Ep. 31: Creating Value First with Matthew Benson
In each episode of The GameDay Playbook presented by FanFood, Rob Cressy discusses how leaders are transforming the sports and live entertainment industry by leveraging technology to enhance the fan experience and operate gameday more efficiently.
Matthew Benson, Founder & CEO of eFuse, joins Rob Cressy to talk about the world of ESports plus tech and startup life. What is it like being in a buzzword market? How does he deal with low moments of entrepreneurship? How did he find mentors? Who is building the ESports infrastructure? How is he building an ESports community and engaging fans? Why is creating value first so important to his business?
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Rob Cressy: (00:04)
Welcome to The Gameday Playbook presented by FanFood. A discussion around how leaders are transforming the sports and live entertainment industry by leveraging technology to enhance the fan experience and operate game day more efficiently. I'm your host Rob Cressy and joining me today is Matthew Benson, founder, and CEO of eFuse. Matthew, super excited to have you on the show. Can you give a quick overview of who you are and what you do?
Matthew Benson (00:39)
Yeah, so as you said, founder and CEO of eFuse. I founded eFuse in August of 2018. Prior to that was working in venture capital at a firm here in Columbus, Ohio. We were investing in early-stage tech companies, so we had that passion for entrepreneurship and tech early on. I also had a passion for gaming and in August 2018 it made sense and, and jumped ship to start eFuse.
Rob Cressy: (01:04)
All right. So while we're going to Jim about today is a combination of Esports, tech, and success in the first thing that I want to start with is actually what tech and startup life is like. But more importantly, you're in a buzzword market. E-Sports is so hot, hot, hot. So how do you blend the two of those together? Because as someone who has bootstrapped the company for the last seven years, I am very acutely aware of what it takes to run a company, as does everyone at FanFood. It's one of those things where from the outside everything looks like puppy dogs and rainbows, but in actuality, it's not that easy. So take us a little bit more into your journey.
Matthew Benson (01:51)
Yeah, for sure. I mean, again, talking about how I came up with the eFuse, grew up a gamer, played all the time, absolutely loved it, was fascinated by how gaming could unify people and break down barriers. And for me, that was the really fascinating part. And then combine that with tech those two meshings together were really intriguing for me. So grew up a gamer, go to university, have an opportunity to actually research e-sports and video games, develop a 180-page research report and sort of fall in love with it on a deeper level, probably learned more than I wanted to know about the industry. But really enjoyed it. So after graduating from OU Athens, Ohio went I worked at the venture capital firm. Always knew that I wanted to jump ship and again, gaming was the passion one and two to do that in August of 2018 so left the venture firm to found eFusw. And in essence, over the last year and a half, we've had a lot of highs, a lot of lows when six months without having much tangible progress and the fundraise or building the product. And then around 2019 started our seed round of funding, raise that funding, build a great team. We were able to recruit some great members to join me. December 10th, we launch our early access or had already launched our early access version of the site. Let in around 23,000 people, which was great. And then on, on January 2nd of 2020, we opened up to the masses, but that, that year and a half timeline were again, a lot of highs and lows early on. I didn't really know what I was supposed to be doing. I mean, it's a lot of just jumping in and trying to, to build it on the way down. Build the airplane on the way down. So learned a lot, had a lot of great mentors that really helped push me and urge me in the right direction. And for me, it's always been about let's learn as fast as we can and then act even faster. So that's sort of been the narrative over the last year and a half for me and for the team.
Rob Cressy: (03:53)
So I really enjoy that and it's very relatable. So I'm curious when things weren't good, how did you stick with it? Because when I look at entrepreneurship, so many people have ideas and they say, I'm going to give this a run for its money, but are they really all in when all of a sudden they realize, holy crap, revenue isn't coming in. Now I've got to figure out funding what in the world? I don't have a perfectly baked product. So take us into the harder part of this because I think these are the important lessons that come. It's not just about entrepreneurship, it's about anything that you'd want to build on your own.
