Oct 1, 2019
This all-star squad built out a multi-team marketing department to support multiple products for their first-to-market fantasy sports content provider. Hear how Veronica Hamel focused her team around the right priorities and hires to scale with speed and purpose. Jeff Singer provides insight into the technical side of integrations while Morgan Lee gives a marketer's perspective on channel expansion.
Interviewer: Hello again and welcome back to Braze for Impact, your martech industry discuss digest, and this episode is the pain points of scalable production, and I'm so pleased to have esteemed guests with me today from DraftKings. Veronica Hamel, Veronica is the senior marketing director here at DraftKings. Morgan Lee, CRM specialist, and Jeff Singer, software engineering manager. Thank you guys so much for being here.
Veronica Hamel: Thanks for having us.
Interviewer: So where are we right now? It's All-Star break. Right? Is there seasonality to this? Are you guys kind of like in relaxed mode or reset mode or-
Jeff Singer: Definitely, All-Star break is by far the quietest time of year for DraftKings.
Veronica Hamel: From an execution perspective-
Morgan Lee: Yeah.
Veronica Hamel: I think it's quiet, but from a strategy and planning, this is like the peak time of year for NFL. The end of June, early July, is when we're doing most of our NFL planning and when we're starting to have meetings with our executives, and getting them involved in our strategy, and getting their approval, and all of that kind of stuff. So from an execution perspective, it's definitely kind of a quieter time of year, but from a planning perspective, this is like peak time for us.
Interviewer: Right? It's just a different part of the brain.
Veronica Hamel: Exactly.
Interviewer: You just got to switch gears.
Veronica Hamel: Exactly.
Interviewer: That's cool. So for those of you listeners out there, those folks who don't know what DraftKings are, who's got the boilerplate? Who wants to do it in two or three sentences?
Veronica Hamel: So DraftKings historically was a daily fantasy sports company exclusively so really drafting a lineup, and you kind of rack up points, and you score points that you're competing against another player's lineup to win cash. And so historically, we've been exclusively daily fantasy sports and then recently in August of this past year, we launched Sportsbook as well, so now in New Jersey only we have Sportsbook which is just traditional sports betting. Who's going to win the Super Bowl this year, for example.
Interviewer: Gotcha. And you guys were first to market with that. Right?
Veronica Hamel: We were, yes, in New Jersey.
Interviewer: That's very exciting. Veronica, I think you're the most tenured person in the room. Right? You've been for quite a ride with DK. Was it four or five years?
Veronica Hamel: Five and a half.
Veronica Hamel: Yes, it's been quite-
Interviewer: Five half and a half.
Veronica Hamel: Quite the long ride.
Interviewer: Jeez. And I guess that wasn't even that long ago, but for some reason in my brain, it's like smartphones didn't exist five and a half years go. I don't know why.
Veronica Hamel: Well, some of the channels we currently use did not exist or weren't being used by us five and a half years ago.
Interviewer: Right. So DraftKings sprouts up in 2012, and you joined in 2014. Right?
Veronica Hamel: Yep, yep.
Interviewer: So what were some of the initial priorities and obstacles that you had to face to get the marketing engine really humming? Like was there a team in existence? Were you kind of the first one of your kind to start out some of these initiatives?
Veronica Hamel: Yeah. So as most startups do, we started out with a pretty big acquisition team, and when I say pretty big, I mean three people.
Interviewer: [crosstalk 00:02:56].
Veronica Hamel: But we didn't have anyone doing retention yet, so I was the first retention person to come on. At the time, we didn't have a ton of customers, and so the whole point of having an acquisition team first is because you're trying to acquire new customers and then once you have those customers, you then hire and kind of build out a more retention-focused team, and that's what I came in to do five and a half years ago. In terms of the types of things we were tackling at that time, honestly it was getting out an onboarding series. Like, we started out very, very slow, and we didn't have all of the sports that we have now. We were mainly focused on just MLB and NFL. It was a very different time where it was easier at that moment because we had less complexity in terms of sports' seasonality and the number of sports that we had. But we also were starting up as a company, and so there was a lot that we had to kind of take on and figure out how to navigate.
Interviewer: And as far as customer-facing comms, you were basically starting from zero. The world was your oyster. Right?
Veronica Hamel: Exactly, yes.
