Tom Fairey is the CEO and co-founder of Stakester, an esports mobile app that allows competitors to play their favorite online games for cash and prizes. Tom founded Skakester as a way for gamers to utilize their hard-earned skills and play for higher stakes. The app connects players who want to put their hard-earned skills to the ultimate test - opening the doors for gaming to have a profitable and high stakes activity. He also hosts The Back Yourself Show podcast. The Back Yourself Show is a podcast with the profound mission: to present leading conversations within the global startup community and gain exclusive insight from entrepreneurs who are living the startup life as we speak.
Where to Find Tom Fairey
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Tom Fairey is a CEO and co-founder of Stakester, an e-sport mobile app that allows competitors to play their favorite online games for cash and prizes. He also hosts The Back Yourself Show podcast. We talk about how he came up with the idea for Stakester, how to get your startup going, and how founders should delegate.
Now let's get right into it.Tom Fairey:
Officially we're at a skill-based competition platform, but let's put that into reality without means. I love competition, but I think the gambling is for idiots. But I accept that when you put money on something, it's a bit more exciting. Do you know what I mean?
It just makes it a bit more spicy, but I become hyper-competitive. I don't want to encourage passive behavior. I want to create a company whereby you're putting money on yourself. So instead of putting an outcome you can't control, let's put money on ourselves in a competition to get a bit more exciting.
If we had a race right now, I'd win because I'm unbelievably quick. But if we did it normally, we'd be like, we just go pretty hard. But if I say let's do this for a hundred bucks, we're going to burn our feet out. 'Cause it's just more exciting.
Somebody is going to get your feelings. But I was like, I just want to create a platform whereby you know, if I'm playing a game of FIFA or NFL Madden or whatever, and the game is skill, I just wouldn't do it.
I want to play for some money against my buddies or against someone else who's of the same skill level. So I create a platform which has exactly that. So Stakester matches you against someone of the same similar skill level who wants the same game for the same amount of money, pretty much anywhere in the world. It's going pretty well. So that's who we are.
You had talked about wanting to share, and I would love to know this because I haven't really had a formal startup. I started my business 20 years ago, but nobody would have called it a startup. So the four steps to take to get it going. Cause there's more than that, but what are the first four steps?Tom Fairey:
So the first step is just the idea. Okay. You've got to have the idea first. And I talk about how do you find an idea for something and here's where you've got to get yourself in the mindset of looking for problems that need solving, or maybe you want to just make something better.
So I say that get in the practice every day. What I'm saying, "Wouldn't it be cool if?" or "Wouldn't it be better?" Yeah. For example, "Wouldn't it be cool if I had more hair?" Okay. I've got an idea for a startup. I want to make wigs. Okay. Whatever. Get in the habit of finding that.
There are billion dollar opportunities everywhere. If something frustrates you, you can make a billion dollar business out of it. Because it frustrates, it probably frustrates someone else. That's the first step.
The second is the testing. Okay. We're talking really early stage here. The worst advice anyone can ever give you is, "Don't tell them about your startup. They're going to steal your idea." Shut up. No. No one cares. No one's gonna steal your idea. They've got jobs. They've got lives. They've got things to be doing, getting on with.
It also doesn't matter if they steal the idea, you're going to build it better than they do. Okay. We take Twitter and Instagram. Those aren't particularly original ideas. They're just doing it better than anyone else. So just, don't worry about that.
Talk to everyone about your business and what they'll do is they'll help you shape it. It's good to build something around a problem that you've experienced. You want to ask people about it because that will help you understand if it really is a problem. And if it was worth solving. I did market testing.
The next step is like, how do I turn this into something that actually exists? 'Cause I've got the idea. I know it's a good idea. People are going to need this. There's a demand for this. Now I have to flesh this out. Now I have to put together a plan for how I'm going to go from having no customers to having a customer. That first step, what do I need to build? Write down everything you need to build.
Then we get to number four, which I think is the most important step. And this is building your team. The hardest part. Oh, it's so hard because this thing is the first thing you'd want to do is you've got to have self-awareness. That's actually the hardest thing, self-awareness.
