Chad Capellman had the chance to talk with Eric Doty, founder of the sports card box breaking app Loupe (pronounced “loop”). Fresh off announcing an initial $3M fundraising round, Doty talks about a most adventurous year, in which he started the company just as the pandemic hit. Doty talks about how past experiences working in radio, with Xbox, Minecraft, and other ventures prepared him for the app, which bundles live streaming of sports card “box breaking”, microtransactions, and online community in one app. He also speaks candidly about learning how to pitch to venture capitalists, what cards he’s personally seeking and why he’s not a huge fan of the comedy Silicon Valley. 

Podcast Highlights

1:49 – On what the past year has been like: “So we’ve been working on Loupe since earlier this year I actually left my previous job as a head of product to start Loupe. Turns out that was right before a major global pandemic. So that was a fun challenge added to the mix of starting a company for the first time. But we’ve been working hard on it. We recently just completed a $3 million raised, with our lead check coming from Upfront in the LA area. And we’ve just been hustling these last few months, building out a new app for the sports card market. And it’s been a pretty incredible journey, going from prototype to building out [a] beta [version], fundraising, launching again, all during a pandemic and with a fully remote team, which is the first time I’ve ever done that in my career as well. So it’s a lot of firsts.”

5:15 – On how they decided what features to launch with: “And we just went, “Hey, we’re going to simplify this. And we got to that point because I was a huge, huge collector when I was a little kid. I grew up on a dairy farm in Western New York. And I couldn’t go to live sports events, but I love sports. I played sports. So sports cards were my connection to that big professional sports world. I had already been thinking about this live streaming, box breaking app because I’ve been buying, I got into cards a while back. So I was buying into these and just slowly getting frustrated, like finding pain points. And finally it got to the point where the light bulb hit and went. “Why don’t we just lead with this? There’s nothing else on the market like this right now.” Where I think we have some expertise and some very specific tools that are going to be coming out that, you know, really differentiate us from other live e-commerce ecosystems. So March was just building. I think around May / June, we tested enough that we opened up a beta and ran it through the summer and we just kept … we were making a little bit of money from people, but it was really just to smooth out the features.”

5:57 – On similarities between sports cards and streetwear: We’re seeing signs that you saw in maybe streetwear and shoe culture four to five years ago, right before it, you know, as it was starting to really explode and all of this new technology and platforms came onto the scene to support it. So we, with our own love of sports cards and coming from backgrounds of video games, FinTech live video, We kind of put all our superpowers together and said, “Hey, we can build a unified platform of live e-commerce, but we’re going to specifically target the sports card vertical first.”

9:11 – On the importance of community: We’re in double digits now of hearing “Hey, I checked out your app for the first time and I joined a room and it was really startling, you know, in the first second somebody was greeting me and saying my name. And again, I think that’s a big thanks to the low latency that you wouldn’t find on a lot of other platforms. But yeah, the community’s huge. When we sign sellers to the platform and we vet them, something that we really look for beyond, you know, quality of product and shipping and they’re operating as a real business is, do they understand what makes something like this special to people? Are they there to just sell? And it’s very cold and transactional, or are they warm? Do they want to build, build followers? Again I liken it a lot to going to the local bar. And you always have your regulars and your friends. It should be like that. I should be dropping in on a Thursday night and know that I’m going to see a couple people that I’ve been in the same room with multiple times. And, you know, by now I might even know what they do for a job or where they live and it just becomes this really social experience.”

“There’s like no competition even though you’re all kind of buying from the same pool of cards and sometimes somebody will get a really big hit that’s worth hundreds or thousands of dollars. I’m not bitter about it. Cause I’m like I know that’s really special for that person or, Oh, they’re a huge Green Bay Packers fan and I can’t believe they just got that Aaron Rogers card, like good for them. And to me, that’s something that you don’t get through a lot of traditional web experiences. And a lot of even new experiences they focus so much on the features and the getting the user to do something. And we kind of took a step back and go, how do we just let people have fun together?”

11:57 – On how his past experience equipped him to lead the creation of the app: “I really do think the jack of all trades, master of none kind of worked for me for a lot of my career. I did a little bit of radio at college. My first full-time job out of college for like six, seven months was working at a radio station, which was really eye-opening because it is archaic. It was such an eye-opening ordeal, cause I’m like, ‘Oh, you have a website,’ but the whole business overall revolves around radio, which is like many decades old technology. And it’s, it’s interesting to see how people think about that. My next immediate job was working at X-Box, which is on the completely opposite end of high-end technology for consumers, subscription models, micro-transactions all of the things that you think of in today’s digital ecosystems. A lot of my time there was spent around the subscription models. So, somebody has a console and Halo III, how do you make sure that they’re on X-Box Live? How do you make sure they’re buying other games, watching Netflix?”

“And they become very connected, spending all of their time on this console because it’s a very versatile device. And after we launched X-Box One there’s not much else you can really do that’s as big as that until the next console comes around. So I decided to jump into the startup space and I ended up going into Mobcrush, which is a live streaming startup started on mobile, evolved into including desktop. I basically worked two concurrent jobs there. And those basically, I think, had a direct impact on what I’m doing now at Loupe. One was we’re building live streaming tools. We worked a lot with AI so we had an AI tool that would watch your streams and if you’ve got a kill in Fortnite, it would contextualize it, isolate it, create a clip, and that clip could be thrown into a montage.”

“It could be instant replayed, picture in picture with some advertising on it or whatever we wanted to do with that. And then the other was, I was a GM on a game service. That was in the Minecraft ecosystem, which is still, I think, vastly underrated the Minecraft and Roblox today.”

15:01 – On the unique challenges of developing a product within the Minecraft platform: Working on Minecraft was very interesting because a lot of the things you can do in games made for teenagers and adults or free-to-play mobile games you can’t do when you’re basically on a Minecraft platform. Like we were a game within a platform that was also its own game. So there’s a lot of things we couldn’t do where we couldn’t email our players because most of them are underage. And, you know, we don’t want to get in trouble or get Microsoft in trouble. We can’t, we can’t really send them messages through the console.”

“So we had to get really creative about, how do we communicate to kids in our digital world on  what they should be doing, how to play the games. If there are micro-transactions, how do you get there, and get them to buy something in a non-aggressive manner. If you’re aggressive, a lot of times in that space, the kids will churn because they’re not about that. They’re just there to play games. “

“I think that broad kind of entertainment subscription microtransaction gamification world has really set me up in an interesting way to look at live breaks and live e-commerce in an interesting way that you might not see other companies go toward.”

23:18 – On how product roadmaps affect launch decisions: “I think if I could go back in time, I think our beta would be a little bit shorter. We would probably launch a little bit earlier, but you know, hindsight’s 2020. The thing I really like, and I appreciate, and I think the way I rationalize how long it took us to get to launch is the fact that we just learned so much. We did so much research both on other platforms on our own platform. And we just we nailed it on the pain points, but we also built out, I can’t even tell you how long our roadmap was when we launched. So we launched with a base set of features, but I think we had like four pages of just a list of roadmap features.”

25:40 – On the challenges of learning how to raise venture funding: “I would actually say the fundraising was literally the most difficult thing for me. I mean, if we’re, if we’re getting honest and personal here I’ve, I’ve run big teams before , I’ve worked on multimillion dollar projects, but there’s something different about stepping out of that and going, “I am creating a company from zero.” Building the team hasn’t been, too bad , leading product and direction and making sure everyone’s clear on goals and they’re bought in … I love that stuff. I hate pitching. No offense to any VCs or investors, but coming in as an engineer and product person , it was rough. It was really rough. And just learning how to, make a deck and think like a VC and what they look for. And we raised from some angels who were, you know, lifesavers. I will remember every single one of our angels who invested in this company.”

31:33 – On the importance of educating users and investors: “I think that’s the thing I want to get to. I’m less leading with a product and I’m more leading with the lens that we look through to find success. And then once they have a foundation for that, then we slide into, “Okay, this is what we built and this is the success we’ve had.”

“And a lot of it is education. There are so many people and there’s probably a lot of people listening to this podcast right now that. That know nothing about sports cards or they haven’t looked at sports cards since the eighties or early nineties. And, you know, we do have blogs and we’re continuing to add more education and anticipation in the app. Because again, just like those pitches, you come in and they’re like, “We know nothing about this.”

“And I see that in the product as well as we have some really what I’d call hardcore card collectors coming in and they’re, ready to go. They know exactly what a box break is. But we have to step out and go, “Okay, what is a first-time user who knows nothing about this space? What do they see?”

“How do we get them onboarded? How do we tell them that this is the best thing that they’re ever going to use? And they, they need to like get to the next step and watch a stream and how do we get them to type their first chat message and then eventually make a purchase? So that was, that was a very interesting challenge.”

34:44 – On the importance, as CEO, of being connected to the customer: “At least at this stage of the business — when somebody emails us with an issue, whether “Hey, USPS lost the package” or “I bought something  and I didn’t .. this is on us, but like I bought something and I didn’t understand what it is. Can you help me?” Or “I got these cards and I’m new to the hobby. Can you just, you know, I know you’re all card experts. Can you help me out and tell me what I should be doing?” We get the full spectrum. And there’s a lot to be said for the CEO of a startup, emailing those people and going, “Hey we’re a small team, but I’m the CEO I’m here to help.” I’m ultimately accountable for the business. And I think that just sets such a huge tone.” 

36:13 – On why he’s not a fan of the show Silicon Valley: “So many of my friends. And people in my circle love it. And it’s, I totally get it, but it hits way too close to home. Jokes in that show that it would be funny to a normal person, I just can’t find funny because I’ve had people like literally do that in an office, like the most awkward or painful interactions. I’m like, “Oh yeah, I remember so-and-so did that.” So it’s like some professional PTSD.” 

37:02 – On what card(s) is he on the hunt for: “I’ve been hunting, we call it hunting, which is [laughter] we have a lot of weird terms in this community. I generally hunt for like DK Metcalf, Seahawks player. I would go for his rookie card. I’m collecting a lot of Michael Jordan cards lately. Not from box breaks. I’ll go out and find those hidden scattered throughout the world and try to pick those up. But mostly DK Metcalf, and I’m a big Miami Heat fan. So I just moved to the Miami area from LA.  I did it before it was trendy. But I’m a big Miami Heat fan and Tyler Herro. I’ve been collecting a bunch of his rookie card. So any time those pop-up in the pack, I’m really happy.”