ONLINE gambling grew faster than Facebook in the UK last year. Jason Trost and his business partner, Hunter Morris, spotted the opportunity three years ago and moved from the US to London to set up their online betting company, Smarkets. Trost quit his UBS job to come to the UK -- a gamble that seems to be paying off.
Trost is an all-American overachiever, almost destined to make Smarkets a success. He’s smart (a computer science grad from Northwestern), a former equities trader and developer, not to mention attractive and charming. A born leader, and he seems to have always known it. When asked what he wanted to be when he was a kid he said either a professional pro-baseball player or the president. His ambition has not worn thin. While a lack of athletic ability has ruled out baseball, he says he hopes to pursue politics in 10 to 15 years time.
Indeed, it was the presidential election in 2004 that sparked Trost’s interest in the betting market in the first place: “I was fascinated by the fact that Bush and Kerry could trade on the betting market between 0-100 and that was indicative of the probability of them actually winning. So say, John Kerry went windsurfing and all the pundits are on CNN saying he had blown his chances, you could go online and watch in real time what the real money market thought.”
While he does not want Smarkets to be known for political betting it has certainly made them stand out. They grabbed media attention last week when they correctly predicted the outcome of the extremely close Labour leadership race. Smarket’s profile in this field has no doubt been helped by a successful advertising partnership with notorious political blogger Guido Fawkes.
But betting per se does not interest Trost. He and Hunter Morris are driven by a desire to create a fast and easy to use online platform: “We were looking at the gambling industry a few years back and we thought there was lots of ways it could be improved.”
PASSION FOR TECHNOLOGY
Trost’s passion for technology makes him ambitious for Smarkets. “There is a lot of opportunity out there. For example, our technology can be applied to the payment industry, PayPal could do with some improvements,” Trost argues. “There’s so much innovation to come and I want Smarkets to be part of it.” When asked how big he wants Smarkets to be he grins and says: “Big. Everything is bigger in America, right?”
Even as a child Trost had an entrepreneurial streak, selling wrapping paper door-to-door: “I thought it was cool”. He did not put his dreams on hold while at university either: he designed software that helps patients diagnose themselves from their lab tests, it still runs on the internet.
He explains: “Entrepreneurs want to create something big and change the world. Entrepreneurs always look towards the horizon, I always wanted to do something big.”
CV | JASON TROST
Born: North Carolina, US
Lives: Kentish Town
Marital status: Single
Studied: Computer science at Northwestern, Boston, US
Drives: “Sadly I haven’t owned a car since 2003”
Drinking: Single malt whisky
Reading: “Email at the moment”
Idol: Alexander Hamilton, one of America’s founding fathers.
Talents: speaks German and French and was a football referee for five years