For the past few years, the betting industry has been pretty cutthroat. It is a massive market with plenty of money to go around. Jai Maw is here to share what it is like to run a public company in this highly competitive world. Joining David Metz, he talks about co-founding Betting Hero, which only started as a small side hustle. Jai explains the major differences between online and offline acquisitions, why he goes through every single Slack notification he receives, and how they cope with unpredictable stock prices. He also opens up on how running a public company changed his life, especially after taking huge leap from account executive to CEO.
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Jai Maw: Co-Founder Of Betting Hero
We have the Cofounder and President of Betting Hero, Jai Maw. Welcome, Jai.
Thank you very much. It’s great to be here. Thanks for having me on.
It’s good to have you. The format is pretty simple. I’m going to ask you six questions so everyone can get a sense of you and hopefully, learn from your experiences. Does that sound good?
That sounds perfect.
Question number one, you went from an account executive to CEO that’s led Betting Hero to a successful exit. Most people would consider account executive to CEO a huge leap. Why didn’t it matter for you and many startup CEOs?
Let’s put it into perspective. I went from account executive at a Fortune 500 company in Gartner to being CEO of a company that didn’t exist. I was a cofounder of what we called Betting Hero, back then when we founded it. It was an SBST or Sports Betting Street Team. It was me and my cofounder. That was it. We were CEO and my chief strategy officer, which is my cofounder. We were also the janitor, account executive, cleaner, customer service reps, admin, and accounting. We were everything. That’s how our business started. It’s taking a look at where our strengths were. Instead of deploying them in a single area, we were trying to broaden those, and build a business that could become something great, which we’re on the way to being.
It’s something you think you’ve learned through experience.
Like most startups and founders, you learn on the job. You make a ton of mistakes. You either learn from those mistakes or you make them again. In my opinion, great leaders of startups do learn from those mistakes. They get better. They become what it is that says on their business card. In my case, I grew into the role of CEO and cofounder. Without starting the way that we did doing everything, it would’ve been difficult, if not impossible, for me to be a CEO of a $20 million business where we are now.
I always say there are two types of decisions. There are reversible decisions and irreversible decisions. It’s okay to make mistakes on the reversible ones. Do you think that the decisions you make and your cofounder make are more irreversible than reversible than when you were 2, 5 or 10 people?
Every decision is reversible. There might be causes of a decision that are irreversible, but the decision itself can be reversible. What I mean by that is you make a decision on hiring somebody or firing somebody. You can correct that decision over time by firing somebody or hiring somebody. If you’ve made a mistake, the implications of it are irreversible. You can’t change the fact that your opportunity costs went up because you let go of the wrong individual or you hired the wrong individual. You can’t change that.
The next time it comes to hiring someone, you are informed to make a better decision. Therefore, that decision is reversible. By looking at the business through a slightly different lens, you’re able to continue to move forward and learn from those mistakes. We’ve made plenty of mistakes. We still make mistakes. If there’s a founder out there that says they don’t make mistakes or the business doesn’t make mistakes, of course, they do. The mistakes might be of a bigger or smaller relative value, but mistakes are made. It’s about how you learn from them. How do you then get better? When you get bigger and better, how do you also make sure that the people you have in place, regardless of role, are better at making those decisions than you are?Regardless if you commit mistakes on a big or small scale, all that matters is how you learn from them. Click To Tweet
For example, as a cofounder and a CEO early on in our life cycle, I was not the best accountant for the job. I was doing the accounting. We now have a professional accountant that is responsible for doing the accounting of the company as it should. I probably made a ton of mistakes when I was in that role. It’s then about, “Put someone in that position that knows how to do the job extremely well, is a professional in that field, and is a specialist.” Trust them to make the right decision. That’s something that all entrepreneurs and all founders will hit that point of, “I’m not the best person for this job anymore.” That decision is probably the irreversible one. If you continue to do that job, then you’re doing a disservice to the business.
When you start out, you’re wearing about twenty different hats. You’re probably devoting 5% of your time to each hat. As you grow, you take your hat off and hand it to somebody. They can spend 100% of their time focusing on that. By that alone, they’re going to do a better job.
You have specialists and you have generalists. As a founder, you have to be a specialist in identifying those people. You also have to be a generalist while you’re getting going. There are certain companies that when they were created have enormous financial backing. We bootstrapped our company. We had zero investment for the first eighteen months. We only then took investment when we wanted to get the advisory and knowledge so that we knew that those people had skin in the game.
