The Big Interview – Peter Gough, founder, Fenway Games

Introducing a new product into any market is difficult. True innovation is hard to achieve and getting to the finishing line is difficult even for industry insiders who will be aware of the many pitfalls. But looking to get a new idea up and running when you don’t have an industry background is many times harder. Such is the case with Fenway games and Peter Gough who had an idea for an instant win game but was lacking in any kind of gambling industry background. The usual blood, sweat and tears that is associated with starting up any business are all the more painful if you have to learn about the ins and outs of the gambling industry as you go along. The fact that Fenway games has now (almost) reached the point of launch is testament to Gough’s abilities and the strength of his original idea – that of a more social and instant betting experience. In this interview he talks about how he first came up with the idea, and how validation came at various stages from a small cast list of industry voices (including GamCrowd’s own Chris and Ian) that provided both advice and money at crucial points in the development of Fenway Games. The Fenway Games story is an ideal example of how talent, innovation, a willingness to learn and a little bit of luck combined to make for what will hopefully be a huge start-up success. 

GamCrowd: How are things post-ICE?
Peter Gough: Really good. We’re talking to a handful of operators, we have an opportunity in eSports operators, that wouldn’t have crossed my mind a couple of months ago. We’ve got to get the app out; we’ve got a developer working on that. So, generally good.

GamCrowd: So, back to the beginnings of Fenway Games, what were the beginnings of the company and what is your background?
Peter Gough: I was a software salesperson, enterprise level for digital marketing, ecommerce. Then business intelligence and that sparked my interest in how data could be used and how easy it was to use data to create something.

GamCrowd: What was it you saw that you thought was interesting?
Peter Gough: It was the idea that all this data was out there, being recorded, but no one was really using it. They’re using it now; how much people run, how many tackles they make. That sparked my interest.

GamCrowd: What was the spark?
Peter Gough: I looked at fantasy gaming, and start-ups in that space, where it had moved from season long to daily. I was thinking what would happen, where was this heading? My brother was already working in the start-up field, so that was an inspiration. So I’ve seen what it is like and the steps you need to go through to get something done. I read all the blogs, signed up for the emails and read the books. I got into the position that I wanted to do something, and saw the fantasy thing, and read that if you were going to do something then do something you love, so I got the point of thinking this could be a cool game. Originally, we thought it would be a three-minute game; what would happen in the next three minutes around key events? But even now three minutes seems like a lifetime, so we got it down to 60 seconds. Things like shot, goal, save, the emotional stuff.

GamCrowd: So, you saw the data being captured, you are steeped in start-ups, so what it the leap to starting a business?
Peter Gough: I downloaded something called Balsamiq, which was new to me. It’s screen mock-up software. I started playing around with it, at weekends and evenings, imaging what it would look like. Then I took the leap of contacting software developers on various software development marketplaces. That was hard work. Then I came across a fantastic company based in the Ukraine and they took me through the process. I had a budget to get an MVP developed, and I thought I might be able to get some traction from building something for a few thousand pounds.

GamCrowd: Where did you get the validations, and when did you make the leap? What were the stages involved?
Peter Gough: I guess the first step was what would it look like? Then it was about building it with a budget. The next was talking to David Sargeant (iGaming Ideas) and him not saying no (and I know he says no to a lot of people). That was important. I found him via his website. Just beginning a dialogue with him. He had a few questions. Then the big step was my brother was working with an agency who were working with a major TV company. Having a showcase game with 10 to 15 people from a cutting-edge agency, and some members of station’s sport team, having them play it and it worked and they loved it, with loads of suggestions. That was a real validation for me. I had a review meeting; they did a focus group on it and they said it was almost too addictive. So easy, so fantastic. That was about two or three years’ ago.

GamCrowd: So you had a product, and you know it was good, so was that the point where you thought you needed investment?
Peter Gough: Pretty much. Then the GamCrowd platform emerged. So I had validation, I knew it was good, but I had no money left. So I was looking for development money. I spoke to Chris (North) and Ian (Hogg). We raised money via GamCrowd – just £25,000 – and from there we are building our app and that will go live soon.

GamCrowd: Why did you go the crowdfunding route?
Peter Gough: Partly timing, but also the contacts we could build up within the industry. We have some fantastic investors, and we might go back to them for more funding. Also, when you want to raise more money, having the validation of that someone from the industry has put their money into it. That is really powerful. If we ever did go and raise £1m, having that vertical market investment from the industry makes sense.