You've got to sit down and you got to be really honest with yourself. What am I good at? It's easy for me, cause I'm not very good at anything. Okay. So it was easy. I need someone to do everything. I know what I've got. I'm good at getting people excited.
That's what I do. I'm just a hype guy, just a cheerleader. Now I knew that's what I was going to be good at. So I needed to go find people to do all the other jobs. So I wrote down all the jobs that needed doing and all the jobs that I could do, which was basically none. I was like, I've got to go and get those people and I've got to go convince those people.
This is going to change their life. This is going to make them happy. It's going to give them fulfillment. It's going to give them freedom. It's going to give them everything that they don't have, that they want.Natasha Miller:
Yeah. I have a question. Okay. So you've got lots of ideas. I know. I can tell because your personality exudes that, how did you funnel out a million other ideas and get to Stakester? And then how did you do the steps for yourself? And formulating that around what you do is going to make it clearer.Tom Fairey:
Okay. So take exactly what happened. I was part of a startup previously, and I got to learn about what it means to be hyper-growth and thinking you are free to match and you just get the best of some investors. You don't really know. Usual stuff. But I wasn't very happy there. And so I left and I was trying to find my own idea because arrogantly, like every founder, I thought I should be running a business course.
That's why you run a business because you think you're better than everyone else. This is a true story. Verbatim, Natasha. I'm on the jiu jitsu mat in the gym. Okay. Now I like jiu jitsu. I'm not very good. I like it, but I've had a little bit of success in another martial arts and muay thai, which is Thai boxing. And I'm on the mat in the gym and this guy comes in.
He's got a vest on, he's got big arms and he walks past, he goes, "I recommend you. You'll win a competition." You can tell from the accent he's Russian. And I said, "Yeah, do you know what? I did win a competition. Thanks. Thanks man, I did," his follow-up to that changed my life. He said, "But you look so weak."
I was like, "Oh, fair enough." And then in his defense I do look weak and I said, "Cheers, mate. Thanks for the burn." Yeah. And he said, "What about we spar sometime?" I've just met this guy. I've never seen this guy before in my life. And he's challenging me to a fight. But of course, because I am arrogant, stupid.
I said, "Yes, let's do it." And then I said "Let's put up some money. Let's do it, buddy. Let's do this with some money." He's, "Okay. We do this for the money." He sounds like he's half Italian, half Russian, which maybe is, I don't know. I know he's definitely Russian. Anyway, so for those of you who are listening to this story, no.
Who knows anything about jiu jitsu? It works. Okay. And this guy didn't know what he was doing. He was just very big and strong and thought that he could beat me because of that. And so I'm not very good, but I was better than him. So I put him in some quarter triangle and he tapped out within 30 seconds.
Anyway, he got really annoyed. "You cheat! You used your legs." And I was like, "No, you don't even know the rules of jiu jitsu you big guy! That's how it works." Anyway. He's annoyed. He storms off and I'm like, "Where's my money?" And he said, "Oh, I pay you next time." "Oh no. You pay me now, mofo."
He's "Nah, I have no cash." And I was like okay, fine. There's gotta be an app. So I get my phone out for my phone and then boom. That is an idea here. Interesting. And so the original idea Natasha was, I'm going to make an app, which means that I can wrestle Russian people for money.
I make sure they pay up. That's the original idea. That's a good idea because the problem I experienced. So I went and spoke to people about it and realized no one else has this problem.
Okay. What I did realize is that there's a need for this in gaming. Now I grew up in a household with a pro gamer and my brother was one of the first set of pro gamers. So I hated gaming growing up because of course he doesn't want to lose his den. I like real sports. But of course, as I grew up, I realized that's not really true. That's what everyone does.
And so there's a huge demand for it. So I decided actually I couldn't find anybody who really gave me that kind of opportunity to do this and made it feel like they covered that gap between the elite gamer and the guy who just wants a bit of excitement. So I know nothing about gaming.
My background is I worked in financial crime. And I worked in banks. I don't know anything about gaming. And so I looked at my skill sets and habits, so I was like, okay, I need someone in my network. So I look at my network and I'm like, I don't know anyone in gamming. But I do know someone used to work for EA sports.
