Betfred founder Fred Done has spent his life backing winners.

I interviewed the billionaire businessman in 2014 and asked him why he’d invested in Andrew Daniels’ Manchester digital agency Degree 53.

“Andy Daniels, to me, is a little genius,” said Done. “Everything that he’s ever done or produced gets ten ticks in the box from me. That lad will make a lot of money for himself one day.”

The subsequent decade has proven why 81-year-old Done is a very good judge of character.

In 2021 Daniels – who is 5ft 6½ inches tall – sold Degree 53 to US-based global casino-entertainment company Bally’s Corporation and has just been named Betfred’s new Chief Information Officer at the age of 40.

So is what is story of Andrew Daniels?

Born in Urmston in 1983 he admits to a ‘misspent youth’ of playing computers and following his beloved Manchester United FC.

Degree 53 acquired by US casino giant

In United’s treble-winning season of 1998/99 he built a website devoted to Man Utd while still at school and it proved a huge hit.

He left school at 16 and while his best mates landed jobs as a mechanic, a para and a painter and decorator respectively, 16-year-old Daniels became a junior developer with Eunite, largely on the back of the Man Utd website he’d built.

“I knew I wanted to do something in computers,” he recalled. “I was always a bit different and I’ve got a natural curiosity.

Betfred Fred Done

Betfred’s co-founder Fred Done

“I remember seeing the internet for the first-time and I was just fascinated by it. That was in the days of the dial-up modems!”

In 2003 he joined a startup called Million-2-1, which grew into the UK’s largest mobile gaming business.

Daniels’ career in mobiles coincided with the advent of the iPhone and he never looked back.

Fast forward to 2011 and he met the legendary Fred Done – although he was already familiar with his face.

“As a kid I used to deliver the Manchester Evening News and his face was on the back page all the time because of Betfred,” he recalled.

In 2011 former boss Chris Sheffield joined Betfred Digital and quickly tried to hire Daniels – but he didn’t want to go.

“I remember Man Utd were playing away at Newcastle United in the evening and I agreed to pop in during the morning,” he recalled.

“Halfway through what I thought was a routine meeting I twigged that they thought it was an interview.

“At the end of the ‘interview’ Chris Sheffield walked in and said ‘do you want to meet Fred?’

“I remember for the first 10 minutes we just spoke about United and at the end of it he said ‘are you going to work for me now?’ and I just said ‘it looks like it’.”

Degree 53 founder launches new gambling tech business

It was the beginning of a relationship that has endured to this day.

“Fred is very humble and personable,” explained Daniels. “There’s no airs and graces. He’s 81 now but has a real thirst for life and learning. It’s infectious.”

Done founded Betfred in 1967 with his brother Peter and although the siblings had grown it to more than 1,300 shops, they recognised the future was digital, which is where Daniels came in.

He was tasked with setting up Betfred’s standalone mobile development team, growing it from a team of three to 25 in less than two years.

“I thought I could do what I was doing for Betfred for other people and that’s where the idea for Degree 53 was born,” explained Daniels.

It was around this time that I interviewed Done and he coined the phrase ‘little genius’ to describe his protégé.

“I’ve never seen myself as a genius,” said Daniels modestly. “My skill in life has  been understanding enough about customers, business and technology and piecing it all together.”

Degree 53 was a digital agency but quickly specialised in online gambling with clients including a familiar name – Betfred.

“Fred came to us and said ‘you can build a platform for Betfred’. I said ‘I can but it will take a long time’. I massively underestimated the scale and complexity of the project.”

The result was Sharp Gaming was created within Degree 53.

Daniels grew Degree 53 to 55 staff and a turnover to £3.5m but not all the memories were happy.

In 2017 the agency’s commercial director Rich Bannister died of cancer at the age of 30 and I remember speaking to Daniels at the time.

“It’s a cliche that the good die young, but it really is true of him,” he said in 2017.  Seven years later and it’s clear that the pain of Bannister’s death is still there.

Fast forward to 2021 and Degree 53 was acquired by US giant Bally’s Corporation for an undisclosed sum.

Daniels left Degree 53 as part of the deal and became CEO of Sharp Gaming.

This week he took to LinkedIn to reveal the ‘seven-year odyssey’ to built Betfred’s brand new platform had come to end.

“Fred has invested over £100m in the build, which was a much bigger and more complex job than I ever thought possible,” he revealed. “However, all the hard work was worth it on Grand National Day, which we sailed through.”

In the world of betting he compared Grand National Day as ‘Black Friday x10’ but much like the famous race at Aintree, Betfred’s new platform cleared ever hurdle.

It signalled the end of the Sharp Gaming name as the company effectively transitioned into Betfred’s technology department with Daniels assuming the role of Betfred Group’s Chief Information Officer.

The transition may be completed but Daniels insists his work isn’t.

“I remember one of my first meetings with Fred,” he recalled. “He said ‘we have a really successful retail business but the digital business has never reached those heights’.

“It’s transformed since then but there’s still of potential to go at.

“Betfred is a family business and I feel part of that extended family. I only have to look to Fred for inspiration. I’ve barely started.”