It’s all Impossible
When I was young, I was constantly reminded how some things were just impossible and why I shouldn’t try.
I didn’t grow up in an atmosphere that was particularly supportive so my world view was shaped by that. I tended to be risk-averse and cautious because everything seemed stacked against me. A lot of things just didn’t seem worth the risk. It wasn’t a very positive view of things.
It could have gone in either direction, but something deep inside realised this wasn’t what I wanted. I had many dreams, but a difficult start in life meant they were very, very distant. I had no confidence, no mentor, no guide or path to follow, so I didn’t know how to escape that world.
Life was going to be a whole lot of hard work!
I started to read up and understand how others had been successful. A lot of them extolled the virtues of a positive mental attitude, a can-do approach! At first, this sounded like a load of bull, but over time I realised that if you surround yourself with positive thoughts and people while discarding negative thoughts and people, you slowly appreciate that anything is possible with enough effort and application.
Discarding negative emotions and people was hard, but it had to be done. I, slowly, learnt that things are there to be done, not to be avoided. The worst you can do is fail, but as long as you learn from it, that’s just fine.
Learning to do the impossible
One the first ‘moments’ to happen to me is that early of early computing. For some reason I really took to it and started to really get into things.
But this was another ‘roadblock’ moment. Despite my protestations, everybody thought I was just playing games on my computer. In fact, I was learning to write Z80 and 6502 assembly code. But that deemed impossible, as I simply didn’t have the skillset to do that.
To cut a long story short, this period of my life hit a low. An opportunity was missed and path unfollowed due to the ignorance of others. I’ve learnt from that experience that it’s better to speak out than to live bad decisions of yours and others and let chew on you. If you get the chance speak your mind and follow your drive.
A little while later I picked up a book called ‘Beat the dealer’. I read with fascination as it laid out how Ed Thorp worked out a system to beat the popular Casino game of Blackjack. While the lure of beating the Casino was interesting, what I found more inspiring was that somebody had done something seemingly impossible. That fired me up!
My interest in sports and in Thorp’s book led me to start modelling football matches and that eventually led to me trying my luck at the football pools.
Of course, everybody told me that trying to win the pools was pointless as it was impossible, after all, if it was possible somebody else would have done it? I had an idea though, using a combination of a pricing model to identify likely draws and an optimal covering combination, I should be able to do it if I picked weeks when the pool was suitably skewed. I was right!
After winning many minor dividends, to even bodies surprise, I finally landed the big one, the first dividend on Littlewoods pools. Instantly dismissed as luck of course, by pretty much everybody. All those hours spent working towards that moment, unnoticed.
A key lesson I learnt was that nothing is completely impossible, it was just sometimes very difficult.
If you don’t have the skills naturally, you need a lot of drive to fill those skill gaps! You also learn that sometimes, you need a bit of luck. But even that taught me something, that luck is where opportunity meets ability. Negative thinkers just never spot the opportunity or dismiss it. But if you are looking for opportunities, you often find them. This is why it pays to have a positive outlook, it leads you into opportunties.
The path to my dream
Having finally settled into a career, I started moving up the ladder, excuse the pun. Interspersed within this was my desire to do something for myself. I felt I would only be fulfilled if I ever did this.
When I was made redundant in my first job I opened up an office in Southampton and started a new business. Ultimately I wasn’t experienced enough and it didn’t really work out. The idea and effort were good, but the decisions I made and the timing was wrong. But I had given it a go and learnt a lot.
I had also rekindled my interest in sport but this time from a betting perspective and had started dabbling with optimal covering with traditional betting. This was a path blocked by bookmakers, so I shifted to financial markets.
Wind forward many years and my career was at a much higher level but during the dot com boom I was sniffing around for ideas or opportunities that existed in this space. Again, the company I chose never made it. But my experience in that sphere gave me access to networks which exposed me to new ideas. One of those was betting exchanges.
So what is the best thing to do when you are settled into a career, have a wife, three children and a mortgage? Yep, you leave your normal career. When I quit my job all those years ago with a wife and three toddlers, despite what I had already learned, I was a bit worried about what could go wrong.
In fact, I should have been worried about what I was missing out on. Within about six months I realised I’d made the right move. Not that things were going well, but for the first time my eyes were open and opportunities were popping up all over the place.
I’ve learnt that through my involvement with Bet Angel as well. I’ve seen so many people take trading as the start point to much bigger things. That’s been hugely satisfying to watch and probably the most rewarding thing about what I have done in the last twenty years.
So when I speak to people now, I hope you start to understand where all my recommendations come from, all that experience.
Of course, everybody has different experiences and never shall two people have the same. But having seen both sides of the coin for myself and many others I know what I recommend to my children. So I echo that to others.
My mantra has been to accentuate the positive. I realise this annoys some people, but that in itself will tell you a lot about the way that people think. The key to progressing in all aspects of life is to overcome this inbuilt negativity and all the barriers people put in front of you. But if you choose to do so, you will attract attention from people who can’t do that, it’s just human nature.
Approach every situation with the view that people will be attempting to avoid a loss and will act to do so. Whether it’s the person that cut you up on the motorway this morning, the person that belittled you, that trade you took in-play, the football team that is 2-0 up, it’s all down to loss aversion!
It’s a powerful incentive and one that is hard to overcome, but if you really want to achieve something, you really need to lose that fear.
There are very few times you can truly call yourself an expert or feel you have ‘made it’. But even then, don’t expect to be treated differently.
As you cross each major milestone, don’t expect a fanfare or validation. If this is the reason you are doing something, you are going to be really disappointed. Your desire and drive has to be much deeper to feel fulfilled. You need to be doing things for your own reasons, not others. Other people can often be a barrier to your progress.
I have put a massive amount of energy and effort into my trading over the years and achieved more I could ever have dreamt of. My motivation? I’ve really pushed the boundaries of what you can do and explored and solved many problems that I thought were completely intractable. I’ve really enjoyed this side of things, this is what gets me behind my desk each day.
20 years since I started on Betfair
This evening I celebrate 20 years since I opened my Betfair account. They have been the best 20 years of my life and I hope more are to come. I’ve been going so long now that my children are now old enough to trade themselves. This feels like a natural progression to me.
Way back in 2007 I managed to trade all 28 races at Cheltenham to a profit, pre-off, for the first time. When did I last achieve this? This year! I also got a record result on the Gold Cup. In the last year, including lockdown, I’ve continued to do the seemingly impossible busily trading markets and putting though millions a week. When I started I didn’t expect to make it beyond five years, so to reach twenty is something I hadn’t planned.
But trading has also been an enabler for me to achieve much more in my personal life. I’ve really expanded my horizons and done a whole bunch of things I never thought possible and achieved quite a few dreams. I have some wonderful memories of these years and I’ve been gradually working my way down the bucket list and fully intend finishing it. I’ve had so many fantastic personal moments in my life in during this time, that I feel I have really lived life to the full.
One thing that has really spurred me on, I guess it’s a throwback to those early years. Is that the drive to achieve for me is often motivated by the achievement of what I am doing, and proving to others that impossible, is just a word.