Archive for October, 2017

Transformation of Sports Betting

Wednesday, October 25th, 2017

A recent conversation with one of the most colourful characters in global sports betting, Harry Findlay, reminded me how rarely most entrepreneurs have a truly transformative idea.

The advent of betting exchanges, in particular Betfair, has had a 3-dimensional impact on European bookmakers (margins – the profit on every transaction; velocity – the speed at which they collect cash; volumes – traded bets).

Today’s sports betting business resembles a fraying rope, at one end, the commodity or mass market giants, Bet365 and Paddy Power Betfair dominate with huge marketing budgets driving increasing mobile betting volumes amongst the £5-£10 recreational players. At the other lie a small number of “premium” boutiques and large international (Asia) betting firms, competing on differentiated service and a volition to “lay” a £1,000+ bet.

Mass-market sports betting is akin to retail supermarkets. High volume, low margin and viciously cut throat competition will prevail over the next 3 years.

The “premium” player end is no less competitive. The need for scale, a powerful brand, the passion and competency to deliver a high-touch premium customer experience and a competitive balance sheet will defeat many of today’s incumbents. Too small, too niche, too busy prioritising commodity players and too weak.

Yet the sports betting industry despite increased regulatory pressure, changes in societal mores and disruptive technology, doesn’t lack for wannnabe entrepreneurs. Most though never end up with anything more than a small business. There is a pressing need today to think bigger.

The big opportunity in sports betting is not in isolation, a rival trading platform to Betfair. The transformative idea is a business that is able to transform the market size exponentially, professionalise it and turn it into an institutional quality, alternative investment class. That’s why businesses such as Stratagem, Smartodds and Starlizard are an object of serious interest to investors, outside the confines of the professional gambler’s lair.

The naysayers decry the randomness of sports results, to support their argument that this will never happen. What is not random about catastrophic Gulf hurricanes, Mexican earthquakes and California wildfires?

Parallels can be found with the way that insurance risk was “trapped” amongst insurance and reinsurance players upto the late 1990s. Offering non-correlated risk to professional investors and healthy yields, today close to 20% of the total pie is now diverted to the capital markets via insurance linked securities. Why should sports betting risk be “trapped” amongst existing incumbents with relatively small balance sheets?

Just as with insurance risk, the evolution requires a business with

  1. Discernible and practical value. Superior data and analytics to turn data into information, information into knowledge and ultimately, knowledge into wisdom consistent with the investor’s strategic goals.
  2. A clear, accurate idea of the professional investors of today and tomorrow?
  3. The intellectual firepower to attract and retain professional players and investors (structuring and matching capital with risk)
  4. Intelligent pricing skills and judgement (quantitative and qualitative).
  5. Commitment to constant innovation and reinvention (new products, new markets, new technology and new relationships)

Perhaps that is one of the above businesses or an entrepreneur quietly making waves but yet to attract the glare of media attention. Either way, the sports betting industry is primed for dramatic reinvention just not in the manner most market observers have presumed.

© James Berkeley 2017. All Rights Reserved.

Interview With Me: Forbes

Wednesday, October 25th, 2017

In a recent interview with Forbes contributor,  Chris Cancialosi, James touches upon the often hidden price of entrepreneurship, the mental consequences and self-worth issues that bedevil even the most seasoned entrepreneurs, irrespective of the business size.

The Quiet Price of Entrepreneurship

https://www.forbes.com/sites/chriscancialosi/2017/10/18/the-quiet-price-of-entrepreneurship/

© James Berkeley 2017. All Rights Reserved.

Behavioural Lapses

Monday, October 9th, 2017

We express “shock” at the alleged infidelities of a powerful celebrity (Harvey Weinstein) and those who have kept quiet over decades in public life. Yet somehow calmly ignore the hundreds of “dark secrets”, we have personally witnessed in our own lives and workplaces that have trangressed ethical, and acceptable behaviour, where we have failed to speak up or confront it. To understand “why”, is to better understand how we can live in a more civilised world rather than waste energy judging others.

© James Berkeley 2017. All Rights Reserved.

Friends Reunited

Friday, October 6th, 2017

The squirrel in the garden this morning made his usual tour of the more verdant patches of the garden but on his way home, he made a stop at a less verdant area that was once one of his favourite hunting grounds. Turning over a few empty conker nut shells, he found a couple of worms drawn to the surface by the increasing cover of autumn leaves and increasing soil moisture. It reminds me in business, how easy it is to forget the converging value that lies with past friends, past school and university acquaintances, past customers, past investors, past employees, past business partners, past media contacts and so forth, who we have ignored for a good few years. Yet circumstances change in some of theirs and our lives causing our interests to increasingly converge rather than diverge. Yet for most people that is an accidental occurrence. In a world with greater connectivity, there is no real excuse unless you are poorly disciplined. My advice, on a quarterly basis throughout the year, trawl through 2014 and prior email inboxes, client and prospect files, personal photo storage boxes or albums. Write down a list of 40 names. Over a gentle two hours, perform a maximum 3-minute google or social media search, highlighting those that are of “known” and “questionable” converging value. Make a diary note to call the top half of your list (“knowns”), and at a minimum, drop a brief four sentence “re-connecting” email to the rest.

Explain that “I’ve been remiss in keeping in touch but I heard/read/saw something of interest (new job announcement, award, an interview) and thought it might be an opportune time to talk? Recently, I have undertaken ____ assignment/project/deal/experience with ___ (high relevance to the other party)  and it reminded me of our past relationship. I would love to hear your news and what you are priorities are today and share my news.  I am in your neighbourhood visiting clients/friends on dd/mm, would you have 30 minutes or time for coffee/breakfast or lunch?”

If 50% respond, you have 20 people of interest. If you are accurate with 50% in terms of their mutual interest, you have 10 new people of short-term interest. Meet two of them a week, you have 10 valuable relationships to nurture over the next month, where you at a minimum start with some meaningful trust, past affiliation and a discernible interest in how you might be of help.

© James Berkeley 2017. All Rights Reserved.

The InsurTech Deficit

Tuesday, October 3rd, 2017

Who has done anywhere in the world what you would ideally like to accomplish? Who can help you translate that knowledge into wise decision-making consistent with your own strategic direction and goals? Who can help you acquire the skills, behaviours and expertise to institutionalise that learning?

We have reached a point in certain areas of tech, not least insurtech, where the numbers of entrepreneurs and advisers entering the arena weekly are greater than the number of entrepreneurs and businesses globally progressing from Seed stage to Series C stage. This week in Las Vegas and London, predictably, there will be thousands of promises made. The reality is that there are very few qualified advisers or investors. Certainly those that pass the above “litmus test”. Be careful, very careful.

© James Berkeley 2017. All Rights Reserved.

Peak Performance

Tuesday, October 3rd, 2017

We are 10 years into a bull market run and a UBS Investment analyst at a London event with a global bank’s resources this morning suggests investors in a late cycle phase continue to be “pro risk assets (equities, credit, real estate) with a defensive stance.” Short-hand for “I have no conviction”?! As prudent entrepreneurs, executives and investors, we don’t have the luxury with our own money and endeavours. We must commit to a strategic direction and have convinced ourselves.