Matthew Benson (04:31)
Yeah. For me it was, and I've always been this way. If I'm going to, if I'm going to be successful at something, for me it takes jumping all the way in. So I, I was comfortable. I had a great job in venture capital. I was learning a lot. I was having fun. I liked my coworkers, but again, I always had the itch and I knew that if I didn't jump ship and scratched that itch, who knows where it would have led me. So when I jumped ship for me, what rooted me and is a light I think led to our early success has been consistency and a routine for me. It's waking up early, it's working out. It's a number of different things, but it's that consistency in my daily routine that the levels of me. So when there is a high it brings me down. When there is a low, it keeps me, it doesn't let me go too low. And then also having a support system, again, the mentors for me have been absolutely huge. Again, didn't know what I was getting myself into, but it was the willingness of the people around me to give me that insight, encourage me, can be pushing forward.
Rob Cressy: (05:33)
So now you are speaking my language. So let's get to this. How did you even build a routine to have consistency? Because when I look at my own journey right there, one of the things that's never taught is actually the things that you need to be successful. We get taught a lot of theory, a lot of PowerPoint, a lot of these do these things. But at no point in college did anyone say, Here's how to wake up earlier than mindset around it. Here's the importance of fitness, meditation, journaling, visualization, like the actual success habits that if you were to audit the most successful people in life, these are the traits and habits that come all the time. So how did you learn that?
Matthew Benson: (06:17)
I think you just hit it right on the head right there. I audited the successful people or the people I perceived to be successful around me and for me, I mean, it's been a lot of trial and error even in that life too. I mean it's the same thing with startups. I mean it's trying something. If it doesn't work, let's audible and go to something else. So for me started with weight. Men trying to decrease my sleep schedule from getting eight hours, eight to nine hours to get seven and then okay, I'm feeling pretty good around seven and let's try and get to six and right now I'm stuck at six but I'm trying to get down to five and a half, five. But then after waking up, what does that look like? Is it best for me to go work out right away or do I need to eat something? What does that look like? So a lot of experimenting and ultimately it's allowed me to define that rhythm.
Rob Cressy: (07:05)
One thing that I think was very influential for me when we'll transition to mentors is podcasts and books. one of the things that really helped me was actually listening to Tim Ferriss's podcast. Why? Because he's a human Guinea pig and after just listening to it, just unconsciously, I started to experiment on myself a lot more similar to what you are do doing there. I do a lot of the similar things that you do in terms of waking up. I've got a tip that is an absolute game-changer for how I did it. So way back in the day, I was waking up at, let's call it 7:30, I'm working a nine to five job that I don't like. One of those working for the weekend. Leaving seven minutes early, showed up, seven minutes late, clocking in, you know Peter from office space, but then all of the sudden entrepreneurship happens and you realize like, crap, man, everybody wakes up super early. You're like, what in the world am I going to do? So I realized that all you have to do is make progress. So how in the world do you make progress at waking up earlier? And you know what? I realized you can do this in micro-moments. So here's the simplest way that you can wake up earlier. Wake up three minutes earlier for the next week. So I went from waking up at 7:30 to 7:27 for one week, and then that Monday came and I was like, huh, I didn't notice those three minutes that are missing. Right? That is crazy. And I was like, what if I shave off four more minutes? So now all of a sudden I'm waking up at 7:23 in the morning. And between three, four, one and seven minutes at a time, I've shaved off from waking up at 7:30 to as early as 4:58 in the morning.
Matthew Benson: (09:04)
That is incredible. So yeah, I think the mistake I made early on was I was like, oh, I'm going to do two hours right off the bat, and that'll just wipe you. But that's interesting. I've not heard that strategy before.
