“In university, I had this fire up my ass which was if I don’t find another way to make money. I’d have to get a job and work at a bank.” -Sam, on business motivations while still in uni
Sam tells the story of a few businesses he tried to start while at school and talks about the type of people who are attracted to such schemes.
Resources Mentioned In This Episode Of The Lazy Entrepreneur Podcast:
01:36 – Student Swag, Sam’s course at uni
03:20 – “Incentive arbitrage”
05:25 – First meeting and sign up process
06:10 – How much did Sam make in this business and for how long did he run it?
06:48 – What was pioneer projects?
09:00 – People who came to Sam’s class who ended up becoming wildly successful
10:27 – Emma’s first jobs
13:08 – What was Sam’s motivation for making money at uni?
17:00 – The Gambling Times offer to buy Student Swag
SAM: Hello and welcome back to another episode of the lazy entrepreneur. I’m your host sound Priestley and as always we’re joined by my lovely wife Emma Priestley. Emma today I’ve got a story about another business that I started once upon a time that I don’t think you know anything about.
EMMA: You’ve said this many times
SAM: I know that’s quite funny. How are we married and there’s all these random businesses that some of them I spent a lot time on as well.
EMMA: Well it’s very you. You don’t like to talk by yourself.
SAM: I don’t like to talk about myself unless we’re on a podcast or I’m writing a blog post
EMMA: Or you’ve been weirdly reminded of this business
SAM: Yeah yeah maybe we’ll be friends and they’ll bring it up and there’s some embarrassing things about this business. It’s not really embarrassing just cringy. Yeah might have told you at the time we’ll find out in a minute. It’s called student swag does that ring any bells?
EMMA: So what’s funny about this is that we went to the same university at the same time and I remember seeing posters of student swag and one of my friends who lived in the next corridor also called Sam was involved in it.
SAM: That’s so funny, so students swag was I like a course that we put on at university are there were two friends and it was to teach people how to do matched betting, professional gambling, and what we did is we put together a course where we would kind of handhold everybody through making a thousand pounds say and there were two sections to it so the first one for a thousand pounds and then people graduated and could go on and do another module which would be a thousand pounds. Match betting is basically where you take advantage of sign up offers that bookies and casinos offer and so the way we would do it is each week we would release a video which would have just me actually doing the offer. We had a website with like an odds finder and it would be very much click here click here click here click here withdraw your money.
EMMA: Very simple
SAM: And then the next week would be another one and then each one got slightly more complicated so that by the end of it people had the skills to go off and do on their own. The problem we had with it was how do you tell people about making money from gambling.
EMMA: Well yeah I mean it’s basically a get-rich-quick scheme run by students I mean how dodgy does that sound?
SAM: How scammy does that sound? And the other problem is we didn’t want people to know we were doing it basically because we were doing it all for ourselves at the time as well and we had this idea that if the bookies worked out what we were doing they would clamp down on us and might change the offers. It was very much especially in those days it was, this was before it was even called matched betting. There were a few different terms that people used we called it incentive arbitrage because you’re arbitraging any incentives that bookies give you to sign up. And so what we did is we went around campus, went around the university and put up loads of pictures with something like, “Do you want to make some money?” Do you want to make money in your spare time
EMMA: See I remember the posters but I don’t remember the content of the posters.
SAM: Do you want to make money? If so come to this room at this time on this date.
EMMA: How many people turned up?
SAM: We thought someone was gonna turn up so we booked a room at the University, we made a little presentation about it.
EMMA: Little slideshow
SAM: Little slideshow yeah a little slideshow with some some stupid images on it.
EMMA: Did you wear a suit?
SAM: I can’t remember, probably well, no I wouldn’t have had a suit so now and we had free printing in the computer science department so I printed off hundreds of these pages in there and ran around sticking them up everywhere.
EMMA: So how many people came to the first one?
SAM: Quite a lot, 70? Somewhere between 50 and 100. The place was full.
EMMA: Did you know any of the people there?
EMMA: That’s amazing isn’t it
SAM: We didn’t want to tell anyone because we were so embarrassed by it so we gave this presentation kind of explaining the basics of it and then asking people to sign up to this course and to sign up they had to go to a website. Nothing really on the website just a sign-in page didn’t say really say anything on the website. It even had a different URL or something we didn’t want it to look like it had anything to do with gambling. Basically we didn’t want random people signed up because we had this idea that maybe the bookies would work it out and there might be a stooge who would try and shut us down and then on the website was a forum and we had a little odds snatcher type thing and then each week we would release this like this video series on how to do it and it is also a forum for people to ask questions and stuff like that and we also interspersed it with a few other lectures and things like that and yeah. Yeah it was pretty popular.
