finishing his required work. Six years after graduating from high school, Dexter launched Dott Bizz Technology with the purpose of building high-end apps and web technology. It would later lead to what is now called FanWagon.
In November 2008, Dexter would meet his co-founder Chris Meza at a BBQ hosted by the rapper/Convoz CEO Chamillionaire. During this time Chris was highly involved in music and was collaborating with acts such as Lil Flip, Chalie Boy, Billy Cook, and Michael Watts of SwishaHouse. Chris also won best radio song in Corpus Christi in 2012.
Chris developed his passion for sports at a young age and grew up playing football and baseball. Around the age of 12 or 13, he would suffer a traumatic macular hole to his right eye. It required him to go through five different surgeries, but he is still legally blind in his right eye today. It would put a hold on his dream of playing either baseball or football.
In 2014, Chris would become a licensed realtor and still practices today, working the Central Texas area for Carbajal Realty, Inc. His experience in real estate allows him to communicate FanWagon’s company mission statement and manage daily complex business scenarios.
Before joining the executive team of FanWagon, Michael Pearce spent almost a decade at Yahoo! Studios as Head of Sports. He also is a board member of the NY festivals world’s best TV & film awards and a two- time Sports Emmy nominee. Pearce also had the opportunity to cover and work 6 Olympics, two world cups, and 7 Super Bowls with Yahoo. He is also responsible for launching Yahoo’s most successful original show “Fantasy Football Live.”
I recently had the opportunity to sit down with these three individuals to discuss why now is the right time to release FanWagon. Also, we tackled how FanWagon will help with the weekly and daily gifting process moving forward. The full interview can be seen below.
Dexter, can you talk about what it was like at the beginning stages of building your vision for FanWagon?
I used to be a huge ESPN fan before social media. I watched a lot of ESPN every morning; First Take with a screaming Stephen A. Smith and Skip Bayless. I used to want to debate with those guys. I wanted to get on the show and debate with them about sports just like I do with my friends. I envisioned a platform that could allow that type of dialogue, as there weren’t any prominent platforms that allowed that at the time. We had Facebook and Twitter as we do today, and those platforms were not designed for those types of discussions for sports. I wanted to be able to build something at the beginning, where just me and my friends could talk sports and debate. So eventually, that vision evolved as we started building it and we realized that there were other things that sports fans would want to do, for example, betting, accruing points, and bragging. There are so many different things that sports fans are interested in that we could address.
We wanted to be able to do that and at the same time build a business with that concept. In 2015, going into 2016, we changed the direction from being more of a social media type platform to be a betting competition type of platform with gifting. The transition would also allow us to focus on Esports which has started to grow in video games and gaming. It’s amazing how quickly that sector of gaming has caught on. We decided that would be a great business decision to align that platform with our formula of betting and fan competition as we incorporated Esports. FanWagon is one of the few companies right now that allows betting on Esports in a legal fashion. There are other competing platforms, but they’re only workable in Las Vegas, New Jersey and a couple of other places. Our vision is for mainstream fans to be able to be a part of it, which is impossible with other business structures as of today, but FanWagon is built to be completely legal and available in all 50 states of the United States.
How were you able to overcome adversity with your struggles in high school and how influential was Mrs. Henson?
It was a little bit of a struggle because I’m into computer science. This was back in 1998 and 1999; there were not very many computer science students that were as interested as I. The classrooms were not designed to cater to my strengths. Again, it was difficult with trying to keep my grades up and trying to be a kid. Also, participating in sports and everything else. It was difficult back then because I was just as passionate then as I am now. Having to grow through that time in my life was hard because I felt bottled up and I couldn’t do anything about it.
Mrs. Henson was able to see the desire in me. She knew that I had more to give as an individual and couldn’t give it in the way the education system was designed. Her classroom only featured one computer, and when I finished my work, Mrs. Henson would allow me to use it. She was aware I had a passion for computers and during this time I built my first website on a computer in her class. She was very instrumental in helping me continue that dream with technology. Nowadays it’s a lot easier, you know, but back then it just wasn’t normal for kids to build websites and technology regularly.
