Bidding For Success

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Betshift and its new product Bid4Bets is a great example of how new thinking from outside the industry can potentially grab a foothold in the market – this time in social betting – with a great idea and and a bit of insider guidance. The company was founded by Mark Allen, a web designer by background, who saw the potential of replicating the penny auction business model in the betting arena. With some guidance from consultant Andy Rogers at Rokker, the company has a product live online and is seeking seed funding right now.

Gamcrowd: What is your background?
Mark Allen: I’m from a web design background, with a career that has seen digital technology encompass our lives and dictate much of how we behave and interact with each other. I’m fascinated by the depth and breadth of data available to us now, and how this has enabled innovation across all sectors.

For the last five years I was Digital Director at the experience design agency, Beyond (bynd.com) where I helped grow the company from a small London studio to a global digital agency, winning a Revolution Award for ‘Best Start-up’ in 2012. I was responsible for the creative technology teams and provided hands-on management of our key client projects.

In 2010 we partnered with Apple to help launch their new in-app advertising platform, iAds into Europe. I led a team of developers to Apple HQ in Cupertino for on-boarding, before returning to London to create these rich immersive mobile experiences using JavaScript and HTML5 at a time when the technology was still in it’s infancy, pushing the boundaries of what was possible on a mobile device. 

In 2012 we collaborated with Google to help them create a living archive of the world's most significant moments from history, art and culture. Called the “Google Cultural Institute” this two year project saw my team working onsite with Google’s engineers at their Paris offices, where we conceptualised and developed the entire visual design and user experience for this impressive platform.

I enjoy creating digital products, exploring new technologies, solving problems and making things simpler and better for users. I set up BetShift to do just that. Our ethos is to “use data to create alternative online gambling products and help players make informed decisions.”

Gamcrowd: What was the germ of the idea?
Mark Allen: I was inspired by penny auction sites which have been gaining popularity over the last few years. I thought, “How could I build on that concept but provide a better deal for the players and maintain a profitable business model?”. I’ve explored many variants on the theme, some of which are in development, but with Bid4Bets it was the idea of integrating sports betting where I saw a natural fit and amazing potential. We are combining the principles of an auction, where people compete to out-perform each other, with the excitement and passion of watching live sports, where a player’s knowledge and skill can give them an advantage.

Gamcrowd: I see you have Andy Rogers as an adviser - how important was it to have advice from someone who knew about the industry?
Mark Allen: Very important. My background is in digital design and technology so I came into this with limited knowledge of the gaming business. Andy was one of the first industry insiders I met and he has been instrumental in helping guide my business plan and introducing me to the people I’ve needed to meet. Without access to his broad experience, knowledge and contacts it would have been incredibly difficult to progress as quickly as we have.

Gamcrowd: What are the lessons you have learnt to date about launching a new business idea?
Mark Allen: One: speak to as many people as you can - both in the industry and outside. Every single person I have shared my idea with has added some value, whether practical advice or just the reassurance of a sounding board. Two: Move fast. Prove the theory. People will tell you they love the idea - which is reassuring - but you need to build it and get people playing it to get real feedback. It wasn’t until we tested our prototype with real users that we could see that the concept was well received and easily understood, and that this is something people would play in real life. We also ran a survey which gave us detailed feedback and provided focus points for the evolution of the product and business.

Gamcrowd: What do you think it unique about your product?
Mark Allen: Our product is unique because it merges the game mechanics of online auctions with a pool betting system. Unlike pool betting where the prize money is evenly distributed between the winning players, we create a limited but increasing number of prizes. We are basically auctioning the prizes as they update in value while the live sports action unfolds.

Gamcrowd: have you had trouble gaining interest in the business because it is gambling-related?
Mark Allen: Some potential investors have simply said that they don’t invest in the gambling sector. I’ve since started targeting my approach specifically to those that already invest in the sector.

Gamcrowd: Your product appears to be more social than average gambling products - is this a deliberate part of your strategy?
Mark Allen: Yes, as with the penny auction sites which inspired me, an important part of the gameplay is that you can see your peers and actively compete against them. It was important to me that the player’s usernames should be displayed in the prize list, to provide players with more information (data) and therefore enable them to create strategies accordingly.

During our first user test we realised that the product aligns perfectly with the natural competitiveness and rivalry seen in groups of friends (particularly men). We saw that beating their friends to the prize became as important as winning the actual prize itself! We immediately saw an opportunity to enable players to create closed groups where they can invite and play against friends while watching the game, and set the stake/prize parameters themselves.

The ‘second screen’ continues to dominate many areas of our lives. Whether at home watching TV or down the pub with your mates, people are in near-constant communication using fast-paced, reactive behaviour to which I believe our product aligns perfectly.

Gamcrowd: Have you had expressions of interest in your seed funding round already?
Mark Allen: Yes I’ve had interest in the product from people across the industry. Everybody has been very positive and thinks it looks really interesting and can see no reason why it couldn’t become a big success. I’ve had no offers of investment yet but I’ve only actually spoken to a couple of potential investors so far.

Gamcrowd: What is the ultimate goal of the company? Is the aim a trade sale?
Mark Allen: If I’m honest I don’t know the answer to this question yet. I’m really enjoying myself at the moment. I love creating digital products and am enjoying running my first start-up. I have been energised by the fantastic response I’m getting about the product, and I have many other ideas for the gaming sector which I’d like to explore. Having said that I’m fully aware of the distribution of power in this sector and how difficult it is for a small operator to survive let alone thrive, so a sale may be inevitable at some point and I definitely won’t rule that out.