Her name is Monica. And so I find out Monica. I'm like, "Hey Monica, I need some help. I need someone to help me out who knows a little bit about gaming." She's like "Have you met my fiance?" I was like, "Monica, I don't want to meet your fiance," because he created Grand Theft Auto, the biggest selling game of all time.
This is true. I literally got my phone out and I'm on the phone and I said, "What's he doing tomorrow night at six?" She's like, "I'm in London. Do you wanna do a Zoom?" And I'm like "No." I'm looking at flights. I'm going to be in New York tomorrow night at six to meet this guy. So I hopped on a plane straight over.
I met him, his name's Gary. He's British. Of course we got along very well because he's incredibly intelligent and handsome like all English men. And then we fell in love and now we've got an amazing business. There you go. That's the story.Natasha Miller:
That's pretty amazing 'cause that is a stretch from wrestling a Russian.Tom Fairey:
Yeah. Hold that, that first bit.Natasha Miller:
to what you have now. Yeah. But just to focus on that glimmer and that Glint of opportunity and possibility, and then amplifying it to its fullest potential. And when I say amplify, you taking that opportunity of meeting Gary and not getting on a Zoom, but getting on a flight. That separates the people that are doing from the people that are dreaming.
So good on ya. You talked about having people on your board to help you solve problems. Are you talking about an advisory board or is this a formal board of directors?Tom Fairey:
I believe that when you have your business, you are going to have more problems than you can ever anticipate, and you don't know what those problems are.
So what you have to do is you have to build a huge network of people that might be helpful in the future. Because you don't know in the same way, you might be helpful to them. So people sometimes come to me and they're like, "Hey Tom, can you help me with this?" And I'm like, "Probably not, but I'll try." Because this is where I think there's a big thing about being an entrepreneur where it's about breaking rules.
The rules state that I didn't work in gaming, therefore I cannot be a success in game. That's what the rules state. That's not true. You just work hard and you learn the game. So I went out and I made as many possible connections as I could within the startup world, within the gaming world.
I'd just met them, hung out with them, just went for coffee with them before COVID. Even just bounced into a Zoom, just be like, "Hey buddy, what are you into? What do you do? Can I help out? Do you want to come on my podcast?" Loads of things, just anything I can to just try and build a relationship with these people. And then that means that when problems arise in my business, I had someone to turn to. It might be I paid them. I might give them a smack depending on the amount of what they do.
But the whole point is I know most people are willing to help. So my advice to anyone who's starting a business is that 99% of running a business is just having amazing people and people will help you because you bet all you're doing really is sending emails, doing Zoom calls and building stuff.Natasha Miller:
You're a great delegator and that's a wonderful thing to be as an entrepreneur, as a business owner, if you want to win and if you don't want to be a slave to working in your business day to day. I'm curious to know, I understand that you've learned about gaming. Do you play, is that an interest of yours now, or do you just really know about it? Because you've studied it.Tom Fairey:
I'm not allowed to play. I'm too addicted to everything.Natasha Miller:
Oh I see.Tom Fairey:
It ruined my life. I can't do anything.Natasha Miller:
I got you. I got you. I got you.Tom Fairey:
I played Civilization the other week. It's really old. It's no man game. I lost eight hours of my day and it was a Tuesday. A Tuesday, Natasha.Natasha Miller:
And you couldn't stop.Tom Fairey:
No, I can't. That's why I've never taken any drugs and I don't drink because I know that I'd become addicted.Natasha Miller:
Yeah. Yeah. So talking about getting great people around you, I'm talking to my daughter about helping her start a business. And I had said to her, I have over 20 years in business and I said to her, If you want my help, right? If you want my investment, we're going to do it right.
And part of doing it right is not doing it the way I did it, which was just bootstrap and like grasping at straws for years. And I was successful, but I could have been much more successful. And I said, you need a great advisory team. Now you can structure that in any way. You can have advisers you pay. You can have mentors you don't pay. You can phone a friend.
