Sleeper, who has developed a social and gaming platform for sports, has raised a $ 20 million Series B led by Andreessen Horowitz (a16z).
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A large number of other (high profile) investors participated in the investment, bringing the total capital of the San Mateo, Calif., Company raised to $ 27.3 million since its inception in 2015, according to data from Crunchbase.
NBA Star Baron Davis, NFL Pro Bowler JuJu Smith-Schuster, ESPN analyst Ros Gold Onwude, Twitch COO Kevin Lin and the a16z Cultural Leadership Fund have also invested money in Series B. existing funds General Catalyst, Birchmere Ventures and Rainfall were also involved. NBA star Kevin Durant and Thirty Five Ventures co-founder Rich Kleiman competed in the Sleeper’s Series A.
The origin story of the startup is actually sweet. Longtime friends who have stayed in touch over the years, bound by a shared love of the sport, came up with the premise behind Sleeper.
The company started out as a messaging platform that allowed people to connect socially on sports. It has since evolved into a gaming platform with some fantastic “even your grandma can use” leagues.
Sleeper kicked off fantasy football in 2018 and in 2019 had over 1 million active players (making it the fastest growing sports app in the world, according to the company).
Today, the startup is making its esports debut with a fantastic one-season League of Legends game. The game will be available in five competitive leagues in their respective regions: North America, Europe, Korea, Brazil and Vietnam.
“Our popularity is driven by our emphasis on the social elements of sport,” said CEO and co-founder Nan Wang. “People use sports as an excuse to spend time with loved ones and Sleeper gives them a vehicle to do so virtually.”
The company has more than doubled its number of employees to 23 since the start of 2020. It plans to use its new capital to evolve its products.
“We want to take what we’ve done with football and expand it to other sports and esports, such as professional and college basketball,” Wang told Crunchbase News. “With shelter in place and no sport, people want to play with each other more than ever. “
One of my favorite things about this fundraising round is the way NBA player Baron Davis got involved. He was an actual user of the product and contacted the company through the app to find out how he could get involved and speak to the management team.
“I ignored him, because I didn’t believe it was really him,” Wang recalls. “Then I got a LinkedIn invitation from one of his associates and realized it was actually him. “
Davis believed in the product’s mission and even had his mom play in a fantasy league on Sleeper last year, Wang said.
“Sleeper is the only platform that allows me to connect and share intimate experiences with friends, colleagues and fans,” Davis said in a statement. “Sleeper is building a community of people who care about their sports and esports teams, their players, their culture, while playing in fantastic leagues to brag about. My mom learned to play this year and she’s even more competitive than me!
The team were especially proud of Onwude’s involvement as they say they’ve worked hard to make Sleeper more inclusive.
“We have more women on our platform than any other fantastic sports platform,” Wang said. “Three out of 10, against 1 in 10.”
Unsurprisingly, the majority of its users are under 35.
For Andrew Chen of a16z, who led the round, Sleeper is a creative way to help people stay connected.
“For many sports fans, Sleeper becomes the center of gravity,” he said in a phone conversation last week. “I like the idea of creating this center of gravity.”
Plus, it was just “very clear” to Chen that the Sleeper team were “complete visionaries in space.”
From his first conversations with the co-founders, they were already talking about expanding the platform to include football, basketball, and esports.
“I loved the ambition and the energy they projected from the start around creating a single app for people to play a variety of sports,” he said.
And finally, it is clear to a16z that what Sleeper does is working.
“When an app goes from zero to 1 million active users and people use it almost every day without purchasing any installs or ads, and attracting other friends to the product, you know the people really like this thing, ”Chen said. News from Crunchbase.
Reporter Note: This story has been updated after publication to reflect new information provided by the company regarding the timing of Kevin Durant’s investment.
Illustration: Li-Anne Dias.
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