There are 33 million fantasy football players and, it might seem, just as many websites to give them advice on managing their teams.
Ilya Tabakh and his Kansas City startup company, Edge Up Sports, see a business opportunity in those numbers — and a fun one at that.
“I’ve played fantasy football, starting with my college buddies, for more than 10 years,” Tabakh, 32, said recently at Edge Up’s offices in the River Market. “But we found that fantasy players were spending two to eight hours a week managing their teams, and that’s not necessarily what they had in mind when they signed up.”
So Tabakh and his team have designed and developed a program to gather and analyze all the relevant data on each National Football League player and deliver it in attractive and easily digestible formats to smartphones, tablets and desktop computers.
Edge Up plans to crunch any kind of data that could bear on a player’s performance — from the conventional (injuries, performance versus the coming opponent, statistical splits such as turf versus grass, weather forecasts) to the groundbreaking (analysis of social media and what all the analysts are writing and saying, including how it’s being said).
“Our platform will be your assistant coach,” he said, quickly summarizing the available information “so you can make good decisions, have fun again — and have some time left over to talk smack” as your victories pile up.
This will be Edge Up Sports’ first NFL season, and it is launching a Kickstarter campaign Wednesday in hopes of raising $35,000 in what Tabakh calls “resources to enhance the platform.” As the company signs up and connects with users, it will get their reactions and suggestions to improve the program throughout the season.
For $22, a player can use Edge Up’s basic information platform for the season, and $55 buys access to the company’s “cognitive tier.”
And what makes the cognitive tier different? It will use IBM Watson, known for being in the forefront of cognitive computing. That means Watson’s ability to analyze data and language is exceptional and includes “learning” and improving its methods and abilities.
Watson has been around a while — it beat the top two human champs at “Jeopardy” in 2011 — and last year IBM took a big leap with it, committing $1 billion and a workforce of 2,000. By the end of 2014, IBM announced a wave of around 100 clients developing uses for it from health management and retail sales training to recommending cancer treatments.
So, Tabakh figured, why not get Watson’s advice on something really important, such as which quarterback to start each Sunday.
Whether Watson would predict victory for Edge Up in the marketplace is another question. But Tabakh likes his chances.
He has the background: bachelor’s and master’s degrees in computer engineering; a blend of academic and entrepreneurial success at the University of Kansas, where he and professor Susan Stagg-Williams started a biodiesel program that Tabakh’s brother now manages; and startup experience with Somametric, a consulting business that analyzes human interaction.
“I was having beers with a friend who was managing social media for the Chiefs,” Tabakh said, “and we asked ourselves: Why aren’t we using these analytic tools on the NFL?”
As Tabakh thought about how football news and analysis itself could be gathered and analyzed in new and deeper ways, he started assembling a team of Kansas City area startup veterans to help him.
About a dozen people, counting contractors, are working on the project, Tabakh said, and he and five others are the core: Kyle Kramer, business development, who played in the NFL for the New Orleans Saints; Coty Beasley, UX (user experience) specialist; Andrew Rademacher, head of infrastructure; Chris Brown, legal and operations; and Ravi Patel, in charge of data science.
Tabakh, who was born in Moscow but came to Johnson County at age 7 when his family left Russia, also said he is happy that his company reflects the area’s growing supply of tech talent.
“We also used local talent for our videos,” he said, supporting the wider creative community. Some of the videos tell about the company’s service, but most are quick hits on the foibles of fantasy fans.
As the Kickstarter campaign starts, Tabakh is hoping “casual but passionate” fans sign up.
“We’d love to have 25,000 users — younger, tech-forward fans who want to be part of the conversation about how we do this.”
Though Tabakh expects the program to evolve throughout the season, he also said it would be powerful right from the start — providing, say, useful drafting information, even though it’s designed more to help during the season when conditions change and information and advice multiply.
And what if players looking for an edge find that everyone in their league is using Edge Up?
“That should be a great league — more information, more power, more enjoyment,” he said. “But in the end, you still make the decisions.”