Rob Cressy: (09:15)
And like you guess what? I tried the exact same thing. So I was like, you know what I'm going to do? I'm going to work out first thing in the morning, just like all those CEO's do. I'm going to set my alarm for five in the morning, so I'm going to go from 7:30 to 5:30 and you know how long that lasted one week because it was terrible. Absolutely terrible. Because your brain was in such shock and you're dealing with so much resistance and there's the voice in your head. Hard enough for anyone to get out of bed when you're all comfortable and everything, and now you're going to be doing things that you're not used to, but gradual change and that's the thing that I think is so important to a success mindset. And certainly when looking at how did you get from zero to where you are now and overcome the objections and the obstacles is you continue to take action and action is just small moments forward no matter what. You don't go from zero to building a gigantic e-sports company overnight. It's deliberate small actions one over another. So let's get to the mentorship side of things because we'll often hear Rob, Matthew, how did you find a mentor? For me it was simple books and podcasts because those are two things that I could immediately learn from any other person out there of what did they do, what mistakes should I not do? And while all this is going on, I'll cultivate an in-person network, but books and podcasts are always there to mentor you. So I'm curious for you, where did you find mentorship?
Matthew Benson: (10:48)
I think that that was a piece of it for me. I learned much better when having a conversation and hearing experiences rather than reading. I've gotten to audiobooks here recently, but for me it was, let's see where I can plant the seed and then maybe also harvest that seed over the course of time. So when I was in school, a lot of what I did was I went to almost all the alumni events and met people that were in the industry and some of those seeds that I planted in those conversations that I had ended up sort of compounding, and those people became mentors of mine, whether they are in the venture space, in the business space, marketing, et cetera. So for me, it was let's just have a bunch of relationships, plant a bunch of seeds, have a bunch of conversations, and then see where that could lead down the line. But I, again, I, I would reiterate the podcasts and books where I've also been big for me too.
Rob Cressy: (11:41)
And so that we can make sure on this, any mentor I've ever had, I've never said, will you be my mentor? It is more what you said on the relationship side of things. After the fact, you look back on it and you're like, this person is a mentor for me. But it's one of those things where you build a relationship and a relationship starts by having one conversation and then maybe that allows you to have another conversation and say, hey, Matthew, by the way, if I have a question, someone's you care by, shoot you an email or one that I did is there was a guy who ended up becoming a mentor for me that we would go to lunch once a quarter or so. It was just a check-in where, hey, let's just go and talk. And guess what? They ended up becoming a client of mine all through a three-year mentorship where he saw me at zero and then all of a sudden they got to the point where they're like, holy crap, we need exactly what you do.
Matthew Benson: (12:40)
That's awesome. Yeah. And for me it was when I'm going into those conversations, don't have the mindset of I need to get something out of this. Just go in, build a genuine, authentic relationship and try to provide value first where, where it's applicable. If I could help in some random task with one of these people, I would offer up those skills. So for me, provide value, build authentic, genuine relationships and don't think about it as this is going to be something for me down the line. And that's, that's been true and fruitful for me.
Rob Cressy: (13:12)
Alright, so let's move this past the mentorship side and now under the relationship side of this because you just said a very important thing, provide value to others. And that can be a very buzzwordy thing. Oh, let's all provide value. But how do you tangibly make that happen? So here's sort of a little trick for what I do is I'm very active on using LinkedIn to build relationships because I want to have as many conversations as I can possible. And I usually start things out, say, Hey, here's what I would like to do. I would love to hear a little bit more about what you've got going on. I'll let you know what I've got cooking, we'll see if there's an opportunity to help each other or collaborate. And then by the end of every call I always ask them, Hey, is there anything I can help you with? And you know what usually is the response, man, that's so awesome. Thank you for asking. Always remember that at the end of your call, was there anything that I can do to help you? You got to explicitly ask it. You can't just let it be passive, vocalize it.
