Anthony Geranio always had a soft spot for gaming, but he never thought he would go on to start a video game wagering platform that would raise over $2 million in pre-seed funding.
Anthony grew up in rural New Jersey, and by the time he was 13 had tried his hand at professional gaming, playing in LAN tournaments at the local gamestop and playing in online matches on gamebattles.com.
"When I was in high school, my friends and I tried to replicate gamebattles so that people could have a place to scrimmage other teams in preparation for different tournaments. The dream started when we kept losing at local LAN tournaments without having enough practice and that dream quickly ended when we spent all our savings at the time on a freelancer that abandoned us. "
This led Anthony to learn programming himself, so that he would have the ability to work on his own projects without relying on others. In college, he worked on a broad mix of projects, ranging from helping his friend’s parents build websites for their small businesses, to creating a social networking app for Chris Fronzak, the lead singer for the band Attila.
Breaking the Handcuffs
Despite his numerous side projects, a couple years after graduating college , Anthony found himself stuck in a typical Software Engineering predicament. He loved the culture of the companies he worked at (Grailed and Skillshare), but was never fulfilled with the work he was doing
"I thought to myself that if I worked in a position with more autonomy (specifically as a product manager) this may help me enjoy the work more, but the companies always wanted me to stay as a software engineer because I was hard to replace. Not because I was the best engineer, but because hiring engineers is such a challenge for any startup."
In what seemed like a solution to this predicament, Anthony finally got a promising opportunity to work as a product manager at a startup called TextNow. But when COVID-19 hit, the company had to eliminate most PM positions, and he was forced to move over to the engineering team.
"When I transitioned from the job I had been fighting for to a position I did not love, I looked at myself in the mirror that night and realized that no one was going to have my back except for myself. It’s difficult to leave, they put these golden handcuffs on you by incentivizing you with rewards and you get used to a certain lifestyle being paid a $200k salary."
The Idea for 1v1Me
Coincidentally, COVID-19 was also the inspiration for what Anthony would work on next. Given lockdown closed down all his options for typical social interactions, he started to pick up gaming again to stay connected with his friends. This eventually led to wagering on video games matches in Madden, FIFA, and Call of Duty.
"We were managing everything through a group chat and using Venmo and Paypal to pay each other, and the entire process was incredibly inefficient. When looking at the existing products in the space, I realized that most were antiquated and inefficient, an opportunity. 1v1Me would be THE platform where you play games for cash."
Having struck on this idea, Anthony reached out to Alex Emmanuel, who he had worked with at Grailed and Skillshare, to see if he would be interested in the idea. Alex was the perfect fit, as his experience as a mobile and backend/design engineer allowed him to build atop servers and on APIs to bring the idea of 1v1Me to life.
Making the Leap
When they teamed up to start 1v1Me, Alex and Anthony were still working full-time jobs and had no intentions to fundraise. From the early meetings they had with people in the venture ecosystem, they were told that they needed a lot more traction before fundraising would be even remotely possible.
This placed them in a predicament where they would have to quit their job and go all in on 1v1Me solely on savings, or continue to work part-time on the project and hope that 1v1Me somehow picked up traction.
That’s when Anthony discovered On Deck, after meeting with a friend who was an associate at Sequoia and having softly pitched 1v1Me to him.
"He [the friend from Sequoia] mentioned that I should join On Deck to get help building the company, mastering my pitch and learning more about the fundraising process. And it paid off, after joining On Deck, I saw first-hand that it was possible to raise early and I learned about how to fundraise through On Deck’s Fundraising Concierge.
They were also given the opportunity to pitch the whole On Deck Angels fellowship. Before this, Anthony says he met with 5 to 6 fellows a day in the founders fellowship to make sure he was creating a compelling story and not just reading off his slides.
Fundraising for 1v1Me
Having that experience with On Deck Angels and the Fundraising Concierge helped prepare them for their first round of investment, which was highly successful. On Deck's Fundraising Concierge is a curated approach to determining which investors, angels and funds, in the On Deck network are a great fit for On Deck Companies in each stage of their fundraise, from initial checks, to gaining momentum to closing out with strategic investors. Hundreds of investors in the On Deck network are interested in meeting with On Deck Founders, and the Fundraising Concierge helps facilitate introductions while supporting the founder in iterating on their fundraising approach.
At the end of their pre-seed round, 1v1Me managed to raise more than $2 million from investors, including On Deck, Erik Torenberg at Village Global, Turner Novak at GeltVC, Niv Dror at Shrug, SterlingVC, Ali Hamed at Crossbeam, Cody Hock and Cole Hock from UpNorth, Lightshed Ventures and Bettor Capital.
Notable angels that joined the round included Anthony Pompliano, Hannah Bryan (Noisy Butters), Justin Waldron, Brud founder Trevor McFedries, Ian Borthwick, Albert Cheng, Stephen Sikes and Austin Rief.
Through the fundraise, 1v1Me has been able to bring on a backend engineer, iOS engineer and a Head of Partnerships to assemble their A team. Anthony is also aiming to employ creative growth strategies through creator partnerships, tournaments and giveaways to spur adoption in the Call of Duty community.
Partnering with Content Creators
1v1Me launched with NoisyButters, a Call of Duty: Warzone streamer with over 1.1 million subscribers on Youtube who is also an angel investor in the company, joining the platform. For the general public, 1v1Me is using an invite-only method to ensure an engaged and curated audience as they perfect the product.
Content creators were the perfect target for 1v1Me’s growth strategy, which has now created a 13,000 person waitlist. As 1v1Me wants to create a network where wagering is the engagement tool, and the product serves as a transactional platform, they needed to cultivate trust within the community. Leveraging creators they were able to embed themselves within the community as well as provide live-streamed examples of how the app performed in action. With creators streaming their matches on Twitch and 1v1Me monitoring the competition and sending money to the victor.
“We want to build around one vertical at a time as we need to build trust within a community as we are a platform that distributes money. We picked Call of Duty as I understand the community of the game but also because Warzone, a battle royale game, has a lot of traction and room to grow. ”