Building Better CMOs
Building Better CMOs
Mike Raffensperger (FanDuel) Transcript, Part 2
Greg Stuart: This is Building Better CMOs. Let's get back to my conversation with Mike Raffensperger, the chief commercial officer at FanDuel.

There's some common thesis out there, I think by a lot of marketers, that they need to build an emotional connection. That's kind of how brand often gets articulated. Do you try to push an emotional connection with FanDuel and its customers, or is that not really the vernacular that you would use to talk about it?

Mike Raffensperger: For sure. I think it's the real raison d'etre that we exist in people's lives. "We provide gambling services" is not a very inspirational or connective brand. I think we operate under the brand promise that we make every moment more. I think that experience of amplification, amplifying moments is really true to the role we play in people's lives. Kind of one of the best hype men sitting next to you at a sports game or heck, at the dentist's office when you're bored for five minutes and want something to do, so you spin up a hand of blackjack or you take a look at tonight's game and what the odds are.

We take incredible moments in sports, make them even better. We take frankly kind of boring moments in sports, make those better, too. And some of our other suite of products, whether it's iGaming or some of our skills-based products where you can play games like Wheel of Fortune against other real people for money, we make the quiet moments in your day more fun, too. That is the emotional connection that I think we're looking to build with people is help make every moment more, play a little bit of that hype man role in the good and the indifferent moments in your life.

GS: So is your team responsible also for customer experience, by the way?

MR: We do not have a formal CX organization in FanDuel, and I actually think that's a good thing because the reality is your customer experience is not just marketing or the customer acquisition funnel or our CRM campaigns. It's not just our product and the way our UX is laid out and what our homepage looks like. It's not just our CS channel where when you want to chat with us if you've got a problem, it's not just risk and trading, which is really the bookmaking, how we set the lines and odds. It is across all of it. I think what we do have, we have a set of leadership principles at the company that we operate under and essentially it's a tool for our hiring practice, how we promote people, the way we talk to each other, the way we make decisions. One of our most important leadership principles is that everything begins with customer, and to speak plainly, our revenue comes from our customer's delight.

It is not the other way around. So as we think about road map planning, marketing campaigning—offer construction is a big one, making sure offers are straightforward, clear, easy to use—that it begins with a customer, not a commercial model of this one's slightly less expensive or slightly better return than that one. Really putting the customer at the center of the way we make decisions. So I think we use more of a guiding principle as opposed to a formal organizational structure, which can be hard because then you've got this sort of other entity that is trying to influence outcomes in marketing products, CS, engineering, et cetera, et cetera. I think we felt it was more instructive and more successful if it is embedded in the fabric of the way we make decisions regardless of what department you're in.

GS: Where were you in the list of CMOs that came into FanDuel? You weren't the first CMO were you? I assume there was somebody before you?

MR: I was not. Prior to me joining the company, there were other CMOs. I did join before sports betting was officially legalized in the United States. So this was back in the DFS days.

GS: The question I was going to ask you, and I'm not here to comment on previous regimes, I'm not getting into that business or in different cycles, I'm trying to stay away from that. But I'm just curious at just your sense of how you felt marketing really needed to change for this new environment. I'm trying to get at how you looked at the world differently, what you brought in to really grow it in the way that you have.

MR: I think historically, and I won't speak anything but admiration of predecessors, built the company to where it was. But there was a bit of a... to get back to our brand conversation, almost all the marketing prior to my arrival was about winning and specifically winning money, and specifically winning very high prize pool jackpot, like million-dollar kind of outcomes.

GS: Appealing to greed as a human motivation at some level, I guess, right? Yeah.

MR: A bit. The reality is if everything begins with the customer, one person will win a million dollars every week, but hundreds of thousands of people will not, and so it probably wasn't holding true to the brand promise of FanDuel. What I can tell you is when you play with FanDuel, it's going to amplify your day. Win, lose, or draw, it's going to be exciting and it's fun, and that's a more, I think, honest promise. I think there was also just broadening the aperture of the way we talked about it, thought about it, creating new things like free-to-play gaming, which was more recreational, bringing more casual sports fans, women, others into the category.

