Posts Tagged ‘innovation’

Technology: Friend or Foe

Tuesday, August 21st, 2018

When you blindly see technology as an “end” in of itself, not a “means” to a more impressive client experience, greater productivity, reduced risk and so on, you self-limit your own power and control. Think about that for a minute. 

UK’s Tech Gem

Friday, July 6th, 2018

I have just finished a week of speaking to Thai and Swiss fintech and insurtech delegations here in London. There is a marvel at the high tech “community” that the UK and in particular, London, has created, built and exploited globally. I am talking about a digital community experience where people interact frequently, are drawn together by the quality of the people “present”, acts as peers, reciprocate and in so doing, help everyone live a more fulfilling life. Entrepreneurs, investors, venture builders, advisers, large corporates and governmental organisations in harmony. It is incredibly difficult to create community, as this week’s visitors readily pointed out. It requires a strong brand, impressive new intellectual property, fearless promotion and new ideas.

Those who bemoan the waning global appeal of the UK in a post-Brexit world, might want to take note of Britain’s singular success.

 

© James Berkeley 2018. All Rights Reserved.

 

Ageing People Trump Ageing Tech

Wednesday, May 30th, 2018

 

Why do we place more faith in ageing technology than in ageing people? The older and wiser individuals are, surely, the more productive they are in resolving problems or in raising performance levels? Equally, the inverse is true of ageing technology. Yet as a society, we are more trusting of computers than human knowledge (car mechanics), more tolerant of computer error than human error (air traffic control failures) and more aggressive in unilaterally retiring people than legacy systems (insurance companies).

© James Berkeley 2018. All Rights Reserved.

 

 

Lessons Our Kids Can Teach Us

Thursday, May 24th, 2018

 

If my 8yo daughter can quickly learn from defeat in the 200m final at her school sports day, why cannot adults do the same in a competitive business situation (a bid process, an investor pitch, a career opportunity)? We read too much into single events or circumstances (poor feedback). We allow them to unduly affect our mindset (bruised ego). We set unrealistic expectations in a highly ambiguous or complex environment (a professional gambler rarely generates more than 8-10% annual return in a great year). We refuse to take accountability (seek blame not cause). We surrender the power and control we possess to positively impact future events (we give up). If you recognise any of these today in your own behaviour, if you are a Parent, look at your child’s reaction and ask “what’s the lesson for me?”.

 

© James Berkeley 2018. All Rights Reserved.

 

 

Investing To Win

Friday, May 18th, 2018

In a momentous week for sports betting and gaming companies in the United States and UK,  there is a lesson for all of us. Quit whining about events largely out of our control that go against us (legislative changes) and maximise our investment in innovation and readiness for events that go for us.

© James Berkeley 2018. All Rights Reserved.

Leadership Trumps Innovation

Tuesday, April 24th, 2018

Back in 2014, HSBC triumphantly announced a dedicated pool of $200 million to fund an innovation team and direct capital to young entrepreneurial fintech businesses. It has made some small bets in the intervening years and housed 3,000 digital techies in a separate London building because in the words of then CEO-Stuart Gulliver “we have a cultural issue.” Yet these actions masquerade a more profound Board and Senior Management issue: a fierce split has persisted for over 5 years about the priority that should be given to innovation, and the probable return on the time invested.

If innovation, internal or external, is truly critical to the business or profit centre’s future, why wouldn’t it sit within individual P&L’s, and the accountability reside with the appropriate P&L leader? When large organisations persist in setting up innovation labs, accelerators and dedicated corporate venture units too often they are “divorced” from the cut and thrust of the day-to-day business. They point to an unspoken truth,  innovation isn’t really a strategic priority for certain powerful voices and/or the environment is insufficiently supportive of bold ideas or foreign bodies.  Which is it? Common sense dictates that those leadership issues must be fixed first BEFORE investing a dime on innovation initiatives.

© James Berkeley 2018. All Rights Reserved.

 

 

London: ICE Totally Gaming 2018 Re-cap

Thursday, February 15th, 2018

ICE Totally Gaming likes to style itself asthe only B2B gaming event that truly brings together the international online and offline gaming sectors”, here is some future thinking about the sector fresh from last week’s annual event.

