CEO Adam Todd Shares His Journey From the Trading Pit to Trading Bets
You’re familiar with Digitex CEO Adam Todd’s lengthy career in futures trading by now. But you may not know about his background in the betting industry. Here, Adam shares his experiences of applying trading techniques to betting on horses, clocking up an eight-month winning streak, and building the one-click ladder interface app for Betfair in 2004--that’s still being used today.
Betting and Trading--The Same Techniques Can Apply
Many traders shrug off the association between betting and trading, however, plenty of parallels can be drawn and many of the same disciplines apply. According to John Preddy of Lion Asset Management, understanding the business of gambling can help you understand the business of trading. And vice versa, as Adam proves, coming from a trading background can help you kill it in the betting industry as well.
One of the most interesting lessons I learned from speaking to Adam is that, to be a successful futures trader, you don’t need to know anything about the underlying instrument you’re trading. And when you think about it, that actually makes a lot of sense.
After all, how many people who trade on gold or oil markets know the actual composition of metals or commodities? All they need to know is whether the price is going up or down. So why do many traders feel as if they should understand the inner mechanics of cryptocurrency to be successful trading it?
Adam’s Experience with Betfair
After leaving the frenetic fast-paced trading pits of London, Adam made a discovery that would shape the course of his life for the next few years. “I discovered Betfair for the first time when I was traveling in South Africa in 2002,” he explains.
He then began what would be a lengthy and profitable venture into the world of horse racing--without knowing a thing about horses or watching a single race.
“It looked exactly like the markets to me,” he admits. “Each market, let's say for a horse race, had all the bets that were willing to be laid and all the bets that were trying to back and it was just like bids and offers. It was exactly the same as futures trading was. Basically, I was just buying and selling bets instead of futures contracts.”
Betfair, for those who don’t know, is a peer-to-peer betting exchange. Unlike a traditional betting or casino model, there isn’t really any house involved, since individuals buy and sell bets from each other.
This allowed Adam to carve out a living as a short-term scalper, travel the world, and trade bets from internet cafes. Along the way, clocking up his longest winning streak of 240 days! How did he do that?
An 8-Month Winning Streak--With No Knowledge of Horses
“I was betting on UK horse racing markets exclusively. That's all I did,” he says, “But I didn't know anything about horse racing at all. And the whole time I was doing it, I never watched a horse race. Never looked at the horses’ form and was never interested in what horse won or lost the race because that wasn’t what I was doing.
Even though I was doing millions of pounds of bets a day on horse racing, I wasn’t picking the winner. What I was doing was basically buying and selling bets just before the race started.”
So, just like buying and selling futures contracts, in the 10 minutes leading up to the race, he would busily ‘lay’ bets (buy bets off people) and then ‘back’ them (sell them at a slightly better price). “So I was basically just trading the price,” he says.
The busiest 10 minutes are just before the races start, he explains, and he always followed the same strategy. That was “squaring off” just as the race was about to start, “So I would make or lose the same amount regardless of whether that horse won or not. Then I would go to the next race which started in another 10 minutes.”
With a new race every 10 minutes, for four hours, and 20 races a day, Adam was soon racking up a handsome profit.
“I was making like £10-15 of profit per race, winning 9 out of 10 races. That's how I got to a winning streak. It was very, very short term trading, taking very small profits.”
Trading Experience Was Fundamental to His Betting Success
Adam’s trading experience was fundamental to his success with betting on horses. He says:
“It was 100% trading to me, it just happened to be horse racing bets. But I was trading the bets.”
He then goes on to explain that the same rule applies to trading futures in the cryptocurrency market--and any other market for that matter.
“Everyone's got this notion that you have to be an expert in the underlying instrument that you're trading. And it’s the complete opposite. Just like traders can be made, it’s the same with trading on a market.
You don't have to know anything about the underlying instrument, not one thing.
It was the same when I was trading on the German government bonds. I didn’t have a clue what a 10-year German government bond was. But I knew it went up and down and we bought and sold it.
For the three and a half years I was a pit trader and I didn’t know anything about what I was buying and selling. Then with the horse racing, it was the same thing. And it’s the same with cryptocurrency, the underlying instrument, you don't have to know anything about it, you just got to figure out how to trade the price.”
Then he said something that sounded like a textbook quote to me, quite literally switching on a light bulb in my mind:
“Look, you don't need a degree in electrical engineering to switch a light switch, you just need to be able to flip the switch. It’s the same with cryptocurrency trading. Yes, crypto is quite complicated, but that doesn't matter. You don't have to understand that, you just have to figure out how to trade the price of it.”
No Fees on Losses Allowed Adam to Make a Living as a Scalper
Adam explains that one of the best things about the Betfair model was that it charged 5% on all the profits of a race if you won--but nothing if you lost. This allowed him to really shine in the style of trading he’s become legendary in--short term scalping.
He explains, “With Betfair, I was doing very short term scalping without getting killed by commissions. That's why Betfair was so good for my style of trading because it was like commission-free trading.
Sometimes, some races I would be responsible for like 10% of the entire betting volume in the country for that race--and it would be me sitting in an internet cafe in Barcelona or something!”
Adam liked trading on Betfair so much, in fact, that he built a software application that submitted bets into it. I asked him what inspired him to do that.
Building Software for Betfair
“Yeah,” he pauses for a moment and then laughs, “I was trading on Betfair a lot and I was getting carpal tunnel in my hand clicking the mouse like a million times a day. This was back in the day that I had to manually refresh the page and then submit the bets through the interface. This was like a 10 click mouse all over the place process…
So from the futures markets, they use this ladder trading interface that's very popular and I just decided to get myself a programmer, build this ladder, and plug it into the Betfair API.” As soon as the Betfair API was launched, Adam was the very first software vendor on it. He explains:
“It basically just displayed the market for each horse on this one-click ladder instead of their web interface. Then I started using that and made some videos of me using it, just one day after another just trading every race and talking while I was doing it.
I made £200 the first day and then another £200 the next day, and then basically winning 9 races out of 10, putting those videos out there and it went crazy from there on! Everyone wanted to use the ladder, so I started selling subscriptions to the ladder and, after a while, I was making more money running the software than I was actually using it… That's when I switched from being a full-time trader to running a software app.”
He goes on to say that he launched that trading ladder app in 2004 and its still going strong today in 2019, which is 15 years! “In internet years, that's like 174 years, something that's been online for 15 years! That’s the ladder that I created.”
This Trading Ladder Is Key to Digitex Futures
Adam explains that the ladder for Digitex Futures trading hasn’t really changed in many ways since when he first built it. The beauty lies in its simplicity. He says:
“You have the central price column. The bids are displayed on the left side and the offers are displayed on the right side of the price. And it's just a click to the left at the price you want to buy at and a click to the right at the price you want to sell at. It’s so simple.
That’s the beauty of it, you can really stay in the zone with it. You're looking at the price column with the bids right next to it and the offers right next to it. You're physically looking at the same spot on the screen at the same time, your mouse is right there, you don’t have to move your mouse even a centimeter.
You’re watching the price literally going up and down, it literally moves up and down so you can visualize it much better than you can on a normal interface where you’ve got to click here, move there, enter this, enter that… There’s way less room for human error.”
Then as colorful as ever in true Adam style (we’d expect nothing less from our charismatic CEO) he sums it all up:
“When there’s fewer things to do there's fewer chances to f--k it up.”