I'd say I maybe brought a bit of a different tack on the reason to believe that the ethos of what the brand is, and also I think a different maybe altitude in our role and who we want to speak with from a demographic perspective. Again, I've worked really hard to build what I think is a big tent brand that feels like a place "for me" for lots of different kinds of people as opposed to just young, sports-obsessed men, which is a great demographic, but maybe not the fulsome scope of the opportunity around sports.

GS: I think what's interesting about that, I mean you do really pick up so much about a brand if you listen to their marketing, because that's what they're trying to communicate and who they're trying to position themselves as and then deliver against. But if you listen to Vegas, as I've heard the casinos in Vegas, they talk about it as entertainment. They don't really talk about... It's like gambling with a small G, but entertainment with a big E is really their focus. Is that right? That's what you were trying to do here?

MR: Yeah, I mean don't like comparing us to Vegas. That's a different conversation. Another description of my brand ambition would be through the American sports book of record, and what I mean by that is people should stop referencing a town in the desert when they talk about odds. They should talk about FanDuel. So FanDuel has the line at X or FanDuel has the odds at Y, but that's me being petulant. Your broader point is right, and I do think that, respectfully and correctly, the Vegas-based brands understand that it's a lot more than just gambling, on how you can maximize the value chain with your customer.

Now obviously for them they've got lodging and institution, restaurants, alcohol, lots of great ways of monetizing tourism and other guests in their properties, but I do think, again, it was a way of making Vegas more approachable. Twenty, 30, 40 years ago it was a place dudes went for bachelor parties and naughty things happened. Now it's a family tourist destination with magic acts and Grand Canyon tours. That's a bigger TAM, and there is an element, yes, of what we're trying to do at FanDuel. Again, I don't really like describing FanDuel as a gambling company. That's not what we are. We're a sports technology entertainment company, and when you set that as the loft, it widens the aperture of what we could achieve.

GS: Oh, that's great. Okay. I get it, Mike. Well said. I appreciate that. Just one last thing in this area here. I know you guys have been incredibly, as I've talked to you over the years, a time here with the MMA, you've been very measurement and attribution oriented. In fact, I'm pretty sure you guys have installed multi-touch attribution as a solution. Can you just talk a little bit about, if not the details of what you are you're doing there, I'd like people to hear more about how you measure, what do you measure? What do you focus on? What are key KPIs you think really drive the business around some of the success criteria you've identified?

MR: We're a very data-driven company. We love metrics. The answer is a chorus of inputs. Yes, we have multi-touch attribution. We have last-touch attribution. We have macroeconomic media mix modeling. We have survey, voice of the customer work. We have brand panels and kind of national YouGov-like dashboarding. We've got individual performance dashboards across conversion funnels, CAC/LTV payback. The answer maybe to the question you're driving at is there is not one answer that pulls all of this together to truly drive growth at the enterprise. It's a chorus of those inputs. I will also say as a giant nerd, that you noted likes numbers and business, it can get very easy to let the numbers manage you, and just because something conveniently sits in an Excel sheet does not necessarily make it true or more important than something that does not as easily sit in an Excel sheet.

So I think metrics and giving the team something objective to measure progress around is incredibly important, but creating an org structure and creating space and performance management routines that, one, can pull various data sets together and make an ensemble decision of what you would like to do, and two, not falling into the trap of only managing the things that can be measured perfectly or over optimizing to things that are easier to measure. So this is dead center in the bullseye of the fact that marketing as a practice is art and science, and this is the best example of it that I think I can come up with.

GS: Can you give an example when you guys have said the numbers are one thing, but we're going to make a different decision?

MR: Sure, all the time. I'd say there are, on any given week, fluctuations in CAC payback, how the unit economics of the business are faring. And if you were exclusively focused on this is the payback return that we want and we're going to ride the throttle pretty heavily, we'll go up, we'll go down, you could probably make some overly reactive decisions, but thinking about what's our share of voice in the overall advertising marketplace? What is our aspiration of market share? Where do we sit competitively on a state-by-state basis? What are some other unique aspects of a state market, maybe tax rate or other incentives? We don't make decisions exclusively on any one thing. It's about building the brand and building a market share position that we know in our market an oversized share of the rewards, both market capitalization and EBITDA, earnings as a percentage of revenue, will go to the number one player.