Matthew Benson: (14:11)
No, I think that's spot on. And in one, it's a little thing for me too, but always sending a summary of the conversation and making sure it's as concise and I like, I love bullet points, giving that to them right after because then they don't have to do the work of thinking back. They can refer back to it. It's a little thing, but it creates a record or a history of that conversation that you can point you down the line and they can point you out in the line. So another little small thing.
Rob Cressy: (14:36)
So I have written down every conversation that I've had for seven years with every single person, including as we're going right now, I'm writing down notes of this podcast of the things that we talk about today. The show notes easier, but here's why. Because think about this from a success standpoint. So you and I have a conversation. So I can't rely on myself to remember everything because I might have anywhere from one to eight conversations with new people every single day, five days a week at least. So all of a sudden I'm looking at 20 to 50 conversations a week with people. How in the world am I supposed to keep Matthew Benson from Matthew from somewhere? it's just too much there. So when you write down the notes, as it happens, you're listening to it and then you're writing it and then you're seeing it. So now you've just created three touchpoints. Whereas most people are only gonna have one. They're just going to hear that thing. So then you touch on a very important thing. You go back and say, let me look at my notes and write a summary of scent conversation because guess what? The other person probably didn't write down the notes or they might not remember who you were there. And then to take this a step forward, when we have our second, third and fourth calls, guess what is right there? All of the notes have everything that we talked about. So I'd be like, Matthew, my man, let's talk about Ohio University or how's Columbus going? And you're able to get very specific and I think that's a key. So when someone says, I'm from Columbus, I have a dog, I did this for vacation, I am literally writing down every single thing that you say so that I can recall it the next time I talk to you.
Matthew Benson: (16:30)
It's huge. And one other thing that I do to sort of add onto that is on my phone when I get an introduction, so if you were to introduce me to somebody, I'll put on my phone who made that introduction to always go back and thank them for that relationship. Sort of a running list of this web of relationships and it's been really cool to me to refer back on as well.
Rob Cressy: (16:48)
Here's another tip along these lines. What I also do is at the bottom I'll put something that says action. So knowing that we have so many notes, if I'm going to recall it, I might not talk to you for three months. I might talk to you in a week from now, but I want to remember what this is. So I put an action. I think this is action in a few bullet points. It may say cool guy, nothing or could say follow up with Matthew in one week. I schedule that in my calendar. Awesome. We have an opportunity to talk about podcasting and by putting that there, it's a very simple summary that you can give for yourself to make sure that you continue to close the loop because this is the next part of relationship building where people oftentimes fail is we have the conversation and there can even be action items, but neither of us ends up doing it and then the deal ends up falling through. Remember, not everything is finding funding, but relationships build over time. So by putting a little action thing there, it's a very simple recall for me to say, Aw man cool dude, like this no media item, but stay in touch.
Matthew Benson: (17:55)
Yeah, I think that that's spot on. I liked that a lot. How long have you been doing that?
Rob Cressy: (17:59)
Matthew Benson: (18:01)
Okay. What was the moment? What was the moment that clicked?
Rob Cressy: (18:07)
It's one of those things where when I audited success habits of the most successful people, just somewhere along the lines, note-taking just was in there. I've got a background in sales among other things. So most salespeople are used to writing things in a CRM because you're trying to write down notes for deals and stuff. But it's sort of evolved. So literally this routine and consistency that I've built for myself, it all comes from somewhere else. Literally, a bazillion other people have become this mindset of what I have and what I've adopted. And it's something that very few other people know. And quite frankly, I'm going to sell my Evernote's an account to someone to be like, by the way, you want seven years of startup marketing and contact creation goodness, here's everything. So now that we've talked about sort of how you got to where you were and sort of some success habits. And I really enjoyed that because hopefully, I know some actionable things can come from that. Let's now talk about the e-sports world and the infrastructure within it. So it's a hot industry all for all intents and purposes. It's a new industry. It's learning on all sides of things from the brand level, the fan engagement level, the media and content creation level, the data level, but also from an infrastructure level because at the scale in which e-sports is operating at right now, I have to imagine things can get broken very quickly, especially if you consider the number of users or viewers and the length of time that all of this is going on. So talk to us a little bit about the infrastructure around e-sports.