When you bootstrap a company, you have to double down on everything that you are responsible for doing. I go back to being the janitor, accountant, HR, business development, customer success, and administration. All of those things are equally important at that time in a business. That’s why you hear stories of founders working 100-hour weeks and working jobs as side hustles. That’s exactly how we started. Betting Hero at the time, for twelve months, was a side hustle for my cofounder and me. We were not only working all of those jobs at Betting Hero. We were also working in an account executive position within the companies that we were at. It teaches you to value employees when you get them and make sure that they’re put to work in the right areas with the right specialties.
You also value funding when you get it.
You think about those dollars as if they’re your own because up until that point, they were your own.
When people talk about user acquisition, they almost always think about it as it relates to online acquisition. You found tremendous success in doing it in person and boots on the ground. Why don’t more companies use offline acquisition opportunities? Is it because companies like Betting Hero are rare or they’re just trained to always think about the acquisition as it relates to online?
There are a couple of reasons. First and foremost is the question of scale. When a company, regardless of the industry, thinks about customer acquisition, there is a preconceived notion that digital customer acquisition is easily scaled. To a degree, that is accurate provided that the digital channel is highly effective and that they believe that offline acquisition is difficult to scale or impossible to scale.
I would agree that it’s difficult to scale. To answer the second part of your question about whether companies like Betting Hero are a rare breed and there aren’t many people that can do what we do, I do agree with that. There aren’t many companies that can do what we do as well as we do it with the scale that we’ve also represented.
In addition, companies that are looking for customer acquisition are innately trained to first think of digital channels. In an industry like sports betting and iGaming where there’s also an enormous customer education that needs to be done, the digital channels alone are not effective enough. They give you scale, but they don’t educate the consumer as well as they need to be educated in the way that they need to be educated. That’s where we’re able to bridge that gap at Betting Hero. We provide scale and immense resources.
We’ve driven over 300,000 new depositing customers to our operator partners. I don’t know exactly the numbers from the digital operators or the digital versions of what we do. I would argue that we’re at the top or above the pile in terms of scale, disproving that preconceived notion. Secondly, we’re also educating the consumers along the way. Think about it in the financial services industry 15 to 20 years ago when there were no financial services apps available to customers. Still, there are many people that don’t use their banking app, especially those of an older demographic.
Having a team that’s customized and able to train customers on the benefits of your product digitally, but doing so in person is how they want to learn. That’s how they’ve always been trained to absorb knowledge. It’s difficult to absorb knowledge online about an online product if you don’t understand the online product. There’s a chance that you’re not going to understand how to absorb that knowledge.
For us, we’ve found that scale is typically the biggest question mark. Can you scale this? Can you reproduce it? People are risky until they get all that. If you can do it correctly, which we’ve proven we can, and then you can also marry that with the differentiating point, which is education, you have a recipe for a successful business. This can be taken from sports betting and iGaming into many industries where there is high friction or high chances of failure rates like financial services, where our model could be put into practice well.
Does it help that the acquisition target is so valuable or that the LTV is so high? It’s not necessarily the scale where you need millions. When I got my first credit card, it was on the college campus. Somebody on campus talked to me and gave me a free t-shirt. I’m like, “I’m in,” but the LTV of a credit card user over their lifetime is tremendous. It was worth that investment. Do you think there’s a correlation between that?
For sure because it gives you the ability to choose digital or offline or both. There’s no getting around it. Running live activation teams as we do is expensive. It is much more expensive than running a website. There are a lot of costs that go into building a website. You’re making sure you have the right domain, the right SEO, and the right content. All those things are costs, but then the amortization of those costs is much longer.
With a live activation event, the cost that goes into running one event never goes away. You replicate it each time. Certainly, the reason we chose to build this business in this industry was because of the value of each individual customer. Therefore, for each individual event, we were able to run and replicate. In an industry where the lifetime value of a customer is maybe $10 or $20, does it make sense to have a team that is boots on the ground activating users? Probably not.
However, there is also a common misunderstanding about what it is that we do as a live activation team. We’re there to activate the user. That’s how we get paid. It is based on new users and new products. However, for everything else that we do, a lot of people would look at it and say, “It’s free of charge,” or, “It’s included.” If you think about the extra value that we provide as a boots-on-the-ground resource for operators, it is immense. I’m talking customer service. I’m talking about frequently asked questions that never see the light of day or never make it back to the operator. There is issue resolution on basic things, but also quite technical things as well as identification of potential VIP players. We are introducing those to operators and integrating with their product team so that we can make sure that their products are improving day after day.
