When Leicester City beat the longest of odds earlier this month and claimed the Premiership title, it wasn’t just amazing news for the club and its supporters. It was also a big moment for Oulala, the Malta-based daily fantasy football game which counts Leicester as one of its clients. The company, which was founded in 2013, provides both an own-brand and white-label product, to enable sports fans to compete against each other.
To find out more, we spoke to Valery Boillier, who co-founded the company with Benjamin Carlotti.
First off, please can you explain what Oulala is and how it works?
Oulala is a daily fantasy football game. It’s the first and only daily fantasy football platform based on skill as opposed to luck, using an entirely unique scoring system, created by statisticians, using historical data provided by [sports data company] Opta and implemented by Oulala’s team of football analysts.
Each user of the platform is provided with €100million in virtual spending money with which to select a team of footballers of their choice. Users can choose from over 2,500 players from multiple leagues, including the English Premier League, Spanish La Liga, French Ligue 1 and Italy’s Serie A.
Users can compete with each other either in head to head leagues – which can either be private or public – or they can join an existing contest from the Oulala game lobby menu. Those players entering into a league can decide on the buy-in sum for that league, which is between €1 and €200, as well as how the prize pool will be distributed.
What is your personal background, and what inspired you to start the company?
While working as a Marketing Director and shareholder for a French horse racing company called ZEturf, I realized that younger clients, between the ages of 18 and 35, were expecting a different user experience than older generations. They had been raised with video games and therefore wanted monetized games that could be as fun as the ones they had played on their gaming consoles. They were also looking for social games that were more skill based, as most video games are, than on pure luck like the classical iGaming [online gambling] offer.
I also realized that despite the growing demand for monetized games, some strong natural barriers prevented these two groups from filling this vacant space. Firstly, iGaming operators prefer proven and tested business models and are rarely keen to experiment with new products or markets. Secondly, the video games industry, on their side, could not enter this market because they are still viewed as a pastime for minors, even if more than 65% of their customers are now aged over 18.
Therefore, I chose to focus on this blue ocean market. As I was trying to find the perfect product, I met Benjamin Carlotti, who became the Co-founder and Managing Director of Oulala. He had just returned to Europe having spent six years in the United States, where he foresaw the rise of daily fantasy sports (DFS) and was certain that the game could be successfully adapted to the European market. The match was perfect for both of us and we quickly decided to launch the first European Daily Fantasy Football site.
What’s the story of the company from launch until now? How big is the company now?
So far, we have attracted more than 25,000 registered clients, built partnerships with major football brands including Leicester City and we have a number of other B2B partnerships in preparation for the coming season. Our team of more than 20 people is working hard to increase our user base and overall presence in new markets.
We recently launched a plug and play white label solution for iGaming operators that wish to enter our growing market. Before the end of the year, there will be an abundance of sports betting punters and poker players who will be able to try DFS directly on their usual iGaming sites. I believe that the market will really benefit from this B2B strategy.
How does your business model differ to similar sports betting websites? What makes Oulala unique?
It is very difficult to compare DFS with sports betting because the result of a daily fantasy football league is predominantly based on skill whereas success at sports betting is mainly based on chance. Additionally, fantasy sports is a much more social game because people play against their friends or the community, instead of against a bookmaker. This means that our business model is very different to that of a bookmaker. We are a marketplace, matching players with each other, where we take a commission on the activity and are not financially interested in the results.
DFS makes a simple and clear promise to customers: we are the first tool that allows people to prove to their community that they know sports better than others. However, in order to be able to deliver this promise, the game needs to be an exact representation of reality, otherwise when you win it might only be because you were lucky.
Oulala is the first DFS in Europe that used big data to solve the problems surrounding turning a football match into numbers. When many of our competitors are still using between 5 and 17 data points in their scoring system, our system uses more than 70. This means that if you play on Oulala, you only have to rely on your own football knowledge to win and not rely on luck or on studying the flaws between the rules of the game and reality.
We believe that we are the most innovative company in the sector, thanks to our proprietary technology, on which we invested €1.4m. For example, we are now a real second screen game. The normal process for a player involved customers creating their teams before the matches began and then returning after the day’s games have ended to see their results.