Matthew Benson: (19:56)
Yeah, no, I think it's a fair point and that's really where we saw the opportunity is, and it's probably an overused term, but the esports and video games are the wild wild West right now. There's a lot of people throwing money in a lot of organizations, members individuals coming to the table wanting to be involved. But what's lacking is the network to connect all of them and to bolster up over time and create that infrastructure, that backend system that allows those relationships to exist. If you think about the business world, you just alluded to it a few moments ago, you live on LinkedIn, it's a great way for you to build relationships with people you've never met. The problem with gaming in that sense is the cultural nuances are very different than that of traditional business. So what we've been able to do that eFuse is in a little bit of a selfish plug here is create a network that enables all of these different organizations, these gamers, these types of individuals that are in the industry to come together in one place, have business collaborations, but also not lose the cultural nuances that are unique to gaming. Because with those two things, it's really important to, to build that network and with that network, you can then put tools on top of it to enable the recruitment to fulfill opportunities, the communication tools to network with individuals in the industry. So again, a selfish plug, but that's where we're really what we're trying to do with eFuse.
Rob Cressy: (21:22)
Alright. So you mentioned come together in one place and it's something that I've heard often throughout the years of my sports startup journey, the number of sports or e-sports startups that say, Oh, we're going to bring everyone together to live on this thing, to make it the thing. And in theory, sounds amazing. The problem is people have the attention span of peanut and they're stupid. So getting them to believe that your thing is the thing is extremely hard because we can barely get somebody to download something or look at an image nonetheless. Oh man, he uses the thing. So talk to me about coming into one place and how you guys plan on doing that because you wouldn't be the first one to try and make it the place.
Matthew Benson: (22:14)
You're absolutely right. I mean it's, it's a pain in the ass too, to build an ecosystem like that. You can look at it also as a marketplace, for us. So on one end of the marketplace, you have all these new opportunities, these opportunities like scholarships, like jobs, internships, tournaments, et cetera, that these organizations are providing. But on the flip side, you've got the talent, you've got the aspiring gamers, the aspiring professionals and if you don't have one or the other, the marketplace of the ecosystem isn't healthy and the ecosystem doesn't survive. So that's really the approach that we've taken is before we even launched this platform, it was important for us to go get those relationships, build those partnerships. So on day one, when you come to eFuse, there are opportunities available, there is talent available to fulfill your opportunities. So the way we approach it is really twofold is one is through those partnerships I just talked about. So going in and signing a deal with a university or a business or a brand. And then on the flip side, how do we get the talent to come and our opinion it's the influencers and the creators and the high-level gamers in this industry that drive the future. So it was important to go get that buy-in from the biggest names, to then come on to eFuse, to not only say this is a place that we're putting our time and energy towards because this is important for the longevity of the ecosystem, but also for them to then promote it more publicly on their other social media. But again, at the end of the day, it's really hard to steal not only the attention away, but then to build that marketplace for those two entities to occur. But that's how we're approaching it.
Rob Cressy: (23:51)
So let's then talk about a combination of community building in fan engagement because if you're saying one place, ecosystem or marketplace, immediately for me, my mind goes, well that's a community. If you're going to have a community, you're gonna need to engage them and you might not be a sports team or you can see the most logical way for fan engagement. The way that I see the marketing world is that the brands who are going to succeed are the ones who are going to invest in community building and fan engagement, not just by what I'm selling. Because right now everything has become commoditized. You can buy anything, anywhere at any time. So now why would I give a crap to buy or hear from you when I can get that from anyone? So where do you guys fall on thinking of this as building a community and then engaging those fans?
