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Former Pinnacle CEO Paris Smith revealed she is loving her new life as an industry angel investor, since leaving her role leading the bookmaker after 18 years in 2023.

In conversation with Blackstone adviser Adam Rosenberg at the InvestNEXT track of the NEXT Summit Valletta, Smith shared what continues to excite her about being involved in the online gambling sector.

Leaning on her wealth of professional experience, Smith now turns her hand to investing in and advising new companies hoping to make their mark on the industry.

A lifetime of experience

“I think from having the experience as an operator for so many years, I can see what’s going to work and what’s not going to work, and I have very particular things that I believe in,” Smith revealed.

One thing she insists is “not the main play” in the online gambling market is the betting exchange, for example. “I have very dear friends that have betting exchanges, and I hate to tell them that, but it’s a fact.”

Still, Smith is equally focused on individuals as she is on products. In fact, her wide network of connections was what led her to becoming an independent investor after standing down as Pinnacle’s CEO, she said.

“My favourite part about the whole industry is the people, so when I stopped working, I just started talking to everybody and then acting as an angel investor – it happened very organically.

“And I absolutely love it. I love watching people have an idea, helping them navigate which is the best way forward for them with the experience that I have, and just seeing people solve the problem.”

The network effect

Smith relies on building connections not only with new entrepreneurs to the sector, but also with established investors.

“I think the best opportunities that I’ve seen have come from this informal little ‘fraternity’ that I’ve been fortunate enough to be in with other industry investors,” she revealed.

“There’s certain areas where we’re so helpful with each other – like I have a very strong operational background, other people have more financial backgrounds, and then we kind of utilise each other to vet our understanding of an opportunity, and then share it amongst each other.”

That network effect benefits investors and founders alike, Smith suggested, as she pointed to the value of gathering feedback on a business from a broad base.

“That feedback loop between investors and start-ups is so critical. A lot of the companies that I was speaking with, especially early on, have literally pivoted their entire strategy – and one thing I look for people I’m going to invest in is how open they are.

“Maybe you’ve got this phenomenal idea, but the more people that look at it, the more feedback you can get. The biggest one is if somebody has a B2C product, as often it should be a B2B product, but they’re married to B2C.

“And then you have to say maybe it should be B2B, and ask other investors to take a look at it, and then their feedback is the same, and eventually the start-ups hear from enough people, and will transition over to B2B. 

“But it’s important to be open and understand what your idea is, and I invest more in the people than their actual current product.”

Finding the best people

When it comes to which people she is willing to invest in, Smith revealed a very particular list of qualities she looks for.

“Even within my leadership days at Pinnacle, I always looked for hungry, humble, smart and passionate people. 

“So if the humble part is missing, I pass, because I’m too old – I can’t deal with that arrogant approach. But once everybody ticks those boxes, and I believe in what they’re doing, that’s when I start engaging.”

As for what she looks for when start-ups are pitching to her, Smith said: “I look for numbers. And when they’re completely unrealistic, I lose interest immediately. So you either leave the numbers out, or make it so they’re in some reasonable format.”

When asked by an audience member what other advice she would recommend to businesses seeking investment, Smith was quick to point out the value of networking opportunities presented by conferences like NEXT Summit Valletta.

“People always ask whether it’s worth it to come to events like these. It’s 100% worth it. You know, this is everything,” she said. 

“One, as a start-up, you have the contacts, because everybody’s very approachable – they set these conferences up so there’s enough networking that you can feel comfortable coming up to somebody. 

“But the events also help you see what the industry is, right? It helps to see that kind of check and balance, to ask yourself ‘are you thinking big enough?’

“When I would hire people at Pinnacle, I’d always take them to conferences, just so they can see what this industry really is.”

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