Between strength-training sets at his Miami gym, influencer turned boxer Jake Paul talks nonsense about Stephen A. Smith, the ESPN commentator who built a Hall of Fame career and artfully yells insults at athletes — like when he did. yelled last year that Paul “lied” that he was a professional fighter.
“Maybe he was innovative 25 to 30 years ago, but he’s been doing the same thing for 25 years,” Paul says over the phone from the gym. “It’s a new generation; it’s a new era. I just watch TikTok as the North Star. That’s where everything goes: TikTokification. And none of these sports shows even have a million followers on TikTok.” To his credit, Smith has just over a million followers on the social media platform popular with Gen Z. But Paul has over 16 million followers who go to Watch TikTok clips of him jumping off the third deck of Jeff Bezos’ yacht and running over piñata similarities of his rivals with a lifted pickup truck.
The TikTokification of the mind is a trend that Paul thinks he can use to make a lot of money with his new sports media and mobile betting, Betr. Announced this month with $50 million in Series A funding, the plan is to break into the industry by having Paul host a weekly flagship show to lead his young audience to the app in what his business partner describes as a “smart hack” to ” convert users into real money gambling.” Where most bets on multibillion-dollar apps like DraftKings and FanDuel bet on outcomes that take most of a game to unfold, Betr will focus on bets that are resolved within seconds of play: I bet $10 the next roll is a strike. I bet $5 the Jets get a scoop here. A no-money recreational version of the app will debut in the coming weeks, with real gambling at a later date in legalized states.
With the app and Paul’s fame among a young audience with disposable income, it could be a smart bet. Sports fans and drunk uncles have been making silly bets this way for generations, and Betr’s early push on social media shows how much fun instant gratification can be. He and his friends gamble on literally everything. Will a FaceTime call with his mom take more than five minutes? Are a man’s designer sneakers at a party worth more or less than $15,000? Who’s willing to swim closest to a shark while snorkeling? “I think the culture between our friends is definitely something we want to emulate in the app,” he says. “If we’re all in a house together, there should be at least two bets every hour.”
As with sports gambling, there is collateral damage. In a video celebrating the launch of Betr, the team bets on who goes out the most drunk. Paul’s content manager technically loses, but the real loss went to the member of a rival influencer house who later that night knocked Paul to the ground in a club and yelled at him that he was sorry for an off-camera smarty.
If Betr can break the duopoly of DraftKings and FanDuel, it wouldn’t be the first time Paul has beaten the odds of navigating his way into a new industry. As a teenager, Paul’s aggro class-clown antics on Vine and YouTube drew millions of followers as he grew up in front of the camera and learned to monetize almost every moment of his time. With his older brother, Logan, he helped set the tone for the first wave of bro-y influencers living together in what are now known as hype houses. There were commercially – if not aesthetically – successful forays into music and acting. Then, in 2017, he was expelled from a Disney Channel show after his neighbors in West Hollywood complained that he was making life a “living hell” by shooting stunts such as setting fire to his mattress on his patio and on riding a dirt bike into the pool.
Paul wasn’t down for long. The following year, he and Logan started celebrity boxing, pitting them against British influencer KSI and his younger brother; Logan’s match was a draw, but Jake won in a fifth round technical knockout. Logan now stuns wrestlers in the WWE, but Jake found a home in the boxing world, where he’s boosted pay-per-view sales with his DNA level of self-promotion, a knack for starting feuds and a straight hook mean enough to knock out four amateurs who didn’t really know how to block a punch. Paul’s opponents still say he’s a distraction and point to the fact that he hasn’t seen any professional boxers yet. (His fight against Hasim Rahman Jr. in early August was canceled after the pro failed to slim down to the right weight.) To show he means it, Paul is extremely torn and has had every single time he’s in the ring stepped up against pros beating from other sports such as mixed martial arts and basketball. Whatever boxing fans think of him, the prankster has become a serious force in professional fights, earning seven-figure purses and arguing with UFC president Dana White over providing his fighters with lifelong health insurance.
