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Stefano, co-founder of Pooky, used his passion for prediction and sports betting to turn €500 into €1 million in under a year. Hollywood blockbusters have been written about less. Not one to flaunt his success, until now, he has been reticent to share the details and strategy of his swift rise to the summit of sports betting. But the Pooky community implored him to speak about it and he agreed.
So where did it all begin? “Growing up in Monaco, I was fortunate to watch some of the world’s greatest sporting events up close,” he says. “The Monaco Grand Prix, the Tennis Masters. I remember vividly Monaco’s amazing run to the 2006 Champions League final.”
Fuelled by close proximity to the best events Monaco had to offer, Stefano’s passion for sport developed. Unfortunately, his own personal sporting talent couldn’t take him to the world stage. He had to find another way to leverage his passion, and that wasn’t in the casino Monaco is famous for. “I never went to the casinos really. I got my first taste for betting when I moved to the UK.”
In Spring 2019, Stefano had some time on his hands. It coincided with the French Open and a Spanish tennis player in an exceptional run of good form. “I was looking at the odds and it seemed too good to be true.” Raphael Nadal to win? In Paris? He has 112 victories and 3 losses dating back to 2005. His results on clay are mind boggling. The odds reflected that. “Coming from a finance background, I know the odds that give you a five percent return are huge. Betting on Nadal in the first round? For me there was no risk.”
And history tells us there wasn’t. “I can do something here, with low risk,” He bet on other, low-risk matches and reinvested the winning. €500 became €1500. By the end of the tournament, he was up €50,000. He’d made more than Nadal’s unlucky first round opponent, Yannick Hanfmann.
During the French Open, Stefano had got by on gut feelings alone. Buoyed by his success, he decided to bring statistics to the court - first and second serves won, aces, double faults, unforced errors. Amongst the obvious stats, Stefano discovered something different, an outlier he could exploit. “The odds didn't factor in the change of surface. They focused more on the ranking of the players.” In tennis, there are clay court specialists, grass court and hard court specialists. As a fan, student and player of the game, Stefano understood this variation in surface explicitly. Like Nadal, he kept winning.
Could he replicate the model for other sports? Football is a very different beast to tennis, brimming with unforeseen events and unpredictability - penalties, off-sides, red cards and VAR. Luck plays a bigger part. But there were statistics he could use, patterns and habits teams displayed: win-loss record over the past 3 games, ratio of shots to goals, chances spurned, home results or success on the road. Like Manchester City, he kept winning.
As with any great victory, there were moments of stress. You have to make a lot of bets to win a million pounds. For Stefano, that was to the tune of half a million. With the success came a change in how Stefano saw the process. “In the end I didn’t look at the value of money, I just wanted to see the number on the screen growing. Betting €1000 was betting 1000 points. For me it was a game.” He wasn’t doing it for the money, he was doing it for the points.
And then, in March 2020, the world stopped. “Covid hit and I had to stop.” The only sport left was ping pong in sweden, you try and analyse player stats for that league. Tennis went through 27 months of tournament cancellations, spectator-free events and constant. The Premier League played most of the 2020/2021 season behind closed doors. Stefano’s model didn’t work as it once did.
The experiment was over. "I made around a million in profit. It was time to take out all my money. “I had €600K left on my app.” That was when the problems started. First there were alerts. He was told he had invested a lot of money. Were you addicted, they asked? The alerts became warnings. The questions became statements. Eventually the platform said he was gambling too much, and closed the account.
Stefano was pragmatic about his ban. He didn’t agree with why the decision was taken, but he did understand the dangers. “Even though I was successful, I could imagine the problems many have.” Having experienced the feeling himself, he was particularly mindful of the emotional, short term thinking that causes a player to seek to win back losses. “Something rips your heart out and you have that instant feeling of wanting to get back your money. This is where you tend to make mistakes. It's irrational. It’s not based on any strategy or model, you just want to make your money back.”
Studies suggest that as few as 5% of sports bettors make long term profit. Rarely does anyone win a million. With such extraordinary success and leaving at the top, was there a downside to the new found wealth? “I did something quite exceptional. Not many manage to do that. But I wasn't able to share it with anyone. I couldn’t brag, I couldn’t say, “look, I’m the best.”
Rather than success, is it more entertaining to share the journey? If Stefano could have shared his passion for sport with like-minded fans, if he could have experienced the fun, camaraderie and competition of platforms like Fantasy Football and been part of a community, would the whole experience have been even more rewarding?
One door closes and another opens. Stefano thought he could create such a platform in web3. “There’s something to build that is more social,” he says. “But the platform has to change.” Working with his brother Claudio, they started to outline the idea that would become Pooky, a sports prediction game that is healthier, safer and built for fans. Players can make money - without the risk of sports betting - but Stefano wanted to build something that his experience didn’t have. Pooky had to be entertaining and fun and centred around an exciting community.
Pooky launched on November 16th 2022, and gathered over 200,000 predictions its first 6 weeks.
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