When Nigel Eccles met his technical co-founders at a networking event in Scotland, he didn’t know they’d be running a $400 million business together a few years later. The team started building a political prediction app in 2007, but eventually pivoted into a fantasy sports betting business when they saw a much bigger opportunity in the space after attending SXSW and getting some inspiration from their early customers. Now Nigel and his team are disrupting another industry – podcasting.
In part one of our interview with Nigel we talk about the early days of his career as a management consultant and how he landed a product management gig at a tech startup that inspired him to become an entrepreneur. Nigel discusses how he was able to quickly put together a founding team for his first startup idea after helping two engineers work on their business concept for six months.
We also talk about some of the mistakes that Nigel made with his first startup, Hubdub, and why he decided that the business needed a drastic change if it was going to survive.
In next week’s episode Nigel describes how focusing on the team’s strength and learning to listen to the market helped them pivot into a billion dollar opportunity with FanDuel, and the new opportunity he’s identified in building communities of podcast listeners with his company Flick. If you’re a listener and you want to join The Mentors community on Flick, click here.
3:14 Today with us we have Nigel Eccles who has founded a lot of companies where one that you probably have heard of is FanDuel.
4:31 If we go back to the days before you first considered entrepreneurship as a career path, tell us a little bit about what are some of those early jobs that you had after you graduated and what kind of skills did you pick up in those jobs that you think helped you be successful later on?
5:13 So, I went into a very traditional role, which is going into consultancy. I did that for a couple of years and that actually went into a startup and that’s what really awoken my excitement because the experience of being to start and being a consultancy was just phenomenal.
5:35 What job did you get at that startup and how many people were there?
5:41 I joined flutter.com when there was, I think within 12 months I was employee number 85.
6:16 How do you think you went from a management consulting role to a product management role? Like why were you attractive to the founders of flutter? Why did they decide to hire you, you think?
7:00 When I turned up, I was one of the few people there that were like, “wow, this guy knows a lot about betting that might be quite useful, but he’s not one of these crusty old sort of bookmakers”. And so that’s what they kind of liked about me, that I had this sort of passion at the topic.
8:36 So tell us what happened then in the time that you spent at Flutter, how long were you there for and what was the change in mind shift between, you know, being an individual contributor to then deciding when to start your own company?
8:59 The Flutter concept was that it was like an Ebay for betting. And what we discovered was it didn’t really work. Like people didn’t really want it. At the same time, we had this competitor called Betfair that had the New York Stock Exchange of betting. I was given the job to basically copy that.
9:55 So, when the leadership told you that they want you to copy your competitor, was there any sense of how are we going to be different? Or it was literally, let’s just do the same thing.
10:05 They didn’t give me the job to copy. They said actually, look, we want to beat them. And my view was we need to copy them because they’ve got this product right.
11:02 Were you going after different customers at all?
11:05 No, essentially the same customers.
11:11 So, you essentially ultimately ended up creating a product that had more functionality, better design and they acquired you because it was attractive to them.
11:19 Yes, but 9/11 had just happened and things are looking really bleak and that this may never be a business at all. It doesn’t make sense, so we merged the two businesses.
12:30 So throughout this time you realized that you wanted to run your own business.
13:16 Where does that switch happen to you? Clearly you were already intrigued by the couple of experiences you had. So, the pull was there. How do you actually make that decision?
13:30 A big part is ambition. I want to be a finder. I want to innovate. And so basically I started that process.
14:34 So, what was that first step that you took toward making that a reality?
14:38 So, I started working on ideas and sort of thinking that ‘this is a great concept’ and started to go into startup events to meet two other potential finders. And at one of those I met my co-founders. They were ready, they were full time in their startup, and they were younger than I was. They had a product and a great engineering expertise, but they didn’t really have a good handle on their market and how to raise money.
15:30 And so, we spent a lot of time talking to each other and I was sort of initially was trying to help them fix their idea and they were helping me figure out how to do engineering for my idea. And then after a period of months, we were like, you know what, maybe we should just work together and come together on one idea. And that was really the genesis.
15:47 So, did you end up convincing them to stop working on their ideas?
16:56 One thing I really want to quickly touch on is that it seems like your process of finding co-founders happened miraculously quickly. Why do you think that worked out for you?
17:57 So, you’re in this huge mess match. That’s the first thing to recognize. It’s just going to be incredibly hard. Like as a non-technical co-founder, you need to sell yourself, you need to sell the vision. I say, go to these events, make sure you connect with founders, see how you can give value and be helpful and then just sort of network from there.
20:32 When you started working on Hubdub, what was the indicator for you that this is going to have a higher likelihood of succeeding or working than the product that they were working on?
20:43 Well, we had some early success, but it was more success theater, right? So, we launched an event which I don’t think is around anymore. It was about 11 years ago. And then the challenge was after the initial press hype, we showed a lot of like negative traction.
21:45 How long did you build for before you launched and what is it that you’ve built initially?
21:50 We started in November, we launched in January, so it was like three months.
22:28 Who did you think your users were going to be for this news prediction?
22:36 We thought everyone, everyone’s interested in the news. Like this is a really big market.
22:44 How many users did you get initially after that three-month period?
22:47 I remember in the summer of 2000. And it is a really big event that we got 10,000 registered users.
24:31 And so, you did decide at a certain point to then consider completely different products. So, can you talk us through that thought process?
25:00 A pivot is ugly and messy and painful. Nothing’s working. No one agrees on what we should do. So, what happened with Hubdub is we were out pitching for our seed. The day we pitched in September was the day Lehman Brothers went bust. That was the start of the financial crisis, but somehow by December we closed our financing round. In January, we missed our numbers and by the February board meeting I decided I don’t want to do this for the next year and a half. We’ve got money in the bank. Let’s pivot now. Let’s do something different now.