So we're going to be damn sure that we are the number one sports book in America, and at the same time our investors expect great, good return on the money that we're sending in terms of paybacks. That fundamentally comes down to a lot of the economics of my business. How much money are we spending to acquire and retain customers and is that a good return? Again, it's balancing that sort of long-term aspirations, a different side of the brand performance conversation we had. It's kind of the commercial long-term market share versus short-term unit economics, and it's balancing that, too. So it'd be probably an example of where numbers say one thing, but we do another because there's other considerations.

GS: You obviously operate in a pretty regulatory environment that creates complexity, same as for financial services environment and so on. What is the challenge that really FanDuel most faces beyond the regulatory environment?

MR: It is not just a regulated business, it's also a hyper-competitive one. It is, again, and we talked about it, it's sort of this immediate activation of a big established market that was formally gray. So there's a lot of competitive intensity and in some cases I think the industry has made some irrational decisions, and we've had to have the discipline to not follow folks into those irrational decisions, stay true to what we think our value proposition is, building a better mousetrap, being more efficient. Frankly, doing more with less has been a hallmark of our marketing apparatus. We take a lot of pride in the fact that as a cost per download or for every dollar spent or every dollar bet, how much more comes back in revenue from our player base is more efficient than anybody else in the category, and so that's pretty meaningful, right?

Spend less but achieve more is not always an easy trick to pull, particularly in a category that is very aggressive. So it's been navigating that and continuing to nav that for the future. I think also, I'd add, I'll give you a bonus challenge, stewarding the long-term health of my business and the industry, and we spoke about it earlier. I take very seriously the responsibility that FanDuel has to developing this industry in the right way, understanding our role as part of the community, as civic participants, and so responsible gaming is something that we make a lot of investments in, whether that's dedicated MarCom, advertising. We've created a set of tools in our product where people can put deposit limits or time limits on their play. We have many, many dedicated employees oriented towards risk compliance. We're building AI and different machine learning tools that can look at play pattern behaviors, understand where someone's play may be unexpectedly doing something that may not be sustainable.

What are the proactive measures we want to take? These are all things that I'm proud of and I think a lot about the success the alcohol industry had on issues in a similar way. You think 20, 30 years ago, culturally drunk driving was very different than it was today, and I think the alcohol industry made a commendable and correct decision to sort of get behind things like "Friends don't let friends drive drunk," other investments in how they understood their responsibility as an industry to being civic participants. My industry's very young. I don't think we have all the answers here, but I think FanDuel is in a leadership position and a part of what I really want to do is figuring that long term. So that challenge in the context of the competitiveness that I just said, because I think if only FanDuel does something, that's great, but it probably doesn't help a player. It probably doesn't help the industry, and so how do we come together as an industry, make the right choices for the long-term health of our businesses?

GS: So Mike, let's shift here a little bit to sort of the other core topic I'd like to talk about, what it means to sort of get to senior executive, C-suite level. How many employees are there a FanDuel? Give me a sense of scale of the company.

MR: Little over 3,000.

GS: Yeah, big company, right? Okay. I want to understand what it means to get there and then to operate effectively within that for you. I think a lot of people, as I've said to you before, I'm not so sure everybody really understands how complicated it can be, how tricky it can be when politics is a thing. It's not a bad thing, it just is a thing, and managing people's expectations and the dynamics and personally operating with the intensity of a business that's in the center. I mean, FanDuel sits in a very public sort of spot I would think, especially given the regulatory... I mean there's a lot of challenges to that, a whole bunch of things. So getting that, I guess, how did you actually get the nod to be CMO of FanDuel? Was it just a headhunter found you, said, "We thought you'd be good for this or you"? How'd you get to that process? I want to talk about what it means to be effective there.

MR: How did I get the role isn't a super interesting story. I was working at Amazon at the time in an entrepreneurial role pairing online video with e-commerce. It was super interesting, but it's Amazon. It's hard to move the needle for a trillion-dollar company, and so I knew that I wanted to go to a smaller firm but take a bigger role. I'd had a lot of admiration for what FanDuel had done. There's some interesting connective tissue with my past. So I worked at DirecTV in sort of the heydays of that company where Sunday Ticket... and I actually launched a direct-to-consumer OTT product for the NFL under the Sunday Ticket brand. I, again, had a lot of performance marketing chops I talked about at DirecTV, thinking about the unit economics of a subscriber-like business. Ultimately, it's about CAC over LTV and how do you maximize that ratio and doing so in a competitive environment.

