The CEO of a gambling app believes his business can change the world of sports entertainment forever.
Will Hawkins came up with the idea for Circl in order to distract his university mates while they watched a 1-1 bore draw between his beloved Southampton and Crystal Palace.
Circl launched in 2020 and has 2,000 people using its platform and has already raised £1m.
The Manchester startup is currently trying to raise £400k on Crowdcube. With just over three weeks to go the total stands at just under £340k.
Hawkins admitted he probably wouldn’t have the idea for the business at all if the 2019 match had been more interesting.
“Anyone who has been to a football match knows that feeling when you know you’re about to watch the worst game in history,” he recalled.
“I took my hat off and turned round to my friends and said ‘lads, everyone put a fiver into the hat. Each time the ball goes out of play, pass the hat on to your right’.
“15 minutes into the game everyone was absolutely ingrained in the match because we’d changed ever so slightly the way you watch it.
“I started getting pockets of fans around me asking why we were going nuts each time the ball went out of play.
“The winner was the one who was holding the hat on the final whistle. We did one at half-time and one at full-time.”
After the game finished Hawkins began exploring how he could turn the idea into a business, which he launched a year later with Mark Quinn and Eddie Ross.
Hawkins said it was important to address the ‘elephant in the room’ by talking about gambling.
“Betting duty is the second biggest earner for government under PAYE,” he explained. “It’s a £180bn global market with an 8.3% compound annual growth rate. It’s not going anywhere.
“However, the regulations are changing and therefore there is opportunity for new entrants that can bring concepts that are more socially inclusive and don’t focus on addictive exclusion. And that is something that we are really thriving on.
“We are a game for you and your mates and the worst case scenario is your mate wins.
“It’s a complete game of chance. We’ve gotten smart with our platform. I’ve just explained to you one of our games is the number of times the ball goes out of play. Now we have different metrics that move the pot one to the right for a corner and two to the left for a yellow card.
“By adding these kinds of values, you’re starting to watch the game slightly differently. Last week someone won a £1,000 jackpot because there was a late minute substitution!
“We’re taking micro moments in the game and creating an experience on the back of it.
“It’s ultra scalable and works for any sports. We’ll be growing our product in multiple sports.”
Hawkins said their current Crowdcube campaign wasn’t just about raising money.
“I’m less interested in the investment from Crowdcube and more interested in the evangelists you get out on the back of the platform,” he said.
“A few days ago I got a £190k ticket from an angel syndicate. Happy days. However another investor, who I won’t name and is a regular customer of Circl, put in a whopping £25.60.
“He’s the one I’m really invested in because I guarantee he’ll go out and tell his mates about what he’s invested in.
“Cost of acquisition is a key play for us. In my opinion, the convergence between sports media, sports betting and consumer brands is the future of digital entertainment.”
Hawkins said Circl can turn the world of customer acquisition on its head.
“One of the one of the biggest challenges in the sports betting space is the cost of acquisition,” he explained.
“In the UK, the cost of acquisition is £150 per customer. In the US it’s $900 per customer. This is why you see loads and loads of marketing.
“One of the things that we’re trying to prove, and hence why we’re using Crowdcube as a vehicle like this and multiple other ways, is we believe that we can acquire customers for 30% of the typical cost of acquisition, which is what we’re showing at the moment.
“If we can continue that we can save firms hundreds of millions in marketing costs and acquisition costs.”
Circl has grown to six staff and is already looking at expansion into new sports and new countries.
“We’re in product market fit phase at the minute,” he said. “There’s a great saying which goes ‘if you’re not embarrassed by the first version of your product you’ve launched too late’. That rings true.
“We’ve got tonnes of new experiences. We’ve got eliminators. Things where maybe yellow cards eliminate you from the circle.
The ambition we have in the UK is we’ll look to grow in other sports but we’re already having conversations with VCs over in the US for our next raise where we’re going to look to build already concept building for the NBA the NFL.”
However the most exciting expansion could see it move into non-gambling areas.
“I’m having conversations with a number of B2C brands where we’re looking to offer our game experience where players can win 50% off their off their products for example,” he said.
“That means that we can go free-to-play which takes us out of the realms of gambling so we’re trying to dabble in both of those realms.”