There’s a lot more that goes into what we do than just live activation of new users. Without everything else that we do, the conversion of those new users doesn’t happen. That happens to be what the operator pays for. That’s what everyone thinks that we do, but it’s everything else that we do that adds up and makes us the most successful in what we do.
In that case, if you look at it from that lens, any industry could benefit from having in-person experts on a product and interacting with customers. That’s a shift that we are making internally about who we are and what we do. We’ve always been known as the number one live activation company in the industry. We’re in a process of shifting to being recognized as the number one customer experience company in the industry because we do so much more than just activate, which is ultimately how we’re paid.
We’re shifting a little bit, but staying on the activation theme. Since you’ve done a lot of activations face-to-face, both yourself and your employees, and a lot of times, you’re doing them in bars, what’s the craziest experience you’ve had with someone? Are there many?
Think about where you find our teams. Our teams are at casinos and sports bars across the country, as well as at sporting venues and arenas. We’re talking about, in some cases, highly intoxicated people. We’re talking about people with a lot of testosterone. They’re watching sports. They’re betting on sports. They’re amped up for a game or they’re passionate about it.
There have been many instances of, “Did that happen?” I’m not sure if I could repeat any of them on this show, but we’ve seen a lot. That’s part of the enjoyment of what we do. It is being able to interact with customers in their natural habitat. It’s not to make too much of an analogy towards the animal kingdom, but that’s what it is that we do. We meet customers where they are. We’re building rapport with them. We’re building a relationship with them.
We’re cheering them on when they have a bet placed on their favorite team and they’re playing right in front of us. We’re rooting for or against a group of friends that have bet on different games or different teams. It’s that type of environment that makes what we do so fun. It’s what makes what we do so valuable to the operators as well. We can then tell a real-life story about, “We helped this customer in this situation. He tried to register a couple of weeks ago. He wasn’t successful. We were able to get him registered. He then funded his account. He placed a bet on his favorite team and his team won in overtime. He won his bet.” That’s a feel-good story to share back with the operators and our clients because that’s exactly what they’re missing. They don’t get that information from any digital version of what we do or from any customer.
No customer is reaching out to an operator to say, “I placed this bet. My team won in overtime. I’m super pumped. I’m so happy. I’m never going to leave you. You are the reason that I’m successful.” When we are interacting with them, we get that feedback, and we can then feed it back to the clients. That is another benefit of what we do being in person rather than on a screen that you never have a relationship with a customer. I can’t share any of the crazy stuff.
That’s fair enough. Do you think being an entrepreneur has changed you as a person?
It has expedited what was going to happen anyway in terms of who I am as a person. I’ve always been entrepreneurial. I’ve always been somebody that works incredibly hard and long hours. I typically live what it is that I do. Therefore, I don’t think it has changed me because none of that has changed. It certainly has expedited how fast I’ve gotten there. In some ways, it has changed me. That would be a better question asked of my wife. She would probably know if it has changed me.
There’s more stress. There’s a lot more pressure. When you’re an entrepreneur of a business of two, which it was when we started it, and it’s a side hustle, there is very little risk. It’s always fun. It’s, “We have success. That is amazing. We’re that one step closer to quitting our day jobs and focusing on this full-time.” If you don’t have success or we fail, then you don’t go backward. You stay where you are.
It becomes fun. It’s always a challenge. When you then go into this full-time and you have employees that depend on you, in our case, being publicly traded, you have investors that depend on you, that adds a degree of pressure that you didn’t have before. Instead of providing for your family and making sure that they’re taken care of, you are now providing for your family, as well as your employees and their families and your investors and their families. That’s the pressure that changes.
In my opinion, it’s great because I’m always looking for more of that drive and that energy. Certain founders feed off of that energy. They perform better. Certain founders don’t. They choose to exit the business, relinquish control, or give it to somebody else. In my case, that’s something that I enjoy and relish. I love that challenge. I’ve always been motivated by proving people wrong. When we started this business, there were a lot of doubters. Nobody had done what we did before in this industry. In fact, nobody had done much of what we did in any industry. For us, the challenge was, “Nobody thinks this is going to work. We have the ability to prove them wrong.” That piece has not changed.
As a person, much of my innate programming hasn’t changed. It just accentuated what it is that I focus on, why I do what I do, and why I continue to come back to this. It used to just be my family. That was it. Now, it’s my family, the family of the 400 people that rely on us as employees and contractors, plus the thousands of investors that put their money into FansUnite.
Can you see yourself waking up one morning and not having any Slack messages or texts? I’m not a big social media person. I understand influencers. They get dopamine hits every time they get a like. My dopamine hit is Slack. If I don’t have a Slack message in five minutes, I’m like, “What’s going on? I’m not being productive. I’m not doing something.”