So I had the technicals, I had a vision and a heart like we talked about for FanDuel on how you widen the aperture of addressability, talking to a bigger, more relevant recreational market, changing the brand promise from being focused on winning and money to being a bit more about excitement and amplifying your day. It was also, frankly, just there was a management shake-up going on and timing was right, and I'm a big believer that you got to be hardworking and very talented. You also got to get a little bit lucky, and I knew the Supreme Court decision was winding its way through the court and, no pun intended, I placed a bet and that one has paid off very much with FanDuel. Look, that's how I got in the role. Over the past five years, maybe the more interesting story, and frankly I had a ton to learn. I didn't know everything I needed to know.

GS: Hey Mike, that's what I wanted to get to. So just given that history, I was going to say, okay, so listen, I remember the first time I had to go lead marketing outside of the agency environment and I was flabbergasted at how complex the role was and how much more they had to do. In fact, I was a little chagrined that I maybe had said anything negative about any of my clients given the complexities they had. What do you recall having to go, "Oh geez, I don't know if I saw that coming, so what do we do about that?" I don't know, give us some orientation there to that.

MR: I think that the enormity of what I said from both the technicals and the broader stuff. So on the technicals, understanding how to build a traditional upfront media plan, plus programmatic advertising, plus attribution models, plus conversion funnels in the sign-up flow. It gets broad. So there was a lot there. There was also a lot just in, again, you're now at the senior table with the CEO, with the rest of the C-suite. She wants X, Y, Z and navigating how you do that and how sometimes you agree and sometimes you don't and when do you push back? When do you not? When do you sort of understand how you present things?

I'd split my time as a CMO, prior to last year when I took the expanded CCO role, into two phases. The first phase was honestly me getting confident and comfortable in the big chair, and that's a mix of the depth of the technicals, trying to do something different with the company, being a thought partner with the senior team, and sort of playing that high/low game. The second half, and I'm still learning this today as, again, I take a GM perspective on the business and I'm thinking in five-plus-year timelines, not necessarily this quarter or that quarter, it's a really different orientation. I will tell you, I said this earlier, my job is not to be the best marketeer at the company or the best commercially minded business person.

I got a lot of really smart people that work for me who do that. My job is to help guide and craft the overall team, the enterprise, the company at large, and I will tell you one thing I have learned, the more higher up you go, the more it's about people. It's about people that work for you. It's about the people you work with. It's about your board, it's about your boss and getting good at having difficult conversations, having collaborative conversations. It's also, I think, a real recognition that you need to be able to deploy a lot of different styles and a lot of different contexts to be successful. I also think sometimes there's this sense that, oh, if I just got to be the CMO, I'd be the boss and people would do what I think and I would fix this and I would fix that and I would do this differently. Ain't going to work like that, I promise.

One, have the humility to recognize you might not be right, and two, there is no successful department. I don't care if you're the CEO, let alone CMO. It's not just, here's what I want, go do it. You got to cajole, influence, suggest, compromise, including with members of your team. It is not a big chair directive job. Language I have occasionally used is a soft hand on the wheel. Sometimes it's about being in the chair to understand how you guide the organization and guide the team in the right way without making sort of too reactive of decisions. I'm in abstract world, I know, so you should pin me down and make me give you something real, but it's nuanced. It's a hell of a lot more about people than you think, and you spend a lot of time on it.

GS: I heard somebody tell me once many years ago, they go, "Listen, Greg, life is only about work and relationships and by the way, work? Just relationships." I never forgot that. I always thought that really put a focus on what you needed to figure out in the world.

MR: Yeah, and I think sometimes, myself included, because I'm a crippling introvert, people hear statements like that and they hear, "Ugh, politics." Like it should just be a meritocracy and should just be about the quality of the work or the quality of the thinking, and I fell into that too because I like battling with ideas. It's not about glad-handing, schmoozey, relationship-building, Game of Thrones bullshit. That's not what you're talking about. What you're talking about is the reality is any great work of humanity, whether it's selling sports betting or putting a person on the Moon, only happens through collaborative enterprise of a whole bunch of people, and there is no way to get things done through a whole bunch of people than being good at dealing with people. It is just there. It is the irreducible simplicity of it.

