Today, we meet Seth Young, Chief Innovation Officer at PointsBet. We hear about Seth’s incredible backstory, why he fell in love with sports betting, how PointsBet builds customer loyalty and drives innovation, and some words that Seth lives by. Points Bet is a cutting edge digital sportsbook that delivers a user-friendly interface, innovative bet types, and progressive content partnerships. If you like our podcast, please subscribe!

Seth joined PointsBet as Chief Innovation Officer in November 2018. In his position, Seth leads PointsBet’s integration of new online gaming technologies and strategies, ensuring the company is at the forefront of all the latest trends in the industry.

Before PointsBet, Seth served as Executive Director of Online Gaming at Foxwoods Resort Casino, where he was responsible for the strategic development and oversight of Foxwoods’ existing and emerging interactive gaming initiatives. His career began as the Director of Strategy for TexasHoldEm.com before starting his own consulting firm, SY Ventures LLC, where he offered clients in the iGaming vertical a full range of services. He then served as the Chief Operating Officer and Board Member of Flower City Gaming LLC, where he was responsible for the strategic development of Star Fantasy Leagues’ technologies, and oversight of all aspects of the company’s development.

Seth is a Long Island native. He attended Brandeis University where he attained a B.S. in Political Science, with a double minor in Internet Studies and Legal Studies. He is a recipient of the Innovation Group's 2018 Emerging Leaders of Gaming Award and was named to Global Gaming Business Magazine’s 40 Under 40 list in 2018.

 

 
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Transcription:

Bill Gullan:

Greetings one at all. This is Real-World Branding. I'm Bill Gullan, President of Finch Brands, a premier boutique brand consultancy. And boy, this is a fun one for me. I wouldn't say I'm a degenerate, although I joke in the interview that I am, but I do like some recreational sports wagering from time to time. Never that much money, but it certainly makes those, weekend college football and college, all those days and nights are fun to have something to follow. And we have with us, Seth Young, who is the chief innovation officer at PointsBet who is a legend in the space, but he's accomplished all the PointsBet is building with his colleagues and leadership in a market that is both as old as one can imagine with corner bookies and everything else, but is now exploding in a legal regulated way across many States with many more to come and sack is along with these colleagues is making sure that point spent has an ample opportunity to win awareness and loyalty preference from those who are either really established or, or seeking to build a hobby around betting on sports.

Bill:

So enjoy the passion, the knowledge, the exuberance of Seth Young. We are so honored and pleased to be joined by Seth Young, the Chief Innovation Officer at PointsBet. Seth, thanks for being with us.

Seth Young:

The honor is mine Bill, pleasure to join you.

Bill:

Let's start where we normally do. Your backstory in the industry is fascinating. The company's fascinating, your career journey, and the route is also fascinating. Why don't we start there? How did you fall in love with this? What are some twists and turns in your professional life and kind of give us the brief bio if you don't mind.

Seth:

Sure. How did I fall in love with it is a really good question. I guess I'll take you back to when I was a kid, I used to play rummy with my grandmother, used to play poker with my friends, 10, 11, 12, 13 years old. Just kind of caught the bug, really enjoyed card games and gaming. And I used to be an athlete when I was younger. So I've always been very competitive. And as one does, when they're 12 or 13 years old, I was also buying a fair amount of domain names. As kids do, I ended up buying a couple of names and creating a fan website for the New York Saints, which is now at the funk professional lacrosse team. And I played lacrosse growing up and my favorite sport still to this day.

Seth:

And one thing led to another, I traded those domain names for a job in the front office with the Saints. And for four years I worked with them doing whatever they wanted me to do, really loves sports, got to see the inside of Nassau Coliseum, which was cool when you're a kid and a teenager, and then as things kind of evolved, I got an e-sports. I was playing Counter-Strike very seriously. I wanted to be a lawyer. I was doing everything I could to go to law school ended up going to Brandeis University and designing my own major and minor with a focus on internet law. And as it happened, I fell in love with the ambiguity and the nuance of gaming law. It was super interesting to me. And it was one of the only industries that was really actively resisting the internet.

Seth:

You see a lot of groups like Amazon, for example, coming into the fray and creating these really interesting e-commerce companies. And this was so new and so early, and I thought there would be some incredible opportunity for online gaming. And now 16 years later here we are, and been privileged to have spent quite a bit of time in the gaming business now and built a great network of people, and people I call friends. And the characters in this space are just different than anywhere else that you might work. I mean, really colorful people. The beauty of this industry in my view is that everything changes all the time, no two days are the same.

