Five With: Steve Berneman, CEO, Overdog
As an attorney and startup and sports enthusiast, Overdog CEO Steve Berneman never thought he’d end up as a professional matchmaker. Initially built as a tool to match gamers with professional athletes, Steve’s Nashville-based startup, Overdog, matches gamers based on their interests across a variety of fields — anything from favorite TV shows to age to location.
With nearly 200 million active gamers in the US alone, the Overdog team is going after a huge market, aiming to make the gaming experience more enjoyable (and competitive) for both sides. And their integration into the Xbox One console sets them aside many household names like Netflix, Amazon, and ESPN, making sure those millions of users have easy access to their tool.
We talked to Steve about successfully executing their pivot, integrating opinionated gamer feedback, and maintaining their company vision.
1) Why did you start OverDog?
We started Overdog because we wanted to give gamers the ability to find and choose their best matches. Gaming is an incredible (and huge!) industry, but there was a gaping hole in self-identification for gamers. 75% of people who play games play them online with others, yet existing matchmaking treated gamers as a homogenous class with the same needs. We thought that was crazy, so we changed the power structure. Rather than letting the games make anonymous selections for who you play, we gave that power to the gamers themselves. Want to play with a sports-fan who likes Game of Thrones and FIFA? You can find that on Overdog. Want to play Call of Duty with a Comic-Con attendee in London? There’s that, too.
2) How has it evolved since it started?
When we started, we were heavily focused on sports games and sports gamers. We quickly realized that was too small a market, and that what we had built would work for all interest groups. So, we still have a lot of sports focus and content in the app, but we’ve greatly expanded our music, entertainment, and game culture. We’ve been able to partner with and tap into some great gaming communities, and their support has been key for our launch.
3) What is OverDog doing that the other guys aren’t?
The key to Overdog is that we’re built directly into the console. There are some good tools for offline friend finding, but those tools exist entirely on the PC. Gamers then have to port that information themselves onto the console. By building directly into gaming platforms, we remove that giant hurdle. Overdog streamlines gameplay because after you’ve chosen a teammate/opponent, we give you the tools to go directly into the game without changing screens, platforms, or controllers. As we expand our offerings in the app, we hope we can continue to create a personalized, curated homescreen on the console.
4) You put a big emphasis on product. What are some of the things your users are looking for that you’ve worked to implement, and how have their insights helped you predict where gaming is going in the next five years?
Gamers are not shy – they’ve given us great feedback and they’ve given us a lot of constructive criticism. Without a doubt, the number one complaint about the product was that we didn’t help gamers identify themselves by their communication styles. Gamers who use microphones and headsets wanted to make sure that the people they were playing with were using compatible headsets. “Why match me with someone great if I can’t talk to them?” On the other end, there are gamers who hate using microphones and prefer text for communication. We missed on that insight in our initial launch, and we’re fixing that soon. As we look ahead to future product innovation, we need to stay ahead of the curve on how people interact. That might mean interfacing with Twitch, Snapchat, Woof, or things that are just now being created.
5) What are the biggest challenges you face as a startup CEO?
My biggest challenge is maintaining the Overdog vision while incorporating the work and thought processes of the team. A startup CEO is supposed to have two primary concerns: (1) the team and (2) financing. That means that I’m constantly discussing the Overdog mission with really smart employees, candidates, existing investors, and potential investors. Those groups tend to have opinions and brilliant insight into what we’re doing. And there’s the challenge. Constant diversion from the mission is inefficient, dangerous, and frustrating for all involved; but, you’re doomed for failure if you stubbornly and stupidly hold a unilateral course. Maintaining focus and direction while incorporating a flux of great ideas – that’s hard.