Smarkets CEO: Jason TrostSummer 2016
Jason Trost is a man who’s based his entire career on prediction, probability and forecasting. Now applying these principles to online betting, Trost’s latest winnings are a set of smart new offices in the heart of St. Katharine Docks.
While you’re grabbing an early morning macchiato at White Mulberries, getting your hair trimmed over lunch at the John Harding Salon or stopping for supper at CAU, it’s highly probable that Jason Trost will be on the other side of St. Katharine Docks crunching numbers.
"We're a growing team delighted to be based in St. Katharine Docks - it's the perfect, inspiring place to develop business."
And while you’re sitting at the same desk in the same position, eating the same lunch while pondering if you have the audacity to ask for a pay rise, Trost is spearheading a workplace revolution right here in the marina.
Trost is the Co-Founder of Smarkets – an online betting platform that applies financial trading principles to predicting results in sports, current affairs and politics. The American was fascinated by forecasting the outcome of his home country’s political affairs but was thwarted when he wanted to turn his speculative nous into a business, as betting exchanges are illegal in the US. Undeterred, Trost took his strong head for numbers and uncanny knack of spotting a gap in the market across the pond from Illinois to St. Katharine Docks, where his rapidly growing team is now settled in Commodity Quay.
Within the state-of-the-art offices lies an ‘agile’ way of working, with liberal dashes of Google-style influences that create a sense of freedom and fun. The desks are on wheels so they can be moved from zone to zone, depending on the projects people are working on. There’s an open door policy that allows staff of all levels to mingle as frequently as required; a communal kitchen offering free catered lunches so good that all the staff sit down and eat together; and a pool table where employees can take up a sporting challenge of their own (although it’s not revealed if they bet on the match outcomes!).
Trost’s fresh approach applies to his employees as much as it does the workplace. “There’s no set holiday allowance – we allow employees to decide themselves, within reason, and the dress code is casual and relaxed. Staff can even name their own salary providing it’s justifiable. It’s very much a self-management culture – one that the UK is unfamiliar with but it’s a workplace ethic I’m determined to pioneer.”
A former equities trader, Trost has always had a penchant for numbers but rather than fit the stereotypical ‘trader’ mould, he breaks it. “I have a degree in computer science, speak French and German, and have worked as an application developer at UBS’s Global Asset Management (New York), focusing on innovative web technologies.”
More tellingly, Trost founded Descipher – a software company that offered consumers the ability to self-diagnose their medical laboratory test results. The backroom was powered by complex algorithms, data matching and forecasting – a system of prediction designed by Trost that set him on the road to betting, Smarkets and joining the cluster of thriving tech firms at St. Katharine Docks.
The last six years has seen Smarkets blossom. Trost has given interviews to the likes of The Sunday Times and The Wall Street Journal, lined up with football legend Les Ferdinand to announce a global betting partnership with QPR Football Club, and posted Facebook messages to recruit 75 employees in one go (no, it’s not a typo). His betting exchange – also known as a prediction market – is taking on big players such as Ladbrokes and Betfair – and winning. “We concentrate on a superior level of transparency, place emphasis on customer service and apply fair charges on profits,” comments Trost, (Smarkets levies 2%, compared to Betfairs’ 5%). It’s a winning combination that has led Smarkets to become an ultra-successful company in a very short time frame, achieving 400% revenue growth and turning £5 million profit in 2015.
Trost adds “My business model is refreshingly different for an industry that has a slightly ‘grubby’ image. Although Smarkets is an online betting exchange – where people can bet against each other on everything from football results to outcomes of political leaders’ debates – the running of the business is very tangible. I have chosen to base Smarkets in St. Katharine Docks as it gives the company the space to expand and the setting to inspire.”
Trost is rightly proud of his achievements at Smarkets’ helm. “We’ve built one of the world’s largest betting exchanges with significantly better odds than the competition. Our platform has handled over £2 billion of bets since launching in 2010, allowing us to become one of the most profitable companies per employee in Europe. We’re a growing team delighted to be based in St. Katharine Docks – it’s the perfect, inspiring place to develop our business.”
With a significant revamp of International House bringing new, quality office space to the market, it is odds on that Smarkets, and fellow tech occupiers Rainmaking Loft, Six Degrees and Creativity Media, will soon be joined by yet more innovative companies at the Docks, as it continues to evolve as one of the capital’s most vibrant business, retail and leisure destinations. Will Smarkets thrive in its new home? You bet.