Startup spotlight: The friendly face of betting
With a proprietary peer-to-peer platform, Wager aims to crack the conundrum of making sports betting truly social. Co-founder Leo Barnes (pictured, right, with co-founder Elliott Robinson) shares the story behind its creation.
How does Wager work?
We are a friend-to-friend betting app, that enables people to bet against one another on football. This sort of bet happens offline, while watching football or in the pub, but they have to be settled with cash and there’s no commitment to paying out.
What we have built is essentially a friend-to-friend exchange that delivers all the features of a sportsbook such as listing all the matches taking place that day, live odds and payment functionality. The bets get settled as soon as the event happens, and it’s all contained in a slick app that makes tracking the bets very easy.
In future we’re looking at expanding the range of bet types, potentially adding group bets, and going beyond football with other sports such as horse racing, as well as custom bet types.
Where did the idea come from?
We’ve been best friends since studying economics at Oxford, and have always been punters ourselves. As competitive millennials, we even flip a coin to see who pays when we go out for lunch.
We found the gambling industry was filled with single-player products and couldn’t believe there wasn’t a social betting platform out there. Through speaking to friends, then running test groups for Wager, we found that people love betting against one another.
So we saw the opportunity for a product that isn’t a solitary, lonely way to gamble. Our vision is to create a truly social and friendly product based around community. Ultimately Wager replicates the strongest features of traditional sportsbooks in a more social context.
Who’s the target audience?
The core target is the male millennial market, aged 18 to 30. We are targeting casual bettors. Not the avid exchange punter, and not the once-a-year Grand National bettor. We’re targeting the frequent sports watcher, who might be put off by the solitary nature of betting, and the frequent bettor who may be tired of the current sportsbook experience.
Our test group has shown that social is already a huge part of the betting experience. Friends’ WhatsApp groups are filled with conversations about betting, they’re sharing bets they’ve placed, and even using social networks to arrange friend-to-friend bets. They’re already doing what Wager is designed to help with – we’re just bringing it online.
Who provides the odds?
We’re part of Sportradar’s accelerator programme so they provide the odds. In future we’re look at giving customers the option to set their own odds, but to start we’re offering the same odds as bookmakers. We want to give them the same return as a bookmaker, and make the transactional and settlement elements as slick as possible, but in a more engaging social setting.
How do you plan to build your customer base? Will it require heavy marketing investment?
If I rewind to last summer, we started off by working with a team of offshore developers to build a virtual currency betting product, so basically Wager but with digital coins. We had such positive feedback from over 100 users, that we were able to raise £500,000 from [venture capital fund] Forward Partners. We quit our jobs the day we sealed the deal and have been working on the product full-time since November.
From February onwards we’ve been working with Forward Partners’ internal tech team to build everything from scratch, so we fully own the IP. What we’re then going to focus on is bringing customers in with a sizeable marketing budget.
But the first stage was to build a product that is inherently viral and social; as you use the app, it becomes more fun the more friends you bring in. The more friends, the more bets you can place.
We also want to build features that make Wager feel more of a social network than just a betting platform. For example, every user will have a profile page showing their win percentage and longest winning streaks, and we’ll let users create private leagues, similar to fantasy sports.
In terms of marketing spend, we really want to focus on channels where the millennial sports punter hangs out, so Facebook, Twitter, Instagram. We’ll also look digital advertising channels such as football websites and on radio shows such as TalkSport, as well as partnering with football and betting content creators so we can get the product to our user. It’s a very digital approach.
How difficult was fundraising?
We really enjoyed the process, as we found there were a few things about the business that made us very interesting to investors. The viral features for one; normal betting sites have high cost per acquisition rates, as they’re very homogenised, so they need to spend more to bring new players in. With Wager, as a social product, we expect the player base to grow virally, bringing down CPAs.
We’re also offering a softer and friendlier form of betting, which can be enjoyed without necessarily causing problems. There are no virtual sports, casino games, so play frequency is naturally limited. This sets us aside from the negative press the traditional bookmakers have been getting recently.
Have you had much interaction with traditional operators and suppliers?
We have, and it’s been really positive. Obviously Sportradar accepted us onto their accelerator programme, and we’ve also had meetings with senior people at a lot of the big bookmakers. The idea of social betting is definitely attractive; the betting sector has been slow to embrace social, and the general feedback is that there is huge potential with Wager. We’re very keen to learn from the big guys, and from what they do well, but putting a social spin on it.
Do you have much interaction with other start-ups? How do you feel this helps?
We’ve had a lot of interaction with other industry start-ups through GamblingStartup.Ventures, and we learn a lot from the other guys. We’re two entrepreneurs so there is a lot we have had to learn from scratch; being a betting business means we have to be on top of compliance, on top of product, and in tune with industry partners. We’ve found it really useful to share ideas with other companies.
We believe that social is such a big trend – we’re just launching on IOS and Android, so we feel we’re a very modern, innovative mobile-first player, and it’s good to meet other start-ups like that.
Wager at a glance
Product: Friend-to-friend sports betting app
Founders: Leo Barnes, Elliott Robinson
Launch date: August 2019
Sports: Football for launch (horse racing and more in the future)
Location: Shoreditch, London