After a bit of a summer hiatus I’m very pleased to announce that today we resume our monthly Nestoria interview series - in which we speak with broad spectrum of innovators and thought leaders from the online world.
This month we’re lucky enough to chat with Jason Trost, CEO and co-founder of innovative new online betting site Smarkets. Prior to founding Smarkets, Jason was an application developer at UBS’s Global Asset Management (New York) where he developed web applications that streamlined the bank’s email and document processing, which are still in use at UBS today. Previously, Jason founded internet startup Descipher, a consumer medical website. Jason has also been an equities trader at Great Point Capital (Chicago), and holds a degree in Computer Science from Northwestern University.
Jason, thanks for answering a few questions
1. What is Smarkets? Surely the world doesn’t need yet another betting site?
Back in 2004 I was a stock trader in Chicago, and my co-workers introduced me to a few betting websites. However, even with a CS degree and professional trading experience, I had a lot of difficulty understanding how to bet online. Since 2004, not much has changed. Betting online is still a complicated and intimidating experience. For example, there are four common odds systems. Also, figuring out the potential payout often requires a calculator. Very few betting companies offer an API.
Smarkets makes betting simple by giving the member all of the market information up front (the implied probability, the odds and the payout). Smarkets also offers our members the full social experience - members can share betting tips, leave comments on teams and events, chat during the match or compare betting performance.
2. One of the points you emphasize is simplicity, just as we do here at Nestoria. We’re constantly reminded that keeping things simple can be very complex. What is your experience?
Simple design is indeed a complex and lengthy process. Smarkets was in the idea phase for about two years and then under full-time development for the past two years. Over the four years, we kept designing and implementing new interfaces. Innovation is an on-going process. We will never stop innovating to make our interface the best in the industry.
Betting presents a lot of challenges to simplification. Firstly, you are dealing with real money, so there’s a level of trust that the user needs to have to use the interface. Also, betting is inherently numbers driven so you have to resist the temptation to overload the screen.
3. Because of the intense competition and the money to be made it’s often said that gambling is one of two categories at the very cutting edge of exploiting new technologies (the other being pornography). Can you go into detail on some of the tech behind Smarkets?
We pride ourselves on the tech platform that we’ve built, which we believe stacks up with the best in the business. Our team includes top engineers from Yahoo!, Last.fm and Wolverine Trading.
The core application at Smarkets is a scalable transaction engine written in Erlang with most persistent data stored in CouchDB. Erlang has some very exciting features that transfer well to high volume, real time markets. Our front-end website is built using Python. The website and transaction engine communicate using a RESTful API. We will be releasing our open API to the public sometime in 2010 so that third party developers can make their own applications built on top of our back-end. Our CTO gave a great talk on our tech platform at the Erlang Factory. You can watch a video of his talk here.
4. Right now Smarkets is still invite only. When does the fun open up to everyone?
As soon as possible! We’re invite at the moment so that we grow in a controlled manner. We don’t want our members ever to experience slow performance, even during big events such as Wimbledon finals or the Super Bowl.
Thanks Jason. And good luck (though I know for good gamblers luck has nothing to do with it). It’s great to see more start ups embracing the model of bringing simplification to the realm of complexity. For those readers interested in learning more I recommend both subscribing to the Smarkets blog and following them on twitter.
past Nestoria interviews: Christopher Parker, Ryan Notz, and Lance Johnson.