  • The biggest event headline was a pointed article in The Guardian questioning the industry’s evolution in a #MeToo world (overt sexualisation of products). For a sector, whose branding has heavily relied on testosterone-fueled excitement, it is an awkward question with few, if any, obvious answers. When for example, over 50% of Las Vegas revenues arise from non-gaming tourism and events, “what happens in Vegas may no longer stay in Vegas” might need to be the new logo, at least in the corporate events market.
  • Caesar’s Entertainment, arguably the must public US corporate casualty in the 2007/8 financial crisis, is back on the front foot. After 10 difficult years, the Mark Frissora-led business has a spring in its’ step. The ex Hertz and GE executive is exuding confidence, exploring multiple partnerships and projects. Often in ways the Caesar’s brand has never successfully been positioned in adjacent markets internationally.
  • Italy remains a gaming paradox. Wrapped in regulation and taxation issues like many US markets, operators and investors can see ripe apples hanging on the trees but their attempts to grab them are constantly frustrated.
  • US sports betting and the US Supreme Court judgement. Everyone is gearing up to get in on the act, not least the US tribes, who with smaller, more entrepreneurial business models may be ideally-placed to bring the most innovative ideas.
  • UK sports betting is approaching a huge fork in the road, ahead of the Government’s ruling on fixed odds betting terminals or “pokies” to my Australian friends.  Stick with limits of four machines per betting shop and a £100 stake per play, a ferocious political and media wind (Daily Mail front page hardship stories. Restrict stakes to £2 per play (prevalence of social welfare issues), see sports betting “majors” (Ladbrokes Coral, William Hill) and others dependent on their largesse (UK horse racing, UK government tax take) face a seismic change to their business models (30% reduction in gross gaming revenues, closures of 30-40% of their betting shops, 1000 of redundancies). Should we care? That depends on your view as to who is responsible for an individual’s actions. My personal opinion is that I am firmly against any form of gambling where there is not a fair and equitable chance of the punter winning long-term. If you applied my principle, we’d be closing down swathes of automated gaming machines, online card/roulette games and pools betting in casinos, bookies and so forth, where the “house” has a huge advantage (size of take out). We’d have more revenues directed to “equitable gaming and betting”.
  • 2018 is arguably the most profound and volatile year for gaming and betting’s adaption to changing societal mores, regulation and tax.  Yet for the smartest investors and regulators, this might well be the greatest year of opportunity (upturn in incumbents business models and branding, new markets, new value propositions, new ways to attract and retain customers, new ways to adapt to regulation and tax risks).

© James Berkeley 2018. All Rights Reserved.

Idiotic Management Award: UK Passport Office

Tuesday, February 6th, 2018

Here in the UK when renewing a new passport, the UK’s Passport Office insist on the application form being filled out and countersigned  in “black biro”, no blue black, and woe betide you if your handwriting should stray outside the tiny boxes provided. Rejection! At a cost of £287 for a family of four,  the experience of applying for a passport exudes extreme bureaucracy and frustration. Nearly three years into the fixed term tenure of Mark Thomson, formerly a Managing Director of the international arm of the UK’s Royal Mail, he has seemingly spent more time driving the burden onto the customer to infinitesimal detail and expense while the experience hasn’t improved one iota.

To what extent is the emphasis and energy on improvements in your own organisation over the next 12 months on “internal benefits” (reducing overhead) versus “external benefits” (customer)? Is that a productive and common sense use of scarce time and resources? If like Mark Thomson, you think your actions make sense, you rightly need to be removed from the job.

© James Berkeley 2018. All Rights Reserved.

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.

High Touch Trumping Parking Tech

Tuesday, March 28th, 2017

 

High tech is dramatically improving the way we live (transportation, medicine, education and so forth). Yet in some areas particularly related to prevention it is trumping a high touch customer experience for close to zero benefit. Nowhere more so than the indiscriminate use of ANPR technology to record number plates entering and leaving car parks. The technology isn’t smart enough. In a recent example, to inquire about a hotel night stay and meet a fellow guest, it required entering late night through a car park using the technology. For reasons that were out of my control I had to wait for an extended period outside the hotel’s front door. There was close to zero signage visible about the snake pit I had driven into or even awareness of what lay in store until a further two weeks had elapsed when in the mail arrived a £100 penalty notice. Apparently I had stayed longer than permitted even though I wasn’t technically parked and indeed was interacting with the hotel’s front desk. When I sought to appeal you are directed to a cumbersome and legalese riddled process that exclusively treats you like a transgressor.

Thankfully, the common sense intervention of the Hotel’s Deputy General Manager, Jena Smith, was able to right a wrong. When investors look at early-stage tech businesses, the right question to ask is, this business addressing a human need, solving a human problem or kindling the human spirit. Quite clearly, the owners of Parking Eye, Capita, who shelled out £54 million four years ago for Parking Eye, never stopped to consider that simple question. Or if they did, they have come to a warped conclusion that driving away huge volumes of repeat and referral business from the surrounding businesses, generating huge negative media publicity and hiding behind weak boiler-plate defences, is a great advert for the CEO and their Board’s genius.

© James Berkeley 2017. All Rights Reserved.