Interviewer: When you jumped in some of your first retention stuff, was it cross-channel right away? What were kind of the foundations of that?
Veronica Hamel: Yeah, so when I first started, we actually only had email. We had email in what we call site merchandising, so a couple of placements on the site that we were using to communicate to our users, and that was basically it. Those were our two channels that we were mainly using. Email we split into transactional and promotional. That was it. So it was a very few channels, and at that point we actually didn't even have an app. We were exclusively a web-based product. So from there, when we actually launched our app, we started then in push channels and started getting a little bit more into the mobile experience side. Pretty shortly after we got into the push side is both when Morgan joined and when we actually brought on Braze.
Interviewer: So mobile wasn't even part of the game when you were in there?
Veronica Hamel: No.
Interviewer: And now is it the biggest part of your business? I mean-
Veronica Hamel: So in terms of the app, the app is definitely a much bigger part of our business. In terms of the channels that we use, it's actually still a fairly even split. We see a lot of traffic coming from email. Then again, it's mobile email, so people are opening on their phone and going right into the app, so it's a little bit different than kind of when we first started where our mobile web product was interesting to say the least. Now, we've kind of mobile optimized. We both have that in terms of a mobile optimized site, but also we we direct deep link into the app and people kind of have a better experience from there.
Interviewer: Cool. And so acquisition team of three.
Veronica Hamel: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Interviewer: Adds Veronica.
Veronica Hamel: Yes.
Interviewer: Team of four. And then Morgan joins the following year?
Veronica Hamel: I think it was a year and a half, maybe two years later, like June of 20-
Morgan Lee: Yeah, June of 2015.
Veronica Hamel: 15.
Interviewer: And what was Morgan's mandate when she started? She was brought in. You had one job.
Veronica Hamel: It actually was push.
Morgan Lee: Yeah.
Veronica Hamel: So when we brought her in, we were starting to experiment with push and kind of other different channels. And so originally the team was so tiny. It was me, you, Robyn, Jesse.
Morgan Lee: Yep.
Veronica Hamel: So it was pretty small, and at the time it was kind of generalists. Everyone had to do a little bit of everything, so I think Morgan got a pretty solid foundation of everything. But pretty quickly thereafter, her mandate was push and kind of figuring out this new channel that we were bringing on.
Morgan Lee: Yeah. So I guess it really started off with email and learning how to code an email because that's all we were doing, and then we had one website where we were sending push notifications, but it was like once a week maybe. It wasn't really a strategy. It was just kind of, "Oh, we have a big contest this week. Let's send a push notification."
Interviewer: And so still no mobile app at this point, or it was just kicking off?
Morgan Lee: We had the mobile app.
Morgan Lee: Yeah. And then, yeah, for me, I came on and, straight out of college, was just trying to learn everything that I could about email marketing, and mobile push, and CRM, how to send an A/B test, stuff like that, so I think it really helped me build a foundation for a lot of the skills that I have today.
Interviewer: Gotcha. And so your focus was push. Is this when you started to move? I mean eventually after you hard-coded some emails.
Morgan Lee: Yeah.
Interviewer: You moved away from the generalist perspective, and people started kind of focusing and like doubling down on channels.
Morgan Lee: Yeah, I was kind of email and push for quite awhile actually because we had different life cycles. So I was managing the inactive life cycle, just trying to get people to reactivate, for NFL mostly. And then as part of that we started... I did email, but then also it was like specializing in push and figuring out the best campaigns to send users.
Veronica Hamel: We've actually had a number of different organizational structures, so we've gone kind of back-and-forth between doing it at the life cycle level versus doing it more at the channel level. So we had a push expert, and we've kind of gone back-and-forth a few times, and I think ultimately it's really where you are in your business to know whether or not which one makes sense. So we're currently more at kind of a user perspective, so we've got all of our different teams. Like, we've got some calendar-based teams, and they're all doing all of the different channels versus being really specialized in one. It's all based on what you're trying to do with your users and where you are in your life cycle as a business, I guess.
Interviewer: Meta. That's cool. And so, yeah, I mean also... Jesus... Having the agility to be able to kind of switch the dynamic and chemistry of your team. I mean I guess it's crucial. Right? Sometimes people just kind of stack broken stuff on broken stuff, and it's like, let's let it work itself out.
