In the following episodes of the CalvinAyre.com innovation iGaming Profiles, we focus on the stories behind two sportsbetting start-ups that recently merged into one– Stakes & Ladders and Bets of Mates. The two companies merged in early 2015 and now operate under the single brand of Stakes & Ladders with both founders taking an active part in the business.
David McGurk is the founder of Bets of Mates, a social sportsbetting company that facilitates competition amongst friends. McGurk spent over ten years as a semi-pro football player, but as his career began to wind down, McGurk decided he wanted to start up his own business. The original idea was formed while McGurk and his friends were enjoying a bet themselves.
“The three of us were sat watching a game and we all lost our bets which were bet against a bookmaker, so we thought the if the idea was we could bet against each other, one of us could actually win. So we went from there and sort of ran with that idea and progressed it and came up with a better idea where you could enter pools of betting against your friends or against strangers”.
At the time, McGurk was able to leverage connections with professional footballers to help spread the word about his new business.
“I’ve got a lot of friends in football where they just helped us with the publicity, they would send out a lot of tweets for us, send messages on Facebook and we got them signed up to the site so fans of the football clubs they were playing for could actually play against players”.
August 1, 2014 marked the date when England’s Football Association issued a new betting ban for footballers and also the date when McGurk had to think about shifting his strategy.
“Unfortunately the FA have instigated a rule where professional footballers can’t bet on any football whatsoever so that kind of slowed things down a little bit for us, so we tried getting the extra investment to boost the website. We couldn’t get it, but fortunately [Stakes & Ladders] came up with a merge idea and things have gone smoothly with that”.
McDonald founded Stakes & Ladders in early 2014, a concept he built from scratch after years of exposure to gambling companies as a punter himself.
“I’ve been a gambling company customer my whole life, mostly online poker but also a little dabble on the horses from time to time, and it was kind of a natural area. I was really excited by the Betfair innovation, I think Betfair did a huge amount for betting and its gone a different route and its left a gap behind it in the market for a platform for people to bet against each other without taking the odds from a bookmaker whose sole aim in life is to make a profit from their punters”.
“I found a business plan I was able to work with with some friends in the poker industry. Our idea was to put together a betting product that people could bet on on the side. The gambling industry is very focused on one product fixed odds betting, we wanted to create more strategic, more exciting, more interesting – more like poker for sporting events”.
In mid-2014, McDonald actively started contacting like-minded start-ups about potential partnerships and it was at this point he crossed paths with McGurk.
“So we were really looking to consolidate by sport so I sent a couple of emails out to people who are running these companies as an open invitation to have chat as to whether or not they want to be part of a consolidation. David McGurk replied to my email, we got together, I think we immediately got along on a personal basis, but the most important thing that led to us becoming one was that both teams shared a huge passion for sport, which is at the center of our business”.
At the time McDonald reached out to McGurk, the Bets of Mates business was working through Crowd Cube to raise a quarter of a million pounds and was only about 20% there. The timing was perfect for McGurk to entertain a potential merger.
“It was just an email out of the blue and I just happened to be in London for one weekend, went and met them guys and we got along well and it was email after email before we got a meeting together with both teams and again everyone got along well, we’ve all got the same idea in mind of where we want to go, their concept kind of matches ours, but there’s two different ideas coming together which can move us forward to where we want to be”.
The merging of the two companies strengthened both businesses and McDonald recognizes the Stakes & Ladders offering is now a lot stronger.
“We’re passionate about sport, we want our sporting experience to be more than just watching the game on a Sunday afternoon, we want to have a financial interest on the outcome, not just the score, but all the different elements that makes up a football game – number of tackles, number of headers, number of corners, at it to be a real live second hand experience online that you share with your friends and they’re not contributing to the bottom line of the bookmakers”.
The new and improved Stakes & Ladders has a robust business plan for 2015 and McGurk plans to tap into his football connections once again to push the business forward.
“We’re looking for as many affiliates as we can at the moment so we can try to boost our user base, so with my football contacts we are approaching low league football clubs, we recently announced an affiliate deal with Harrogate Football Club, where I am now playing part time and from that hopefully we can go through the low leagues and form these official partnerships, work our way up to the bigger boys and get more users on board”.
McDonald is thankful for McGurk’s connections and has a clear vision for how he wishes to grow the company over the year.
“We’re ready now to really go and develop our customer base and that will be the focus of 2015 – the world doesn’t need another brand- we’re not going to be spending a lot of money on direct customer acquisition and selling Stakes & Ladders and becoming the next Apple or whatever. We want to form partnerships. So we see ourselves very much as a business to business proposition, we want to build strategic partnerships, starting with the grass roots”.
“Dave’s association with Harrogate has been a great starting point – it was difficult to get that first sale and we believe we have a totally different proposition for exactly that group of customers that are passionate about sport, want to have a little interest on the side, apply their sporting knowledge and turn their predictions into cash”.
The Bets of Mates story is one of success and the merging of these two companies has made Stakes & Ladders an even stronger business than it was before. Both founders have succeeded in their business ventures and have persevered through some tough times to get where they are today.
“I think if its any industry- if you’ve got an idea you can’t just sit there with the idea, you’ve got to go out and make it happen. We’ve had to go through an awful lot of loop holes to get where we are today, but we went out and made that extra effort to make it happen”, says McGurk.
McDonald adds, “If you want to be the founder and creator of something new, perhaps you have to have a lack of self-awareness and be able to take a very thick skin and accept knock backs without getting too upset about it”.