Seth:

So I just kind of fell in love with all of it. Bringing entertainment to people and doing meaningful things that create jobs, and drive revenues. And now that sports betting is regulated. Now gaming is becoming regulated across the country. It's a really great opportunity to make a difference through business. And it's fun. It's just a ton of fun, I enjoy every day.

Bill:

Yeah, totally. And so a couple of stops along the way that I think are notable. We're riding a bit of the poker wave at TexasHoldEm.com. And then moving into the online space later in your career at Foxwoods, which is sort of a casino, and resort, and a company surrounding that. And now in the sports gaming marketplace, could you talk a little bit about how maybe different sort of moments in the cycle, different types of gaming, have sort of poked their way into your set of fascinations?

Seth:

Yeah. I've always had a wide range of interests, and every year it seems to be something new that's the hot new vertical in gaming. But a lot of things always stay the same. And that said, people love to gamble on sports and people love to gamble at a casino. Poker's been a fad for how long now? Presidents played this game, it's been around forever. It's evolved in such a way that there are great tools on the internet for people to learn how to play very quickly, and really putting gaming on your phone or on the internet has generated this new kind of accessibility for new players, or new people to engage with this. And it's fun, it's meant to be entertainment at the end of the day.

Seth:

And I've been privileged to have worked in or been a student of a lot of these different verticals, including Social Casino at Foxwoods, and sports betting has always been interesting to me. It's been a black market activity for a very long time, and I was never really a big black market better, but a lot of Americans were. That's the reason we have a ton of new legislation across the country, and 2021 will be a big year for that. But when I was at Foxwoods, I was there from 2016 until late 2018. And it became apparent to me at some point, probably late 2016, early 2017, that sports betting was really becoming a point of focus that could be repealed on a federal level. And that's when we saw PASPA get taken off the books by the Supreme Court.

Seth:

So very early I started looking at partners for Foxwoods, very similar to how many groups have evolved today, but partnering with third-party brands. And in that course of business, I ended up looking at maybe 44 or 45 different companies, including PointsBet, and it was the most interesting company I had never heard of before. And the more I learned about it and the more I dug into it, the more I realized that this was really a special business filled with special people. And I'll never forget the first time I met Johnny Aitken's, our US CEO. I sat across the table from him and Sam Swanell, our group CEO, and Johnny just had the fire in his eyes, it's just something you could see. And he's proven himself to be an incredible leader as we've grown in the United States.

Seth:

So very fortunate to be a part of this business and have the opportunity that we have, and very fortunate to have had the experiences I've had over the last 15, 16 years. Varrying levels of operation with my own businesses or working with other great people. So it's a super exciting time, Bill.

Bill:

No doubt. And you mentioned, and you're 100% right, that sports betting has existed as long as life has existed. Or at least some form of gambling has from the corner bookie to our friends in the desert, as Brent would say, to all the way off shore. But now this is a market that is becoming increasingly regulated and available. A lot of content, a lot that's springing up to support this.

Bill:

But how do you think about PointsBet and other operators, to your point are doing the best they can to get to market through partnerships and in other ways, but how do you think about brand development and developing the PointsBet brand, in this market that has existed forever, but it's really just now taking shape in a formal way? It's almost like cannabis and sports betting are these sort of emerging markets where there's always been demand, but all of a sudden these categories are coming out of the darkness and into the light. And so how do you think about that?

Seth:

Yeah, well I'll say off the bat, those are two very, very different markets.

Bill:

Yes, no doubt.

Seth:

Both regulating industries, but very, very different. I suppose the way that I think about it, maybe the way that we think about it is that, it's not lost on us that we're a challenger brand or a new brand in the United States. We're not a land-based casino that's been operating in many jurisdictions for many years. We didn't invest billions of dollars into daily fantasy sports to build brand awareness and legal subjectivity. But what we did do was bring a really great product to market in New Jersey when we launched in 2019. And we came into that state with no database, no brand awareness, and what we thought was an MVP in terms of a product. But it turns out that product was actually one of the best as we introduced it into the market.

Seth:

And over the last couple of years, and we're a very different company now than we were last year, even the year before. And we've really iterated upon that product, which is proprietary. And that's a rare thing in the space, to make it the fastest in the market. In fact, it's two times faster than the average sports book. It's feature rich, we have tons of cool things in there. So we're really a product-led organization, a data-driven organization, and product sort of permeates the fabric of our culture here. So we've done a great job of hiring amazing people to get the word out. And that's highlighted by our partnership that we've announced recently with NBC, as their official sports betting partner in the US.

