Following my first post on the Secret Betting Club last week, Stephen left a comment that in no uncertain terms, gave a view from a different perspective. He described the way the the SBC launched their premium service MGB Football last autumn as being "exploitation of a customer base". Certainly I have heard similar viewpoints elsewhere and I seem to remember in the time leading up to the launch there being a fairly feisty thread on the SBC forum that contained different viewpoints on the merits and otherwise of the launch.
"If any new service launches with a few months proofed results and charge £150 for a season, the SBC would never recommend it. They openly sold this product to their members knowing that they would have a very high take up rate based on the success of some of their other ventures.
What makes the Gekko product any different from any other system that launches at the start of a season? Simply, the difference is it is owned by the SBC and if you have the size of customer base that they have, why wouldn't you launch a new product to sell? Why couldn't Gekko have proofed his tips in the SBC forum this season? Why not sample it amongst 100 members free of charge if they wanted to check the impact on prices?
We're now being bombarded with emails regarding Black Lab which is another unproven, SBC sponsored product."
Well, I wanted this blog to be a place of debate, and this is the kind of comment to spark one (thankyou, Stephen). As a believer of the principle of 'right of reply', I asked the SBC if they wanted to respond. Here is what Mike (of the SBC) came back to me with:
"Thanks for the opportunity to respond to the comments left on your blog recently.
I think you’ve put up a balanced review from your perspective. It was interesting to read and see the comments associated with it. Reading some of the comments reminded me of what it can be like looking for hotels on Trip Advisor; even the best have a large number of positive reviews, but still a small number of unhappy customers. It just shows how a person’s view can vary based on their personal experience at the time (as you might expect).
Our model is not to be Trip Advisor, but to act as the independent expert so you don’t need to go through all the comments. We are not faultless, but have been operating in the field for long enough to feel we are well placed to convert this experience into selective, independent reviews.
We appreciate the positive responses from your commenters; it’s always interesting to read about individuals personal experiences.
We especially appreciate the positive comments about honesty and the recognition that we do not send affiliate emails or use affiliate links with tipsters. It may sound a small issue but we especially hate buying something then find you can emails from affiliates or associates about related products. We have a clear no affiliate policy and as you have recognised, we do not share, rent or swap email addresses with other firms. We get offers to do so all the time and indeed we could probably triple our bottom line if we were to do so, but it would not be right. The only reason I raise this is because there are a lot of things we don’t do which many in this field do such as list sharing, affiliate driven reviews etc and because we don’t highlight this much, members may not appreciate it. So thanks for raising this.
One comment was raised regarding accusations that SBC are tied into services and so are not the unbiased, independent body they claim to be;
Every now and then I have the same accusation levelled at us, to which I ask people to approach any tipster service or product we have reviewed and ask them honestly if we have ever asked for a commission, cut or slice of income for any review we have performed of them. You will find not one a service stating this is the case. What you might find are some people annoyed at us because we gave their service a bad review or didn’t jump on the affiliate program bandwagon like everyone else.
A while back there was a pirate forum ripping off some off the tips from some of the tipsters we monitor. We’re against such things so helped a few of the tipsters identify who might be behind it. Some of the users of this forum found out that we had helped out the tipsters and accused us of being in the tipsters’ pocket. The truth was that we got nothing from helping the tipsters here, we just saw it as unjust - We ended up suffering a fair amount of hassle, especially from the person running this forum. In terms of financial benefit to us, we certainly lost out with this when taking into account the time spent. There is nothing more frustrating than having a 100% independent standpoint, yet still be accused of being biased!
I shall respond to a couple of the specific points raised.
We operate a small number of premium services which subscribers can choose to subscribe to should they wish.
As you point out, we are very careful in this regard. As we’ve built up our reputation on trust and fair dealing, the last thing we would want to do is ruin our long term prospects in pursuit of short term gain through a duff product.
The premium services are clearly separated within our magazines from reviewed services and it’s something that maybe members have never appreciated, because we never highlight it, but we never compare our premium services to the services we proof to avoid a conflict of interest. E.g. we never say 4 Pronged Attack is better than X tipster. We also do not include premium services in our comparison tables for the same reason, despite the fact that two of them would rank very high. Members are free to download the individual spreadsheets for each for their own analysis. We also carefully ration the number of emails sent about premium services to around 2 per month. Right now, all three of the tipping services are closed to new members in any case. All premium services are proofed externally.
One comment refers to the Mr Gekko Bets which for the unaware is a new Premium service that we began back in August 2010 which utilises the Winabobatoo ratings (with full license) through which Mr Gekko had generated a profitable football system.
Without a doubt we made some mistakes with the communication of the launch of Mr Gekko. They are mistakes we have learned from, but do contend these were mistakes in communication rather than motives. We explained much of this on our forum at the time, but shall put our explanation forward again.
