Lessons from a Thriving Power Couple, With Nigel and Lesley Eccles of Relish
Independence: We need to have our own hobbies, our own space, and the freedom to make ourselves happy. Often couples are overly dependent on the other person to make them happy, and that’s a mistake. Nobody is responsible for our own happiness except ourselves. In the evening, Nigel will disappear down into the basement to work on different creative projects. Meanwhile, I’ll spend time with the kids or watch an episode of my latest show to just zone out for a while. We both need that time to reset, and it’s okay that we do it alone. The important thing is that we have our rituals — so we know that at least one night a week we will do something together for the two of us.
As a part of our series about lessons from Thriving Power Couples, I had the pleasure of interviewing Nigel and Lesley Eccles are husband and wife co-founders of billion dollar fantasy sports betting company, FanDuel. After FanDuel’s acquisition, Nigel and Lesley set out to create their own solo ventures. Nigel is now the Co-founder + CEO of Flick, a live group chat app for sports influencers and their fans and Lesley is now the Founder + CEO of Relish, a relationship coaching company.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you two to your respective career paths?
Lesley : Nigel grew up on a dairy farm in Northern Ireland, and I grew up in a small town on the East coast of Scotland, my parents ran a small guest house there. We met and started dating when we were both at the University of St. Andrews in Scotland (no, neither of us play golf very well!). I think we were both fairly ambitious from the outset and perhaps felt that we had something to prove to the world — a desire to break the mold and to make a difference.
Nigel majored in mathematics and developed a deep interest in game theory and gaming which led him to a job in London working for Flutter, a sport betting startup. My first job was for a fintech startup back in the 1990s, pre-internet! I had two job offers at the time — the other was for a cancer charity. I’d been interested in computers since I was around 11 years old — my first computer was a ZX Spectrum (look it up!) — although at the time, coding just wasn’t something that girls were encouraged to do. At the same time, I loved the mission of the charity and would have ideally liked to have found a way to do both. Through a lot of soul searching, I decided that tech was the right route for me, and I hoped that it would mean that in the future I could give back in some meaningful way.
These early experiences kick-started our passion for startups and drove us to decide to start one ourselves a few years later. We launched our first company, Hubdub, in 2007 and then FanDuel 18 months later.
Flash forward, Nigel continued his entrepreneurial journey in the sports industry and launched Flick after FanDuel was acquired, and I took a different route and launched Relish, a relationship coaching company. I feel like finally with Relish, I’m able to blend both sides of me — tech and giving back.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you two got married?
Lesley: Well, starting FanDuel, a well known sports gaming brand, together was definitely very interesting. There was a book published last year about the story of how we built FanDuel (and stayed married!) called ‘Billion Dollar Fantasy’ by Albert Chen, a journalist from Sports Illustrated. It’s fairly accurate and tells a good story. We literally started FanDuel at our kitchen table with no real prior knowledge or experience of building a business. Over ten long years, we built a company that is worth several billion dollars and changed the sports industry forever, paving the way for sports betting to be legalized. Some moments that stick out for me include the time Adam Silver (Commissioner of the NBA) called Nigel as we were making dinner one night, and the kids were running around, to tell us that he was rooting for us; or the time that we did our first partnership with a pro sports team and we got to open the first ever “FanDuel bar”. Those were super memorable times. But mostly it was a decade of long hours and hard work with a terrific team of people.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
Nigel: Most of my funniest moments came from the fact that I didn’t grow up playing fantasy sports. My knowledge was learned late in life and over a relatively short period of time through reading books and asking people lots of questions, and I never watched sports on TV.
So, when I was at my very first fantasy sports conference with all the important people in the space, my colleagues were pretty horrified that I didn’t recognize well known fantasy sports pundit, Matthew Berry. Another moment that stands out is my first fantasy football live draft. I was nervous as hell, but I had my cheat notes and had planned it all out in advance. I was so proud when I managed to pronounce the name of the player correctly in front of everyone, but pretty embarrassed when the person leading the draft said, in a monotone voice, “Already drafted…by you”. And then there was the time that was documented in ‘Billion Dollar Fantasy’ when I was being interviewed on live TV and knew that I would be asked for my fantasy picks for the weekend. I knew I should say the Cowboys QB, but I had a mild panic attack on live TV and couldn’t for the life of me remember whether his first name was Jak? Zak? Dak? Completely horrifying! Thankfully the question never came up, but it was a close call.
