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Bet On Them

Mark Bosman and Jesse Hemson-Struthers gambled in a recession and are now counting their winnings.

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Two young Capetonian entrepreneurs, Mark Bosman and Jesse Hemson-Struthers, saw the good side of gambling on the streets of London. It inspired them to bring a fresh approach to South Africa through BetTech Gaming.

In 2009, while the world was experiencing a credit crunch, Bosman was a business development manager and had been in that industry for about 10 years, while Hemson-Struthers was a university drop-out and entrepreneur. Both were looking for new opportunities to make money in an environment that wasn’t very promising. They met when they were in high school in Cape Town and their paths crossed again in London.

“I had been involved in the property industry at that stage and it was obviously not doing well. We wanted to come back to South Africa and do something which would be a sustainable business and would survive the recession,” says Hemson-Struthers.

At the time, he was running an online marketing business for the property industry in Spain, but the market was slowing down drastically. Hemson-Struthers was in Britain trying to keep the business going.

It was then that the duo put their heads together, throwing around ideas that ranged from starting an online nappy business to an alcohol distribution company. They identified a sustainable business in the online sports betting industry in South Africa thanks to Hemson-Struthers’ background in e-commerce.

He had previously founded SAcamera in 2004 and it became the country’s biggest online store for specialist photographic equipment and accessories. SAcamera had distribution networks throughout Southern Africa and a physical showroom in Cape Town.

“In the beginning we funded everything ourselves off the website, set up supplies ourselves, picked up camera’s from suppliers ourselves, delivered them to the post office and then built it over a couple of years to being a retail and an online store,” says the 31-year-old.

“It was a hobby and a way for me to make money when I was young. I dropped out of university after a year into SAcamera because it was actually taking off and I wanted to focus my energy there.”

In 2012, SAcamera was acquired by MIH Internet Africa, a subsidiary of Naspers, one of the world’s largest internet firms.

MIH integrated SAcamera into its e-commerce site, Kalahari.com. The acquisition allowed Hemson-Struthers to focus more on BetTech Gaming which he founded in the midst of the recession while he and Bosman were in Britain.

“Sports betting and casinos are a culture and a way of life there. We saw some exciting stuff we wanted to do in South Africa. We came back and raised some institution money through 4Di Capital,” says Bosman.

“It was a whole process which we ran through South Africa since 2009, essentially building a product, getting it nationally licensed through the national gambling board. We’ve been selling our products since 2011 and we’ve got nine platform clients now who use our software and services.”

When Bosman and Hemson-Struthers started BetTech Gaming they spent around two years trying to understand products, markets and their systems and trying to clarify what it is they were trying to build. The founders conceptualized a business for two years until they were able to make money from it before going public.

Today, BetTech Gaming develops gaming software that can either be white-labeled or used for trading sports betting positions through its platform. It started off as a sports and horseracing wagering module and has since evolved into a business that includes casino, virtual and lucky number based modules across the web, mobile and retail channels. The business allows media partners to have their own betting brand that BetTech operates.

“We are a solution provider. It’s not just about providing software. We have a full suite of products and services. For instance, if a company like SuperSport in South Africa wanted to launch a sports betting business, we’ve got the resources to run the entire business for them, software, trading, content, risk management, client support, the IP management and full works and the partner who owns the business literally just markets it,” says Bosman.

The 31-year-old Bosman is responsible for managing the marketing, business development and operational side of BetTech Gaming. He is an entrepreneurially-focused marketing strategist having worked in the fast-moving consumer goods industry and the business development position for several other companies.

Having started three other businesses, Hemson-Struthers is an entrepreneur at heart and relishes the challenge of establishing new ventures and spending hours to improve it. Bosman is similarly enthusiastic, adding that BetTech is their passion. It’s their baby and they want to see it through.

“When you start a business like we did, it requires about 15 hours a day. You never stop thinking. The job is never done,” says Bosman.

“Being an entrepreneur, you have to create something out of nothing. So it’s about building a product which you see the market needs and then going out and selling it to the right consumers and in some instances you need to convince them of the new product which they might not know they need yet.”

They hope to be South Africa’s premier online and mobile sports betting brand and are branching out into the rest of the continent. Hemson-Struthers says they already have clients in Uganda and Tanzania, will soon launch in Kenya and are eyeing Nigeria. They have also launched the world’s first licensed Bitcoin sports betting operator, BetVIP.

Following their experience with BetTech, Hemson-Struthers advises new start-ups to get their products into the market as quickly as possible and at a minimum cost. This allows for feedback from the market, more testing and time to refine the product.

“I would almost say that if you look at a 100 percent of your budget, you want to hold back as much as 70 percent for marketing. People don’t fully understand how much money it takes to get a business, whether it’s a B2B or a B2C business, out there.”

Sage advice from a young entrepreneur.

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