Alumni Spotlight: Yasin Abbak C’09, Founder and CEO of Fantasy Life App

Yasin is a dynamic go-getter who has an engaging personality, but it’s his exceptional leadership, problem-solving, analytical, public speaking, and interpersonal skills that have helped him achieve success. Of course, Yasin sees himself as a work in progress: always striving to do better, be better, take on new challenges, and hit new heights through creative strategies, innovation, and an ability to fill in the gaps where needed.

At Drew, Yasin majored in Economics and Political Science, with a minor in Middle Eastern Studies. After graduating, he worked in Finance at J.P. Morgan Chase and at Morgan Stanley, where he was the youngest Executive Financial Service Director in Morgan Stanley’s history.

Yasin co-founded and served as CEO of a start-up in the advertising space before co-founding the Fantasy Life App as CEO in 2016. The app provides a community for fantasy sports enthusiasts, and is known for providing the fastest breaking news alerts for football. That speed creates a competitive advantage for Fantasy Life’s users, allowing them to make trades and other decisions before their competitors, but it also democratizes access to arbitrage opportunities for sports bettors, allowing them to make bets before sports books have updated their betting lines.

With his business partner, Matthew Berry, ESPN’s leading fantasy football analyst, and the host of their fantasy football show and podcast, Yasin and the Fantasy Life team are continuing to expand. Yasin envisions a bigger and broader reach in the future, as sports betting becomes legal in more states, and the app plans to expand into basketball and baseball breaking news as well.

Yasin also believes in the importance of giving back to the community. He has served as a Board member of the American Heart Association since 2013, and is an Executive Advisory Board member of Drew University’s Center for Religion, Culture and Conflict.  He recently relocated from the NYC area to Raleigh, North Carolina with his wife and daughter.

The Value of Drew

“Inside the classroom was one level of learning and experience,” Yasin said, “and outside of the classroom were clubs, activities, and other experiences where I developed my leadership and communication skills.”

Yasin was a Resident Assistant in the Suites, Treasurer of the Muslim Student Association, Captain and President of the Drew Rugby Football Club, a member of the Frisbee team, and served as the Elections Chair and Senator for Student Government. He partook in The Wall Street Semester, and served as Treasurer of The Drew Honduras Project. He fondly recalled running around the gym in a powder blue tuxedo as Master of Ceremonies for a pep rally, too.

“I went out of my way to meet people I didn’t know, and it served me well,” he said.

Despite his heavy involvement in campus activities and groups, Yasin also maintained a 20-credit course load and worked off-campus, sometimes more than one job at a time. That hustle, he said, prepared him well for the years that followed.

But he also credits Drew with providing him with a network of mentors that have shaped his journey since:

“I have to give Prof. Sandra Jamieson a huge shout out,” he said. “She does a fantastic job with the Honduras Project.”

Yasin also talked about his relationship with Ed Moed, C’89 and a Drew Trustee. “He’s involved with what I’m doing now,” Yasin said, sharing the ways in which Ed and his team at Hot Paper Lantern have helped with his current project.

He also speaks highly of Business Prof. Marc Tomljanovich (who recently left Drew for another opportunity), Economics Prof. David Anderson, and Dr. Jonathan Golden, from the Center for Religion, Culture and Conflict. “I’m still in touch with all of them,” he said.

But one of the most significant Drew connections he has maintained is with fellow Drew alum Stacy Sailer, C’10, who has been his co-founder on two of his most recent entrepreneurial ventures.

Entrepreneurial Beginnings

After graduation, Yasin was met with the grim reality of a struggling economy, and soon learned that his previous job offer had been rescinded. But instead of wallowing, he got to work.

Having been a member of the Drew Rugby team, he knew that rugby teams often struggled with their expenses. To fill the need, he designed and created rugby-themed t-shirts, which he sold in batches to college rugby teams around the northeast; these teams would resell the shirts on campus and at matches as fundraisers.

The inspiration for this “done-for-you” fundraiser business, he said, was necessity. “I was sitting at home with a 4-year degree with no job,” he said. “I was inspired because I didn’t have another option.”

But Yasin was no stranger to entrepreneurship. He spent much of his early life learning from, and often helping with, his father’s entrepreneurial pursuits, including  a bread and pastry distribution business, lunch trucks, and multiple restaurants.

When Yasin talks about his father, his admiration is clear. He praises his father’s intelligence, and proudly describes the incredible determination it took for his dad to start over in the U.S. after graduating at the top of his class from the best engineering university  in Turkey.

His father taught him about the ups and downs of being an entrepreneur, he said, and the struggles you go through to make it happen. More than anything, he taught him about the importance of a strong work ethic.

Climbing the Corporate Ladder

Yasin put his work ethic on display as soon as he landed a job at Chase Bank. He quickly moved from retail banking to corporate, where he completed the training program in half the normal time. Four months in, he was setting regional records. His manager told him he needed to stay in his position for a year before a promotion would be considered. Yasin didn’t buy it. He approached a manager several levels above him to share his results and asked for a promotion. His manager wasn’t upset that he went over his head, but he wasn’t happy either. As Yasin recalls it, his manager respected his boldness. The strategy paid off: he got the promotion, which made him the youngest VP at the company at the time.