Veronica Hamel: Yeah. That's one thing that DraftKings has always been really good at is being agile and kind of changing with the times, and reorging, and trying to figure some things out. Maybe a good time to bring in Jeff because that was a big reorg that we had that has been kind of the most impactful, I think, from the marketing perspective, is adding a platform layer and adding some engineering resources to us. And that's something we never had before, and it basically was that. It was one of those times where we had said, "Hey, this isn't really working. Let's try to figure something else out." And we decided to invest some engineering resources from the marketing perspective, and here we are with Jeff.
Interviewer: And here he is. What a good segue that was. What an intro, rolling out the red carpet, Jeff.
Jeff Singer: Yeah. So as Veronica was saying, engineering historically hadn't had much of a mandate to help CRM. There was a Marketing Platform team, but it had been very focused on the acquisition side and sort of site merchandising type thing, so some of the critical sell flows along the app but not sort of the actual retention and-
Interviewer: Right, [crosstalk] products.
Jeff Singer: The things that Veronica's team was focusing on. So I kind of came into the Marketing Platform team with the mandate of just like, "We need to figure out this whole CRM thing from an engineering and product perspective." And so actually my first week, I went to Braze LTR.
Jeff Singer: And it was a great way to really deep dive because I had no prior experience in the marketing world.
Interviewer: This was like three years ago?
Jeff Singer: No. So this was last year.
Interviewer: Last year.
Jeff Singer: Yeah.
Interviewer: Oh, right. Because you'd been with the company for-
Jeff Singer: I joined DraftKings in 2015. I hadn't moved over to marketing until 2018.
Interviewer: So you were at LTR last year?
Jeff Singer: Yes, I was at LTR last year.
Interviewer: Oh, cool.
Jeff Singer: And also my first exposure to the marketing world basically, and-
Interviewer: It was a lot.
Jeff Singer: It was a great-
Morgan Lee: He's grown up on Braze.
Jeff Singer: It was a great way to learn a lot about marketing really fast.
Interviewer: I love it. That's so cool. And so what were some of the first things that you were kind of tasked with?
Jeff Singer: So one of the things we had been working on at the time is... For a lot of the transactional emails, we had a previous engineering driven system that would basically take the things we knew that was going on with the user at the time, and transform that into some text, and call Brace to say, "Hey, basically this is the text, go send this email." That obviously isn't great from a marketing perspective because it makes it really hard to iterate. Like, if the turnaround time on changing the text or testing something new out is a month, you're not really going to be able to get anywhere fast. So one of the first things I did was kind of help move a transition over to have those emails be based off of events in Braze and then allow Morgan and Veronica's team to really iterate quickly on those emails.
Interviewer: So who brought Braze to the table? Like, when you made this switch to marketing is it around the time that... I mean you guys have been using it for awhile at that point.
Veronica Hamel: Yeah, so we started out using Braze just for push. So actually that's not true-
Morgan Lee: For any [crosstalk 00:11:41].
Veronica Hamel: [crosstalk] messaging.
Morgan Lee: That's how I became like the Braze expert because I was doing push as a mobile channel and then we started off using Braze, and it was like, "Okay, another mobile channel. Morgan, you can take this, and kind of run with it, and figure out basically how we want to use the in-app channel, and how we can use it to upsell users, and cross users over to different sports." And it just kind of became another channel that we could use for upselling and crossing users over and reactivation.
Veronica Hamel: So it actually came from our product team.
Morgan Lee: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Veronica Hamel: So our product team had brought on Braze as a way for us to pop notifications in the app itself. So if there was like a place where rather than them kind of having to build a new placement or a new pop-up at any given time in the flow, they hooked us up with basically the ability to be able to use the in-app messaging for us to be able to manage a lot of those pop-ups. Whether it was like, "Hey, user, take the survey, rate your experience," all the way through to we have a user or a player out in the lineup, and we need people to know. So we were using it more for the product side, and then we had kind of realized, "Hey, this is pretty intrusive to the customer experience." On the marketing side, we actually would really like to use it and manage it to make sure that it's being used properly and really being used to benefit the user experience rather than just kind of pop-up notifications everywhere.
Interviewer: Gotcha. Cool. So we've got Morgan working with in-app and push. We get Jeff in the mix. He's going LTR. He's learning all this stuff. You guys start to scale, and it's with sophistication. So I mean how does the nature of your business complicate email marketing? Is it pretty nuanced?