In terms of what lesson I learned from all of it, I think the lesson is that if you build a company in a space that you’re not deeply knowledgeable about before you start, be prepared for some incredibly awkward moments!
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
Nigel: My company, Flick, is a live group chat app for sports influencers and their fans. Basically no one else is building a platform for fans to hang out during games — that’s why this is a unique product.
Flick is the future of sports entertainment — we’re creating a virtual sports bar experience, bringing fans together to hang out for live games, letting them chat, cheer and compete with each other. It creates the sense of community and excitement that we’re all missing at the moment.
Lesley: Relish is special in so many ways. We’re a relationship coaching company and our app has changed so many lives in a short amount of time. It’s beautifully designed and thoroughly enjoyable to use, making learning about ourselves and connecting with our partners into a joyous experience. It definitely makes Relish stand out in our space.
As a company — our culture is phenomenal. Everyone genuinely cares about each other and our customers. We work hard because we don’t want to let each other down. I’ve never seen anything like it.
Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?
Nigel: Outside of Flick, I spend a lot of time helping entrepreneurs. I’m currently on the board of Ooni, a pizza oven company that’s founded and run by husband and wife co-founders, and I advise numerous founders on starting out, raising money, etc. I really enjoy mentoring individuals that are so passionate about their product and love seeing their early stage companies grow and prosper.
Lesley: I made my first-ever angel investment recently in a company called StarStock. StarStock is a stock market for sports cards, which I find incredibly fascinating. Watching the stock price of these athletes go up and down is like day trading for sports cards. It’s a lot of fun as long as you have the right attitude (otherwise it could be stressful) and you can make some money on it too! Its perfect timing for a platform like this to be available, as the pandemic paired with a new generation of young collectors has created a major resurgence for the sports card trading industry.
What advice would you give to other CEOs or founders to help their employees to thrive?
Nigel: Your job, number one, is to make your company successful. To do that you have to help every team member deliver on that.
Lesley: Remember that your role is to set the vision, hire the right people and make sure you have enough money to operate effectively. You will be doing a ton of other things too (especially in the early days), but your goal is to hire people who are better than you at doing those things and then encourage them to thrive.
How do you define “Leadership”?
Nigel: Leadership is a combination of things, but especially looking out for your team, setting the standard on behavior and ethics, and showing ambition and commitment.
Lesley: For me it’s about three things. 1 — Building a culture of trust where your team has psychological safety to take risks and try new things. 2 — Communicating the vision and the goals clearly and regularly and supporting your team to figure out how to get there. 3 — Not being afraid to do the grunt work. Some might call it “leading from the front”. I would say it’s about setting the tone for the culture — we’re all doing what it takes to make this company a success.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
Lesley: For me it has to be Nigel. After Nigel and I left FanDuel in 2017, I never ever wanted to do another startup. The experience had been particularly challenging and I wasn’t sure a) that I wanted to do it again, and b) whether I could do it as the Founder/CEO without my co-founders alongside me. Nigel gave me the belief in myself that I needed to take the jump into being a solo founder and doing the whole crazy thing again. Without his support at home doing his share of the chores and childcare, again this just wouldn’t be possible. And most importantly, the psychological support that I receive from him has been critical, especially this year.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
Nigel: I think one of the things that COVID helped me realise was how incredibly important sports are for entertaining people and bringing them together to bond over something they love. For sports fans, FanDuel and Flick have both really taken sports entertainment to another level and are providing social rewards. Especially during the pandemic, which has caused a disconnect. People are seeking ways to be part of a community — specifically in the sports world where fans are no longer able to banter with their friends and other fans in person or attend live games.
Lesley: Relish started out as a real passion project. I am deeply passionate about helping people live their best lives together and wanted to figure out how we might use technology to make it more affordable and accessible for people to invest in their relationship before cracks turn into chasms. I get emails and messages all the time telling me how much Relish is helping people — we are changing people’s lives! That feels great of course, and it’s really what keeps me going on those days when it feels like you’re stretched way too thin.
