Life & Culture

Taking a gamble on swipe-to-bet

Two friends have taken a bet on a new business idea


You could say quitting successful jobs to launch a start-up company was a gamble for 30-year-old betting enthusiasts Adam Wilson and Adam Kalmanson.

But for the friends who share more than just a first name, it is exactly what they have done, after eight years in the gaming industry.

“Why break the habit of a lifetime?” says Kalmanson, who not only went to the same primary and secondary school as his friend but the same university too.

In the start-up office of their company, Bookee, a sports betting app which uses a swipe-to-bet technique similar to the dating app Tinder, he confesses the two have “barely been apart”.

Wilson, a former pupil of Haberdashers’ Aske’s School, says: “We were sat on a rooftop in Tel Aviv in February and were sort of at a crossroads in our lives. We had both worked in the industry for eight years and thought, what can we do differently?”

With their entrepreneurial sights firmly set on gaming, the pair began to develop the mobile betting app they say will engage the millennial audience.

“There are more William Hill shops in the UK than there are Starbucks. So betting culture is huge here,” says Kalmanson.

“If you go into the street now, you see people looking at their phones; you have only a tiny second to catch someone’s eye. And we think, the industry has missed out on the opportunity to tap into that and the millennial generation who look at content differently.”

Kalmanson, who is single, says: “Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, these platforms all push you content. I was probably swiping through Tinder at the time and thought, ‘hang on there is a unique interface here. We can take some elements of this and using our experience, put it together into a product’.”

He says Bookee will make mobile betting more “personal and social” and will introduce betting to a wider audience.

The app presents the user with a randomised “deck” of small-stake bets on a range of sports and other events. Users are given the opportunity to swipe left to discard or right to accept the bet, just as the dating app allows you to pick a suitor. The pair, who often finish each other’s sentences, excitedly talk me through the app on their phones.

Kalmanson says: “I bet, based only on American football on a Sunday. I’ll have a few bets to make the game more interesting but I’m quite strict about it.”

Wilson says: “I’m the polar opposite; I’m what we call a recreational better but very low-value and I almost never win. I always bet on Tottenham, basically.”

The co-founders, who also went to cheder together, believe that in bringing together gamification and betting, users will no longer have to “trawl through pages searching for specific bets”.

Says Wilson: “We are playing to a recreational market. Everyone else in the industry is operating very much in a search-based environment. We are trying to flip that on its head and be a discover-based environment, where bets are pushed to you.”

With more than 1,000 users on the app since launching, Wilson says it will attract gamblers who “are not that into it but might want to bet on a big game or event. We’re perfect for those people who think ‘I want to bet but let me see what the options are’. It’s a millennial audience, which the industry has always struggled to talk to, probably because of the interface.”

Bookee’s average user is 24 years old — younger than the industry average.

Regulated and licensed by the UK gambling commission, the pair reject the idea that Bookee could encourage younger audiences into an irresponsible betting culture.

Wilson says: “Within the app you have the ability to exclude yourself from using it forever, for a week, for a year, or for a day.

“You have financial controls that you give yourself and the ability to put deposit limits, daily, monthly, weekly, or annually.”

Kalmanson is keen to defend the pursuit, saying: “You go to arcades and people are playing the slot machines. You have TV shows like The Drop; it is all a gamble.

“We’ve grown up in this culture where it’s acceptable. The words are ingrained, ‘I bet you can’t do this, I bet you can’t do that’.

“It was a sort of gamble when we both quit our jobs and it doesn’t have to be a bad thing.”

So do the friends who do everything together ever disagree or fall out?

“Of course,” Wilson says, “we have enormous blazing rows because we both have the same mind-set. We are stubborn Habs boys but then we get over it.”


Set your limits at the start. Gamble only what you can afford to lose. Never chase your losses. Never bet when angry.

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