We had an offsite retreat. It is the second one we’ve done this 2022 with our market leads and marketing managers. We use Slack religiously. It is our resource internally. There are thousands of messages every week and dozens of channels. I said to the team, “Slack is a tool for us to use. I don’t expect you all to be as consumed in it as I am, but I read every single Slack message that goes in every single channel. I’m on every single channel.” The team was a little surprised. They’re like, “If you are reading every single channel and every single message that comes in, you probably needed to go do something else.”
For me, it’s a drug that I crave. I have to know and see what is going on. I don’t always respond. Many times, I don’t need to respond, but it’s important for me to have a sense of what is going on in parts of the business that otherwise I may not be exposed to on a daily basis. Can I imagine a world where I’m not getting a Slack message in the morning or I’m not answering an email? What you’re asking is could I imagine myself on a beach somewhere? I can’t.
Will that day come? Possibly. Hopefully, they’ll keep me on as an honorary member. I’ll still be in Slack if that day does come if I ever get pushed out so I can remain involved and live vicariously. At this point, I can’t imagine that day. I’ll go back to my wife. I’m sure she’s craving that day. She’s looking forward to that day.
I know exactly what you mean. What’s the best thing and the worst thing about being a public company?
We’ve only been a public company for about nine months. I don’t know if I’m quite educated to give you a good answer on that, but I can give you my best and worst so far. The best is certainly the exposure to parts of the business that I previously hadn’t had much exposure to. Being able to sit with the founding team of Fans, on calls with their investors and investment bankers that pull deals together, and get an understanding of the inner workings of a public company is amazing. We have great access to those teams, and they support us amazingly.
The best is certainly how much more I’ve learned in the last nine months about business in general and certainly about publicly traded companies. The worst is like anything. It’s the things that you can’t control. As a founder, you have to have control. Things you can have control of, even if they’re negative, are considered positive, in my opinion, because you can impact the outcome.You have to control things you can take control of. Even if they're negative, that is considered as a positive because you can impact the outcome. Click To Tweet
As a publicly traded company, especially one that’s traded on a smaller exchange, you relinquish a lot of that control in terms of what the market is doing and therefore, how the stock is performing. Over the last nine months, it’s no secret. The markets have been impacted, especially in the sports betting and iGaming space. We have not been excluded from that. We’ve seen our stock fall in terms of value. Unfortunately, it’s not something that we can directly control. All we can control is continuing to run the business efficiently and effectively, generating revenue, generating great profit, and then communicating that message to the investors.
Not being able to move that dial in terms of the stock price has probably been the hardest thing, but it’s good learning because there are many things in business that you cannot control. If you get caught up on those things, it’s very difficult to move forward. You are looking at what’s right in front of you. You’re looking at the trees that are right there and missing, the forest that might be beyond those trees, and that’s the end goal. For us, that’s the focus.
We continue to run the business as well as we can and as much as we would’ve done if we were still private. Everything else will take care of itself. The investors will believe in the story. They will see the vision. They will also see the forest. They will begin to reinvest. The stock price will go up, and the business will prosper as a result. It has been a fun ride as well.
It’s interesting. Startups that raised money in December. They got an evaluation. Let’s say, they have two years of runway. For two years, they don’t have to think about their valuation. It is set. They can weather the storm. When you’re a public company, it’s changing every second. As someone that’s CEO, of a private company, I can relate to that. How much do you tune it out and say, “The stock price is the stock price. I can’t control it.” Even though we may be producing record numbers, it is the market sometimes. You’re looped in with everyone, the whole economy. Even though numbers are great and you’re beating them, you have to let that go because you can’t do anything.
That’s exactly where we found ourselves. If you look at our business in a vacuum, we’ve had the best trailing twelve that we’ve ever had. 2022 will be our best year in terms of revenue, EBITDA, and all of the key indicators of a strong business. Yet, the stock of the company that acquired us is probably at its lowest or still close to its lowest for a number of years. Daily, if you look at that stuff, it’s going to kill you. It’s going to eat you up because there is nothing that you can do about it, or at least not immediately.
Looking at that bigger picture, you have the ability to shape the direction of the story and the vision. We’re listening to the investors about what it is that’s important to them and what is the story that they want to hear. Does that fit with what we’re trying to do? Can we craft that? We are also reading the indicators within the market about what’s important to our operator partners. How can we help them increase their valuation? There’s no secret.