EMMA: It sound weirdly successful.
SAM: It was weirdly successful, we made a decent amount of money as well, I think we made about ten thousand pounds out of it. We ran it for two or three terms so a fair amount of time. We had quite a few graduates people who did this course, some people really got it and then took it and ran away with it.
EMMA: So was this the first business you did?
SAM: It’s hard to pitch back I was doing loads of weird businesses then. Well we were gambling for ourselves back then but this was around the time of grown goms, this was around the time of I had a little web development firm called Pioneer Projects. I told you about the tech startup. I can’t even remember what it was. I had some tech start up where I put loads of posters on campus being like, “do you want to join a tech startup?” Booked a room, a bunch of people came along, started a business together. I can’t even remember what it was now.
EMMA: That’s ridiculous.
SAM: Kind of the reason I want to tell these stories is the thing I find most interesting about it is the other sort of people who would go along and what they’re doing now because there’s something about someone who would see a poster on the side of a wall that says, “Do you want to make some money” and go along to it.
EMMA: Yeah there’s a lot of trust in there. And a leap of faith.
SAM: A leap of faith. It’s a bit naivety. It’s a bit of self confidence that they’re able to go and then ascertain whether it’s a scam.
EMMA: Yeah and also the confidence that they will be able to make it work. It’s one thing someone telling you how to make money but it’s another thing if the responsibility is on you to make it happen.
SAM: Well something I want to know is all those people who turned up to the first ever Student Swag lecture, how many thought they were just wasting their time? How many thought this is almost certainly gonna be nothing, let’s find out. And how many actually believe that poster? Probably hardly any. Students got loads of time. They were just like I’m gonna see what it’s about and then work out because of the people who were in that who came to that thing and also with the tech startup some of the people who came along to that as well, those people are, I still keep track of quite a few of them and pretty much, of the people I know who have become very successful in what they’re doing, almost all of them were people who came along to these things.
EMMA: So what is it about them?
SAM: All different things. There was one guy who went off and started an Amazon business at the same time I did and now that’s worth millions and millions and millions. There was someone else who became a trader that did really well. On the tech start-up there was someone who went off and started a business of his own which then got acquired for quite a few million. There’s kind of like random stories.
EMMA: And you know one person you’re talking about, that’s really interesting.
SAM: Yeah it is, what is it about him? Is it optimistic, is it naive?
EMMA: It’s risk taking.
SAM: It’s risk taking both with your time and that kind of opportunity of getting burned.
EMMA: Yeah from a young age.
SAM: From a young age, yeah it’s like when they talk about the origin story of entrepreneurs and it’s almost always, you know, they were selling sweets in the school playground. They were whatever delivering newspapers or they had some sort of scam or business they were running. Do you have any scam or business you were running as a kid?
EMMA: No no my first job was paper around and then I worked as a gymnastics coach which paid me really well something like 15 pounds an hour and then waitresses.
SAM: And just because you wanted to earn some money right? You weren’t selling sweets out of your locker or anything like that?
EMMA: No it didn’t even occur to me, the only other money potentially I could have made is that I used to organize a lot of events at school which were ticketed parties so I could have, I was a bit more confident in commercial, taking my cut for my time. Which of course I never did, that money went back into the school. It never occurred to me because the reason I was doing those events was because I really enjoyed organizing them, I really enjoyed attending them and I felt that if I didn’t put the time into it and make it a good event that no one else would.
SAM: I think I was always trying to start things. When I was in primary school, I started a school newspaper.
EMMA: That’s definitely one of your proudest facts, you say that quite a lot which is very unlike you.
SAM: I started a computer club, but none of these things ever had any money to it.
EMMA: I think it is just the experience, working with other people.
SAM: But at the age of like 8, why was an 8 year old starting a computer club?
EMMA: Because you thought it would be fun.
SAM: I thought it would be fun and that is still what I do with most things because I thought it would be fun.
EMMA: I thought there was a reason behind the computer club something about not having to play outside.
SAM: Not really I just liked computers. Eventually I turned into a computer game club and we would play like Import World or something.
EMMA: I love that game.
SAM: Yeah so good. Well I didn’t do much at secondary school I don’t think I’ve ever started anything there.
EMMA: Because you didn’t have the time.
SAM: No probably didn’t have the time I was rowing and doing the cadet force and doing church stuff and thinking about women and there was university but then university I had this fire up my ass which was if I don’t find another way to make money I’d have to get a job and work at a bank.