At 25, Paul hopes to spin again, this time to a role where he doesn’t get punched in the face. Last summer, while looking for investments for his venture capital firm, Anti Fund, in Miami’s new money heaven, he met Joey Levy, the founder of a company called Simplebet, which is developing the back-end software to make micro-betting a reality. Paul wanted to start a company with real prospects; Levy wanted to market to consumers without spending millions on advertising. “When I met Joey, it was a complete aha moment,” says Paul. His company led a $30 million investment round in Simplebet, which closed shortly after the company agreed to a multi-year deal with DraftKings to build fast-track betting on its app. After a year of development, Levy left Simplebet to roll out Betr with its famous host.
DraftKings and other platforms are currently offering versions of micro betting: will Jacob deGrom throw over/under 15 pitches this inning? But Levy thinks that unbundling these short bets from the big apps will make gambling a lot more fun, avoiding many of the complicated terms – meaning +135 chances mean? – which may scare off some new users. “It’s kind of like what Robinhood did with day trading,” Levy says. “Ten years ago, E-Trade, Fidelity and Charles Schwab were the main day trading apps. But the mass market consumer did not engage in day trading because it was not intuitive to the normal person. Robinhood created a very simple intuitive user experience to enable people to buy and sell stocks seamlessly.”
It’s an ambitious move, but there’s a clear script to borrow from. Over the past decade, Dave Portnoy has built a loyal audience of young men who come to Barstool Sports for a mix of everyman take on sports, hot girl shots and mobile gambling. At this point in the venture, now valued at $450 million, it’s impossible to separate the celebrity founder from the company he founded. “I think we separate things completely,” Paul says, referring to the fact that Portnoy’s main show is a podcast. “But I think there are definitely similarities in our brutality in our attitude to how we approach things.” (Like Portnoy, Paul has also denied allegations of sexual misconduct.)
As with his foray into boxing, Paul has his doubts when it comes to Betr. Matt Buchalter, an actuary by trade who runs the gambling consultancy Plus EV Analytics, points out what he calls the “churn problem.” While the house is always going to win, a higher betting rate means it will win a lot faster. “I don’t think people are going to scale things in their heads by betting a dollar of 50 because they are going to make 50 bets within a game,” Buchalter says. “They’re going to bet five or ten dollars, and they’re going to go bankrupt very quickly.”
The audience Paul sends to the Betr app is usually a few years younger than him, a problem that has caused problems before. In 2018, some followers accused him of promoting gambling for children by showing a site where users can pay $100 for mysterious items ranging from Converse sneakers to a Rolls-Royce. “By calling TikTok, they’re really saying, ‘We’re presenting this to really young people,'” said Lia Nower, director of the Center for Gambling Studies at Rutgers University. “What we know is that the younger people start gambling, the more likely they are to have a problem later on.” Levy denies that premise, saying the only way to build a business “that will last for the next 20 to 30 years” is by “really advocating responsible gambling and being incredibly focused on that.”
The game for a sports media empire is also a bit immature. The first YouTube episode of BS with Jake PaulBetr’s sports talk show began with co-host DCut’s prayer to be “better people” — cut short when the other co-host, Paul’s girlfriend, Julia Rose, pretended to harass him. On the phone, Paul described his views on: BS as a showcase “for the greatest athletes in the world in a short, condensed and easily digestible way for Gen-Z culture. Something easier to consume and understand than the super-hard sports fan.” But the 30-minute pilot largely follows the example of sports talk’s past: airing grievances followed by lengthy interviews with professionals such as UFC bantamweight Sean O’Malley and lightweight boxing champion Devin Haney.
As soon as Paul enters the formula for the BS show, there is reason to believe that Betr could gain some market share from both ESPN and DraftKings. Putting the star boxer in front of the camera and making users spend big on small bets is right in line with two of the dominant trends in sports media today: a push for active professionals to become talking heads and a full-blown pivot toward transferring money from fans through gambling. The $50 million in funding doesn’t hurt either.
Paul, who claims he turned down $40 million in sports betting approvals to start Betr, thinks the best reason to bet on his company is himself. “I am fully convinced that I will be the Jay-Z of this generation and that this will be a multibillion-dollar company — my first multi-billion dollar company,” he says. “This is what I love. I am a Capricorn; I was made to work.”