William Elder Jr. was at a career crossroads.
After seven-and-a-half years working in the corporate and securities group at Dechert in Philadelphia, and tired from the grind of Big Law, Elder couldn’t see himself staying at the firm. He interviewed for potential in-house jobs.
Then his life suddenly changed—while watching a football game, on Nov. 18, 2018.
Elder’s hometown Philadelphia Eagles lost 48-7 to the New Orleans Saints. But the 10 catches for 157 yards and a touchdown by Saints receiver Tre’Quan Smith helped the fantasy squad he assembled win a weekly contest sponsored by DraftKings Inc.
His winnings? One million dollars. That’s why DraftKings, a Boston-based fantasy sports company that went public last year, calls the contest the Millionaire Maker.
“I’m one of the luckier guys you’ll ever meet,” Elder said.
The money from the win put Elder on a path that ultimately resolved his career indecision. He’s spent the past half-year as general counsel and corporate secretary for Diffusion Pharmaceuticals Inc., a Charlottesville, Va.-based drug development and biotechnology company.
Sunday’s Super Bowl between the Kansas City Chiefs and Tampa Bay Buccaneers, which is drawing record action among bettors, is a reminder for Elder that his career trajectory was shaped by one day of football.
After Big Law
Fantasy sports had always been a hobby that Elder enjoyed, but the deluge of DraftKings dollars allowed him to take time off and figure out his next steps.
He left Dechert in February 2019, having agreed to stay on at the firm for a few extra months to close out some assignments he was working on.
His legal background helped when it came to figuring out where to put his DraftKings cash, which came via wire transfer three days after he took the top prize.
After talking with some friends about the tax implications of his windfall, Elder formed BillyVonElds LLC, his own consultancy for daily fantasy sports—or DFS as it’s known colloquially. He branched out into baseball and basketball and even did some writing under his BillyVonElds byline, as well as YouTube hits to talk all things DFS.
“I found a couple of different ways, aside from playing, to make a little bit of side income,” Elder said.
He took trips to Denver and Maine and reconnected with people he had ignored while swept up in the work-at-all-hours world of Big Law.
Elder, 38, also played a lot of DFS, spending up to seven hours a day analyzing matchups and crunching cards. He didn’t make millions, but enough to make ends meet. His best single-day win was $40,000, although Elder added there were plenty of losses to offset that success.
Even if the odds were low, he was having fun. “It felt like an extended summer vacation,” he said.
That changed once the coronavirus pandemic shuttered the North American sports landscape. Friends told him about feeling weird away from work and stuck at home in front of their computers. Elder, jokingly, welcomed them to the club.
But his business of a being a DFS day trader had temporarily come to a halt.
A Legal Return
The dearth of sports games early last year led Elder to e-sports and simulated sports. He dove into DFS for League of Legends, a popular video game, where he became a top-ranked player.
Elder figured, however, that turning DFS into a career might be difficult. Plus, he always envisioned a potential return to legal work. He also thought a startup environment would be preferable to working at a law firm.
In May, Elder got a call from Diffusion.
He had previously done work for the company, a Dechert client, when it went public through a merger a few years ago. Diffusion found itself in an improved financial position last year after it participated in a Covid-19 clinical trial program.
Over the summer, a deal came together.
Diffusion announced Sept. 24 its hire of Elder, whose familiarity with the company’s management helped him secure its top legal job. Veteran life sciences lawyer Jane Hollingsworth joined Diffusion’s board that same month.
Elder will receive $250,000 in annual base salary with an initial target bonus equal to 30% of that sum, according to a Diffusion securities filing. He currently owns more than $16,000 in Diffusion stock, per Bloomberg data.
Thomas Byrne, a former patent lawyer at drug giant Amgen Inc., who preceded Elder as Diffusion’s legal chief, remains with the company in an intellectual property role.
Diffusion’s employment of Elder has curtailed his DFS activities, he said, although he still manages to squeeze in some games when he has time.
As for the Super Bowl, he has a surprising pick.
A self-described “Tom Brady hater”—he relished the former New England Patriots quarterback’s stunning 2018 Super Bowl loss to the Eagles—he likes the Brady-led Buccaneers for the win.
“As part of my DFS stuff I have NFL power rankings,” Elder said. “I started doing them about Week 10, right when there’s enough data, and the Bucs have been at the top.”
But even if that bet doesn’t pay off, Elder will be happy anyway.
“I’m happy to put the kibosh on Brady and the Bucs.”