How Underdog Fantasy is Optimizing Onboarding, Building Community, and Increasing Retention with Braze
Founded in 2020 with headquarters in Brooklyn, New York, Underdog Fantasy is a leading fantasy sports company. I spoke with CMO Liz Keevil and CRM Manager Colette Lohr to learn how Braze supports the company’s onboarding, activation, and retention strategies across email, mobile push, and more. Liz and Colette shared how they use microsegments to engage with their users, the newsletter strategy they’ve been experimenting with, how they optimize their onboarding flows, and why implementing Braze early is a great strategy for other early-stage start-ups.*
Tell us a little bit about Underdog Fantasy. What makes you different from other fantasy apps?
Liz: Underdog Fantasy is the fastest growing fantasy sports and real gaming company ever.
We have two main products. First, we have our drafting product, and then also we have Pick ’Em, which is higher/lower picks. For example: “Will Aaron Rogers throw higher or lower than 300 yards in his next game?” It’s really simple and straightforward. A big part of our strategy is that simplicity, because we think that we can not only get gaming users from other operators, but potentially convert casual sports fans into gaming users as well.
You're about two and a half years into your start-up journey. Can you speak to the growth you’ve been experiencing?
Liz: I think there were about ten of us at the time I joined and I believe we're over 160 right now, so we've grown incredibly quickly in those two years.
When I joined, about six months after the company was founded, the first thing I did was set up a Braze contract. We started spending marketing dollars a year ago, so all of that acquisition essentially happened in one year. Our growth is a pretty big deal just because this is a very expensive space to be in.
So we had to figure out a way to acquire users on a more efficient level. Our product was built to be sticky and we've incorporated a sophisticated referral process. It's a big part of our onboarding process, this emphasis on referring a friend, and it’s the most efficient way to grow the user base because it's cheaper than any other channel that we would have.
I would imagine that if they're referring a friend, it also improves the experience for them too, right?
Liz: Absolutely. We've made the product as shareable as possible. That's something that we've been really focused on the entire design process when we're thinking about the product and then also with all of our messaging as well. We're very focused on the fact that this is a community—and when we're talking about sending emails or pushes, we want our users to think about it as something they can enjoy with their friends.
Can you tell us about the evaluation process and how you ended up choosing Braze?
Liz: I’ve actually been using Braze since it was called Appboy back in the day! So I knew that it was a platform I was very comfortable with. And I knew that the engineers that I was working with also were relatively comfortable with Braze. So the thought of having to go through some complicated integration with unforeseen factors was not an option, and we knew what to expect with Braze.
The simplest time for us to implement Braze was at the very beginning when I could give it my full attention. I had three two-hour meetings with the CTO and we just knocked it out. It's much harder to do that when we're bigger. We've also built all of our processes around Braze as opposed to having to incorporate Braze into our processes.
I'm a big believer in getting it out of the way, setting it up early.
What has it been like to learn Braze for the first time, Colette?
Colette: In previous roles with different platforms, building lists, pulling lists…that was such a huge part of the job. And now that's one of the easiest things in Braze. So I felt like onboarding went a lot quicker than I thought it would because it truly was very easy to use versus what I'm used to.
The documentation really helps, and I also joined Braze Bonfire. I use it as a source for answering questions that I can't figure out with Google and that's been extremely helpful. Additionally, I'm starting to do the Liquid [personalization] trainings, and so far those have been super helpful.
How have you started to uplevel your usage of Braze now that you’re onboarded and fully owning CRM for Underdog?
Colette: In comparison to when I first started, we offer a lot more sports. Our Pick ‘Em offerings have grown so much since my first month, so there's a lot more segmentation opportunity. Now, instead of sending just one email and one push a day, I can send several to super-targeted lists—which, as Liz and I have been talking about, is the future of marketing.
We've also built out a newsletter that we're super excited about that takes a lot of content that comes from our content team. So we have tons of things to feature.
How has Braze helped Underdog work more effectively and efficiently?