Matthew Benson: (24:45)
Yeah. So there's, there are two things that we talk about every single day and one is validation. So can we get the big players to come in and say, we're putting our stamp of approval on it? And that's from all sides of the ecosystem. And the second thing is, can we achieve by reality? Can we get the word out to enough people to get a critical mass? And I want to give one example in a campaign that we're currently running that I think is aimed at this. And it's aimed at being different and doing things in a different way. And it's our for the gamers campaign. So in essence, this campaign is 52 weeks, 52 influencers, 52 life-changing opportunities. So what we're doing as a company is actually putting up money to sponsor an influencer. So let's just take Keemstar who's one of the ones we've, we made public at this point. We're sponsoring a scholarship on behalf of Keemstar to where he can give that back directly to the community, the fan base. They could be a scholarship and it could give a kid who's aspiring to be the next Keemstar an opportunity to further their career and take their passion and turn it into a profession. So it's a really cool way for us to engage the biggest names in the industry, provide value to an up and coming individual, but then use the site as the mechanism that's actually facilitating that recruitment and that application process. So again, it goes back to we've got the validation from the industry. Oh gee, we've got the vitality and their promotion. But then we're also validating that on the back end with our system and giving back to the community. So again, to that community building touchpoint, it's huge because we want to showcase day one that was for the gamers. That's where the name originates and that we're investing in, into the community.
Rob Cressy: (26:27)
What I love about that is it introduces them into the ecosystem and it ends up serving you because the person that is getting the opportunity from the influencer is now someone that is becoming part of what do and part of your community at the earliest level possible, which is where brand loyalty is going to happen. So the way that you build a community, which Oh, by the way, is a longterm relationship and you're saying, let's get someone as early as we can in said process and bring them up through the ranks to give them the opportunity. Because remember, we want to be like the influencer. How do we be like the influencer? Here's the opportunity, here's the ecosystem.
Matthew Benson: (27:08)
Spot on and that's the conversation that we had internally and that's how we think about it is how can we create, again going back to our original conversation of creating value first, that's what we're doing on eFuse. eFuse today as a free to use the platform and it's all about "let's give resources for the next generation to take their passion and turn it into a profession." You get the stamps of approvals from the industry OGs and provide opportunities for, for that ecosystem to build.
Rob Cressy: (27:32)
Matthew, I really enjoyed this conversation with you. Is there anything that I didn't ask you what you think would be beneficial for the audience to know?
Matthew Benson: (27:43)
Yeah. If you're interested in gaming whatever form, whether you're the casual gamer, the aspiring pro, or just a business professional that that doesn't know a whole lot about the industry yet, I encourage you to visit eFuse, a selfish plug. Again, it's free to use platform. It's a great way for you to get involved and understand that the demographics of the community and we're for the gamers. So come and join us and I really appreciate your taking the time to have me on. This has been fun and this was a great conversation. I didn't know it would take that startup twist, but it's always good to talk about routines and the fun of the startup life.
Speaker 3: (28:17)
Well, awesome. That's how we get down. So we already touched on a little bit, but Matthew, where can everybody connect with you?
Matthew Benson: (28:23)
You can find me on eFuse @MJB. But you can also find me on Twitter as @Matthew__Benson and then Matthewjbenson on Instagram.
Rob Cressy: (28:33)
All about that double underscore life, huh?
Matthew Benson: (28:37)
Somebody else took it. I wanted the though single underscore, but too late.
Rob Cressy: (28:40)
You're the first double underscore I've ever heard of.
Matthew Benson: (28:44)
It's tragic. It really is. It's a pain in the butt.
Rob Cressy: (28:47)
I can imagine. And as always, I would love to hear from you about this episode. Did it cause you to think or take action? I'm curious to know about your morning routines and habits. How have you cultivated them or can you share with us some things that have very much served you? You can hit up fan food on Twitter @fanfoodondemand, on Instagram @fanfoodapp or on LinkedIn. And as always, you can hit me up on all social media platforms @robcressy