Seth:

So we felt like we had all of the pieces with an incredible executive team, and incredible staff, really good product, domain expertise, but we were missing the distribution that some of our peers may have had, or may have been after. And NBC in our view is the crown jewel of marketing assets in this country. It reaches 100% of households, 81% of the addressable sports betting market, hundreds of millions of people. And it's depth of assets is incredible. So everybody can make a deal or anybody can make a deal, but what it really comes down to is being able to execute upon that deal, and having the right people in the right places to do it.

Seth:

So between that, our team partnerships with groups like Kroenke Sports and Entertainment, who on the Avalanche, the Mammoth, and the Denver Nuggets, we've been branding the ball center. Ideally people get to go back and enjoy that experience once COVID closes. Groups like the Chicago Bears, the Indianapolis Colts, Detroit Tigers, and then some, we're getting the word out by being close to sport, and partnering, and providing a great customer experience. You may remember, and I wouldn't blame you if you didn't, but when we first launched back in January of last year, we came out with what we called our Karma Committee and Good Karma Refunds. And do you remember that Saints/Rams game, Bill?

Bill:

Absolutely I do. And I remember how much earned media you guys got for being on the side of the angels in writing a big wrong. But yes, why don't you tell our audience? They're not the degenerate that I am, but tell the story.

Seth:

It was amazing. There was a very clearly blown pass interference call that effectively put the Saints out of the Super Bowl… it was terrible. But we thought the best thing to do was refund everybody who bet on the Saints, it just shouldn't have happened. And so it wasn't a one-off thing, we've continued that ethos. And even now we just launched something called our Personal Karma Refunds, which is a little bit more tailored and personalized for bad beats like that, for injustices that serve our bettors. So things like that, we've done well in the press and it's because we've been operating well. And we've been on the side of our customers, it's the only way to do business. So we're really proud of that, and we're really proud of where we're going.

Bill:

Yeah, that's a super cool example, and it leads into the next question, which is a little bit about the customer. Those who were putting out gambling sports betting content tend to draw a distinction between recreational bettors like me, who do this for fun and don't expect to buy a vacation home, but just want to make Saturdays and Sundays and other nights a little bit more interesting. And then the so-called sharp bettors who may do this professionally, but at the very least are seeking an edge wherever they can find one. And how do you think in terms of building loyalty here, about the different flavors of customer? And does a company like PointsBet have to kind of make a call of where it wants to focus, or can we and you be sort of equally relevant to the different types of bettors. I'm sure there's tons of recreational people coming online every single day who want to give this a try, who want to know what it's all about. And then there's obviously that core group of folks who place the larger wagers. How do you think about customer loyalty and targeting?

Seth:

Yeah. Well I think the best way to describe the demographic is that the folks that are interested in the sports betting are just people, generally. I'm asked this question a lot, some massive, massive black market activity in the United States. People just like to bet on sports, it's as American as Apple pie, people do this. You ever been on a golf course and you say, I'll bet you $20 you're not going to make this putt. Anybody who's played golf with a friend has probably said that. We like to bet, we like to take risks, it's ingrained in the fabric of our culture. So we take on all comers. We had this program called the Game Day Guarantee last NFL season, where we effectively let anybody bet on the game, data went up to $10,000, and we found a way to use sharp action to our advantage.

Seth:

It's fair to say if there's a sharp customer, that makes a bet and we respect how they bet, that could give us some information about how we want to manage our risk. And more broadly when we put out all these amazing promotions, and we have the best pricing in the market generally, and the most markets in the world because of our PointsBetting product, which is a major point of differentiation that only we have as a business in the US and Australia. We have an incredible value proposition for anybody, for all comers.

Seth:

And I think it's worth mentioning we're still in the first inning of sports betting in the United States. So we're attracting a wide range of people who have deep experience betting, whether it's in the black market, whether it's with friends or with their local bookie, they're being channelized to regulated market. It's not that this activity wasn't occurring before. It's just that now this is regulated and taxed by governments, with revenues going to public policy initiatives. So when we think about customer engagement, customer loyalty, we think about putting out an incredible product with really good promotions that people can engage with, and enjoy. It's about having fun, and we're happy to take that. So if you win, great, we'll pay you very quickly. We work tirelessly to make sure that we have the best options to facilitate transfers of funds with our customers, for example. So we love when people win, but we love when they're playing with us, it's fun. We'll take bets.

Bill:

No, that's excellent. And you mentioned a couple of different types of innovation. Innovation obviously is on your business card, and what you're focused on every single day. You mentioned the innovation that comes from great partnerships with content providers, and teams, and just kind of getting close to the action. You mentioned the strength of the interface and how early on, you own it top to bottom, you're not just licensing a front end or whatever. But that's been a proprietary point of difference. And then PointsBetting, unique wager types. Could you tell us, you alluded to it, but tell us and our listeners what PointsBetting is and how that gives sort of oxygen and energy and to what you all do?