DraftKings and these big publicly-traded operators, the better their stock does, the better our stock does. High tides raise all boats, and that’s accurate here as well. These are clients of ours. We can help them in many ways. The more we can do that, the better we’re helping ourselves. It is about taking a macro approach to the industry and not thinking of yourself on this island in terms of, “If I do this one thing, it’s going to change our course.” The reality is you have to look at the bigger picture and try and help those around you so that we can all prosper.
Even if there may be competitors of ours that we selfishly don’t want to succeed because it might hamper our business, we want them to succeed from a public market standpoint because it’s going to help everybody. This industry, in particular, has missed a little bit of that over the last few years. We’re starting to see more knowledge sharing, helping one another, and focus groups about how we can improve the industry as a whole. The more of that that we see, the better we will all do.
I agree. You’re right. In the last couple of years, it has been very cutthroat. There’s only going to be a few people that when the smoke clears, who the winners are going to be. Some of that smoke has cleared. It’s a huge market. There’s plenty of money to go around.
Taking it back to the financial service industry where I used to work. There are not only 4 or 5 banks. There are hundreds and thousands of banks. You know this better than most. There are thousands of these institutions. In most industries, there are thousands of options. They all survive in some capacity. They all thrive in some capacity. In this industry, for some reason, there’s a belief that there are only going to be 2 or 3 winners. There might be 2 or 3 leaders, but it doesn’t mean that there aren’t winners that go all the way down the pile. It’s about finding that niche, differentiation, and your customers.
One thing that we’ve found by certainly doing the research that we’ve done is that there are plenty of customers still out there that have not yet decided who they’re going to be loyal to. It’s not because there aren’t good products in the industry or good operators for them to use exclusively. It’s because they haven’t found that UX and UI that they’re looking for, or they haven’t found the funding method that they find the least friction with. It might even be that they haven’t found the customer experience that they’re looking for that’s the right customer experience for them. That is why we believe that there will be more than 2 or 3 winners. There might be 2 or 3 leaders, but there will be many winners in this space.
I agree. The last question is a little bit out of the box. If you could only access one website for the rest of your life, what would it be?
How many people say Google? Is that a question you ask everybody?
No, it’s always something different.
I’m going to give you a little trick answer. That website for me would be YouTube. I’ll give you some context as to why. My initial reaction was going to be Google because I’m always looking for more knowledge. Typically, where do you go if you need to learn something? You go to Google and then you figure it out from there.
Google will lead you to a website.
Google will only take you to another link to another website. YouTube is like Google. However, it’s all in one. I’m a visual learner, so when I need to learn something, I will watch a video on it. Therefore, that’s my answer. I would get the most value out of using YouTube and learning from that vehicle. I also think that if everyone could only go to one website, Google would probably disappear. Therefore, YouTube would probably thrive.
That’s a good answer.
Which website would you go to?
Other than Prizeout, BettingHero or Carta?
That’s a good answer too.
Is Slack considered a website?
Are apps going to be included in this too? That’s difficult. That’s a good question for the next guest. If you only had one app on your phone, what would it be?
I’m a huge Wikipedia guy. I like the knowledge that’s condensed. I don’t need the 30-page explanation. I need the one-page history.
Spoken like a true founder.
There’s a joke around the office. It’s to not send me a long email. It won’t be read. There’s nothing that needs more than five sentences to explain.
I saw an email come through from an employee of ours. They wrote in the email, “It took me a couple of hours to write. I rewrote it and wrote it again.” My cofounder responded, and he’s very much that way. He responded and said, “Any email that takes more than ten minutes to write, delete.” I was like, “That’s a good lesson.” If it takes more than ten minutes to write the email, get rid of the email. Call the person. Let’s have a conversation.If it takes more than 10 minutes to write the email, just get rid of it. Click To Tweet
This wasn’t so bad.
This was amazing.
I appreciate you joining. Hopefully, you had fun. Hopefully, everyone at home gets to learn something. If you’re in a bar and you see Betting Hero, say hi.
If you want to connect so I can learn some things from you, reach out to me on LinkedIn. I would love that.
About Jai Maw
Jai co-founded Betting Hero in 2018, and served as the Chief Executive Officer as the company grew from two full-time employees to over 25 and 250+ Betting Hero independent contractors in 2022. With over three million in-person interactions, and having delivered 300,000+ new depositing customers, Betting Hero is unrivaled as THE best-in-class live activation company for Sports Betting, iGaming, and Cashless operators respectively. In November 2021, Betting Hero merged with American Affilliate, and was subsequently acquired by FansUnite Inc. Jai now serves as President of Betting Hero.