An interview with Jason Trost, founder of the betting exchange Smarkets

Smarkets was named ‘The Leap 100 Company of the Year’ at the City A.M. Awards 2017, which celebrate the most bold, successful, and principled companies and individuals who have negotiated the challenges of growth, and delivered success for shareholders, employees and customers alike. We asked Jason about the start of his business venture, how he finds the right people who care about Smarkets as much as he does, which books would he recommend and what is the best advice he would give to entrepreneurs.

The beginning – What ignited the spark in you to start this business venture? How did the idea for your business come about?
I’ve never been that into betting if I’m honest, but when I was an analyst at UBS I was fascinated by this market which let you trade the US presidential election. Even with my trading background and fascination with politics, I thought that there has to be a better way to present this useful information. Betting, especially online, is largely illegal in America, but I had a friend in London who told me about the Betfair exchange and all the inefficiencies of the industry over here. So I moved over to London, started Smarkets and here we are.

Sports betting is still where all the money is, but as Smarkets continues to grow I want to really increase our offering on politics and current affairs. Markets on such important things can be really insightful because of their wisdom-of-the-crowd mechanism. Recent surprises like Brexit and Trump have shown up the markets, but by and large, they are a great indicator.

Leadership – Which book would you recommend to people and why?
The book that influenced us to take on self-managing ‘teal’ principles at Smarkets is Frederic Laloux’s Reinventing Organisations. He showed, using plenty of real-life examples, that self-management can be the next generation of organisations, not a crazy, far-fetched philosophy. Peopleware is also great for information on creating the right environment for knowledge workers.

Away from business stuff, I really liked Ted Simon’s Jupiter’s Travels. It’s about a guy that went around the world on a motorbike for four years. The thing I learned is that you’re never done with your journey – he travelled for four years and you would think he saw most of it, but he saw so little.

Operational – How do you find people to bring into your organisation that truly care about the organisation the way you do?
Well I think it’s hard to get anyone to care quite as much as me, it’s my baby and relinquishing some control is something I’ve got to get better at as we continue to grow. But we do place a lot of emphasis on an extensive hiring process that lets few bad eggs through the net. Once they’re in, we have quite a drawn-out rotation policy, but it means that any new starter – technical or not – gets a really good grasp of the whole business and the challenges we face. Things like this and focussing a great deal on our internal culture mean our turnover rate is pretty low. I’m proud of that.

Advice – What three pieces of advice would you give to entrepreneurs?
It may sound basic, but it’s important to have a clear goal for what you want to achieve and build your mission to support that. The journey can be tough at times and the most important thing I’ve learned is to never give up. Perseverance is key.

As a consequence, I have been constantly learning and further educating myself during the evolution and growth of Smarkets. I’m obsessed about the details. This perpetual learning has helped provide me with a broader perspective and is something which has happened both organically through experience but also through self-motivation.

Lastly, don’t be afraid to seek advice. I’m not ashamed to admit that I’ve teamed up with other founders for support and help. It keeps you humble and focused.

The future – Where do you see yourself and your business in 10 years? 20 years?
That’s a long way away! I’d expect that by then Smarkets is the leading player in sports and event trading, but betting is far from the end goal for myself and Smarkets. I want the company to become a tier-one tech business and disrupt other inefficient industries. On a personal level, and this is going to sound a bit cliché with some of the celebrity and business names tipped for presidency, I’d love to get into politics one day.