Seth:

Oh Bill, this is the reason I fell in love with the company in the first place. And my biggest regret is working for this business because I can't PointsBet, I'm not allowed to bet on the platform. And this maybe the best innovation in sports that I have seen, hands down. And I used to be a principal in the daily fantasy sports business, which I thought was incredible from the perspective.

Seth:

But PointsBetting is a more volatile, high risk, high reward way to bet. So what does that mean? It's the more you're right, the more you win. I'll give you an example. So let's say you're watching a basketball game and it's a Warriors/Lakers game. And the total amount of points to be scored in that game is 200, so the line is 200. Let's say historically you go to Vegas, you bet the over, you bet the under. So let's say you put $20 on the over. When that game goes to 201, let's say it's 101 to 100, Warriors beating the Lakers, or maybe the other way around these days. Your bet is over, you've won. So congratulations, you've doubled your money, you now have $40.

Seth:

But let's say you've put the same $20 on a PointsBet. For every increment, or unit, or points it goes over 200, your initial bet is multiplied by that amount. The difference between the final score and the original line. So let's say it goes to 210, the difference is 10, or 210 minus 200. So your bet of $20 is multiplied by 10, and you've won $200. Say it goes to 250, it's multiplied by 50, you won $1,000.

Seth:

So this mechanic, and by the way, it also goes in the other direction, you can have your loss multiply. But we do have features that let you cap out your risk, so you can bet within limits that you're comfortable. Because of this feature, we now have the ability to tie this to any kind of stats for any sports. So this has existed before in places like Europe, it's existed in the black market, but nobody's really tied it to American sports at scale. And this creates limitless opportunities for engagement. So relative to other bookmakers, we tend to have the most ways to bet on any individual game, or any sport, or any slate of events in the United States and Australia. It's incredible.

Bill:

It certainly gives you a reason to watch to the end, as somebody who periodically gets it over or under right, and it's done in the first half or whatever, it gives you a reason.

Seth:

Yeah, absolutely. The beauty of it is that you don't know how much you're going to win or lose until the final whistle. So it's a true product, it's a roller coaster. You're looking for fun with DFS at some point, daily fantasy sports that is, at some point you know whether or not you actually have a shot at winning. And most of the time you don't with this, it's just you against the house. You're either going to win or you're going to lose, the question is how much. And you got to wait until the last minute.

Bill:

Yeah, that's super cool. And to your point there, how does PointsBet define innovation? There's a lot of different innovations you've highlighted that come from sort of different parts of the landscape, whether it is these unique wager types, or the strength of the interface, and some of the partnerships you're doing. Functionally when you think about innovation, what are the things that are sort of within that purview at PointsBet?

Seth:

Yeah, innovation is subjective in many ways. We're now getting to an opportunity with online casino, for example, where we'll have different kinds of gambling mechanics that we can work with. So sports betting and online casino are treated differently, largely from a licensing perspective. And just because you operate sports, doesn't mean you can operate online casino and vice versa. So the way we think about it is, first to market opportunities, what's new, what's new in the United States in particular? European markets and other global markets are more mature than this one, because we're effectively 10, 15 years behind a jurisdiction like the UK, which is now at a point of maturity.

Seth:

So we look at it like this, what are the guidelines that we can work with within the context of regulation? And then what can we do to make our product better? And does that mean building to suit? Is it taking a Netflix approach and saying, Okay, this is what we know about our customers, this is what we know they like, what are we going to build for them? And we have the capabilities with an in-house tech team and really good free thinking, and critical thinking people to bring concepts from ideation to reality.

Seth:

And then there's this whole set of ancillary businesses and vendors that's now being built around this emerging market in sports betting and gaming in the USA. So you're really innovative folks that are focusing on one thing well, and then looking to commercialize it with partners at scale, like PointsBet. So it's about identifying those right people who know how to execute what they're doing, identifying the product fit in relation to your customers.

Seth:

But it doesn't just stop with your product, the customer facing product. But typically we want to do everything for our customers, but innovation is also on internal processes as we own our platform. Efficiencies and payments, or operational capabilities, or speed, in-play wagering is a big opportunity. Live streaming of events, integrations with TV broadcasts, like in our NBC partnership, and then some. So I think the only limit really is our imagination. And as the market matures and everybody, including us get our feet under them in terms of operation at scale, you'll start to see the development of more interesting ancillary product to compliment the traditional.

