Sleeper, which developed a social and gaming platform for sports, raised a $20 million Series B led by Andreessen Horowitz (a16z).
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A slew of other (high-profile) investors joined in the investment, bringing the San Mateo, Calif.-based company’s total investment to $27.3 million since its inception in 2015, according to Crunchbase data.
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 took part in Series A of Sleeper.
The origin story of the startup is actually sweet. Longtime friends who have stayed in touch over the years, bonded by a shared love of the sport, came up with the premise of Sleeper.
The company started as a messaging platform that served as a way for people to connect socially through sports. It has since evolved into a gaming platform with fantastic leagues “that even your grandma can use”.
Sleeper launched fantasy football in 2018, and by 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 season-long fantasy 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 sports,” said CEO and co-founder Nan Wang. “People use sports as an excuse to hang out with people they care about and Sleeper gives them a vehicle to do that 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 scale its products.
“We want to take what we’ve done with soccer and expand it into other sports and esports, such as professional and college basketball,” Wang told Crunchbase News. “With the shelter-in-place happening and no sports going on, people want to play with each other more than ever.”
Investor’s point of view
One of my favorite things about this funding round is how NBA player Baron Davis got involved. He was an actual user of the product and reached out to the company through the app to find out how he could get involved and talk to the management team.
“I ignored it, because I didn’t believe it was really him,” Wang recalled. “Then I got a LinkedIn invite from one of his associates and realized it was actually him.”
Davis believed in the product’s mission and even asked his mother to play 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 builds a community of people who care about their sports and esports teams, their players, their culture, while playing in fantastic leagues for bragging rights. My mom learned to play this year, and she’s even more competitive than me!”
The team was particularly proud of Onwude’s involvement as they say they have worked hard to make Sleeper more inclusive.
“We have more women on our platform than any other fantasy sports platform,” Wang said. “Three out of 10, compared to 1 out of 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.”
Moreover, 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 energy they threw from the start around creating a single app for people to play a variety of sports,” he said.
And finally, it’s clear to a16z that what Sleeper does works.
“When an app goes from zero to 1 million active users, and people use it almost every day without buying installs or ads, and bringing other friends into the product, you know people really love this thing,” Chen said. News from Crunchbase.
Reporter’s Note: This story was 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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