Veronica Hamel: Honestly, it's not just email marketing. It's all marketing. The big thing for us is the complexity of the business. Even when we just had DFS, it was a ton of different users, and we know so much about them that you want to be able to use that data to personalize and give them a better experience, but we almost had data paralysis. We had so much to use that it was kind of hard for us to know, well, what's the most important split or the most important for a segment to create? And from there just getting more sophisticated. So that was when we just had DFS. Then we launched two more products. So we mentioned that we have Sportsbook, and we're live in New Jersey. We also have Casino Games within embed in our Sportsbook app, in New Jersey as well. So basically we now have three products and now-
Interviewer: And that's all owned by you guys, you all-
Veronica Hamel: Correct. So that just increases the complexity because now you have users that are playing one only. So you're playing only DFS, only Sportsbook, only Casino, or we've got people that are playing kind of all of the combinations in between of of all of the different products.
Morgan Lee: The sports world too is changing daily, and we have contests daily, and you can basically bet on any sport, so it's just constantly moving and changing, and especially for email which is a channel that is a little bit more difficult to personalize. Like, you receive an email in your inbox, and that's it. It's not going to change.
Interviewer: A lot of tools out there for that.
Morgan Lee: Yeah, Braze has definitely helped.
Interviewer: So, again, let's wind back. We're talking about multiple products, multiple channels. How do you even manage that? I mean was this going on before the multiteam things started happening or did that kind of bring about the need for a multiteam setup?
Veronica Hamel: I actually think that was one of the biggest reasons why we then decided to invest Marketing Platform resources. So engineer resources for our marketing team was... As soon as we got to a place of having multiple products, we were managing the complexity on DFS. It was difficult, but we were managing it, and we were kind of coming up with some different solutions for us to use. But as soon as we kind of got into this place of having three products... And one of our biggest advantages in that space is actually that we have a customer base already who might be interested in those other verticals. And so in order for us to be able to leverage that and do it well, we needed some sort of automation, and we needed to be able to better personalize to these users without manually creating 10 different versions of a campaign. And that's kind of what we're working on now.
Jeff Singer: Yeah.
Interviewer: I haven't seen any of your campaigns because it's none of my business, but do you guys work with Canvas? Do you use that cross-channel... You know throwing promotions between people across products to kind of get them deeper and deeper into the DraftKings bubble?
Morgan Lee: Yeah, I think right now we're using mostly campaigns, but we have setup some things as a Canvas. Jeff was talking about how we're moving all of our push notifications, the transactional ones, over to Braze as one of the big projects that we're working on. And we're building all of those in Canvas so that we can test copy, and test personalization, and how we kind of want to alert users of tickets, and stuff like that.
Interviewer: So the three products are Sportsbook, DraftKings Live, and Casino?
Veronica Hamel: It's Sportsbook, Daily Fantasy Sports, and Casino.
Jeff Singer: There is also DK Live, but that's-
Veronica Hamel: DK Live is more of a content platform.
Jeff Singer: Yeah.
Veronica Hamel: So it's like complimentary to our products.
Interviewer: Oh, cool.
Veronica Hamel: Yeah.
Interviewer: And do you guys plug that as well? Do you have whole campaigns around it?
Veronica Hamel: It's mostly secondary, so it's kind of in the same campaigns that we're doing. We're already talking about placing a bet, or we're doing whatever, and then we're also giving you content in order to have you make better decisions in drafting your lineup.
Interviewer: Nice. Any other cool tech toys or strategies that you guys are using?
Jeff Singer: So one of the interesting things in our industry is that there's so many different regulations, and almost every state has different regulations around what users are allowed to do, and that's probably going to continue to happen with the way the regulations seem to be shaping up in the U.S. Around sports betting and casino. So we've actually been playing around a little bit with Radar for being able to trigger things around knowing where people are and kind of adding more location context to some of our campaigns.
Morgan Lee: Yeah. And we've also been able to personalize messaging in campaigns using Radar. It's different to say, "Hey, enter this contest," but it's even more personalized where you can say, "Hey, thanks for entering this stadium. Plan DraftKings tonight because you're already there watching the game." So I think that aspect too has been really cool for us.
