What do you currently do?
I am the co-founder and CEO of OulalaGames, a Maltese based company offering a revolutionary skill game called Oulala.
Oulala.com is a fantasy football game based on European football. Customers create a team of between 11-17 players from the four biggest European football leagues including the English Premier League, Spanish La Liga, French Ligue 1 and Italian Serie A. Their team then competes against teams created by other managers to win real money in daily contests.
The score of a virtual team is calculated by transforming real live action on the pitch into points, through a sophisticated statistical tool. All the statistics come from real football players during their fixtures. The goal is to create the best performing team and therefore to accumulate the most points.
After running Oulala as a free game for two years, we raised another round of €1.5M in funding and launched a daily monetized version of our game in September 2015. We are offering our game both in B2C and in B2B formats. The B2B format is a plug and play white label solution for iGaming operators that wish to enter our growing market.
What is the inspiration behind your business?
The whole point of fantasy sports is to prove to your friends that you know sports better than they do. Therefore, the result needs to be as close to reality as possible. If you have an encyclopaedic knowledge of football, you should reasonably expect to beat your friends who only possess a social interest in football. You probably will not beat them every time, but over a number of games, you should win much more often than they do.
To solve this problem, we worked for six months with a team of statisticians in order to build a mathematical matrix that would allow our game’s results to be as close to reality as possible.
Unlike other fantasy football sites, where player points systems are based on 5-20 different criteria, Oulala implements a points system based on more than 70 different criteria. Each criteria is then weighted based on the player’s position (keeper, defender, midfielder, and striker)
This enables the game to be as close as possible to football reality and will reward users based on their football knowledge – something which has never been seen before in the fantasy football industry.
This is only a first step for Oulala though and we will soon start collaborating with the statistics department of one of the most prestigious Universities in America. Our goal is to be able to bring the game even closer to reality and this is what inspires us!
Who do you admire?
In terms of business, I admire entrepreneurs that have positive disruptive visions. For example, Frederic Mazzella (the founder of Blablacar) did not just invent a new way of going from one place to another. His concept is a revolution on many different levels: economic – removing the need to buy something to be able to use it; ecological – less cars on the road should lead to less pollution; social – people will talk and connect while in the same car. His vision embraces some of the biggest problems of our time and is creating an innovative solution. I think people like him are incredibly inspiring for everyone and they will have an influence on future generations of entrepreneurs.
On a personal level, I have a lot of admiration for “hidden heroes”. It might be a person making huge sacrifices for others, for example a working mother raising her family alone with love and dedication, or a neighbour taking care of an elderly person every day. I am also inspired when I see people that are physically suffering but are able to find the inner resources strength to overcome their ailments and push their limits.
Those daily heroes are rarely in the spotlight because their story may appear average or normal, but I find them to be quite amazing. The fact that they are silently fighting, day after day, makes it even more admirable.
Looking back, is there anything you would have done differently?
Gandhi said, “I never lose. I win or I learn”. Many of the things I have done in my life, could have been optimised, it’s obvious. However, my failures were also the source of many of my biggest lessons and therefore I would probably keep things exactly as they were.
Returning to Oulala, as we are a start-up in a new sector, for Europe, we are in a constant process of trying and failing, trying and failing, looking for solutions and answers.
Launching a daily fantasy football game in Europe is a very different challenge to launching in the United States. In Europe we have multiples languages, different levels of market maturity from country to country, different currencies and even more importantly, a cultural gap between the relationship of sports and data.
For example, when an American talks about Lebron James’ latest basketball game, they will talk about his performance stats. In Europe when people talk about Messi’s latest football match, they will probably say, “He played amazingly well”. In Europe, the maturity level of each domestic market is very different and we still predominantly talk about sports with our heart, in an emotional way, much more than with our brain. In Paris or Rome, fans will most probably tell you that sport is an art, not a science. Europe has started to follow the stats and big data movement, but America is clearly showing the rest of us the way and as yet “big data” is not part of European sports culture.
This is the reason why we ran our game in it’s free format for two years before launching the monetised version of Oulala last August. We had to adapt our game to meet the expectations of European customers, since simply duplicating the US model was unlikely to be the correct choice.
What defines your way of doing business?
I have always been excited by disruptive ideas and projects. For example, Oulala is a bridge between two very different sectors – the video gaming and the iGaming industries. We therefore positioned Oulala in what strategists call a “blue ocean”, meaning that the water has not yet been turned blood red by the fierce level of competition.
We also believe that our sector, even though it is very new, has the potential to become a serious alternative to sports betting. The influence of big data on the sports betting industry to date suggests that major changes are coming. In the short-term, the development of big data appears to be beneficial for sports betting as clients demand for statistics is growing quickly. Many gaming customers mistakenly believe that more data increases their odds of making money.
However, there can be little doubt that clients will eventually realise that big data is helping bookmakers to optimise their offered odds. We believe that if big data allows bookmakers to predict the outcomes of sports events with a higher level of accuracy, their clients will begin to lose interest. One can therefore predict that, in the long-run, sports betting clients will become DFS (Daily Fantasy Sports) players in large numbers.
What advice would you give someone starting out?
Do not overestimate the importance of an idea for a start-up. The most important factor in success is definitely the quality of the individuals that will give life to an idea. In other words, you need to find some very solid, skilled, honest and dedicated partners.
The reason is very simple: reality is far more complex and challenging than anything we might expect or predict it can be when we start building a project. Most start-ups change their business models in the early years. In fact, these early changes are so common that the start-up world has a name for them; a pivot.
Even if you keep the same goal you will have to constantly adapt your strategy to the world’s changing reality. It can be exhausting and highly challenging, so if you want to improve the probability of your start-up surviving, try to be surrounded by great people.
Oulala was born after Benjamin Carlotti and I met – he is the Co-founder and Managing Director of OulalaGames. Our skills, our visions and even our characters are very complementary and I am sure that this is the cornerstone of Oulala’s current and future success. Creating and running a company is above all, a human adventure! Entrepreneurs should try to never forget this – it is an adventure!