Ryan Spoon

SVP Digital Product at ESPN, Previously early stage tech VC at Polaris Ventures and Dogpatch Labs,

THIS CHAT HAPPENED ON November 20, 2015

Discussion

Ryan Spoon@ryanspoon · SVP Digital Product, ESPN
Hello and thanks for joining. I am Ryan Spoon of ESPN where I lead digital product and design. If you're a sports fan, hopefully you've played with some of our products - from ESPN.com to WatchESPN to Fantasy Football, etc. Before joining ESPN, I wore several different hats: early stage tech VC at Polaris Ventures and Dogpatch Labs, founder at beRecruited.com, and product / marketing guy at eBay. Excited to chat!
Brendan Bilko@bilko · Co-founder & CCO @ Dexter
Hey @ryanspoon! Advanced statistics have become a big part of sports consumption for many. The user experience of sifting through available data sets has remained far behind though. How does an outlet like ESPN prep for this increased amount of information that is becoming increasingly more mainstream?
Ryan Spoon@ryanspoon · SVP Digital Product, ESPN
@bilko Thats a great, important question. There are several aspects of your question and elements that we have to think about when serving the fan... whether that be on the television screen, the mobile screen or the desktop. The first component is collecting and digesting the data in real-time. This alone can be complicated - particularly when you consider the scale. This coming Saturday for instance, there might be ~50 NCAA football games, a slew of NCAA basketball and NBA games, soccer matches and preparation for NFL Sunday. I think the user experience is really dictated by two things: 1. real-estate: the device with which the fan is seeking data and content 2. context: putting context around the use case, the user, and other personalized signals changes so much of this For instance, statistical presentation and content for a fantasy football player is very different than for a fan following his/her favorite game on a handset.
Brendan Bilko@bilko · Co-founder & CCO @ Dexter
@ryanspoon context and real estate definitely dictate a lot. It'll be interesting to see whether outlets will decide what they show (ex: ESPN displaying QBR vs DVOA) on their end, or allow for customization on the user side. The former certainly allows for increased relevance of particular figures, as they receive a "blessing" of sorts. But that opens a totally different can of worms. Looking forward to hearing more about this on the next episode of "Spoonin' with Nate." Thanks for joining!
Inlovewith01@inlovewith01
WoooHooo I'm the first one :) I live in another time zone so I want to make sure that I don't miss it. Ryan, thank you for your time here. I’ve got more than one question if that is ok: 1. Traditional players face competition from game changers (sports startups who know how to connect to millenials). What do you think the sports industry needs to survive this competition? 2. With the developments in technology (virtual reality, live streaming, etc.) and the need of social interaction, how do you think the sports industry will look like in the near future? 3. What is the best advice, in 5 words or less, you can give to young entrepreneurs?
Ryan Spoon@ryanspoon · SVP Digital Product, ESPN
@inlovewith01 Great questions. 1. Eric Feng, a friend and a great entpreneur and now venture capitalist at KPCB, came to Bristol yesterday and gave a terrific, terrific talk to the team. One of his larger points was that many of us (from startup to big company) spend too much time worrying about competition and it is rarely the competition itself that drives failure. There have been times here at ESPN where we have thought about how to do something in our products or apps - and a natural inclination can be to focus on competition... ultimately though, the worry about competition and disruption is avoided if and when we do better work ourselves...
Ryan Spoon@ryanspoon · SVP Digital Product, ESPN
@inlovewith01 2. Ultimately I consider my job within product as delivering and surfacing content. We are a content company and sports are inherently live and engaging forms of content. From the smallest screen (the mobile device) to a 60" TV running the new Apple TV - the fan wants to consume great, high-quality, personalized content. That can take many forms: highlights, deep story-telling, live-streaming (we will do 1,000s of games exclusively via WatchESPN this year alone), etc. I look at new platforms (ie our Snapchat Discover channel) and new technology (Apple TV, VR, etc) as additional, exciting mediums to better deliver great content experiences. It's important to remember of course that each medium often requires different treatment, creative, presentation, etc.
Ryan Spoon@ryanspoon · SVP Digital Product, ESPN
@inlovewith01 3. Quality is the best business plan - John Lasseter, Pixar. Six words. I cheated.
Jake Crump@jakecrump · Community Team with Product Hunt
Do you have any essential apps that you use on a daily basis? Which ones?
