Ibetx: Rocky Mirza

Rocky Mirza is an entrepreneurial heavyweight. Before launching iBETX, an online betting exchange, he'd had several other online ventures and has plans for more. He talked to Startups.co.uk about launching on iBETX and shared a few hot tips for those of you that fancy a flutter!

Rocky Mirza is an entrepreneurial heavyweight. Before launching iBETX, an online betting exchange, he’d had several other online ventures and has plans for more. He talked to Startups.co.uk about launching iBETX into what was an extremely competitive market and even shared a few hot tips for those of you that like the odd wager!

Name: Rocky Mirza Age: 31 Business name: iBetX What does your business do: Person to person betting exchange Number of employees: 17 Turnover: around 25 million per month

Hi Rocky, could you briefly introduce us to your business please?

iBetX is a person-to-person betting exchange that handles action from both UK and US horse racing and other sports such as football, Golf, NFL, NHL and baseball. iBetX does for betting what eBay has done for commerce: through the Internet, we bring together two parties to make a transaction without having to pay the traditional middleman. Subscribers to iBETX can make wagers with each other, bypassing bookmakers and racetracks with their high commissions.

iBetX’s computer systems streamline this process, handling thousands of transactions per minute. Customers first establish an account and make a deposit. The market on a horse race at iBetX is similar to a stock exchange where “bid” and “asked” prices for stocks are constantly fluctuating. Invariably, the betting odds are higher than at the racetrack, or in a high-street betting shop.

When did you first decide to start your own business?

iBetX planning and development started in 2001

How old were you? 29

Where did the idea come from?

I was programming Bots (mini programs to automate bets) for high net worth punters during the flutter days and saw many different ways to improve the betting exchanges. So I decided to launch iBetX.

Was starting a business something you’d always wanted to do?

iBetX was a solid opportunity, it was not something I wanted to do 10 years ago but it will definitely be something I will be doing for years to come.

What did you do first once you’d decided to take the plunge? 

I put together a top calibre management team that had eminent experience in sports betting, marketing, operations and technology.

What outside help did you get?

I approached “Invest UK” in Canada to get some initial feedback on the business environment in the UK.

Did the experience gained in any of your previous jobs prove useful? I had started a number of online ventures prior to launching iBetX and most definitely the experience gained from the pervious is a key factor for the rapid growth of iBetX.

What academic qualifications have you got? Have they helped or mattered? My academic qualifications are in marketing and business development from Algonquin College and Ottawa Carleton University. As far as software and technology is concerned it has always been an interest of mine over and above academic concerns.

How much did it cost to startup your business? We had initially budgeted millions of pounds to see us through the critical first three years, but iBetX is growing at a rate where we have already achieved our goals for the next two years.

Where did you get the funding to start your business?

It was self-funded.

How long did it take from your startup idea to your first day trading?  One year and six months

How many hours a week do you work now? At least 60 hours a week. You launched into a market with established competitors such as Betfair, why were you confident there was room for another player and how difficult did you find it to establish yourself?

We saw a gap in the market and developed iBetX to fit that gap, we have a thorough understanding of online marketing and technology but the key has been our customer service. We do what it takes to make sure our clients are satisfied. A lot of people think penetrating the online betting exchange market is down to the technology. We agree that technology plays a critical role, but to tell you the truth, if there is something that works in technology others will copy it almost immediately.

In our case, customer support has been the key. The most difficult time in the beginning was the physical set-up and adjusting to a new environment – coming to London from the vast open spaces of Canada was quite something. I think we have done well because the UK has so much to offer and people here take sports betting seriously.

Was there ever a time when you thought you were close to failing – and what did you do to overcome that?  Not really, from day one the thrill of being in a big city took over. We have a good management team that know how to work hard but at the same time we know how to have fun and enjoy life to its fullest.

What’s the single most important thing that helped your business succeed?

The punters’ trust: people trusted us from day one. If it weren’t for the quick take-up rate we wouldn’t be where we are today. A lot of punters opened accounts from day one, some played immediately and others waited until they knew we were not a fly-by. We are here to stay. What’s the most valuable lesson you’ve learnt in business?

Be careful what you commit to but once committed always exceed expectations.

What skills and personal characteristics do you need to start your own business?

Vision, consistency and belief in what you are doing. Don’t try to develop a product and then try to market your product, instead look for a need in the market and then develop your product to fit that need. If you can do that successfully your product will sell itself.

What is your tip to anyone wanting to startup his or her own business? Believe in what you are doing and then do it. Every person who tells you it won’t work, ask them ‘why?’. Once they provide the answer you should be able to solve a weak link in your business plan. The more you ask ‘why?’, the more you solve and the stronger your business will be. Is there anything you would do differently today?   Yes – launch iBetX a couple of years earlier.

Where do you see your business in a year’s time?  As the dominant player in the exchange market.

Could the government be doing more to help startup businesses?

Government has a lot of initiatives to help startup business but I think the awareness of these initiatives is lacking. The greatest incentive of all is the fact that government allows you to keep more money running a business than working for someone – tax breaks favour individuals working for themselves rather than for someone else.

Are your main ambitions financial (to make a lot of money) or lifestyle based (to enjoy what you do)?

I think money is the by-product of success. If I do everything else right, money will always follow. My main objective is to make iBetX a dominant player, but still maintain the customer support of a small company – continue to provide individual support to all of our customers.

Would you start another business? Do you plan to?

Business to me is a life-long addiction. I will definitely start other businesses.

Do you gamble yourself?  No

In 2004, who will win the following sporting events?

Euro 2004 – I would like England to win but at the moment France and Italy have a better chance. Wimbledon Men’s Singles Final – at the moment Federer or Roddick have a good chance. Thanks Rocky!

Here are 19 essential start-up tips for young entrepreneurs.

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