In an effort to make the game as realistic as possible and provide the best experience we could to players, we created a live substitution feature that enables customers to make changes to their teams during the games. During the process of building a team on Oulala, a player can select up to six players as substitutes. Thus, if Leo Messi is currently playing but his performance after 28 minutes proves to be unsatisfactory, a quick look at the subs bench offers the customer the chance to bring on a new footballer such as Oliver Giroud instead, who will be playing for Arsenal in 2 hours. Thus, in 2 hours’ time, the system takes Giroud’s performance into account from the 29th minute of his match. For this reason, Oulala’s customers tend to be very active during the matches, constantly accessing their team on our site in order to keep up with the live results of their players and make changes if necessary.
Oulala’s partnership with Leicester is well timed! How was this relationship built and what has it enabled you to achieve?
Football clubs are all trying to improve their digital strategy. A key element of this is the quality of the content they publish to their fan base. The real challenge is finding ways to do this that also create extra revenue.
Oulala partnered with AS Monaco in 2014/15 and this experience lead us to seek out an English club to work with. We approached various Premier League clubs, looking for a partner that was able to understand the common interest we shared in building a new business model. We were very impressed by the quality of the people we met at LCFC. They had a precise vision of how to transform LCFC into a digital brand and they were willing to build a long-term partnership with us.
This partnership has enabled us to experiment with different ways of addressing our game and content to fans of a Premier League club.
Our game is accessible in a white label version on their website and we have had a presence on their social media channels. This enables Leicester City fans from around the world the opportunity to challenge fellow supporters in head-to- head fantasy battles, with the aim of winning money with their successful teams.
We wanted to generate exposure for and build the credibility of Oulala and believed that a partnership with a Premier League club was the right way to do this. We identified Leicester City as an exciting partner to help us achieve that goal, though none of us could have anticipated the amazingly successful season they have had.
What has been your experience dealing with regulators and licensing bodies and so on?
As anticipated, the market moved at a much faster pace than the legislators, meaning that Europe’s national regulators have not yet adapted to the new market reality. More often than not, DFS tends to be considered a ‘pool betting’ activity, therefore in order to safeguard our young industry, it is crucial that we push for a legal framework designed to our sector’s business model.
Evidently, our industry requires a tailor-made DFS license, one that should only be granted to companies who are successfully able to prove that they have developed a real skill game. It is important that legislators exert caution when selecting operators, basing their decisions on the quality of their game and the scoring system, holding the accuracy of a DFS game as the factor of paramount importance.
A DFS license should only enable proven skill games to offer a white label version of their game to third parties. Oulala is currently one of the few that makes this offer to the market, however other companies will soon follow suit, hoping to launch their game through partnerships.
It is in the interests of both the operators and the players that there is a suitable legislative framework in place. This would help to prevent the sector from following the same path that poker did, in that the games should not allow any unfair advantages to the professional players over casual players.
We have already spoken to European legislators about the requirements of our sector. Unsurprisingly, Malta was the first country with a positive reaction towards our suggestions, following up with a specific game license that will be launched by the MGA later this in 2016. This will be a very big step forward in the development of fantasy sports in Europe and will place Malta as the centre of Europe for DFS operators.
We are also in the process of launching a trade association called the International Fantasy Sports Association. The organisation’s goal is to highlight that by offering a specific license for our industry, European countries will reap the benefits that emerge from the evolution of this new sector.
What are the key metrics that you use to monitor your business growth?
Most of our key metrics are common to all digital companies: customer database; retention; churn rate; monthly spending, etc. We also look closely at the level of customer satisfaction of our players. This is an ongoing conversation with our customers to learn as much as we can from them so that we can improve and optimize our game according to their needs and ideas.
Your business must be generating lots of interesting user insights and data too – do you do anything interesting with this data?
Our system is so efficient that it can help to predict who the future football stars will be! This is precisely what happened with Riyad Mahrez, PFA Player of the Year, who has conquered the Premier League with Leicester City this season. During the Big Data Week conference in London last November, I correctly suggested that the Leicester City midfielder would a player to keep an eye on.
What is the next step for Oulala as a business? Is the intention to grow the business independently, or look for an exit via acquisition or similar?
Our white label solution for iGaming operators that are hoping to enter our evolving sector by offering DFS games as complementary products to their own existing operations is our main area of focus. I anticipate an abundance of sports betting punters and poker players will have direct access to DFS through their usual iGaming sites before the year ends. I am certain that the market will truly benefit from this BtoB strategy and force the European DFS sector to evolve further and faster.
Therefore, our intention is to further develop our network of iGaming partners in the near future. A number of operators have shown interest in our BtoB solution and we have been able to sign various important deals that will come into effect next season. Our goal is to continue to investigate the available options and become the leading Daily Fantasy network for European football.