Combining social gaming and online lottery – the SME that’s on a winning streak

Millions of people around the country hope their dreams come true when they play the National Lottery. They're exactly the type of people who two brothers want to amaze with their social gaming and online lottery venture Geonomics.

Of course, at other times millions more will be enjoying a flutter online. But brothers Henry and James Oakes believe that lottery players deserve something better. They point to the way in modern technology has been used to give consumers a better experience with services such as Netflix and Spotify.

Their goal, they say, is to bring lottery playing into the 21st century and they’re doing it with their company Geonomics, which blends soft core gambling with social gaming.

“It’s always interesting to think about how people do things, and why they do them that way,” said Henry Oakes, the company’s sales director and co-founder. “I wondered why the lottery has always had the same format when there are plenty of ways to do it – and how customers might react if they had more options. While we’re more of a gaming company now, this one thought – providing more options for gambling and play – still motivates much of what we do at Geonomics.”

The company uses the best elements of Lean UX and Agile methodology to develop live data and analytics that meet their users’ needs and to help them to create products and features that engage those users and customers.

Its flagship products, GeoLotto and Treasure Hunt, are online games that use maps to engage a new generation of online gamers and lottery players. The games are running in the UK but Geonomics’ games and technology can be licensed by lottery and gaming operators around the world.

Henry Oakes was just 18 and fresh out of school when he started the company with his brother James who was already a successful economic forecaster and financial systems developer. The two had previously collaborated on some informal projects that formed the base for Geonomics.

The Oakes brothers initially pitched their idea to a group of angel investors who helped them to set up the company. Then, in 2012, they secured an investment of £10m from major German gaming company Tipp24, now called Zeal Network SE. “Their expertise has been really useful in helping us grow as a company,” said Oakes.

Geonomics is privately owned and based in London. It now employs around 40 designers and software engineers alongside its management team.

But needless to say, there have been failures alongside the successful games launches.

“Anyone who has been involved in running a business knows there are loads of difficult moments in the process,” Oakes said. “It took me a while to learn that not every product you launch will be a roaring success. But I think our earlier setbacks have really set us up for success – we understand better than ever now how to create something players are going to genuinely like.”

Geonomics: Modernising the old-fashioned lottery business with tech and emotion to make a $1bn firm

The company has been agile when it comes to mistakes, according to Oakes. “You can’t avoid them, so you might as well learn from them. Also, our games are always in production: we encourage an iterative culture where our games are constantly being improved in a direction decided by our customers – we only consider a test successful if players are getting more engaged as a result.”

Last month the company launched a game called Booty Pirates and it’s currently refining what it describes as an “attempt to harness the very best of social gaming – things like multiplayer functionality, competitive league boards, player chatrooms, and character role-play and so on – and reframe it within the context of gambling.”

“We’re working to achieve product-market fit, before growing it,” explained Oakes. “After that it’s about continuing to learn, continuing to make great games, and ultimately creating a really valuable business.”

Geonomics is tapping a rich seam – the public’s thirst for online lotteries is still unquenched and the UK gaming industry is worth nearly £3.9bn in consumer spend last year, up by ten per cent from 2013, according to the UK Interactive Entertainment, the trade body for the UK’s games and interactive entertainment industry.

“It sounds clichéd but coming up with the idea is one per cent,” said Oakes. “You need to actually execute it. The best to do that is to get out there and start learning. Don’t be afraid to tell people about your idea and make sure you can adapt – because one sure thing is that things won’t always go according to plan.”

As you’d expect from an online gaming and gambling company although they take their technology and the future of the business seriously, the atmosphere in the office itself is not exactly straight laced. Not only do the games designers and other employees get through 8,000 cans of fizzy drink a year, but the office contains 100 different hats.

“They’ve all got a specific meaning,” said Oakes. “The staff are required to wear one of the hats for every company-wide meeting. So there you go, hats and soda. In ten years, everyone who works here will be bald and toothless.”

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