In 2012, he was recruited to Morgan Stanley, where he quickly became the company’s youngest ever Executive Financial Services Director by building a team that could service all of a public company’s financial needs. He won the firm’s Global Public Speaking contest the following year.

“At the time I was making more money than a 20-nothing year old should be making,” he joked. After helping his three younger brothers with college room and board expenses, he started donating to nonprofits like the American Heart Association.

“But the most practical thing I did was invest in start-ups in a very hands-on way,” he said. “I was investing because I wanted to learn, and I knew I wanted to eventually get into running my own business again. I just didn’t know when I would be able to do it. I thought maybe some time in the future.  But then my middle brother got sick, and that accelerated my plans.”

In 2014, his 24-year-old brother was diagnosed with final stage cancer. Luckily, Yasin was on the Board of the American Heart Association at the time, and was able to help secure the best possible care for his brother. But “the experience was devastating,” Yasin said. The chemotherapy triggered a heart attack that happened in his hospital bed while Yasin was with him, and the heart attack caused a stroke.

“He has since recovered, but at the time I was scared. I was quarterbacking his healthcare. This was my younger brother, who takes care of himself, and is in great physical shape,” Yasin said. “To see him go through that, changed me. The experience accelerated my timeline for starting my own business, because I was faced with the prospect of my own mortality.”

“I could no longer look around my office and know what my life was going to be like in 20 or 30 years because I was seeing other people live it,” he said. “Make no mistake, I was blessed with what could have been a very high-earning career. But it just wasn’t exciting to me anymore. I think that’s what really makes me an entrepreneur. I like the unknown. I thrive in it.”

Return to Entrepreneurship

That summer, Yasin and fellow Drew alum Stacy Sailer started Paired Media, a company that distributed branded products like moist towelettes through the delivery network of independent restaurants. Paired allowed advertisers to circumvent the expensive postage cost for direct mailers with an alternative.

“These independent restaurants are often struggling to make ends meet,” he explained, recalling his father’s early experience in restaurant ownership. “Those were the people we wanted to help. So, yes, we provided a service for advertisers, but at the same time we were offering the restaurants cost savings, by giving them the branded products for free.”

“Everything was challenging,” Yasin said, reflecting on the early days of Paired Media. “There was not a single easy day.”

But that hard work paid off. “We built it up to thousands of restaurants across the Northeast, and we worked with some well-known advertisers on campaigns.”

Paired Media was on pace to bring in $500,000 in 2016 when an offer came in to buy the company for $1 million. “We thought if we continued the business for another 18 months, we could turn that million into maybe $5 million or higher,” Yasin said.

They didn’t sell, but in retrospect, Yasin said, maybe they should have: “Instead of having an exit under my belt, I now have a chip on my shoulder. We unceremoniously closed Paired Media down. It was a humbling lesson to learn. Looking back honestly, I know my pride had gotten the best of me. I was blinded by the goal of a larger dollar amount.”

Even without an exit, Yasin turned the heads of some New York investors, including Gary Vaynerchuk, a well-known influencer and entrepreneur. Gary and his brother AJ saw Yasin’s leadership and potential and ended up making the introduction that led to Yasin’s next venture.

Taking A Gamble on Fantasy Sports

Yasin was introduced to Matthew Berry, who had an existing app for fantasy football lovers, which operated primarily as a social community for connecting with fellow players and exchanging advice.

“I liked playing fantasy, and I enjoy sports, but I love business and loved the idea of building something up,” he said, “especially growing a team around us and partnering with Matthew.”

Matthew gave him free reign to reinvent the product from the ground up, shifting the focus toward providing the industry’s fastest breaking news alerts, allowing fantasy players to get a leg-up on their competitors by having key information sooner.

“The app was a ‘nice-to-have’, but I saw that it could become a ‘must-have’,” Yasin said.

“The company is now far different from when we started, and a lot of it has to do with the foresight that Stacy and I had of what the product could be and where we fit in the market.”

Some of that foresite came from his experience in finance. “Because we have the fastest breaking news alerts in the industry, I recognized that we could identify arbitrage opportunities in sports betting,” he said.

“Arbitrage” is used more often in conversations about stocks than conversations about sports, where investors try to find information that lets them get ahead of which direction a stock is going to move. When that information is “insider information,” it’s illegal, of course.

“We don’t have inside information, just public information,” Yasin said, but because his team is able to send out those news updates so quickly, many of their users are able to place bets with sports books even before those odds have been adjusted in response to the latest news.

Even with celebrity and athlete investors and a growing user-base that floods the app store with rave reviews, Yasin isn’t content.

He wants to expand NFL alerts from seasonal to year-round, and add in breaking news for other sports. He and his team have plenty of other ideas, too: new features, enhanced machine learning tools, changes to the user experience, design improvements, refreshed branding…

“I’m not successful yet,” he said. “I haven’t sold the company yet, and that’s an indicator of success, to me. But to give myself the best shot at it, I have to make sure that I have the right people around me.”

“If I didn’t have Melanie as my wife, I don’t think I’d be able to accomplish much. If I didn’t have my Professors from Drew, and Stacy as my business partner, and my father and my brothers influencing and inspiring me, I wouldn’t be able to do the things I’m doing with any level of success. To that end, I’m always trying to surround myself with the very best of people, because I’m hoping that the majority of my story lies ahead.”

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Connect with Yasin at yasin@fantasylifeapp.com

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