DOWNTOWN — When the lights went down on the Superdome in New Orleans after the Super Bowl this February, football fans across the country went into spare rib-induced hibernation for about a week.
Then speculation about the draft began, and the inevitable arguments about previous rounds of America’s most testosterone-packed session of horse trading as teams jostle for top athletes in key positions coming out of universities across the country.
If you want to keep up in conversation but have no idea who was drafted out of USC in 2001, don’t worry — two Santa Monicans have an app for that.
Draftpedia, the work of roommates David Rabie and Joe Sarafian, debuted last week, just in time for the National Football League draft, which begins Thursday.
The free iPhone app — sorry, Android users — contains information on every NFL draft since 1970, allowing users to scroll through specific draft years, universities that athletes came from and teams that they went to.
The information displays in a format familiar to anyone who has played fantasy football, and easily accessible to those who have not. It offers the same benefits to National Basketball Association fans, who can go one year further back to 1969.
Draftpedia evolved as a solution to a problem.
Both Rabie and Sarafian are sports fans, and they look up draft information regularly — where players went to college, who was part of their draft class, where they went in the draft and what team they ended up with all came up on a regular basis.
It takes effort to find that information, which is spread through various corners of the Internet, and that’s not convenient in the heat of the draft.
“When you’re watching the draft, there are tons of allusions to older drafts, and comparisons to older players,” Rabie said.
Draftpedia is the only place to access all of that information in one go. The app stores the information internally, meaning no matter what dank, WiFi-less sports bar a dedicated fan may find themselves in on Thursday, the app will still be able to serve up information instantly.
When the pair came up with the concept for their new creation, they were actually arguing about basketball, specifically player Kenyon Martin, now a forward for the New York Knicks.
He came out of what they say was one of the worst drafts in recent NBA history, and they wanted to look up other players picked that year, but their laptops were far away.
“Joe threw out an idea, why is there not an app for this?” Rabie said.
Neither Rabie nor Sarafian knew the first thing about app development when this ball started rolling.
Rabie graduated from UC Santa Barbara with a degree in history, and Sarafian left the same school as a global studies major.
“Both are very relevant to what we’re doing right now,” Sarafian quipped.
Each knew that they wanted to start a business just as their fathers, both immigrants to the United States, had done in the past. Sports, with intensely loyal fan bases, seemed like a good place to start.
Preparing for kick-off
Draftpedia took 13 months to build, with a few hiccups.
“Everyone assumes that it’s simple,” Rabie said. “You have an idea, hire a developer and build it. It’s so much more complicated than that … It’s a foreign language. Unless you know the right questions to ask, you make mistakes.”
Would the app be built native to one kind of smartphone, or would it need to work across all platforms? Would the data — compiled across many spreadsheets after great effort by the team — be hosted on servers, or right there on the app?
These are questions that Mike Alto, owner of Santa Monica app development firm W2MD, grapples with all of the time.
W2MD launched in October 2008, three months after Apple debuted its App Store, making finding and purchasing apps a simple experience characteristic of the giant tech company.
Hiring a developer is tricky work, which Alto compares to hiring an actor — everyone says they know what to do, and you only discover the problems after you throw them up on stage.
“I’ve realized with this industry, you really need someone who has an understanding of the industry, can develop the app and who’s going to be with you through the whole process,” Alto said.
Alto will sit down with a client and explore what they need their app to do and design it completely before sending it to one of three development teams he has already vetted during his years in the industry.
Relatively few people get all the way from that interview to actual development, Alto said.
Simple apps may take two or three months to build. More complicated ones will require eight to 12 months to complete.
“It’s all across the board on timing, what we’re building and how much design is involved,” Alto said.
Rabie and Sarafian went through a couple of developers and two versions of their app before settling on a route forward.
Now that the pair of entrepreneurs have survived their crash course in the world of tech, they’re already envisioning something a bit more ambitious — taking Draftpedia and turning it into a centralized sports database that expands beyond the basic statistics.
That will take outside investors, and the pair will have to prove their app’s worth now that it’s officially launched.
“We’re pretty nervous,” Rabie said. The two funded the app’s development themselves. “But we’re very confident in the idea and the vision that we’re painting. We know there’s a market for that.”