In April, Davis Engle asked his lifelong friend to quit his job in Dallas and come take a gamble on his startup. For Sam Shortall, it was an easy decision.
“It didn’t take long for me to weigh the pros and cons of leaving consulting and doing something revolutionary,” Shortall said.
The two have known each other since kindergarten. They grew up in the same neighborhood in Overland Park, went to school together and even played on the same football team for Blue Valley North High School. Shortall played offense; Engle defense.
“When you’re working on a team,” Shortall said, “your goal is always the same.”
The pair is preparing for the coming football season, but this time they won’t be suiting up in their old high school football gear under the friday night lights.
Amid the tricky landscape of daily fantasy sports — and the looming countdown to kick off — their venture, TokenTourney, is already fully legal in 24 states including Kansas and limited in 18 states, including Missouri. But Engle is hopeful that Missouri will soon follow.
“It’s a hometown thing,” Engle said, “we definitely want Missouri in.”
Making the playbook
TokenTourney is a daily fantasy sports app with a twist.
Engle, the startup’s founder and CEO, came up with the idea for his company during COVID-19 lockdown. He wanted to give people something they had been missing: experiences.
The core of the company is to sell those experiences to the average person who doesn’t have any way to access them.
“And we’ve turned it into a game,” Engle said.
Click here to begin exploring TokenTourney.
Like some other daily fantasy sports apps, users compete by predicting real-world sports scenarios; like “Will Patrick Mahomes throw for over or under 300 yards in the upcoming game?” or “Will Lebron score over or under 25 points tonight?”
If you get more questions right than enough of the other players, you advance to the next round.
The predictions are designed so that a casual sports fan can answer without knowing every statistic and all the analytics, Engle said.
After a series of rounds, the winner will have the opportunity for experience prizes.
While TokenTourney hasn’t announced what these specific prizes will be for the coming football season, it won’t just be a video cameo or a signed jersey.
“No,” Engle said, “it’s way better than that.”
Some prizes already on the website include “private concert with an A-list celebrity,” “round of golf with a pro golfer” or “Super Bowl suite with NFL legends.” Though some tournaments will also offer straight cash prizes, they said.
But it’s what happens between the rounds of the tournament that differentiates TokenTourney from its biggest competitors like FanDuels or DraftKings.
TokenTourney offers a marketplace where users can sell their spots in the tournament for cash to give another player a chance at the grand prize and cash out.
“We’re trying to gamify it more,” Engle said, “so it doesn’t seem so transactional.”
They hope the strategy involved in the tournament will make it feel more like a video game. And even if you win a grand prize, you can still place it for sale on the website for a cash prize instead.
“The long-term goal is that this could be a marketplace for once-in-a-lifetime experiences and prizes that we’ve done the legwork for,” Engle said.
The app was in beta mode this summer, but set to be in full swing in time for kickoff of the NFL season.
The idea started while Engle was a research coordinator for KU Medical Center after graduating from the University of Southern California with a degree in neuroscience. While working, he amassed an initial seven-figure first round of investments from people in the Kansas City area.
“I went out with a PowerPoint presentation, an idea and a pitch,” Engle said.
Now working on TokenTourney full-time, the team is seeking a second round of investments. While they are looking for venture capital and private equity funds to support the startup, the duo is having more luck with local angel investors.
It’s been difficult, but Engle thinks local investors like their Kansas City connection.
Shortall, now the startup’s director of operations, is optimistic for the company’s coming prospects this season, he said.
“I feel like TokenTourney has the potential to be recognized as this premier marketplace for once-in-a-lifetime experiences,” Shortall continued.
“People do warn you about getting into business with your friends,” Shortall said, “but it really just depends on who you are and who your friend is.”
Shortall was an initial investor in Engle’s idea and part of its first testing group. Before he worked with Engle, Shortall was always there for support to help him achieve his goals, the duo said.
The friends work well together, they said, noting they are honest with each other and recognize their similarities and differences, though neither have a business degree.
As a startup of two employees with high ambitions of international expansion, Engle and Shortall have to wear lots of hats. They are the product team, marketing team and the social media team.
They’ve outsourced app development and a legal team as they navigate the evolving daily fantasy sports industry.
Home field advantage
Though he was never into daily fantasy sports before TokenTourney, Engle has been a lifelong Chiefs and Royals fan and wants to continue to support the area.
“As we’re starting to look for athlete celebrity partners,” Engle said, “we’re really trying to hone in on KC natives.”
He hopes to have hyper-local tournament prizes for areas across the country. He suggested ideas like game day experiences with local coaches and athletes.
But as a new startup, TokenTourney needs to build brand loyalty. They plan to market with athletes on social media advertising the company and the potential for shared experiences with them.
TokenTourney will be available in most states when it launches its full version soon, the two said. But Engle has long-term goals of international expansion.
Shortall and Engle also mentioned the possibility of expanding outside of just daily fantasy sports and into other verticals. Tournaments for video games, like Madden NFL or Call of Duty, or trivia competitions where players compete against each other for similar experience prizes.
“There will come a day in the not-too-distant future where people not only come to play on the site, but to shop for things that they can’t get anywhere else,” Shortall said. He hopes that people will view it as a “premium experience eBay” where people can play and bid on these once-in-a lifetime experiences.
“Being able to provide people with experiences that they can tell to their kids and grandchildren someday,” Shortall said, “and have moments they were able to get through TokenTourney be some core memories for them, that’s what’s most exciting for me.”