You can put together a board of advisors. And if you are taking on outside capital, a board of directors and such, but I liked that your idea of make sure that you meet like all the people and just have them ready at hand, because you do not know ever what's going to be coming up, which I want to stress to anyone listening to this that isn't quite there yet.Tom Fairey:
Yeah. There's absolute truth in that. And the people you bring on the ones that are most helpful aren't always the ones you expect. So you might have some massive name on your border or a massive name investor, who you think this person is going to open all the doors for me.
The truth is that person probably is opening doors for a lot of people all the time. And you are not the priority for them. Whereas you find people who are on the way up and then just getting that first kind of experience in that level. Those are the people who really put the craft in because they really care about you. And also they're the people that if they care about you, they're going to give you more.Natasha Miller:
The care and enthusiasm is really important and I'm not really big in the influencer world, but I'm really learning that micro influencers rather than the giant ones are the ones that move the needle rather than the ones with millions of followers necessarily. Because you can tell when someone's up there, parading something for money and they actually don't really know what it does or what anyway.
So let's talk about cold emails. I really want to know about this. I love your three rules. So what are the three rules to send cold emails that yielded hundreds of thousands in investments?Tom Fairey:
Yeah. Half a million bucks, basically. Yeah. Okay. There's always three rules in every email. It's really simple.Natasha Miller:
It's a really good number. It's feels good. Yeah. Yeah. Four is us too much. Six... Forget it.Tom Fairey:
Okay. So easy. Gain their interest, first of all. Just meke it interesting. Two, gain credibility. Three ask for something. Simple as that.
I always say interest, credibility and action. So that's simple. Everything else in there is irrelevant.Natasha Miller:
Okay. Try it on me. I want you to gain my attention just, yeah, let's do it.Tom Fairey:
Hey Natasha. My business does this. We have grown by X and we have done Y and we are now going to do Z. I'm currently working with ABC. And I have a team made up of the DEF. I would love to have a chat with you about becoming an investor in my business. Let me know if you have any time for a call next week.
Done. That's it. That's all it is. I've got you excited because I've said some big numbers. I'm showing my credibility because I've got associations to other people, or I have a team that is incredibly impressive. And then thirdly, I've just asked you to do something.
The biggest mistake that people make when they write emails. There's a few, but I will say there's three. Who makes the rules over? What level of formality you should have in an email? Where is it written down in the world that I have to start an email with 'Dear'?Natasha Miller:
Dear sir or Madam?Tom Fairey:
Yeah. Where does it say that? Okay. That's number one. Two, self-confidence you are giving something. No matter what the scenario is, there is an exchange of value. If you're a salesperson, you are offering to solve someone's problem and make their life better. If you are raising money, you are saying to that person, "I'm going to give you the opportunity to put money in my business. So you might make a squillion pounds in the future. I'm letting you join this ride."
Okay. You be confident about that. Don't think you're begging. You're not begging. You've got to be confident. Make that conversation appear conversational. Talk to me the way that you would talk to a colleague or a friend, not your best mate. That might be a bit too familiar. A little bit. So you've got to be there.
And the third is don't make it too long. No one cares. If you email, it's going to come up on my phone. If I get a block of text that's longer than four lines, I promise you I'm not reading it. You do not have enough interesting things to say.
So just tell me the really interesting stuff that's going to hook me in. Cause remember, you're not trying to sell to me in that email. You are selling me a meeting or a conversation. You're not selling your product. You're selling the investment. Okay. And that's what people mess up all the time, that I'm going to send you a really long email.Natasha Miller:
So you're setting them up for the hook or you're hooking them for the screw. Okay. I don't know if that's legal to say on the air. That's great. I do very much believe in short and succinct. And I've recently realized, even though I'm a pretty bold, confident, I ask for I want, I get what I want.
There was a situation where I was a little shy about asking someone for something, and that person said, "Ask me. Fortune favors the bold," and I didn't even respond right away and say, "Okay, so will you do this?" I waited a little while. And I said, I've thought about it and I'm ready for the ass. And it's interesting what happens then.
So yeah, if anyone's listening that is feeling like they don't, first of all, you got to get the courage and the charisma and the confidence to make that ask.
