Richard Blankenship's phone buzzes to life for the third time in as many minutes. A quick call from a sales team director at Blankenship's latest venture, Prizeout, a New York-based financial technology company.
29-year-old Blankenship is energized by the call. A large gaming partner is ready to sign with Prizeout. It's a move that will display digital gift cards from the startup's network on the partner's payments page. As Blankenship describes it: "There are billions of dollars in user funds in accounts all around the world. When a user is ready to cash out, we give them away to get their money instantly via digital gift card."
The company has enjoyed early success. As Cofounder and Chief Revenue Officer Blankenship oversees the company's partner outreach efforts and has signed dozens of partners to the platform since the company launched in January 2020. In just the last six months the team has grown from ten to twenty-eight employees, and the company recently closed a $4.5M Series A.
"Like all founders, I believed in my business," Blankenship says. "I believed in it so much that I was the company's first investor and later joined full-time as Chief Revenue Officer. Even I have to admit, though, that I didn't foresee how quickly the idea would go mainstream. When you layer the pandemic on top of that, I think it makes the early success even more surprising."
Prizeout represents many firsts for serial entrepreneur Blankenship. It's his first business based in New York and his first business in the technology industry. It's also his first business that has attracted institutional investors. "I've learned so much along the way," Blankenship adds. "I didn't know it at the time, but I've been preparing for this experience at Prize Out my whole career."
Before investing in and later joining Prize Out, Blankenship cofounded three other businesses, all of which still operate today. His first business was a real estate partnership formed with his childhood best friend Sam Simmons. Over five years, the two of them invested $10M in Chicago-area residential real estate. Their largest investor, and one of Blankenship's first mentors, owned Poker Central, the world's largest poker media company and the rightsholder for the World Series of Poker.
Blankenship comments, "At the time we were having success in real estate, and I knew nothing about the poker industry.I did know that there was a lot more to learn from this mentor, though, and I wanted to work closely with him."
Blankenship accepted a position as the most junior salesperson at Poker Central and worked his way up to equity partner and Chief Revenue Officer before leaving for Prize out in 2019. As he developed a relationship with Amazon through the poker business, Blankenship saw an opportunity to leverage Poker Central's live production expertise for the nascent Esports industry. He co-founded Estars Studios to serve that market.
"It's an odd collection of industries," Blankenship adds. "In ten years I've covered real estate, poker media, Esports, and now financial technology with Prizeout. Initially, the industry transitions scared me, but now I realize that the industry doesn't matter nearly as much as the relationships."
One of Blankenship's earliest career breakthroughs came in 2015 when he signed Amazon, Dollar Shave Club, and DraftKings as sponsors for Poker Central's Super High Roller Bowl airing on NBCSN. Blankenship says, "This was so exciting for me because I knew these were companies and individuals whom I wanted to do business with throughout my whole career. It was much bigger than their sponsorship of the tournament."
As Blankenship transitioned to Esports and later to financial technology, he was proven correct. At each stop he has relied on his personal relationships with executives at some of the largest brands in the world to deliver revenue to his startups and value to his customers. As Blankenship puts it, "Do good for others, and they will do good for you."