Interviewer: Did you see the CEO of Radar, Nick Patrick, at LTR when you were there for that first time?
Jeff Singer: I actually didn't, but I think-
Veronica Hamel: Yeah, funny enough, I actually think that's exactly where this came from.
Veronica Hamel: Yeah. Yeah.
Morgan Lee: I was blown away. I thought it was a really cool product, and I was like, "Veronica, we should really look into implementing Radar," and we kind of ran with it.
Jeff Singer: Yeah.
Interviewer: I got to let the marketing team know this. This is fantastic. And so now you guys have the multiteam difference from what I have come to understand. You have your calendar team and your triggers team. I mean how did the idea for a multiteam setup come about and was it difficult to rally support from that executive team, right? Because I mean I guess it's kind of you, Veronica, who has to kind of round up with Dan and kind of let them know this is a priority. This is what we need to invest in.
Veronica Hamel: So in terms of us deciding we needed it, basically where we ended up landing was 95% of our effort was really going towards these calendar-based campaigns that were, "Enter this contest today or place a bet on something that's happening today." And we weren't really focused enough on user life cycle, so we had some kind of set it and forget it onboarding treatments, but we weren't paying enough attention to things like better notifications for a better user experience, or you've got a player in your lineup that is projected to score zero points because they're out for the day, and all kinds of these small different things that were both user experience and player life cycle that we just didn't have time to focus on. When we were focused on the things that were happening today and tomorrow, we filled up 99% of our plate, and we just never had time for anything else. So we decided to kind of break off a team and have them very specifically think about things that are a little bit more user life cycle. It was made possible by Jeff and his team. So in order for us to be able to do a lot of these things, we needed these kind of event-based triggers and data that we were able to then use in Braze to trigger those communications. So it kind of was both. We weren't focusing on it, and we realized that there was a huge opportunity, and too, we now had the resources in order to be able to enable this team to be effective.
Interviewer: Gotcha. And so, like you mentioned, you just didn't have the bandwidth because there's just so many of these high possibility conversion moments around user behavior. Right? And you just can't grab them all. So when you expand to these two teams, was there concerns that it could be too much? Every little thing they do, they get a ping, and maybe it's overwhelming for a user?
Veronica Hamel: It's a great question. When we started thinking about how we would setup this team, we also started thinking about needing a Preference Center and needing the ability for a user to opt out of very specific communications. We also then were piloting an internal tool. We were working on [inaudible] prioritization. So to make sure that a user could only see one contact in one day from the broadest sense, so there's still obviously transactional emails that a user can see, and transactional notifications a user can see in the back-end. But if we were trying to get a user to... Either they're inactive, and they dropped off, and we're trying to get them to come back to the site on some specific promotion that we know that they've reacted to in the past versus, "Hey, it's MLB All-Star break, play in that.' We started kind of prioritizing the life cycle campaign above the promotional campaign, so we were trying to be a little bit careful with that. But these two can actually speak a little bit more to an upcoming project that we have on Preference Center that I think is probably going to help that even more.
Morgan Lee: Our Preference Center right now does have some communications that you can opt in or opt out of. We have leagues where you can play contests with your friends, so there's a lot of notifications in your league if someone posts a contest. So we have some of those, but it's not as personalized as we'd like it, so we want a notification center that includes push and email and also has a lot of the different trigger notifications that we've added. So we have a push where if you have an injured player in your lineup, you can receive a notification and letting that user know that the person is out, so having a preference for that. Also, user preferences in terms of what teams they like, what sports they really like. So that's also a project that we're taking on, hopefully pretty soon, Jeff.
Jeff Singer: NFL's coming up, so we've got-
Morgan Lee: Yes,.
Jeff Singer: A lot of other things too.
Morgan Lee: Yeah.
Interviewer: Are you guys big sports fans? Is it a prerequisite to join?
Jeff Singer: Definitely not.
Morgan Lee: No.
Jeff Singer: I mean I am a pretty big NFL fan. There's a lot of people here at DraftKings who actually aren't sports' fans. I remember having to explain once to someone on my team, what I touchdown was.
Morgan Lee: Oh, wow.
Jeff Singer: Yeah.
Veronica Hamel: So [crosstalk 00:23:07]. From a marketing perspective-
Jeff Singer: Maybe that's an engineering thing.
