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How To Build a Fantasy Sports Startup + Week 17 Start/Sits (2023)

Start, Sit & How To Build a Fantasy Sports Startup

by Seth Woolcock

“Start, Sit & Seth” is the original column of In-Between Media, bridging feel-good lifestyle advice with redraft fantasy football analysis. Consistently following Seth Woolcock’s journey as a young creator, this series is now in its sixth season. This week, Seth shares advice on how to build a fantasy sports startup, the story of IDP Guys and his Week 17 start/sit decisions.

First came the Sportstopia scandal. Then it was Dez Bryant, former NFL receiver and self-proclaimed sports innovator and founder of High Point Sports, Tweeting some out-of-pocket, misogynistic declarations. This was followed by some blanket statements about where creators should or shouldn’t work.

Needless to say, startups have been quite the conversation as of late in the fantasy sports community.

Chances are, if you’re reading this, you’ve likely never heard of me or this platform, In-Between Media (IBT). That’s because we are very much in that bucket.

These ripples have caused quite the stir, specifically this week – the 17th of the NFL season and most fantasy football championships. A time usually bringing high hopes and excitement has instead cast an unsettling feeling across the industry.

Truthfully, it’s been a bit difficult to focus on who I’ll be firing up in my own league-of-record championship when so many provoked emotions are surfacing surrounding these controversies.

Instead of sitting on the sidelines – letting these anxieties get the best of me – I’m doing what I do best as a storyteller. In this penultimate edition of my column, I’ll examine the necessary steps to build a successful fantasy sports startup.

Hopefully, it lends perspective to the struggles and successes that come during this endeavor.

But don’t just take my word for it. Instead, let’s tap into the tale of Nathan “Nate” Cheatham, 36, of Hartford, Conn., the founding co-owner of IDP Guys and a consultant for fantasy website brands across the industry.

Step No. 1: Find Your Passion

A born-and-raised Michigan kid, Nate moved to Connecticut in the late 2000s. It was there, working at a grocery store when he was 21, that he met Johnny Somerset. Early into their friendship and with the help of some wings, beer and seven hours of commercial-free football, Johnny showed Nate what “football can be.”

The season after being re-introduced to the game, Nate began his own league that still remains today. The only catch? There are six Individual Defensive Players (IDP) slots, meaning they’re studying and slotting in players from both sides of the ball. 

Most of Nate’s psychology lectures in college were spent tinkering with his lineup and scavenging the waiver wires. Subsequently, Nate won the championship – and to no surprise – switched majors after becoming involved with the student newspaper. 

Three years down the line and after serving as the paper’s editor-in-chief, Nate made the jump to university, where he ultimately transferred into graphic design. Leaving behind the student paper led him to explore his Michigan pride, linking up with the Detroit Lions Podcast. He served as their editor and ran their fantasy football leagues, which introduced him to the community on Twitter.

After learning the ropes of digital media and broadcasting from the group there, by 2017, Nate and Johnny decided it was time to do their own thing and potentially capitalize on their now vast IDP experience.

Looking at the landscape at the time, there were two IDP podcasts out there and barely any websites doing content on it,” Nate said in a Dec. 27 interview. “We knew there was a need for people who talk about IDP. So, that was essentially our niche.”

Step No. 2: Build It

Admittedly, not much thought went into the name of the company initially. The friends talked about IDP, and they were guys; hence, IDP Guys was born.

“That first season, it [the podcast] was terrible,” Nate said. “I don’t know how we got an audience. I was a print journalist trying to do audio. I could public speak, but I wasn’t the greatest at it. It was a learning experience.”

By the end of the first year, the show’s listeners had grown to almost 100 downloads per episode. Getting into web design at the time, Nate then began the onerous endeavor of building a website to host the podcast on.

After announcing the plan publicly, Nate had multiple people in his network inquire about writing IDP content. So before he knew it, the panned podcast-hosting website turned into Idpguys.org, a full-scale blog site.

Naturally, Nate parlayed his experience of building and running a team at the newspaper into IDP Guys, and before long, he had a full staff pumping out content for their first full season as a written and audio operation. 

As the years went on, the company continued to see growth and – as most startups do – turnover. Then came a membership program, multiple restructures and finally, seasons later… profitability with the ability to pay staff members.

Step No. 3: Look Yourself In the Mirror

However, the success of IDP Guys didn’t come without a cost.

Nate and Keith Gillilan pose for a photo behind their first booth at The Fantasy Football Expo in August 2021.

“But I was also just wearing myself out,” Nate said. “I did a website redesign, and afterward, I was so burnt out that I didn’t know if I wanted to do this anymore.”

Using the job board function that he installed on the site, Nate put out a post that he was looking for an investor. Miraculously, Nate got two hits, and eventually, Keith Gillilan and Ricky Rodrigue signed as backers.

Though Keith did eventually sell his share of the company to Ricky, an executive at Dell, Keith was instrumental in helping bring organization to the company and Nate out of the place where he was ready to get out.

Since then, there have been additional restructures, including pulling back some on content production and  – in turn – writers’ payouts in the pursuit of creating new tools and growing their YouTube channel and social media presence.

Step No. 4: Be Innovative & Inclusive

As mentioned, the name of IDP Guys was a simple solution in the start-up stages, but as the company grew and developed, the team felt that a name change would also be appropriate. On Nov. 22, IDP Guys announced that in the coming months, they will be rebranding to IDP+. 

Not only does the change address new avenues of content the company will explore, but it also creates a more inclusive image, accurately reflecting the team that is made up of both men and women.

“Our main priorities [of our rebrand] was the inclusivity and the versatility so that we can get into other things,” Nate said. “But also, we have more than just dudes on our team, and we wanted to be able to recognize that… I’ve been a supporter of women in this industry for some time… I intentionally go out to try to recruit women and people of color. We want diverse opinions on staff. The debates that happen in our chats are where you learn and develop your opinions better. If it’s only a bubble of people, you never break out of that.”

Step No. 5: Keep Going

If you’re going to build a fantasy sports startup or get involved with one, realize that it will likely be one of the most challenging things you’ll ever do.

There will be immense peaks but many seasons of stagnation in-between. You’ll be liable to nights so late you’ll see the sun come up. Moments of doubt are around every turn. Plus, you’ll need to re-learn what it means to be accepting and how to check your biases at the door.

Experiment; complacency will become your arch-nemesis. Build thick skin, but keep your ears open to feedback and criticism. Find your people and build around them, but realize some are there for the long haul while others will serve as shooting stars.

Through it all – if you still love it – see it through.

One day, if success does come, stay humble. Hear others’ stories. Pass the torch, and lend a hand where you can.

Hopefully, in the end, when you look back on it all, it’s one of the greatest damn decisions you ever made. I think I speak for Nate and I both when I say it was.

Alright, and here we go.

Fantasy football CTA

The following Week 17 start/sit selections are based on stats, trends and film research, reflecting value in Points Per Reception (PPR) Redraft Leagues.

Quarterback I’d Start in Week 17:

Baker Mayfield (Tampa Bay):  If it’s not broke, don’t fix it. Baker Mayfield has scored over 19 fantasy points in his last three starts and was a few kneels away last week from his third consecutive QB1 performance. The former No. 1 overall pick has scored nine total TDs and has not thrown an interception in that span. He’s playing the best ball of his career, pacing as the QB11 this season, and has reportedly secured a future with the organization.

I’m following those good vibes this week as the Buccaneers battle division rival New Orleans Saints. Mayfield scored 22.9 fantasy points against them in New Orleans back in Week 3. The Saints haven’t faced the best crop of QBs lately, but both top-16 QBs they faced in the past month (Matthew Stafford and Jared Goff) threw for multiple touchdowns and no interceptions. In fact, the Saints haven’t intercepted a pass since they had two against Desmond Ridder in Week 12. I’m riding the hot hand of Mayfield in the Bay this week.

Quarterback I’d Sit in Week 17:

Tua Tagovailoa (Miami):  Despite being the early-season NFL MVP favorite, Tua Tagovailoa has come back to Earth here down the stretch. The 25-year-old has finished as QB22 or worse in four of his last five starts and has thrown just five TDs in that span. That met with the zero he usually gives fantasy managers with his legs limits his ceiling.

That’s especially the case in Week 17, traveling to Baltimore to face a Ravens team that picked off then-NFL MVP frontrunner Brock Purdy four times, limiting him to just 2.4 fantasy points last week. Baltimore has been the toughest matchup for opposing signal-callers on the season, limiting them to just 13 total TDs, five fewer than the next team. I love what Mike McDaniels is doing in Miami, but you can miss me on firing up Tagovailoa in fantasy football championships this week.

Running Back I’d Start in Week 17:

Clyde Edwards-Helaire (Kansas City):  While he didn’t practice Thursday due to illness, Clyde Edwards-Helaire likely serves as the Chiefs’ top running back with Isiah Pacheco in concussion protocol and Jerick McKinnon on Injured Reserve (IR). This sets up well for the former first-round pick. The Bengals have allowed an average of 4.7 Yards Per Carry (YPC), the second most in the league this season. Running backs have taken advantage, finding paydirt in 10 of their last 12 games.

With the Chiefs averaging 101.9 rushing yards per game and Patrick Mahomes targeting running backs on 17.6% of passes, the forgotten LSU product could stand out in fantasy football championships.

Running Back I’d Sit in Week 17:

De’Von Achane (Miami):  It’s always tough to bench a player with elite upside like De’Von Achane, but I’m concerned the downward trend in production continues here in Week 17.  All four of the rookie’s 20-plus PPR-point performances have come in games Miami has won or lost by double digits. In tight games, they prefer to lean on the veteran Raheem Mostert.

Achane is already dealing with a toe injury and will now have a closely contested matchup against the Ravens, who have limited opposing RBs to the fifth-fewest PPR points over the past month. John Harbough’s squad has allowed just four rushing TDs (the second-fewest) this season, further limiting Achane’s upside. Unless desperate, I’m trying to get away from the third-round pick this go-around.

Receiver I’d Start in Week 17:

Tee Higgins (Cincinnati):  If you are somehow still playing for a fantasy football championship with Tee Higgins on your team, congrats! I wrote the fourth-year receiver off as the biggest bust of the third round a few weeks ago. He took that personally, as he’s put up back-to-back PPR WR1 performances, totaling 201 yards and three receptions in that span.

Fellow Bengals WR Ja’Marr Chase was limited in practice on Thursday, so even if he is active, he will likely not be at 100%. In addition, the Chiefs’ standout cornerback, L’Jarius Sneed, did not practice on Thursday, potentially opening up Higgins and QB Jake Browning for another big game. This matchup has the fourth-highest point total of the week at 44. With Patrick Mahomes on the other side, I’m willing to chase the hope that this game becomes a potential shootout. As a result, I’ll start most skill players in it with confidence, including Higgins.

Receiver I’d Sit in Week 17:

Curtis Samuel (Washington): There aren’t enough words in the English dictionary to describe how dysfunctional this Washington Commanders team is right now. After a hot stretch, Sam Howell has been benched for Jacoby Brissett, and Ron Rivera seemingly lost the locker room before the season even began.

That dysfunction is now seemingly trickling down to Curtis Samuel, who caught just one of six targets last week for 16 yards. It marked his seventh game of under eight PPR points this season, and he now faces a 49ers’ defense that has all the motivation to rebound after an embarrassing Monday night performance against the Ravens. Before Zay Flowers‘ eruption last week, this Steve Wilks-coached defense limited opposing slot receivers to 24.8 yards per game over the prior four contests. There’s too much on the line to trust any Commanders and their goofiness aside from Terry McLaurin on the latter side of your Week 17 start/sit decisions.

If you have a feel-good story that you would like to share for an opportunity to be featured in an upcoming edition of “Start, Sit & Seth,” please reach out.

And for more fantasy football and uplifting content, especially start/sit advice, you can find me on Twitter @Between_SethFF.

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