Chris, you have a natural passion for sports what intrigues you the most about FanWagon?
In 2008 and 2009, both Dexter and I participated in music for a concise time. We ran into each while working on the music scene and met at a Chamillionaire event. Once we met there, we never lost contact. I also knew that Dexter was a genius and he sold me on the concept for FanWagon from the beginning. I’m your typical Texas native, I started playing football at the age of four, or five, and I have played football ever since. A football was always in my truck or in my hand. Sports have always been a passion of mine too, and I used to love sitting down with my classmates in high school, and we would always argue between the Cowboys and the Giants because there was just that one person who was not a Cowboys fan, you know?? So, the discussion started with the Cowboys are going to win tonight, and no the Giants are. So, we would make a little bet on the game whether it was for a new hat at the mall or whatever we decided to bet. What intrigued me about FanWagon is that it caters directly to this atmosphere we all strongly enjoyed, and there’s a lot of sports fans that have a passion for sports like this too, but it just brings the guys together and allows us to build a healthy relationship. FanWagon presents a platform that I can use to keep up with someone that I went to school with that lives in New Jersey, and it allows us to rekindle that competitive relationship. FanWagon is for casual or aggressive betters, and that reaches out to passionate sports fans too.
You realized that you could not keep up with the speeds of sports after your freshman year. Do you feel being a part of FanWagon helps you stay close to the sports you loved to play as a young adult?
Absolutely! Some of my friends, and I grew up playing sports. In fact, one of them pitches for the Milwaukee Brewers right now. I was his catcher from little league up until I could not see out of my right eye during my freshman year. FanWagon keeps the fire lit as far as my passion for sports. It keeps the excitement of sports there as we are watching the games and we’re able to dive another depth into the whole experience while playing a game within a game on FanWagon.
Michael, what intrigued you about joining the FanWagon platform in the beginning?
I think what intrigued me and what caught my attention was the social aspect of FanWagon where it really engaged the fans. On the level that they were already engaging on, but there was really no platform available in this space. Even at Yahoo, we had the engineers, the product managers, the writers, everybody together and there was always a little sort of in-house competition going on that involved not just fantasy but also straight up games. It started off with who would win and started breaking out in the process. Like how many personal fouls would be called in the Raiders game or how many yards would his running back get in this game, and how many touchdowns by halftime.
Those kinds of little side bets were going on all the time. It was not an exchange of money that people were after; it was for bragging rights. It was for a trophy that we would give each other at the end of the week and pass it around. I knew that kind of interaction was already going on amongst fans, and I knew that what Dexter and Chris had developed was the way to take it public and really add a way for people to engage in something that they were already participating in and bring it to a platform. So, it’s the old classic gentleman’s bet in a public format.
I love that FanWagon filled a gap between legalized sports betting, and what was going on in offices and bars all over America. That is what intrigued me and the one thing I think I learned during my time at Yahoo! sports was to trust myself during the process of developing the shows and developing the content. I had a knack for what users were doing and wanting from the platform.
How do you think FanWagon will help the daily and weekly gifting process amongst friends?
I think it can play in their daily fantasy game since interest has risen so quickly. There is proof that the model is changing for what people want in fantasy from a weekly standpoint. Especially regarding football because you have the weekly season challenge and you must wait to see who the champion is before there is a payout. The daily games really make a difference because there are more opportunities to hit on something and I think FanWagon is more in the realm of what the daily game brings for a sports fan and their passion.
There is an immediate ability to track the games live and trash talk each other while the game is in session. So, there’s interaction all the way through the game as well as an immediate pay off afterward. From there it is up to you and your friend to determine what the wager is and how it’s going to get paid off.
So, it’s immediate, and there might be opportunities for us to expand into small groups and group betting. But right now, it’s peer to peer experience. It’s really satisfying in a way that the daily game plays out and what Dexter and Chris have done is special. It needs to be talked about and implemented not just in sports because this platform can work for anything.
Why do you feel this is the best time for FanWagon to flourish?