GamCrowd: That was now over a year ago, so in between times you were using that cash to develop the full-blown product. How painful has that process been?
Peter Gough: It’s tough, you have things like mobile connectivity, things like that. Real-time data issues. That makes it slightly more complex, but we’ve achieved it all so we are happy.

GamCrowd: What are the next steps? How tricky is it about getting ready for launch?
Peter Gough: It’s about learning what you need to achieve for each stage. Our next stage will be to raise more money and sign B2B partners. Those are our big two objectives, but to get there we need KPIs. We need to launch now, go live until the end of the season and do whatever we can to get as many conversions so we can say to investors, we won our award, these are our KPIs, we want this amount of cash, and also say to B2B partners, this is what we have, these are the conversions, our users. It’s about getting validation at each stage.

GamCrowd: You must be pretty confident that it will prove itself as a valid product?
Peter Gough: Yes definitely. It is almost soft gaming. It’s like Angry Birds for sport. We have a low KPI estimate of conversion, so if we can get above the industry standard KPI for affiliate conversion, that will be powerful.

GamCrowd: What do you think you have brought to the industry that it was lacking?
Peter Gough: the fact that I’m not from the industry is massive. I don’t understand slots or casino. I think that has been a real bonus, although the hindrance was that I don’t have the connections, until now. I think my data background is good, knowing it wasn’t so scary. Plus I’m a lover of simplicity. If I could remove something from the product rather than add to it, I think that is more of a buzz than adding a feature. I’ve played other games that have far too complicated and end up being boring. I might be a bit brave to have something so simple. And since meeting David and Mick Robins, they have made it even simpler. It’s takes a lot to be that simple.

GamCrowd: What is it that David and Mick bring?
Peter Gough: My big issue was whether to be free-to-play, or real-money. You think it should be real-money but I just didn’t know. Whether to make it a Facebook app, whether iPhone to be on Android, web. One thing struck me; we had it built for 25p a minute betting, we had a licence and everything. But no one ever withdrew their money, and that struck me that they weren’t playing for money, they were playing for a laugh. Whether they won £7 for a 25p bet on whether there was a red card in the next 60 seconds, or whatever, they didn’t withdraw it. So I spoke to David about this, and asked whether he knew anyone in a social gaming environment and he knew Mick (Robins) and the team evolved into me, Mick and David. He’s good at making a social app, whereas David is more about working closely with real-money gaming people. 

GamCrowd: So it’s about people?
Peter Gough: Yes, and I definitely think that as a newcomer coming into this industry, you need people that know the industry. People with reputations in the industry. I have conversations with people where the name recognition works with David and Mick. It’ definitely that kind of industry.

GamCrowd: Is that because the industry is somewhat insular?
Peter Gough: I think it’s because it’s quite a technically complex industry. Maybe there is a reluctance to add products to portfolios.

GamCrowd: It is an industry which has suffered from a dearth of imagination and innovation isn’t it?
Peter Gough: Betting could be easier, Betting could be made very simple. There has been WH Labs. We’ll see.

GamCrowd: What are your expansion plans?
Peter Gough: We need to get the KPIs for the next football season. For the next football season. We’re building an iOS version, having it on both paltforms, that and Android. We already have an idea that maybe one minute is too long. We will develop a cash-out function. Scroll through the games. Those kind of things, really max out this product, for football initially, but also for cricket. It’s perfect for cricket.

GamCrowd: Have you got a goal of what you want to reach in terms of a possible sale of the business?
Peter Gough: I would love to see where the business is in three years. I’ve got a handful of game ideas that complement it. I would like to see this in four or five sports, with perhaps 15 or 20 partners. It will be quite profitable. See what that looks like, what new games and new variations.

GamCrowd: Do you know your buyer?
Peter Gough: It must be one of the bookmakers. If we are soft gaming, and we can be a strong affiliate tool. It might be a strong brand.

GamCrowd: What are your big three lessons for anyone looking at entering the space?
Peter Gough: You definitely need an insider. Without a doubt. Second, I would say understand the power of three. Everything takes three times longer, is three times more expensive, three times harder. Plus, that free-to-play is potentially more profitable than real-money gaming. You have to be quite flexible. When tennis came up in one conversation, we had to be flexible. 

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