Every business has a story. Box Baseball is no different.
Really, the start of my fantasy baseball experience was with pencil and paper back when box scores from newspapers were the source of our enjoyment. Nothing gave us more pleasure than to linger over lunch, poring over stats. We’d wait for the Baseball Weekly (remember that?) for even more in-depth baseball stats and coverage. Hey, it was the late 80s, early 90s and computers were still used for stick figure games on disks that were large and floppy, soon to be smaller and square.
As much fun as it was to tally stats (and we’d rotate who had to do it every week), at that point in time fantasy baseball was not much different from fantasy hockey…just with more categories that we could include.
With the advent and popularity of the Internet, fantasy baseball websites were popping up left and right. The great thing is that many of them were free and took on the painful task of adding stats. But really, the final results weren’t much different than the old pencil and paper days.
If the music of the old original RBI baseball video game on Nintendo still rings in your ears, you’ll understand the burning desire we had to play some new format of fantasy baseball. There were all sorts of different “simulation” games like Strat-o-Matic or Diamond Mind, but they were all historical; great if you wanted to pit the 1967 Mets against the 1991 Blue Jays, but not very helpful if you wanted to play a predictive fantasy game.
Other simulation baseball fantasy games were too complex and really not “fun” and didn’t seem too realistic. After all, isn’t fantasy supposed to be as close to real life as possible yet still fun? We glumly realized there wasn’t anything out there that fit all the categories.
So on a rainy day over lunch, the original founders of Box Baseball sat around and sketched out a new concept that was unlike anything else. You’ve heard stories of businesses being created on the back of a napkin, and that’s what literally took place here.
We soon discovered that we had a problem. While we had this grand ol’ vision for this spectacular new game, we actually couldn’t build it ourselves. We weren’t software developers – we were just a couple guys who loved baseball who had some business sense. Did it stop us? Hardly! Not to worry, we said. We had the vision and the business smarts. How hard could it be to find some good coders? That was surely the easiest part of this entire endeavor. Right? Right……?
If we thought that a complex fantasy baseball game like the “versus” format we were creating was simple, we were sorely mistaken. We had clearly bitten off more than we could chew and we were about to enter a three year period of trials and tribulations that would make anybody in our positions wonder what we had gotten ourselves into.
To make matters worse, we were two poor ex-students who had a boatload of student loans and debt starting to raise new families. Yay! Full steam ahead!
Like everyone else back around 2005, if you needed coding, you simply had to outsource it to India. Never mind they play cricket instead of baseball. How hard could it be? We give them the requirements, they build it.
For anyone looking to build software, here’s a word of advice. Unless you are a coder yourself, do NOT outsource the whole she-bang to India. The phrase "penny wise and pound foolish" certainly applied in this case. The product was like a car whose wheels would fall off, breaks would squeak, stereo knob would fall off in your hands and drive backward instead of forward. It was broken beyond belief.
We quickly fired the Indian coding company and searched for a US team of coders who could a) fix the broken code and b) continue to build out the rest of the requirements. We settled on a team based in Boston. After all, how could you go wrong with coders from Boston? MIT, Harvard, BU, Boston College…a ton of good talent there.
The new team took one step forward but two steps back. To make matters worse, the notes they left within the code were in Vietnamese and impossible for our future coders to figure out what they meant.
With much of the cash from our benevolent silent investors dwindling, we were in dire straits and no closer to going live with a working product.
Anyway, to make a long story short, we had a comedic journey of coders. Some good, some flakes, some bizarre, who came and went.
Because of this fundamental problem, our Beta Season was a complete disaster. We had quite a few excited folks sign up, all clamoring to be part of history with the soft launch of Box.
Our live drafting module broke down more than a 1980’s Yugo. Our game results (when they would send out) were riddled with errors. I would wake up at 6am PT during draft days, open my Inbox and watch in horror as the flood of emails would come in with problems during the draft. I would dread waking up every day and face literally hundreds of emails.
Now if this were Bill Gates or Mark Zuckerberg’s biography, they’d talk about how they hunkered down with Red Bull and coded around the clock to fix things. The problem was that we couldn’t do anything, nothing, to help resolve the issues – dang, should have skipped college and went and got a crash course on programming.
The rest of the Beta Season was no better. In our wisdom we had offered a full 100% money back guarantee. At a point during the season we made the decision to go ahead and refund everyone’s money. If we were going to be in this for the long haul, it was certainly worth the short term financial hit to prove that we wanted to conduct business in the right way for the benefit of our customers.
Unfortunately the damage was already done. Some of the customers, regardless of the refund, were so pissed at us, there was no way they would give us a second chance. Others laughed and spread the news of our misadventures on fantasy baseball message boards. We were fast becoming the laughing stock of the industry.
Assaults came from a different direction as well. Any time you challenge the status quo, expect to be attacked. Loyal fans of our competitors exaggerated and spread misinformation on message boards. The owner of our main competitor called me to complain about the Google Ads I was running, calling me unprofessional. I was puzzled as my marketing and advertising was no different than say the Pepsi Challenge back in the days comparing themselves to Coke.
I won’t lie to you. Many times we thought about pulling the plug at this point. Friendships were tested as we argued and blamed each other. But really, we were too far down the path to quit. And we could see the beginning of something special.
Seasons 1 and 2 were much better, owing in large part to having found two great programmers who were both extremely competent and responsive – one of whom is now a part-owner of the company and cares about the product just as much as we do. In retrospect, had we had these two on our team from the outset, we would have saved ourselves a lot of pain and avoided a lot of lost customers. But “coulda shoulda” is just a waste of time. We made our mistakes and had to learn from them.
We made a conscious decision to stay joined at the hip with our customers. As quickly as they reported bugs or unhappiness, we would work to fix them or adjust as needed. We held conference calls with customers, inviting them to air their grievances and praise. My cell phone would ring with customers calling with questions or concerns. We eventually set up a Box Competition Committee comprised of almost 20 of our customers who volunteered to be a part of a working group who would review proposed rule changes and vote on them.
As we wrapped up Season 3 at the end of 2011, Box Baseball was a well-oiled machine humming along. What was once just a vision back in 2004 was now a full blown reality. Playoffs were concluded, trophies were mailed, people were happy. Sure we still aren’t perfect. We know where we need to improve, we know where we can get better. And we will.
Through it all, we’ve had the blessing of meeting some wonderful folks who stood by us. One lesson we learned was that those who complained the most actually ended up being our most loyal customers. It was the silent ones who quietly quit, never to come back. Good lesson to learn.
Many of our customers we got to know well. All were hard working folks who paid us with their precious dollars for some fantasy baseball, even during the worst recession of a generation. We were touched that they believed in Box enough to keep paying, and we were determined to not let them down. Along the way, we’ve had some customers get married, some customers be deployed overseas to fight wars for our freedoms and some even pass away.
But they, like us, share a common thread. A love for the game of baseball.
It all goes back to those happy memories we have of the smell of the grass and dust in little league. The feel of the well-worn leather glove. The joy of sorting through baseball cards. The camaraderie of old school pencil and paper fantasy leagues. Whittling hours away debating and laughing about trades gone wrong.
That’s what we want Box Baseball to be about. We want to put the fun back into fantasy baseball.
We hope we will be honored enough for you to give us a try. As we did back then, we offer a full 100% money back guarantee if for any reason you are not satisfied with Box.
Please give us a try and sign up today. We would love for you to be a part of the continuing story of Box.
One of the frazzled founders