Smarkets is looking to change the public’s perception of the gambling industry. From its home overlooking St Katharine Docks the company has enjoyed a fruitful few years. It recently placed 12th in Inc’s 5000 Europe of the continent’s fastest growing companies.
Its focus is on a sleek and simplistic customer experience (which includes a flat 2% commission) and the way the company delivers this is by building all its products in-house. We spoke to Smarkets Press Officer Pascal Lemesre about this growth, the company’s ambitions in and beyond gambling, and the differences in how Smarkets operates compared to most companies across sectors.
SBC: Do you see yourselves as industry leaders when it comes to embracing change?
Pascal: That’s our main point of difference. Gambling is an age old industry, and a great deal of people still have a rather murky perception of it. We want to change this by approaching things from a different mindset. Fintech is a buzzword at the moment and we view ourselves more like a fintech startup, although I guess we’re past that point and now a fast-growing company of 80 people and still keen on hiring.
We want to avoid following the path that every other bookmaker has taken. We’re a tech company, entertainment and gambling are words we typically avoid. The way we built the product, which offers a 2% commission, means our odds are often the best in the world.
Simplicity is at the heart of what we do. We don’t do casinos and we avoid confusing people. We don’t go after easy wins; we’re a tech company that’s trying to build the fairest betting exchange in the world.
I don’t think we’ll ever go down the casino path; it’s not of interest to us. Jason’s (Smarkets CEO Jason Trost) background is in stock trading; he wanted to build an event exchange for traders rather than another betting platform that offers customers poor value.
SBC: Smarkets recently placed 12th on Inc’s list of the 5000 fastest growing companies in Europe…
Pascal: Yep, we’ve done really well with some growth awards. We were top five in the Sunday Times Tech Track 100, which is incredibly reputable, and the Inc award is another that we like to be associated with. Companies like Deliveroo, AirBnB and Uber are the ones we are looking to emulate in terms of industry disruption.
Most newcomers to the betting industry do the same old thing. That’s not us. You won’t see us bombarding people with shouty TV advertising, our marketing has mainly worked organically by word of mouth. We’ve focused on the product and offering the best platform and odds. We’ve been so profitable because we’ve done this with a small team. In fact, I think we’re one of the most profitable companies per employee in Europe.
Betting is not the end goal for Jason and Smarkets. His aim is for Smarkets to become a Tier 1 technology company. This is one of the reasons we’ve opened the Santa Monica office in LA, and he’s over there now hunting the best software engineers in the business. They’re investigating other opportunities and the West Coast is a good base for this.
SBC: The importance of data driven marketing in 2017?
Pascal: The marketing team we have here comprises of data scientists, software engineers and creatives. We’re hiring more digital marketers right now, but it should be as many tech guys as there are non-techs.
We see fully understanding our customers as the top priority. Data is at the heart of everything we do, and all the products we build are in-house.
Now we want to start making more of a push and tell people why they should be using Smarkets.
SBC: Tell us about the company culture at Smarkets
Pascal: So we’re also trying to make a difference in the workplace. The guiding principle is self-management. Hiring the right people is important and everyone in the company does interviews. We’re an ever-expanding web connecting the dots of who hired who. We even have a cool infographic to show this.
Hiring good people is vital, but so is trust. Trusting employees to work on what they think is best is vital, as long as there is communication between teams. It’s open and far from a top down system, everything is up for discussion and the autonomy is important.
As for the set-your-own-salary policy, the way it works is this. We have salary review windows every six months, and the process is that you can submit a review, fill out a form and open yourself up for feedback. Those in your team and others up to and including Jason will come back to you with their feedback and give their opinion on what they think you should be earning.
You read this and the idea is that you take this into consideration with your final salary bid. This is all public knowledge within the company; it’s an honour system which breeds an honest review and rewards good and hard work. It’s working well so far. We do a lot of other things to make it a great place to work. We’ve three chefs working for us full time, breakfast, lunch and dinner is provided and the gong goes at lunchtime to ensure we all eat together every day.
We also don’t count holiday. It’s all about trust and we’ve had few problems with the policy. Our annual report for 2016 will be out in Spring and it will again show superb growth after our breakthrough year in 2015.
We have a lot of cool stuff planned this year too which should help this continue!
SBC: Thought on a mobile first approach?
Pascal: Our app is in development and will be released in the imminent future. We’ve built it in house and we’ve been working hard developing and testing it to get it right, and to keep it aligned with our company philosophy.
We could have spent big and used third-party sources to get an app out quicker, but we have a policy to build things in house as we have so many great engineers. The lack of outsourcing is good for the overall product.
SBC: How has the QPR sponsorship gone for Smarkets?
Pascal: We upgraded to front of shirt in 2015, and it’s been a very cool thing for us and good for brand validity. It’s great going to the stadium and seeing our logo everywhere and we’ve had lots of interest in the 0% commission offer on QPR games.
We will continue to look at other sponsorship opportunities going forward as we look to target high level traders, the ones interested in moving from stocks to sports trading. We’re happy to have punters on the platform taking advantage of our great odds but our priority is the high level traders.