For Lavell Juan, the current gaming ecosystem has focused too heavily on power users, leaving behind a large contingent of their base — casual gamers. Gaming is a constantly evolving ecosystem, but most casual gamers just want a location where they can compete and network in a relaxed environment.
Today, we’re excited to share that Brag House, founded by Lavell Juan (ODF6), closed a $5 million Series A Round led by Black Sheep Ventures and initiated the process to take the Brag House public on the London Stock Exchange later this year through an IPO. Other participants in the Series A round include Venture Capitalist Ron Bauer of Theseus Capital, notable gaming and crypto investor, Adrian Beeston, and others.
A year ago, Brag House was an experiment driven by a grassroots college ambassadorship program. Now, Lavell and his founding team have a vision of building the new social platform for gaming. Let’s look back at their journey.
Lavell, thanks for chatting with us during a busy time! Can you share a bit about your background before founding Brag House?
Lavell: I used to be a college athlete, and then was a corporate lawyer by trade before becoming a serial founder. I started a company that helped NFL rookies maximize their economic potential by giving them access to investment opportunities and brand partnerships. Now, I am one of the founders of Brag House.
What is Brag House and the story behind it?
Lavell: Brag House is building a platform to connect the next generation of gamers. I got into gaming when I tore my achilles and had to leave college sports. To bond with my teammates and satisfy my competitive nature, I got into multiplayer video games such as Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 4.
When I looked at the gaming market, I quickly noticed that the space mainly focused around the top 3-5% of users that spent hours a day on their platforms. Casual gamers, who spent a couple of hours a week on the platform, did not have a dedicated place to enjoy themselves at their pace.
My Co-Founders and I are all best friends and former amateur athletes who connected with sports and stayed connected after sports through video games. I started to build communities in sports because I saw the importance of the social capital it brings. Like sports, video games created networks, and instilled leadership. When I left college, I could not find a community locally. Moreover, it provided a social network in the game itself. The problem my co-founders and I found was that there was no organic community from the available platforms that catered to these new gamers.
SO, we started experimenting by creating an organic community where we could give casual gamers a shared experience for all types of video game experiences (team sports, solo, etc.). To jump start the community we were building, we engaged another community where there was already a large casual gaming audience and existing competitive fire: the college scene.
How did the experiment go? What did you learn?
Lavell: We started a University Ambassadorship program that helped us test the market, recruit users and conduct surveys amongst students. We quickly saw that there was significant interest amongst players, so we actually had to stop registrations after we had 50-60 dedicated players on the platform.
We did not realize it at the time, but we had created an organic community where everyone could come together for a shared experience. The fact that we focused on college students to start was great as college students have their own built-in rivalries and are born to compete against one another even years after graduating.
Immediately after we launched, viewership to our stream featuring competitions between the players on our platform skyrocketed and people started subscribing to support our content. We soared to the top 0.8% of all 7 million Twitch channels and made Affiliate Twitch partners in record time.
At this point, we were running all our games on Twitch, however, we did not see an organic community using Twitch and moved away to our own web-based technology with features we believed would better support the casual gamers that comprised the core of our audience.
How did you decide around monetizing the platform?
Lavell: By the end of the summer in 2020, we had around 2000 users and presence in campuses of around 30 schools. We started with a freemium membership and began testing paying memberships where it was $2.99 for viewers and $4.99 for the actual gamers on the platform.
We realized we had great B2C traction when over 30% of our customer base converted from free to paid users. However, a spanner was thrown in the works when a university reached out to us for a potential partnership, since they recognized the community we had built on their campus.
It was around the same time I knew we were on to something and joined the fifth cohort of the On Deck Founders Fellowship to help Brag House scale up through its guidance and the potential access to a strong investor network.
Being able to present to different investors through the On Deck Angels First Look program, meant we not only honed our pitch, but found many advisors and mentors as well. One of our first angel investors was Bill Silva from Bill Silva Ventures. He helped us evolve our vision for Brag House from an infrastructure to run tournaments into an entirely new form of media engagement. The end goal of Brag House is to be the platform that centralizes all the different elements of gaming presented to casual gamers: daily activities, media, and engagement.
How were you able to take that advice and pivot Brag House?
Lavell: I think around this time last year we were happy with our B2C growth coming into On Deck as a fellow. We had good traction and were profitable. What happened next totally caught us off guard. We were approached by a university to host a private tournament. We quickly started working on an infrastructure for private tournaments and used that model to host large scale tournaments in partnership with Nascar, Playstation, and Gamestop in the first quarter of 2021.
Hard work paid off because soon we were approached by Morach, McDonald’s® marketing agency, to consider a partnership to host tournaments for McDonald’s®. We kicked off the Super Smash Bros™: Texas Loyalty Cup sponsored by McDonald’s® and Coca-Cola®, on July 6th.
Where is Brag House with regard to fundraising?
Lavell: Our Series A raise was successful, and we are excited to announce that we have entered an amazing partnership in relation to our Series A Round of funding with Ron Bauer of Black Sheep Ventures and his partner Adrian Beeston. After completion of the raise, we will immediately start the IPO process to take the Brag House public on the London Stock Exchange, which has as of late been favorable to smaller companies with growth potential like Brag House.
We are excited about taking Brag House global — which has always been our plan. Europe has put into place many measures to create a favorable economic opportunity for technology companies in the hopes of being home to the next major tech player. This does not change any of our US goals and operations, it gives access to a broader market as casual gaming exists globally.
The expansion will open up more doors for esports nationally and internationally, where the market for global esports is growing +15.7% year over year. Indeed, many of the major investment firms such as Sequoia and Index Ventures established European offices to get ahead of the wave of technology companies currently pouring into the area.
What is your goal with the fundraiser for Brag House?
Lavell: Scalability. We are fortunate that we are profitable, but the vision is to build a total social network from the platform. Our two focus areas are to hire engineers to build key features to make the platform “sticky,” and to hire salespeople to help us seal amazing partnerships. We have templates on how we work with brands, but there is so much diversity among our audience that I’m really excited to see what creative partnerships we can build.
“We look at so many deals every week. We are pitched by so many talented, excited, dynamic entrepreneurs looking for capital for their growth companies. What stood out with Brag House was Lavell. We are fortunate to work with so many talented entrepreneurs with that magic sauce or the potential for greatness. Over 20 years of being in this business taught me to spot such talent and develop intuition. Lavell has that magic sauce, he is not only talented, educated, well spoken, but he holds many of the qualities we look for in a founder or CEO. We knew instantly that Brag House was going to be a huge success whether we were involved or not. We are so excited to be able to be a part of this exciting journey and be able to mentor and guide Lavell and his partners on this exciting journey that lays ahead for them.”
—Ron Bauer, Theseus Capital