How to build an independent fantasy sports company

An interview with the creator of Hashtag Sports, Joseph Mamone

Imagine seeing this Tweet three months ago.

The NBA’s indefinite suspension adds another insane layer to the global disruption that is the coronavirus. After a Utah Jazz player demonstrated symptoms (and subsequently tested positive for the virus), the league wisely decided to postpone all games until they could find a potential solution.

We should all take heed from the NBA and Rudy Gobert. Wash your hands, be thoughtful about travel and where you go, and protect the people who are most vulnerable in these moments. You might not be at risk directly, but someone else down the block could be.

Otherwise, we try and move on.

Find fun where you can. If anyone’s looking for someone to play Nintendo Switch Online with, email me and we can duke it out in Super Smash Bros.

I’m hoping to use this time to share fun and positive stories, and provide some distraction from the chaotic anxiety of the news today.

In that spirit, I’m excited to publish my discussion with Joseph Mamone, the creator of Hashtag Sports. Mamone’s company produces thoughtful analysis on the NBA, provides vital tools to fantasy fanatics like you and me, and navigates the complicated world of independent sports media by building a devoted and extensive community. He runs a tight-knit Patreon community and acts as commissioner for the dynasty league I wrote about last year.

Recently, he announced a successful Kickstarter campaign to branch out into a variety of other fantasy sports.

Here’s a lightly edited recap of our discussion, which has both Mamone’s thoughtful advice and background on how he built his company, and my confessions of hilarious predictions gone awry.

What was the inspiration for starting Hashtag Basketball?

About 5 years ago I created a tool for myself that allowed me to see which teams were playing on specific days to help me stream (I’m a web developer in my 9-5 job). I ended up sharing it with people in the Fantasy Basketball subreddit, and the feedback was really positive, so I decided to keep creating new tools to share with the Reddit community (I spend a lot of time on Reddit). 20 tools later, and the website has taken off and become something that a lot of people use every day.

Do you find that your audience is more casual fans looking to learn more, or die-hard fanatics looking to gain an edge in their very serious leagues?

I think it’s a combination of both, and I try and cater for both by offering as many options as possible for people to use (or not use). I find that most of the die-hards have become supporters on Patreon, so it’s good to nerd out with them about fantasy basketball.

As someone in one of these hyper-serious, hilariously intense leagues, I won't lie; I was hesitant to promote your content and reveal my secrets. Have you found that people love your stuff, but don't want to share it and lose a competitive advantage?

Yes! I often get people sending me DMs on Twitter saying that they love my website, but don’t re-tweet or like my tweets because they don’t want their friends knowing about it. I tend to be a lot more active in our Patreon-only Slack than on Twitter because it’s a lot easier to have 2-way conversations with people.

Fantasy sports continue to rise in popularity, and in that growth, I'm curious if you've noticed an increase in complexity: do you think there's a bigger appetite now for dynasty, keeper, and other more complicated formats?

There’s definitely more of a demand for the dynasty format (let’s be honest, it’s the best format to play), but you need a few years of playing fantasy basketball under your belt to really appreciate and understand it, so I can see why it hasn’t taken off (outside of the fantasy addicts).

You recently announced a Kickstarter aimed at expanding into different fantasy sports and building out your site, and you just hit your goal: congrats! Do you have a project that you're most excited to tackle next?

Thanks! I think I’m looking forward to creating Hashtag Hockey next since there are similarities in the way you stream in fantasy basketball and fantasy hockey, but I’m honestly looking forward to building the rest of the websites equally.  

Your content is very analytical and data-driven, but you also stick your neck out on some difficult predictions for how young players will develop, which is always tricky. For instance, I was deadset on Mario Hezonja being the Most Improved Player last year; I regret the error. Do you have a prediction you nailed, and a prediction you were so confident in but didn't come through?

I remember at the start of the season somebody was telling people on Reddit that they shouldn’t be taking my projections seriously because I had Trae Young in the top 20, and that there’s no way he was a top 75 player.

I was really high on Fultz coming out of college. He’s still young enough to turn things around, though.

As an independent content creator in the sports/fantasy space, what advice would you give to other entrepreneurs or creators who are looking to launch their own projects?

I think it’s important to launch a project that you’re truly passionate about because you rarely create something that becomes an overnight success, and if you’re not passionate about it, it becomes really hard to stay motivated during the lean years. Doing something you enjoy doing makes it not feel like work.  

You can find out more about the Kickstarter here, and can enjoy Joseph’s content and fantasy tools at Hashtag Basketball. Huge thanks to him for taking the time to talk to me!