Every morning during high school, esports entrepreneur Danny Martin spent hours running on sun-baked synthetic rubber. As a track athlete and Dallas native, Martin was indoctrinated into a world where athletics was an avenue to personal fame and fortune.
“Sports is in our genes in Dallas,” he says. “When you have nothing, a shot at something can be everything.”
Martin trudged to the track, blinked through the sting of sweat piercing his eyes and worked to perfect his craft. The long hours paid off. Eventually, the University of Texas at San Antonio knocked on his family’s door, offering a track scholarship providing the vital funds that Martin needed to get out of Lancaster.
But when he got to San Antonio in 2009, Martin soon realized he needed more.
“Even if you get a full ride, you still gotta get money,” he says. “But I wasn’t anywhere near a full ride.Track doesn’t cut it.”
Short on cash, Martin started helping his friend fix XBox consoles suffering from tech issues, and the fearsome “Red Ring of Death.” For 5 to 10 bucks a pop, Martin picked up defective consoles from the dorm rooms of his fellow students, then returned them to the thankful gamers only once they were fixed. This fledgling business allowed him to learn about the software and hardware of the gaming industry: how to fix a console and who gamers are, what they play, why they play and how they play.
“Every stop gave me so much data,” he says. “Data I then used to build my platform. So yeah, all of this started with fixing XBoxes."
Martin laughs his hearty, slightly sardonic laugh, betraying one of his most endearing traits: a sense of humor. He has learned not to take himself too seriously, but he has also learned to sell himself and his vision. His stories are frenetic and rife with desperation because they have to be; Martin’s hardscrabble upbringing and college years were fraught with financial and personal uncertainty, and even though he has attained an enviable level of success with his esports app Geekletes, he is still grinding. He insists he always will be.
“I’m 10 years in, and I’m still trying to figure this thing out,” he says. Again, he laughs.
Geekletes was technically born in the hallways of those UTSA dorms. As his mind whirred with data about gamers and their environments, Martin began conjuring ideas for uniting gamers and monetizing the gaming experience. He began hosting tournaments where UTSA students infatuated with FIFA could meet and compete.
“It’s like Uber and Airbnb,” Martin says of the initiative that would lead to Geekletes. “You use these platforms to find a ride or a place to stay, and you use my platform to find a tournament or host a tournament with my database.”
Silicon Valley was the next to knock on Martin’s door. After graduating, Martin got a gig at a startup in need of his eye for marketing.
“People would say, ‘Oh, I bet you knew someone,’” Martin recalls, his laugh re-emerging. “And I’d think, ‘Of course I knew someone. Y’all went to Harvard and Carnegie Mellon, so if you looked at my degree, you’d say, ‘No way.’ I had to have help to get here.”
At this point, Martin pauses, which is rare. After a moment, he gathers his thoughts and speaks again.
“You know, it occurs to me that I’ve been telling this entire story without even mentioning the fact that I’m African American.”
According to Martin, he was the only black person at his startup. When the company downsized, leaving only Martin and six other employees in the wake of mass firings, people whispered about affirmative action. Martin's qualifications were under a microscope. The disdain — explicit and implicit — was a constant reminder of his otherness. Yet Martin still talks about his California travails with a distinct reverence.
“I was able to learn from some of the best developers out there, then come home.”
Back in Dallas, the entrepreneur worked at IBM while getting a new company off the ground. The gaming platform that would become Geekletes started in Martin’s loft, where he hosted NBA 2K tournaments and talked shop with veteran and newbie gamers alike.
“I called it ‘The 8 Mile,’” Martin says of the environment. “Everyone who was passionate came to this underground space to throw down.”
Geekletes provided the web platform upon which these gamers connected; the physical space provided the space for them to congregate. The platform grew, so the space needed to, too. Around the same time Geekletes was gaining traction, Mark Cuban invested in esports. The Mavericks owner passed on Geekletes, but Martin did not need him. With half a million — significantly less than what businessmen like Cuban poured into other esports ventures — Martin opened a 15,300-square-foot esports arena in DeSoto. The 8 Mile had a new and much bigger home.
“You can spend millions of dollars, but if you’re not invested in the community, you won’t create a pipeline,” Martin says.
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While Geekletes the app continues to connect gamers, Martin’s new space allows professional and amateur gamers and content creators to unite and grow. In other words, it could be a pipeline into an industry that nets millions for gamers.
“If I’m being frank, I don’t look like a gamer,” Martin says. “I don’t look like someone who knows technology. So I want people to see that they can be whatever they want. And hopefully they have fun, too.”
At this last part, Martin laughs.
“Yeah, it should be fun.”