Liz: In the beginning when we were really lean and very focused on growth, just the fact that Braze was so easy to use allowed me to spend more of my time focusing on the growth aspect of the company and still maintain a pretty robust retention flow with minimal amount of my time. I think that was just like absolutely critical in the early days of the company. But retention is very important and as we've been fundraising and talking externally, the value of our customers is something that really sets us apart from a lot of other competing operators at similar stages in our space.
We only have one person managing our CRM right now, which is pretty insane and incredibly efficient. One of the great things about working at Underdog is the amount of autonomy that everybody gets and the amount of trust that we put in the people who are leading their department.
Colette is the queen of CRM and what she says goes and that's the culture that we've established here. I think, also, that can be the case because of how successful Braze has been in terms of converting our users and maintaining that value.
Do you have a North Star metric that you're always driving toward?
Liz: As a company, the North Star metric is the amount of new first-time depositors that we can get. This is something Colette is very heavily involved in because there's so much friction in that onboarding process. A lot of that increase that we've seen in our registration deposit rate comes directly from the emphasis that we put on our onboarding.
What has been your strategy for optimizing that first-deposit experience?
Collete: The biggest factor there is that we've built out some Canvas flows. So we actually just built out a new one a few weeks ago where I have it split in two different directions. If you have deposited, great. You'll get pushed to the next level: Now we want you to play. But if you haven't deposited yet, we keep pinging you with different messaging over different channels—push versus email—over a week-long period. And that has increased our deposit rate quite a bit.
As you’ve been rolling out new messaging strategies, how has that impacted your growth as a business?
Liz: Comparing us to other operators in the industry, we do have a higher registration-to-deposit rate across the board, which is a massive metric for us. And not just because of the way that we've designed the product, but also because there's a pretty constant flow of communication. Hopefully, the user feels engaged with us year round. So I say our retention is just very strong and it's not just because of the product. It's because of the efforts that we're making on the marketing side.
Are there any other highlights or campaigns that you're really excited about that you’re experimenting with?
Colette: With Braze, I’m able to identify our most engaged users and target people that have purchased multiple times. From there, if a user clicks on the newsletter, they’ll continue receiving it—and if they open, but don’t click, we’ll send it every other week. It’s great to have this ability to refine our newsletter audience to ensure that we're communicating at the right cadence, depending on how engaged our users are.
I think another big one has been being able to target that 30-day churned user with whatever special we're promoting. So every time we do a special promotion, I can send that same email to several different groups but tweak the subject line or the messaging to be relevant for them. It's really easy to iterate. And I constantly see results across those audience groups and it's just so easy to duplicate that.
Liz: We also have an internal news team and all they do is break news across all the different sports that we offer. The timeliness of the news they produce is really impactful in the gaming industry because, you know, even a few minutes can make a big difference in terms of lines moving. And our news has turned into this really independently valuable aspect of our business. One thing that Colette’s been working on is a way for the news team to send a push as soon as it breaks and that will be done from the back-end of our site, as opposed to them having to log into Braze and create a campaign.
What else is coming up for Underdog Fantasy? Any exciting news you’d like to share?
Liz: We're launching our Sports Book sometime in 2023 and it's pretty exciting. And we are announcing our Series B fundraising on Tuesday [July 24, 2022]!
Colette: Braze is going to be a huge part of promoting that new product. When it launches, we're starting out in one state. So I'm excited to build that out in Braze. And as we get going and as we learn and iterate, then I'll be creating more automated campaigns. Braze is going to be a huge part of promoting that to our users because we're gonna want our fantasy users to give Sports Book a try.
What advice would you give to other CRM teams when they're considering using or implementing Braze?
Liz: Do it early.
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Ashley Christiano is a Principal Customer Marketing Manager, Global SMB based out of Los Angeles. When she’s not helping customers get more out of Braze, she’s probably sorting her books by color, writing horoscopes, or hanging out with her cat Gracie and dog Louise.