Ryan Spoon@ryanspoon · SVP Digital Product, ESPN
@jakecrump Several... and I'd love to hear your favorites. In no order and many of these may well be familiar: - For content discovery and reading, I spend a lot of time in Nuzzel and in Pocket - For work and daily management, I use Wunderlist, Evernote, Dropbox and the team loves Slack (as most do!) - I read a lot and listen to a lot of audio-books... I am a happy and loyal Audible user - I recently bought the new Apple TV (ESPN launched WatchESPN on it when it arrived) - and I think it is magical and important... my kids love it too - And when I travel (which is frequent), I use a lot of on-demand services. Last weekend in NYC was Uber, Postmates, LuxeValet (as an example) .... and of course I love ProductHunt and ESPN's suite of apps =)
Jake Crump@jakecrump · Community Team with Product Hunt
@ryanspoon @jakecrump I'm a big Pocket user. I save way more articles there than I have time to read. Evernote, Dropbox, and Slack are definitely used daily. I was just considering signing up for Audible earlier this week. I might just take the plunge now on your recommendation. I am definitely a big fan of Kindle. The other app I use every day is Overcast for podcasts. How do you like the touch controls on the new Apple TV remote? I'm curious to know how it changes the way you navigate the UI.
Ryan Spoon@ryanspoon · SVP Digital Product, ESPN
@jakecrump if you are looking for book recommendations, goodreads and even producthunt do a good job using community to help drive findability.
Jake Crump@jakecrump · Community Team with Product Hunt
@ryanspoon @jakecrump Absolutely agree! Any favorite books you would recommend?
Niv Dror@nivo0o0 · VC at Shrug Capital
@ryanspoon hey Ryan, I love the WatchESPN app! Question: do you see sports content, particularly for European soccer matches like the Premier League, ever being sold on a per match basis? i.e. without a cable subscription, for individual league matches?
Jacqueline von Tesmar@jacqvon · Community at Product Hunt ⚡️
What's something you used to fervently believe that you now see as misguided?
Theoharis Dimarhos@theo_dimarhos · Marketing+Biz Dev at AngelouEconomics
Hi Ryan! If you had to design a platform for online learning and make it an awesome experience, what would be the fundamentals and extra touches?
Harry Stebbings@harrystebbings · Podcast Host @ The Twenty Minute VC
@ryanspoon thanks so much for joining us today. I would love to hear what were your biggest takeaways from working at Ebay and Polaris? How have you taken them with you to ESPN?
Ryan Spoon@ryanspoon · SVP Digital Product, ESPN
@harrystebbings Thanks for the question and for going first! I've spent time at eBay, as a bootstrapped and small startup founder / CEO, at Polaris (focused on early stage tech and investing) and now at ESPN (3.5 years or so).... each experience has been quite different and yet there are so many connections between them. My two big takeaways from eBay are: 1) learning and watching marketplace dynamics and the importance of aligning buy-side and sell-side incentives appropriately. Marketplaces are fascinating and hard to kick-start, but the buyer and seller dynamics ultimately drive and sustain the long-term growth. 2) I was so lucky to have spent time with a group of smart, amazing individuals across marketing, product, pricing, category management, etc... and so many of those folks have gone on to do amazing things in different fields. Including several now here at ESPN.
Ryan Spoon@ryanspoon · SVP Digital Product, ESPN
@harrystebbings On the Polaris side, the obvious takeaway is that it is a people business in every sense of the word. Whether you are an investor, founder, or employee - seek great people and look for chemistry. These are long term relationships - and the best outcomes that I was fortunate to be a part of were almost never formed with people in a confined period of time. They were long, organic relationships.
Ryan Spoon@ryanspoon · SVP Digital Product, ESPN
@harrystebbings And lastly, on the ESPN side, there have been so many learnings that I try to apply to life at ESPN. Again, the most important is to attract, grow and empower great people with great chemistry. We have brought in great people from eBay, Apple, Microsoft, etc and many others with startup backgrounds (as founders, early employees, etc). They have to be passionate about sports and about products and the fans... and when someone has those three curiosities and passions, they have a high liklihood of making a big impact.
Emily Hodgins@ems_hodge · Operations @ Product Hunt
@ryanspoon Hi Ryan thanks for joining us today! During your career to date, what has been your a) most challenging moment and how did you overcome it? b) proudest moment and why? c) most surprising moment?