What are the “5 Things You Need To Thrive As A Couple”? Please share a story or example for each.
1 — Empathy: You need to be able to see the world from your partner’s perspective. Nigel and I have been together for over 25 years. We were incredibly different to each other when we first met and in the early days, we it was difficult to get this type of perspective (yes, that meant lots of arguments). Over the years we’ve honed this skill, and used it to enjoy each other so much more.
2 — Rituals: This year, more than ever, having rituals has been important for us all. Crafting your own rituals as a couple keeps you tethered together as you navigate the choppy waters of life side by side. Of course family rituals are important, but people often forget about couple rituals. We have developed new rituals this year — cocktails on the porch at 6pm on a Friday, a lunchtime walk, and eating breakfast together. They’re not necessarily exciting, but these things are what keep you connected as a couple which is incredibly important.
3 — Sex: At Relish, we recently surveyed almost 2,000 adults and discovered that sex has fallen down our list of priorities this year. Stress, depression, lethargy, homeschooling and being together 24/7 is all taking their toll on our sex lives. But this is such an important part of feeling connected as a couple that it’s important not to neglect it. Even if the sex is scheduled in your calendar, or relatively perfunctory compared to your usual acrobatic performance, that’s better than no sex at all.
4 — Fun: This is so important. You need to be able to laugh together, despite the chaos that’s going on around you. I feel like Nigel and I are on this epic journey together, and we will often just laugh at how ridiculous life is. I’m guilty of taking life a bit too seriously, but Nigel is very good at reminding me that it will all turn out okay somehow.
5 — Independence: We need to have our own hobbies, our own space, and the freedom to make ourselves happy. Often couples are overly dependent on the other person to make them happy, and that’s a mistake. Nobody is responsible for our own happiness except ourselves. In the evening, Nigel will disappear down into the basement to work on different creative projects. Meanwhile, I’ll spend time with the kids or watch an episode of my latest show to just zone out for a while. We both need that time to reset, and it’s okay that we do it alone. The important thing is that we have our rituals — so we know that at least one night a week we will do something together for the two of us.
You are people of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. :-)
Nigel: I’d like to see a deeper appreciation of using tech design to create positive user experiences. Tech design is a huge component in retaining customers, growing your customer base, and keeping you ahead of your competitors, etc.
Lesley: I want to bring relationship skills to as many people as possible. The research is clear — growing up in a household with parents who are in conflict, provides us with a negative role model, we don’t know how good it can ever be, and it means we’re less likely to have a healthy and happy relationship as an adult. And so the cycle continues. Being in an unhealthy relationship has negative outcomes on our mental health and our physical health. And all that energy that we’re putting into fighting — just think what we could do with it if we all channeled it somewhere else!
Getting help early is the key to success here. Feeling miserable in a relationship for 2 years, 5 years or even over 10 years is not only tragic, it’s a one way street to more misery until you separate. Let’s stop talking about fixing relationships that are broken and start talking about how we care for relationships from the beginning.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
Lesley: “Don’t worry about things — because it’s the thing that you weren’t worrying about that will get you” — this is actually a quote from my mother-in-law. I think we’ve all seen clear evidence of that in 2020! Think about what you were worried about in January 2020 and it definitely wasn’t a global pandemic that would completely upend our world. It’s taught me to worry a lot less, and enjoy a lot more.
We are very blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them :-)
Nigel: I would love to sit down with my mum and have a meal. She lives in the UK and I haven’t seen her in a year.
Lesley: Having a meal with anyone that isn’t my immediate family sounds completely wild at this point! I’m desperately missing my family back in the UK. My dad is in his 80s, and until we’re all vaccinated we can’t see him at all which is really quite devastating. From a work perspective, having hired several new team members during the pandemic and not having seen any of the others since February, I would love to have a private dinner with our whole team. We just did our Holiday Party over Zoom. It was really very special, but to be able to physically embrace the team after everything we’ve all been through this year would be the most incredible experience.
How can our readers follow your work online?
Flick’s Website — https://www.flickapp.com
Flick’s Instagram — https://www.instagram.com/flicksportsapp
Relish’s website — https://hellorelish.com
Relish’s Instagram — https://www.instagram.com/relishrelationship
Thank you so much for joining us. This was very inspirational.