Q&A: ZenSports CEO talks crypto, coronavirus and global expansion

Mark Thomas, ZenSports CEO, tells EGR Technology how his peer-to-peer, crypto-first start-up is shaping up after securing more than $2.5m in seed funding

“It is a very mature product that is scalable and is scaling,” say ZenSports CEO Mark Thomas. His peer-to-peer, crypto-first platform has garnered millions of dollars in seed funding and continues to see bettors latch onto the product.

With an expansion plan focused on Eastern Europe and sub-Saharan Africa, Thomas also touches on his hopes in a difficult home US market as well as new product offerings. He also discusses the need for an injection of originality into a stale industry, tokenisation and the impact of Covid-19 on his operations.

EGR Technology: Can you explain how the ZenSports platform works in terms of peer-to-peer betting and cryptocurrency?

Mark Thomas (MT): Anybody can come in and create and accept bets with anybody else in the world. We provide the data and steps needed to make it an easy process so customers can make a bet in 20 to 30 seconds. Takers can search for the types of bets that they want to accept that are offered by the maker.

On the currency side, we offer betting in our SPORTS token, bitcoin and US dollars. We’ve developed a loyalty rewards programme around our SPORTS token that highly incentivises people to use the token versus dollars or bitcoin.

You can get discounted betting fees, cashback bonuses and other perks for using the token that you can’t get when using dollars or bitcoin. Since the token launched last July, almost 100% of bets have been placed using it.

It is a fun, gamified solution. It is easier to get your money in and out using the token, so for those reasons most people gravitate towards using our tokens.

EGR Technology: Why was it important to create your own SPORTS token and why do you want to integrate it into the wider sports ecosystem?

MT: What we’re looking to do is integrate the SPORTS token into other sports ecosystem partners like retailers, sports leagues, teams and gaming partners.

If you buy a jersey online, you could potentially use SPORTS tokens to buy that jersey or get a discount. When you got to a game, you can bet on it using our app and then use the tokens to buy a beer while you’re there.

We believe that the current loyalty reward systems that exists with other ecosystem players are either minimal or non-existent. The solution that we built around our token is much more exciting and gamified.

EGR Technology: What is the benefit of having a decentralised system for sports betting?

MT: One of the top value propositions that our customers find about us now is that we are more trustworthy than a traditional bookmaker. Traditional bookmakers set the rules and for all intents and purposes it’s only being done that way because it has always been that way – not because it is necessarily better.

What bettors really want is control over the entire process. They want the ability to know that there is a defined set of rules in the marketplace that everybody has to play to. It’s all an even playing field and that creates trust among bettors. So, they feel a lot more empowered and have more trust in the system than they might have with a traditional bookmaker.

EGR Technology: When do you plan to penetrate the US?

MT: We are looking to partner with existing brick-and-mortar casinos and sportsbook during 2020.

We can offer cryptocurrency; there’s nothing problematic about betting with crypto in the US. The issue is the Wire Act and the Unlawful Internet Gaming Act which make it problematic to be able to offer sports betting in the US [unless you are partnered with a land-based entity].

EGR Technology: What international markets are you focusing on for now considering the complications in the US market?

MT: Eastern Europe, Africa and Australia seem to be the three where we are attracting a lot of customers. There are a lot of viral coefficients in terms of referring other people and word of mouth.

In Eastern Europe, they love to bet and they are big into cryptocurrencies. It is a natural fit. It is the same thing in sub-Saharan Africa where we have a lot of customers who might be unbanked and without credit cards.

What they do have is access to cryptocurrencies and access to smartphones, so we can be a viable option for them when a lot of other app providers have shut them out.

EGR Technology: What will the impact of the coronavirus outbreak have on the business – are you switching focus to esports and virtuals?

MT: We are launching esports in April along with other more obscure sports that are still running. We decided in March that with games being cancelled and the coronavirus issues we are moving esports up. They were originally going to launch in Q3.

We were originally going to use Q2 to build a web product, but we pivoted on that decision and pushed it back until May, with April being entirely focused on adding additional content.

EGR Technology: You secured an additional $770,000 in funding at the start of March, which is $2.5m in total. How has that benefited the business so far and what are the plans for the future?

MT: Our product is in a great spot. We are always continuing with ongoing product development. We do bi-weekly sprint cycles where we release new features. We have a product updates page on our website where we chronicle all the new features and what we’ve launched.

From a product maturity standpoint, it is a very mature product that is scalable and is scaling. We are in full scale development mode.

We’ve had to pause a lot of marketing efforts due to the coronavirus issue, so instead we are focusing heavily on content while the world is able to get back on its feet. Then as soon as the leagues return then the paid marketing will kick in again.

We’ve grown our betting volume from $160,000 last July to over $2.5m this February and that was with mainly organic growth. We are very excited about putting resources into paid marketing to allow us to grow faster.

Mark Thomas, ZenSports CEO and co-founder, is a seasoned entrepreneur with experience founding tech startups and other businesses. Most recently, he was the Co-Founder & CEO of Reesio, a VC-backed startup within real estate technology that was acquired by in 2015. Mark does everything for ZenSports except coding, including product, marketing, PR, sales, fundraising, recruiting, HR, finance and accounting.

Cryptocurrency | esports | Interview | ZenSports