Veronica Hamel: Yeah. That's definitely an engineering thing. From a marketing perspective, I think it depends on what they're going to do. So it's definitely not a prerequisite, but we do tend to hire, or we try to hire people that at least understand or want to understand because they're writing a lot of the copy, and they're talking to our players.
Interviewer: I was just going to say copywriters.
Morgan Lee: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Veronica Hamel: So from our perspective, it's much more important for people to kind of understand sports and have a couple of people. We do a pretty good job of almost having a balance between the super heavy sports fans that can kind of help and share some of that knowledge. And then more of the like creative, innovative marketers, we're not going to turn someone down if they're an awesome marketer but just don't understand sports. It's just a balance of making sure you have the right amount of both on your team.
Interviewer: I mean it might be an idea to update the onboarding process at DraftKings to teach some of the... You know Football 101. What is a touchdown? How do I do it?
Veronica Hamel: Well, maybe on the engineering side at least.
Jeff Singer: Yeah.
Interviewer: So with this dual team structure, do you guys see an expansion to even more teams outside of Calendar and Trigger, or what does the next evolution kind of look like from your perspective?
Veronica Hamel: Yeah. We actually just added a second team that is kind of cross product, and so we have someone that is very specifically focused on tech tools and process, and we're working with Jeff's team pretty heavily on trying to get to a place by the end of 2019 where we're pretty automated. And that has been a lot of work on both his team and my team in terms of coming up with the strategy and figuring out how do we test some of this stuff first before we just turn on automation and make sure that it's actually valuable. And automation is so broad that it's been a lot of strategic conversations around, "Let's bite off a piece of it, automate that, and then move forward, and kind of sequentially get to a place of better automation." So we have someone, Jesse, who actually was my second hire at DraftKings, and used to be Morgan's boss, who's been working very closely with Jeff's team on kind of automation, and tech tools, and process. And that's been really helpful to kind of push things forward a little bit faster than they were moving before.
Interviewer: What other things in your stack are you guys working with? You mentioned Radar.
Veronica Hamel: We use Segment today.
Jeff Singer: Yeah, we use Segment pretty heavily for some of the event stuff I was talking about earlier. I know we're evaluating some kind of analytic tools. That's more on the product side than the marketing side, but as far as being able to understand how many of our users went through some flow and then the result of where they ended up.
Interviewer: So between the three of you, you've seen a nice handful of iterations of the marketing team here at DraftKings. Do you have any like parting words for our listeners that are trying to build out a marketing org and balancing/juggling priorities?
Jeff Singer: I think a big thing for me is just staying flexible and kind of being able to react to opportunities as they come up.
Morgan Lee: Yeah. And I think so too, and it's actually gave me an opportunity to kind of move my career in the way that I wanted to. So I started with mobile, got really invested in that, and then learned a lot about Braze, and so that's now helping me on the triggers team where we're using a lot of the features in Braze to trigger notifications. So honestly think it can be good for a team to grow, and people can specialize and learn more about what they want to.
Veronica Hamel: Yeah, I'd say the biggest thing is don't be afraid of change. Again, we've gone back-and-forth between segment-based to channel-based a couple of different times, and I think it really just depends on where you are as a company and what makes sense at that time. So hopefully, we have hired a great team of people who are super flexible, and they're willing to learn new things, and kind of take on new opportunities. And that's been the biggest thing for us, and just having a team that's flexible, and is willing to learn, and change with the times has been the most impactful.
Interviewer: Don't be afraid to change. Stay agile. Will I see you guys at LTR this year? Maybe?
Jeff Singer: Yeah.
Veronica Hamel: Probably.
Morgan Lee: Yeah.
Veronica Hamel: We usually go.
Interviewer: Excellent. All right.
Veronica Hamel: Maybe we'll find another cool tool that we want to use.
Interviewer: I think you just might. Keep your eyes and your ears open.
Morgan Lee: Let us know who's going to be there.
Interviewer: Absolutely. We will send you guys the lineup. So Jeff, Veronica Morgan, thank you guys so much for being here. Or, you know what? Thank you for allowing me to be here in your headquarters in Boston.
Jeff Singer: Thanks for coming.
Morgan Lee: Thank you.
Interviewer: And thank you guys for joining us as well. Take care.