EMMA: Which is a good motivation right?
SAM: It’s good work motivation but also not having any money I worked as a waiter when I was 16 or so and absolutely hated it so I thought if I could find some other way to make money then I’d work out better
EMMA: Because you wanted the money.
SAM: I wanted the lifestyle that went with having the money yeah I didn’t want to have to work for it. When I was a fresher I did a did a nightclub event with a friend of mine.
EMMA: Another hilarious story.
SAM: That didn’t work out.
EMMA: I wish I’d been invited to that.
SAM: I invited I got a weird friend who’s like probably my oldest closest friend from primary school who’s now like a full-time activist and he’s awesome but an absolute weirdo and I got him to come up for the promotional stuff for this event. So same sort of thing where we were just in the main area, a quad or something of the university. Me and him were handing out fliers for this event and talking to people and trying to convince them to come.
EMMA: How did that go down.
SAM: I think he was more interested in talking to the girls than going to the event.
EMMA: Not much has changed.
SAM: He’s very confident right, he had no shame in like going up to random people and being like do you want to come to our event.
EMMA: What you want right.
SAM: Well now I wouldn’t have the guts to go around Tunbridge Wells and put up posters saying come to this event and learn how to make money even if people turn out people come and that sort of thing but there’s a businessman in Tunbridge Wells who puts on loads of events and what he does is I think it’s like 7:00 a.m. every morning he’ll go out and put fliers and posters everywhere.
EMMA: The week of the event.
SAM: It is Friday because he knows on the Thursday is when the council takes everything down.
EMMA: No it’s that they can’t process something that’s less than a week until the event so if the events on Saturday he puts up the posters the Sunday before so the council can’t act quick enough to take them down they need at least two weeks. So if he put the posters up two weeks before the event the council will take them down.
SAM: Very clever. A bit cheeky. I’m sure people weren’t allowed to put up posters for this student swag, this gambling thing. Yeah I’m sure the Ethics Committee had something to say about that.
EMMA: Yeah but you just put them up until someone takes them down. There’s no real harm there on that scale.
SAM: No so why did we start student swag. We were running it for a few terms and it made decent money but the problem was that it was an incredible amount of work and we were doing the gambling for ourselves. We were making it very successful, going from strength to strength and everyone we were training up to do the same thing was competition and so that was a business where that could have gone on to be something very impressive but the other thing is we didn’t see any scalability to it because we were like, “oh we got to go out, there’s only so many people in our University, how would we scale up” or whatever whereas now the people who are making the most money out of professional gambling are companies like OddsMonkey and Profit Accumulator where you pay a monthly fee for and they teach you how to do it and then making, they’ve got 60 thousand users all paying six pounds a month or something like that. They make an absolute fortune. That could have been us. We started before they did. None of those other places existed when we did Student Swag. And when it came to close it down we just said we’re gonna close it down and another company so it was a popular forum back then called the Gambling Times, they asked to buy it off us because they wanted to keep doing it.
EMMA: And did they?
SAM: Well we came to an agreement but it never really went through and I can’t remember why there was some reason. I think it was a no money deal. It was like we would take over some of their revenue streams or something else that interested us more and they take over the students swag.
EMMA: So you were getting paid but just not in a lump sum and it was for a long time rather than just a one-off. I mean it sounds good in principle, especially to a student.
SAM: I don’t know why it didn’t come off. I actually interviewed the guy behind that, he’s one of my early blog posts you should check it out. Yeah he’s quite a good interview, interesting guy. He lives in Thailand now teaching English or something, he kind of retired, made a bunch of money gambling back in the early days. He’d been doing it for quite a long time when I got into it.
EMMA: Maybe we’ll go see him in Thailand.
SAM: Alright well this was a bit of a weird episode. The reason we recorded this one is because we just recorded another one which was a bit more on point and there was a real problem with echoes in it so we thought, we might need to get rid of that, we might as well record another podcast and so I didn’t have any topic I wanted to talk about, but I thought this would be an interesting story to tell. I can’t believe you actually knew people who’ve been doing it.
EMMA: Yeah we went to the same university at the same time.
SAM:We might not have known each other.
EMMA: We didn’t know each other at the time but our universes…
SAM: You probably never would have dated me if I was putting up posters.
EMMA: We had very different causes, we had very different ideals.
SAM: Alright well thanks for listening everyone, as always if you have any feedback, if you like this sort of random style then let me know. If you don’t like it let me know as well at hello at sam priestley dot com. Until next time, goodbye.