Matt Blake ’06 BSBA (Finance and Entrepreneurship)
FanSided is a virtual home for enthusiasts of all stripes: a place to read about, debate and generally gush over a few of your favorite things. It started for sport loyalists, but today its wide-open doors draw far more diverse crowds, with a community of more than 300 websites for fans of everything from the Arizona Wildcats and Amazon to the LPGA and Legos. Fandom as a subculture is bursting with opportunity—a field of dreams, you might say—and seven years in, FanSided partner and co-CEO Matt Blake ’06 BSBA (Finance and Entrepreneurship) is still very happy to be playing.
Getting on Base
Blake’s path to FanSided started at the University of Arizona—the school he’d grown up cheering as a kid at basketball games. It was also the school that offered one of the world’s best programs in entrepreneurship, the field Blake most wanted to explore.
After graduating magna cum laude with honors with a double major in finance and entrepreneurship, Blake’s first employer was Corpedia. The company specialized in risk and compliance educational training for many Fortune 500 companies and had an entrepreneurial opportunity waiting in the wings: the goal of launching an ethics and compliance magazine for C-level executives and general counsels.
“We pulled all-nighters, built a content plan and hosted various events. I did everything from teaching myself how build a website to assisting in the launch a print magazine and hosting webinars,” Blake recalls. “Even though I was working for a mid-size start-up at the time, that was my first real taste of building a business from the ground up. I was building a business within a business.”
A Home Run
It was exciting, challenging, fun. But it wasn’t Blake’s passion, which had always swirled around sports. So on the side, Blake followed his heart: he co-launched a sports-themed podcast, then companion website. That enterprise was then purchased by fast-growing Jobing.com, which hired Blake on and rolled his labor of love into a new sports venture. However, with the economy heading into a recession, the company had to pivot, and Blake (by then a self-taught software engineer) began coding Facebook apps and working on development for recruiting software.
It still wasn’t quite what he wanted, but it was training that ultimately paid off. Because by the time Blake met FanSided co-founders Adam Best and Zach Best, he had built an eclectic skillset and work history tailor-made for the Bests' budding website and business. FanSided brought Blake on as a partner in late 2011, and he’s been helping drive the platform’s success ever since.
A Winning Strategy
Agility, DIY gusto and the zeal to chase opportunity: the qualities that characterize Blake’s career have also helped guide his strategy building FanSided into one of the fastest-growing networks of fandom-focused sports, entertainment and lifestyle sites on the internet.
He knows that some of their competitors are still bigger, have much bigger budgets. “But we’ve always run our business with what we call the Moneyball strategy,” he says, referencing the book-turned-movie that chronicled the Oakland A’s nontraditional, budget-constrained approach to fielding a team that twice went to the national playoffs.
“We always come back to the Oakland A’s 2002 strategy to compete with the likes of the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox,” Blake says. “Our competitors had raised VC money and/or sold their businesses. And we just really have always tried to work smarter and more efficiently.”
That’s meant basing growth on data analytics. It’s meant using open-source tools like WordPress versus building a CMS from scratch, but building their own solutions when it made sense, as they did for the software they use to this day to recruit and vet the leagues of eager freelance writers applying to FanSided from all across the world.
“Having my business background was vital for being able to flourish in all those different areas,” Blake says, tracing how his Eller education helped lay the foundation for the wide-roving but always-advancing career that followed.
“I knew how to work with numbers and data,” he says. “I knew how to build a business plan. It gave me the tools to move forward with my passions. But I also think that to advance to a high level, you really need an internal drive. Whatever I want to get done, I’ll figure out a way. I will engage it 110 percent until I figure it out. That’s just been my go-to since graduating.”
Top image courtesy Pexels.