Okay, Tom, what is the biggest challenge this moment today that you're facing in your business? As great as it may be, what's the number one thing that you're focusing on right now, trying to solve?Tom Fairey:
Same problem. You only have one problem in a business in truth. And that is making sure that your team 's performing to the best of their ability. And there's so many factors that affects that. It's not just driving them and screaming in their face and saying, "Come on, you got this." It's about making sure that they get enough time off and they're relaxed and they're happy and they're doing work that beams fulfillment.
It's about your job as a leader. You are just a head coach. You're just there to get the best out of people in your team. And if you pick the right team and you get the best out of them, you'll get the best results. It's always the same thing. It's about trying to get maximum performance from your team and anyone who thinks there's anything else and they say, "Oh, it's because I can't raise money or the market's bad."
Shut up. You have the right team, you win. And getting them to believe in the path. You have seen it so many times in sport where you have a team that technically, physically, skillfully, do not have what it takes to win a championship, but because they work together and because they believe they win.
How many times does that happen in history? Countless. That's what matters. That is the hardest thing every day. And if it's not the hardest thing you're doing every day, you're not focusing on the right things.Natasha Miller:
I think talking to any entrepreneur that has been in business for a time, we'll answer that question with something regarding the people. And you answered it in a more robust way, which is wonderful. So beyond people, taking them off the table, what is the strategy that you're going to focus on for growth this year? So you can't use the challenge in reverse.Tom Fairey:
I think the thing for me, technically in our business is making our products available to the most people.
So we'll probably move to a crypto only model in some countries in some regions and try to bridge that gap so that people have currency equity. So someone in Singapore can play someone in Canada, someone in the us can play someone in China and they have parity that, and it gives people that ability to do that.
So I think building something in that space, it's going to make the biggest difference.Natasha Miller:
That is amazing. I am very interested in crypto and NFTs and web 3.0. And I talked to people and they're like, "Oh I don't know what that is. That's the future." I'm like, "No, it's the now. And you're behind."
And in fact I know about. I'm behind. So you're going to take the challenges of running a business, being an entrepreneur co-founder CEO. And now you're layering on another challenge. That actually is a strategy in disguise for growth. How quickly do you think you see crypto changing the trajectory of your business?Tom Fairey:
So personal story. I became a hundred percent crypto as a human being last year. So everything I have messaging cash wise have moved into crypto. As you can imagine, that's an emotional rideNatasha Miller:
It's tough. It's like glorious sometimes. And then like heart wrenching.Tom Fairey:
Yeah. Exactly, but that's life and it's worth it. I think the world will move to that model. I think we will evolve and we'll move to that model. And I think once we get, I think we're such early stage of adoption here because yes, of course, like in this hyper privileged community that we talk about, like the entrepreneurs and the founders and the professionals, like we're all like "Yeah. It's the future."
It is the now for us as you've said, but then there are other areas of society that need to adopt for it's a really become the future. But I think what's great about crypto is the leveling method of it. It makes the level. So it means that everyone has the same level playing field.
The problem is for me at the moment is that there's so many currents. There's almost more currencies than there are flat currencies. And so yes, the technology makes it us a bit more of us, but I think there needs to be an apex predator. I think that's what it needs to be. And when we start to see that really take form, then I think it will start to become ubiquitous.Natasha Miller:
Will you use your entrepreneurial mind to move into another business in addition around crypto and that world, or will you really just double down and focus on Skatester?Tom Fairey:
The thing about Stakester is that I have responsibility to everyone here to to fulfill them, to give them what they want, to give them the financial freedom for the rest of their lives. That's my plan, to make everyone here in my business have financial freedom as a result of our success. So that has to be my focus and I don't think it will but crypto, blockchain will be a significant part of our success.Natasha Miller:
It's not a separate thing.Tom Fairey:
No it's the two marrying together.Natasha Miller:
Want to know more about me? Go to my website, officialnatashamiller.com. Thank you so much for listening. I hope you loved the show. If you did, please subscribe. Also, if you haven't done so yet, please leave a review where you're listening to this podcast. I'm Natasha Miller and you've been listening to FASCINATING ENTREPRENEURS.