Richard Blankenship, the 29-year-old Cofounder and Chief Revenue Officer of Prizeout, a financial technology company, sits back in his chair. It’s 10:00am, but he’s just wrapped his fourth sales call of the day. “We’ve talked to a betting syndicate in Hong Kong, two gaming operators in the United Kingdom, and a payroll company here in New York,” he says.
Blankenship never expected to cofound a company in New York City. He’s wearing black Yeezys, black Lululemon joggers, and a black shirt from CUTS, a menswear company he seeded. The all-black getup and finely groomed stubble would camouflage him at a venture capital office in his native California. He laughs often, smiles constantly, and has the easygoing demeanor of a Las Vegas local, the city Blankenship has called home the last six years and the location of two of his previous companies.
His latest venture, Prizeout, has enjoyed early success in the fast-growing financial technology sector. The company offers a payment solution to partners that allows their users to cash out instantly via a digital gift card. “The company sits at the intersection of finance and technology,” Blankenship says. “There’s only one place we would have considered launching a company like that, and that’s New York City.”
Since launching in January 2020 Prizeout’s team has expanded from ten to twenty-eight employees, and the company has taken over 6,000 square feet of office space in the heart of Chelsea. As employees fled New York at the onset of the pandemic and startups around the city transitioned to permanent work-from-home, Prizeout has adapted and thrived in New York.
“We’ve certainly taken precautions,” Blankenship comments. “All of our employees worked remotely for months, and we are still not requiring employees to return full-time. That said, we have communicated to the eighteen new hires we’ve made since the lockdown started that this is a New York company, and sooner or later we want to be in the offices together in New York. There’s a togetherness – a shared purpose – that comes from working shoulder-to-shoulder with someone.”
Since travel restrictions eased this summer, Blankenship has been commuting between Las Vegas and New York more frequently. “New York has shown resilience this summer,” Blankenship says. “I followed the first wave of the pandemic closely in the spring, and we took early actions at Prizeout to adjust. This city has bounced back faster and stronger than I could have hoped for, though. This city is showing its grit right now. It’s the same grit that met tragedy with hope some twenty years ago, and it’s the same grit I hope to imbue my companies with.”
In many ways Blankenship’s transition to financial technology is as unexpected as his relocation to New York. Just eighteen months ago Blankenship was a fast-rising executive in the gaming industry. After joining Poker Central, the world’s largest poker media business and the rightsholder for the World Series of Poker, as an entry-level sales executive in 2014, Blankenship rose to become the company’s Chief Revenue Officer.
“I haven’t seen anything like it,” comments Joe Kakaty, Poker Central’s Cofounder. “Richard must have made a thousand sales calls in his first year. He came to me one day and said he had Amazon, Dollar Shave Club, and DraftKings lined up as sponsors for an upcoming tournament. That’s Richard though. He started as our lowest level sales executive, and today he’s an equity partner in our business.”
It’s through one of those thousands of sales meetings that Blankenship met serial entrepreneur David Metz. At the time, Metz was founder and CEO of Fleetwit, a trivia app. Metz and Blankenship spent months together working on a deal that would give Fleetwit access to Poker Central’s production experience. In one of their many conversations Metz mentioned an idea for his next startup, the financial technology company that would evolve into Prizeout.
Blankenship says he recognized the opportunity immediately. “At Poker Central I was talking all day with executives at the world’s largest gaming companies, and I knew they all had this payments problem. Prizeout was the solution they were looking for.”
After making a handshake deal, Blankenship wired Metz the seed capital for Prizeout. He later joined the company as Cofounder and Chief Revenue Officer. “It was a career risk, certainly,” Blankenship says. “I changed industries, and I changed cities. I couldn’t be happier to call New York the home of my business, though. The resilience of this city has inspired me time and time again, and I hope that with Prizeout I can do New York proud.”