I feel like this is the best time right now during the off-season for sports. There are these organizations who have empty stadiums and arenas. They’re trying to make money during the summer and having major ESports events. They had the overwatch finals at the Barclay Center, and it was packed out. Right now, it is a collision of both gaming and sports all at once. There is no direction for how these two worlds can exist together. I know the Houston Rockets’ owner Tilman Fertitta, is interested in E-sports and there are a couple of other owners in the NBA and NFL who have ESports teams now. However, that is very confusing to the typical fan, and the average individual. They are being lumped together, and they do not go together. Our company was built to simplify the two for the traditional sports fan. You can have that same passion and bring that to the E-Sports world easily. If you are a gamer and the environment that you’re used to in gaming, whether it be Xbox live, PlayStation or whatever environment, you’re used to that environment. We have built a platform that makes it easy to be in the traditional sports space. So that’s a very hard thing to do, cramming these two industries together. That is what they’re trying to do to make it work. Well, we feel like we have a platform that can make that work well together.
Let me just add one more thing. It is also the right time because of the evolution of the online culture. Where fans of sports are much more likely to stream games, watch games and participate in the chat and the social function of sports fans, from wherever they are rather than going to Vegas to participate in sports betting. However, it’s going to be accessible in all 50 states, assuming that’s where we go with the legalization. There’s still an ongoing culture shift where people can engage from their phones and connect with their friends, and the rest of the world.
Sports betting laws are beginning to change state to state how do you think the company as a collective can be the pioneers in this space?
I believe that we can be a pioneer in this space because of the way we’ve done it with gifting. We are focusing on gifting as we roll out the FanWagon platform. Gifting is legal in all 50 states in the United States, as well as, other parts of the world, and that is where we are working right now. The legalities surrounding gambling is in limbo right now. It is legal in Vegas, but there are regulations that you must abide by. If I’m correct at the time as I’m speaking today, I believe eight other states are almost ready to legalize gambling. They have regulations, and some of them are steep and will require you to have a license with costs over $3,000,000. It will just depend on what the requirements are that each state agrees upon. It is an issue that no one has solved at this time. When they do figure it out and if FanWagon did not exist, the user or the casual person would have to learn all these regulations individually because there is no blueprint at this time. What makes us different is we already work in all 50 states through gifting at this time, whenever those laws change we are prepared to convert gifting into betting.
In the next couple of years do you plan on opening other offices in Dallas or any other cities around the nation?
Yes! We just opened one here in North Houston. I’m thinking about opening one in LA and one in Florida. LA is a place where sports is very prominent. Florida is also somewhere I have thought about along with Los Angeles.
Have you thought about opening one in Dallas?
Yes! There will be multiple locations in Texas and Dallas is a location we would like to open an office.
Do you feel that your company can shift the landscape away from Las Vegas in sports betting like Amazon and Netflix did regarding Blockbuster and retail?
I believe so and the reason why is because when I look at gambling, I must stop and think like what am I looking at? How do I do this? That’s too much. There are too many questions. What we are doing here at FanWagon is when a person picks up their phone to download the app, we want it to be a simple process just like other platforms such as Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter. We want this to be user-friendly and something that everyone will enjoy. This is something that we have been focusing on since we brought Mike into the group, his experience has really helped us move our platform in that direction.
Mike: Let me add that we’re not here to take down the Vegas books, but I think we can be disruptive in this space. What I mean by that is there is a ceiling and away with sports books and professional gambling. You will have to be successful to be good at it, or you’re going to lose. There are so many more horror stories about people in gambling than positive stories. What we want to do is to change that environment and be able to be appealing to the casual fan and engage with people. Providing a friendly betting environment that does not require you to go get professional advice or you’re going to lose your shirt so to speak.
Chris: I don’t feel like you see a lot of smiles in Vegas and we want people to have fun. Watching the tables on ESPN, there are lots of serious faces. It’s exactly like Mike said, we want it to be fun and simple. Those are the two things we want to provide. When they come to FanWagon, they won’t have to worry about complicated things like overs and unders to participate.