When The Founder Of The Football Index Set Out To Disrupt A £17bn Market He Took A Big Gamble

Adam Cole is CEO of Football Index, a new way of betting on the ‘stock’ of individual players, who learnt some important startup lessons along the way, as he reveals to RISING…

RISING What’s the concept behind the Football Index?
ADAM COLE, CEO
‘Football INDEX enables traders to buy and sell real money ‘shares’ in the world’s top footballers. ‘Football traders’ can earn ‘dividends’ based on their football knowledge, and the on-pitch performance and media profile of players in their portfolio. Our users are typically smart football and fantasy football fans who find the concept of Football Index more intellectually satisfying, and generally more rewarding than regular betting. People with a financial background and an interest in football are also a key demographic.’

RISING Where did the idea come from and where are you taking it?
AC
‘It has long been an ambition of mine to turn sports and celebrities into tradable markets. We started with football, which has a massive global following, with £17bn wagered annually in the UK alone. We’re gaining traction – there are currently over 100,000 ‘football traders’ and on a number of occasions recently over £1m has been traded in a single day. The business is scalable. We’ve started with football trading but, having proved the concept and built the technology, our goal is to expand into other sports – such as American Football and basketball.’

RISING How did you go from concept to reality?
AC
‘Getting a concept off the ground in a competitive market is always tricky. We needed funding to develop our platform and make it scalable. We secured £1.92m of funding from Burlywood Capital, the venture arm of gambling veteran Mark Blandford, who founded SportingBet. The gambling sector has been short on innovation and Mark Blandford saw the concept as something unique, so didn’t take a lot of persuading. We had to prove that we had the right management team in place to grow the business. He was happy with the credentials and capabilities of our team, so we have been able to retain full control of the business and the direction we want to take it in.’

RISING What’s your top tip for realising a concept?
AC
’Don’t cut corners – do things properly. If you take time and invest in building solid foundations, you will reap the rewards. Investing in the right management team from the start is crucial and we didn’t cut corners there. Having the right senior team in place is absolutely fundamental to the success of the business.’

‘If it had gone wrong, it could have bankrupted us – if you’re going through hell, keep going!

RISING What was the biggest gamble you’ve taken so far?
AC
‘We hit a brick wall around the liquidity problem and we took a massive risk in going from an eBay model – where the seller always waits for a buyer – to us stepping into the market to provide the liquidity, because traders often want to liquidate their positions instantly. If it had gone wrong, it could have bankrupted us – but luckily this leap of faith paid off. If you’re going through hell, keep going!’

RISING What else do you need when setting up a financial enterprise?
AC
‘You need a strong vision and, if you are going to disrupt an industry, then you need to be ambitious, with clear goals. Having some form of regulatory body is important with a financial enterprise.’

‘Things are never as you think they will be – there’s a lot of competition for disposable income’

RISING How did you set your goals?
AC
‘We set our goals based on our experience in startups and knowing that things are never as you think they will be. There’s a lot of competition for disposable income and so we were realistic about what was achievable in the short-term and set conservative goals focused on three key areas: cost to acquire clients, spend per user and client retention rate.’

RISING Do you need lots of specialist knowledge when disrupting an industry?
AC
‘My own experience is in founding and creating value in companies. I am a serial entrepreneur and have set up and sold a number of organisations. For me, the key has been to spot the gap in the market, evolve the business and build a team of really smart people with more specialist, industry knowledge.’

WHAT NEXT? If you’re looking for inspiration for your startup dreams then read RISING’s Best Shackleton Quotes For Leaders and find out how the legendary explorer turned disaster into victory.

Follow the writer @mattfitnessray