GS: Hey Mike, you know what that sounds like? That sounds like making a movie or a TV show.

MR: Little bit. Yeah, a little bit. Maybe in the second arc of my career...

GS: I think a lot of bit. Listen, I hang around with some people from that space, the production space broadly, and those are teams that come together for a single purpose of doing something creatively driven or whatever, and they come together, then they break apart and they go work in other teams and they mix and match teams, but people don't generally work for—not often, sometimes—but for a single company. They're moving around a lot. It's always very interesting, and that does require that you build up a sense of immediate trust and that you can communicate with people, people like working with you. I mean, there's a lot of that collaboration. It's sort of a good model. It can be challenging.

MR: I think it's movie making. I think it's the president of the United States. I think it's NASA, I think it's sports betting, Coca-Cola, ABC, I don't care what it is. I don't know, leading your church group. There is no endeavor involving two or more people that doesn't require an element of being good with people, and the more people it requires, the "more good" you need to be at it.

GS: What do you think it is for you being good at working with people? What does that look like for you? What do you try to do? How do you approach people in that regard?

MR: Oh, you should ask my team, who I'm sure would say I fail at this all the time.

GS: Mine too, but I'm looking for kind of an orientation or a philosophy there.

MR: As a manager, I am a believer that my job is to hire people smarter than me, get them in a role, and to clear roadblocks out of their way to go do that smart thing I hired them to do. Now, that may be an internal roadblock that they don't see about themselves and that's a coaching thing. That may be an internal, organizational roadblock of other departments, and it may be an external one where something in the market... and my job is to come alongside them and help clear those roadblocks.

As a leader, I try to set an inspirational vision of what we're doing, the tribe we're a part of, what we're trying to achieve, why it matters, the role we play in people's lives, and the role we play in our responsibility to the enterprise and creating shareholder value. Back to—I try to, my team I'm sure would say I fail on this on the daily—but soft hand on the wheel. It's about steering and guiding, especially at a company my size, trying to do what we're trying to do yet stay agile, reactive, test and learn. It's not about the day-to-day routines but from interfacing with people. I think it's understanding where they're coming from. Listening more than you speak, ask more questions than you make statements, and guide. I am very imperfect at this.

GS: There you go, that's why—

MR: —but I think that is where I'm at.

GS: Yeah, I was going to say, that's why I get it wrong every day. Exactly, but I appreciate the goal. Sorry there, Mike. I cut you off a little bit. Go ahead, sorry.

MR: No, no, not at all. Just to say it is about bringing a collection of people together. Orient them towards a shared vision, recognize everybody might have a slightly different idea on how we get to that vision, and then using the wisdom of the crowds to sort of come to a call and drive it through. The other thing I will say that maybe is more useful to your listeners, technically, I'm a big believer in leadership principles. So at FanDuel, we have 10 of them I spoke about earlier. One of them is everything begins with the customer. Another that I think helps in this sort of dynamic, competitive, fast-moving space where people have different ideas, we're believers in disagree then commit, meaning everyone at the company's responsibility is to speak up if you disagree with a planned course of action, but once a decision is made on where we're going to go, everybody commits to making that as successful as possible.

Another one we love, probably our favorite, is stay humble, stay hungry. Very conscious we're the number one player in the space. All that means is we got a bigger target on our back and so not resting on the fact that what we've accomplished to date is something we should be proud of. How do we stay humble, stay hungry to achieve more, and on down the list. I think that is a collection of things that if you use the language, you incorporate it into your day-to-day decision making, you think about it in the hiring process, you think about it in the promotion process, that stuff helps matriculate culture. And culture is a fuzzy thing.

It's alchemy, and some of it comes from the top and some of it comes from the bottom up. But I do think the leadership principles are every company can choose their own and they can be a bit different, but a really great way of maybe getting to... I'm wandering off the path of your question a bit, but that style of how you deal with people, especially 3,000 people in different continents all over the country, you need a shared framework. I think the leadership principles can be very helpful.

GS: I love that. I love that. Listen, disagree then commit is an Amazon principle, as I remember. I think I always loved that one.

MR: Oh, we stole it. I stole it from Amazon shamelessly because it's a great one.