Bill:

Terrific. And it's even in this early nascent stage, it is so much fun to follow. Even just to listen to broadcasters a little bit talk about lines in a way, it used to be Al Michaels and Brent Musburger would allude to it in a very casual way, and all of us would laugh about it. But I mean the amount of content that exists, and it's really just fascinating to see the explosion and to experience it. And I'm sure on the inside it's even more of a heady time and an experience for all of you.

Seth:

Yeah, it's amazing. I'll just briefly say, a lot of folks will look at a sports betting company and say, Oh that looks like a lot of fun. And the truth is if I'm being totally honest, it's a ton of fun. It's probably a lot more fun than you think it is, but it's also a lot of work. These are highly regulated companies with really complex processes and technologies. So have no illusions about the complexities of businesses like this. But with that said, of course we work in an extremely exciting space that brings fun to a lot of people.

Bill:

Well to your point, the stakes are really high if the app goes down, or if something in the code is wrong, or whatever the case may be. A lot of dollars, and at the point in the formation of the market, a lot of people voting with their fee. Every single moment matters, and so the stakes are certainly high. This is so fascinating to me, and just the whole experience and hearing your passion for it is infectious and enjoyable. As you think about kind of where you are in your career and the path that you've taken, are there any kind of words to live by that have been important to you or philosophies I guess that have helped kind of govern your journey? We have a lot of listeners I think who are starting out or maybe starting over, and I'm sure they're inspired by listening to this. What would you share about sort of the route you've taken?

Seth:

Yeah it's funny, but I get this question a fair amount. And my I'm not sure that my answer is safe for radio, so I'll say it in a different way. I say for podcasts even, but I think be a nice person is really what governs my life. And you know, what goes around, comes around, be of service. I start or end a lot of meetings I take with, how can I help you? And I worked for a guy at Foxwoods named Felix Rappaport. And he's no longer with us, he passed away a few years ago. He was a major influence on my life, and really one of the first major mentors I had in my life. And he sort of taught me that it's a small world. You only live once, and you should be of service. Because when you're a service it ends up coming back to you tenfold.

Seth:

So over the course of my career I've tried to be of service. It's business, everybody's competitive, it's cutthroat. We all want to do the best we can, but we're also all humans. And I think that's lost a lot, especially in the context of extreme American capitalism, that we're still people, people run businesses. So I just try to be the best version of myself that I can every day, and I try to surround myself with smart people. And when I found myself for better or for worse, if I felt like I was the smartest person in the room, you want to find another room. You never want to be in that position. Should always be in a room where you can learn from other people and be a sponge. There's always something to learn from somebody, and closing your mind to that is a difficult thing to help you, both personally and professionally in your own development.

Seth:

So I love where I'm at. I think PointsBet for shore is filled with some of the smartest people, with deep expertise in their lanes that I've met in my life. This is easily the best team I've ever worked with. And it's a lot of people working towards a common goal, everybody's hungry. And I think the core is finding something that you want to do that that feeds your passion. And if you can do that, then work becomes a lot less of a job and more of a lifestyle.

Bill:

Well you've certainly lived that from your early interest in sports, and how you leverage that into all that you've undertaken in your career. And we greatly appreciate you being of service, Seth, to us today to enlighten our listeners a little bit on what's happening in this wild and willy marketplaces sports betting. We greatly appreciate your time.

Seth:

Bill, it was my pleasure. Thank you so much for having me.

Bill:

So many thanks to Seth, PointsBet is super cool. Here in Pennsylvania, God I'd love to have access to this particular brand, and who knows what's coming soon. But I know that many other states are coming online, and Seth and his team are building innovations through the interface, through customer loyalty approaches, through content partnerships, through different wagering types. It's an amazing story, and a brand to watch, and a leader to enjoy hearing from. So thank you to Seth, and thank you to you, our loyal listeners.

Bill:

We have three ways to help us here at Finch Brands. One is to rate and review, give us some feedback in a way that helps the algorithm, helps us get found. Subscribe, clicking the subscribe button in the podcast app of your choice makes sure that you do not miss a single episode. I think we're sort of back on our every other week cadence here, but it's the holiday season. And you know our schedule is a little bit unpredictable, and so clicking subscribe makes sure that you don't miss an episode when a new interview goes live. And then lastly, we love feedback on Twitter @BillGullan, @FinchBrands. We're grateful for the dialogue and grateful for the time that you spend listening to us. And we want this content to be as valuable as it can be. So we appreciate your feedback in that regard, and we'll sign off.