Ryan Spoon@ryanspoon · SVP Digital Product, ESPN
@ems_hodge There are lots of routine challenges and lots of things to be proud of in all of our jobs... I suppose you just want to end each day with more of the latter! Sometimes the two are very tightly linked... and sometimes it's the challenge that creates the pride. One example: On April 1st, we launched a brand new ESPN.com - a fully responsive website, focused on mobile and everything about it was new and different. The design, the tools, the workflows, etc. This was enormously challenging for many reasons - the biggest being change. Change is hard and we proceeded with a balance between user-testing, data and insights, and instict. And at the end of the day - while there was significant change for us all internally - the biggest and most important change is for the tens of millions of fans who use us daily. I am proud of the outcome and the results - but I am most proud of the team pushing to drive real change rather than pushing to be iterative. You will also see in the coming weeks and months that the new ESPN site and design will continue to roll out globally.
Ben Tossell@bentossell · newCo
@ryanspoon Hey! How does the sports world compare to the VC world?
Ryan Spoon@ryanspoon · SVP Digital Product, ESPN
@bentossell the better comparison is probably the operating world vs. the investment world. Lots of investors enter venture having been operators... and certainly some move the other direction. I have done both and honestly appreciate and love both. They are so different though. Venture is a very wide looking role with great variety and speed - but ultimately the entrepreneur is the operator and the driver. The joy of venture is the breadth of experience and insights... and spending time with exceptional, different and new people. When operating, you get the the pleasure of doing the work and placing your fingerprints on the product itself. You go deep and do it with a team. There is great ownership and collaboration there.
Jake Crump@jakecrump · Community Team with Product Hunt
What does a normal work day look like for you?
Ryan Spoon@ryanspoon · SVP Digital Product, ESPN
@jakecrump bad answer, but it changes every day. Some days are focused on product planning and testing (stand ups, product reviews, etc) Some days are spent with partners (a fair amount of travel) Every day includes lots of time with the team and with others across the wider ESPN organization (TV, Sales, Editorial, Programming, etc) And I save time for exploration - lots of reading, testing new products and apps (not just our own), and thinking.
daniellevine@daniellevine · Fireside
@ryanspoon Hey Ryan! Thank's for doing this AMA. I'm wondering, what's the best thing you've come across in the last 30 days and why? Could be anything, a product, an article, a tea, a quote. Anything! Thanks for answering.
Ryan Spoon@ryanspoon · SVP Digital Product, ESPN
@daniellevine I will cheat and give two answers: 1. I mentioned it above in a different response - but we recently replaced the Apple TV's in our home with the new Apple TV... and it's a hit. It's beautiful, fun, easy - and it's the start of something even bigger. 2. I make sure that I (and the product and design teams) actively use iOS and Android and really appreciate each. I have been using the new OnePlus 2 phone and it's really, really great. Great form factor and great price. Very impressive.
Earteza Auvee@earteza · Team Member @Foundedx
HI @ryanspoon , You also Lead the ESPN Cricket ? And your products are only TV or Media Related or also web and Mobile apps ?
Jack@jscheifly
Should my fantasy football league remove kickers and defenses?
Ryan Spoon@ryanspoon · SVP Digital Product, ESPN
@jscheifly your call... but remember to play on ESPN =)
Gary William Mendel@garywmendel · founder, Yopine
@ryanspoon hi ryan, i am the founder of Yopine..we have a fun digital feedback platform. in sports the obvious things like 'Notre Dame v. Boston College' are fun polls but more interesting these days is creating sit/start/trade forums for contest (fantasy) players. are you doing anything (digital product) to that end @ espn? thanks. - gary
Ryan Spoon@ryanspoon · SVP Digital Product, ESPN
@garywmendel thanks and good idea. The fun part about sports is that it is inherently social. That means that many of the use-cases you described work well in social environments. Three examples that worked well for us in the past year, were fun and saw big numbers: 1. As you described, we created a sharable native Twitter card around people's fantasy teams at key moments in the product: 'who I drafted' around the draft and 'start / sit' around the weekly lineup discussion. These cards look great, are dynamically generated, native to Twitter and were fun. 2. Similarly, our big push around the NCAA Basketball tournament in March is our bracket game Tournament Challenge. We did a similar effort with native Twitter and Facebook integrations for who you picked in the Final Four. It is fun, good looking, was actionable and viral. 3. We introduced sticker packs for fans to customize their fantasy football teams. They ranged from exclusive Star Wars stickers to football themed stickers to Mickey Mouse and Big Hero Six. Millions of these stickers were applied and shared... and again, they were fun and social.
Jake Crump@jakecrump · Community Team with Product Hunt
@ryanspoon Thanks so much for joining us today! It's been great!
Ryan Spoon@ryanspoon · SVP Digital Product, ESPN
Thanks everyone for the questions and for participating. I enjoyed it very much and appreciate the time. - Ryan, ESPN