GS: I think that's exactly how they got to a $50 billion ad business, too, because I think Jeff disagreed and they finally said no, for whatever reason they made a decision and they went full force. So good for them. Hey, couple of lightning round questions. They'll be really fast. You ready? Okay. Who in marketing, person, company, could be even a campaign, do you most admire? Give an example of somebody. It could be recent, it could be long history.

MR: Oh man, there are so many people that I admire, and this one might go slightly off the beaten path of purely marketing, but Phil Knight. I love the Nike story. I love the initial insight that got him to build a better mousetrap with running shoes, the way he's scrappy, kind of got it going, and then obviously from a marketing perspective changed the face of sports and endorsement-based advertising and marketing. I also just think kind of a really contrarian, different guy, charitable, a lot to like about him. So I'll go with him.

GS: Yeah, that's an amazing story. They were really definitely behind. They had a lot of big competitors that were kicking their ass, and so for them to come out, they did incredible. Okay, what's most over-hyped in marketing today? What do you think we just kind of aren't getting right, or maybe we're overexcited about, shouldn't be that excited about?

MR: It's a tough one because these are kind of boom and bust cycles. I might say, this is harkening back to something, the belief that perfect measurement exists and if we can just measure it just so, then the answer will present itself. Your job is to come up with the decision. The measurement helps inform it.

GS: It's never going to be a panacea and I don't think AI's just going to solve the problem for us. Okay, I'll take that. That's good. I'm a big measurement guy as you know, so okay. What's underappreciated in marketing? What do you think we're not seeing an opportunity out there yet or that you are seeing you don't think others are yet?

MR: Tough one. Look, I think that influencer marketing in some ways is both, I think it's over-hyped and under-hyped. So I'll take the bull case on it. So there is an over-hyped element of it. Too much money thrown at too many Kardashians for too stupid of tweets. That's the over-hype of it, but the under-hyped, I do believe that the seminal point of users' attention, consumers' attention is being more and more tied to personalities. You see this in certainly the media space where it's the talent that drives it, not the four-letter bug necessarily in the corner. I think you see it in the sports space, the NBA in particular.

The players are, in my business, player props, huge part of the way people bet, even more so than who's going to win, what team is going to win. People are fans of LeBron, regardless of where he's playing. On the under-hyped one, I think it's too easy to sort of go for the AAA endorsement, right? The Kardashian, LeBron, et cetera. The gems can be where you find someone with truly, truly authentic relationship, authenticity with their audience. Forming a partnership with them, not as this YouTube video is brought to you by blah, blah, blah and skip, skip, skip, skip, skip. Something more genuine, more integrated, where you're closer to business partner than you are marketeer and advertising platform. I think that's a little under-hyped.

GS: You know what? I think I asked that question wrong, didn't I? I really should have said the over and under in marketing. I think I would've asked you what's the over/under, right?

MR: That's exactly right. No, I answered it wrong because it would've been a far more entertaining podcast if I said over-hyped influencers and under-hyped influencers. I blew it. I completely blew it.

GS: Okay, well eventually we're going to get it all right. Listen, there's a lot to learn in marketing. We're still all trying to figure it out, so I appreciate it. Mike, listen, you're the best. I love you being on the board. I really appreciate it. I love your perspective. I do agree, chief commercial officer, I think every marketer should turn to chief commercial officer at this point. It's the statement we need to make to the industry and to our bosses, I think. I don't know. We'll all get there eventually. Thank you my friend. I appreciate you doing it.

MR: Greg, this was a lot of fun. Thanks for having me.

GS: Thanks again to Mike Raffensperger from FanDuel for coming on Building Better CMOs. Check the show notes for links to connect with Mike. If you want to know more about MMA's work to unlock the power of marketing, visit or you can attend any one of our 30 conferences in the 15 countries where MMA operates, or write me, Thank you so much for listening. Don't forget to leave a review on Apple Podcasts. If you're new to the show, please follow or subscribe on Apple, Spotify, Amazon Music, iHeart, or wherever you get your podcasts. You can find links to all those places and more at Our producer and podcast consultant is Eric Johnson from Building Better CMOs researcher is Aneta Palevska. Artwork is by Jason Chase, and special thanks to Lacera Smith. This is Greg Stuart. I'll see you in two weeks.

Recent episodes: