If you are alive and still use a television to consume your shows, you have surely seen the ad blitz from Daily Fantasy Sports (or "DFS") sites like FanDuel and DraftKings. And if you follow the news, you may have seen controversies erupt around those companies. It all started with (incorrect) claims of "insider trading," which put this industry in the media crosshairs and eventually led to several investigations, all of which is cresting with a fight in New York right now between Attorney General Eric Schneiderman and pretty much the entire DFS industry. The AG issued a Cease & Desist, the sites have filed suit, and off we go. It's a mess that, at worst, could cost these companies everything (they both appear to be on track for billion-dollar IPOs) and, at best, could cost them a ton of money and social capital to slug this out.
I've been around DFS long enough to know that many "MBA types" do really well as players, due to comfort with quantitative analysis, modeling skills, and even the ability to build robust and sophisticated trading algorithms. But even if you are not a finance wizard and/or a sports fanatic, can you learn something from Daily Fantasy Sports as an MBA applicant? Oh let us count the ways:
1. Daily Fantasy Sports shows both the opportunity and the peril of launching a mega-growth tech company. Much like Uber and Airbnb and other innovative companies, sites like FanDuel and DraftKings basically jumped into the opportunity that a tech platform provides for massive growth at an incredible rate. This is obviously an amazing thing for these companies as they can experience massive success almost overnight. However, it can also allow a company to skip right over key growth steps on its way to becoming standard-bearers, which can lead to mistakes and even to annoying the consumer base. It doesn't appear that these sites ever stopped to ask "should we grow this fast? Is there any downside?" And why would they? They never had to. But for any MBA candidate that is considering a start-up or a path towards entrepreneurship, this is a worthy case study - when a company relies on tech to scale, be sure to ask yourself if the technology alone should be what sets your limits for growth.
2. DFS shows the value of interdisciplinary thinking within teams. One of the most overlooked parts of an MBA experience is the chance to work within teams that feature members from different functions, industries, and backgrounds. I find that many of my clients have this ability and have demonstrated it in the past - yet they never think to talk about it. This, despite the fact that many top MBA programs are proud of how interdisciplinary they are (both in the design of the business school and also in the way the b-school sits within the broader university). Being able to work across disciplines is huge and something you should be assessing in your own skill set - and then putting on display. In the case of these sites, their entire future hangs largely on legal, political (lobbying), and PR right now. All the tech innovation in the world won't help them now. A magic touch with investors and a propensity for financial projections is as good as useless for the time being. It's going to come down to lawsuits, political fights, and public opinion (and the influence of said opinion) when it comes to saving the DFS industry. An appreciation of these disciplines - and the ability to engage with them - will now become the most valuable skill that the leaders of these companies possess (if they do indeed possess it).
3. The NY AG reminds us that the world is not always rational. This is more or less for current applicants, as a way to say, "life doesn't always make sense and it's not always fair." Part of the reason that people within DFS didn't anticipate New York shutting down fantasy sports is that the actions of the AG are pretty much irrational. His arguments don't make sense (in one breath he says that DFS is not a game of skill and in another he complains that the top players win all the time), his stance is hypocritical (NY is a state with horse racing and a lotto, plus Schneiderman himself has received large campaign donations from the casino industry), he comes off as grandstanding ("not on my watch!"), and, most of all, his actions seem likely to sweep him right out of office as the attitude of many (many) New York voters goes from "who cares, I don't know who any of these guys are" to "I am voting for the other person." Basically what he's doing doesn't make sense and it confounds people who think rationally (especially people who like playing DFS or who have staked their income on it and live in New York). But you know what? That's life. You are going to get denied from some schools unfairly, despite doing everything right. You are going to experience irrational or nonsensical results all the time. The key is to be ready to react to it. Don't throw up your hands in defeat and complain or be a victim - go solve the problem and power forward. Even when you are dealing with a billion-dollar idea, there is going to be an Eric Schneiderman waiting in the wings, is what I'm saying. Be prepared.
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