Fantasy leads to career reality for IT grad

Jeremy Smith ’02 (information technology) admits he’s an unlikely gridiron hero.

In fact, he was never much of a sports fan — until he discovered fantasy football in 1995. His hobby eventually turned into a business when, in 2003, he released “Xpert Leagues (later changed to Xpert Sports) to the public. He included support for a “Survivor League” that people played on Internet message boards rather than through a Web site.

“Inclusion of that lead to a great deal of word-of-mouth support,” says Smith, “and my site had 5,000 members in the first three months without a dollar spent on advertising.”
Smith, a Rochester native, was living in New Orleans when he got interested in fantasy football. He returned home and studied optics and computer science at Monroe Community College before starting his studies at RIT, where he also worked as a Web designer in the Educational Technology Center.

Meanwhile, he began to develop his fantasy football software.

“One interesting aspect of building a community-based fantasy football site is that my customers’ passion — or obsession — with the hobby and my site led to many offers of help,” Smith says.“So what started as a one-man team quickly grew to include more than 15 writers and news posters, two or three people helping with e-mail support, a system administrator — all essentially working for free out of their love of what I had created.”

Working 70 to 80 hours a week on the project proved to be a terrific learning experience — and also quite lucrative. “The income I generated was by selling the commissioner product for $80 per league, as well as offering prize leagues,” he explains.

In 2006, Smith was contacted by Bodog, an online gaming company, which bought his software in 2007. He worked for Bodog developing software and other gaming ideas until earlier this year.

“I’ve also built and sold two other businesses related to fantasy football,” says Smith. (One was a fantasy football directory and the other was a content management system for Web sites.)

Most recently, Smith is making a living as an online poker player while pursuing an interest in documentary film making.

“There’s all these subcultures out there,” says Smith, “and if you tap in, there’s a lot of opportunity.

“We created a community,” he adds, referring to his fantasy football site. “That was the key to our success.”

Special supplemental story, Spring 2008