At the time, Mr Gekko Bets (MGB) had been shared with a key number of testers the season before its launch. At the time due to the fact it used the Winabobatoo ratings, we could not publicly proof selections because we did not have an agreement in place with Mike Lindley of Winabobatoo to do this at the time.
We weren’t conjuring MGB out of nowhere. The tips are based on the ratings from Winabobatoo which have been publicly available since 2007 with a proven record of beating the bookmakers. Our historical analysis showed the specific method developed worked in theory and our testing showed it worked in practice.
Our biggest mistake was assuming that all members would trust us to not try to present an untried and untested method to them. We thought that taking into account the reputation we had developed for honest reviews and the fact that our other two premium services had more than delivered in both results and customer service, that members would be receptive to MGB. MGB is only the 3rd major Premium tipping service we have launched in nearly 5 years of running the Secret Betting Club. Of the other two, the 4 Pronged Attack has maintained a 50%+ ROI since launch in 2009 and the Each Way Value system has averaged around 18% ROI each year since 2007.Taking this into account, the vast majority of members were welcoming of MGB, but a small minority took the view expressed by one of your commenters.
Since launch MGB has made a profit, though it is undeforming at the moment, this performance is still well within the historical long term variance according to our testing.
We decided to launch to members via a very limited number of subscriptions, which we kept to 50 members, despite demand far outstripping this. This was in order to observe the odds availability and liquidity in its first year of operation. If we were keen to exploit members we would not have imposed this limit. We could have easily filled 200 spaces at a higher cost, but we did not. What few people realise is that MGB is operated on a joint ventures split between Mr Gekko, Winabobatoo and ourselves so the subscription fees are divided up amongst the contributors. If we add up the number of hours spent on the analysis, the discussion pre and post launch and take our divided share of the revenue, we’d probably be in a break even position with the venture so far. That’s fine as our goals is to build a long-term successful service. Our intention for the 2010/11 season with Mr Gekko Bets was to start with 50 members, cover our basic costs and look to build up the service through its record for seasons to come. If we were keen to ‘exploit’ members, we would not have set things up this way.
In retrospect there are many things we could/ should have done with the MGB launch such as proofing on Winabobatoo’s own forum. We made the mistake of assuming that members are automatically willing to trust our judgement when it comes to proofing our own services. I do maintain though that these were errors in communication, not of motive.
Form Lab Black
One comment refers to our recent mention of the Form Lab Black and being ‘bombarded with emails’ and it being another ‘unproven SBC sponsored product’. I think this comment needs addressing.
What we have found in Form Lab Black is a very good looking product and there is potential for it to be a premium product. At this stage we have no commercial relationship with Bettor Logic, but we are looking for members to help us trial it for free via the 28 day free trial on offer for the software and we have encouraged open feedback on the forum. If the trial goes well, we may look at Form Lab becoming a premium product, but if feedback is poor then we will not take it forward.. We gain no affiliate commission from anyone taking up the product beyond the free trial. As mentioned in relation to MGB, we’re looking at the long term not short term potential here.
The ‘email bombardment’ amounts to two mentions within our weekly members Weekend Wager email and a reminder email this Thursday. This was about a free webinar that Black Lab Pro are running to help explain how the software works for those keen to utilise it. So beyond mentions in the regular weekly members email sent each week, there has been one solus email about the product. I do not feel this constitutes an email bombardment. "
Look, I've made no secret of my thoughts on the SBC. I have found them to be professional, helpful, and sincere, and I have been brought up to take people as I find them. Of course, no organisation is perfect, but what I like about Mike's response is the admission that a mistake was made regarding the communication of the launch. There's no burying of the head in sand here. It is an acknowledgement that given the time over again, maybe they would have done things slightly differently. To me, that shows a desire to put their customers first and is to be applauded.
I said last week that for an organisation such as the SBC to prosper in the long term, doing what they do, their integrity and honesty must reach the highest levels possible and most importantly, remain at that level on an ongoing basis. If such levels could not be maintained then their business model would be self-defeating.
The original poster, Mark, wanted to know if I would recommend he join the SBC and if so why. Well, Mark, yes I would recommend you join, the reason being that by doing so, you will become a better investor. Does there really need to be another reason?
Only two services tipped today. Calm before the Cheltenham storm, I suppose.
Chasemaster found a winner (Thunder Child - Taunton - 5/1) for a profit and PJA NH found two that finished in the frame from their three selections for a small loss.
PJA NH: Staked 2.5pts, -0.67pts.
Chasemaster: Staked 0.375pts, +0.375pts.
Financial profit on the racing of £9.10.
Monday 14th March: Staked £72.50, +£9.10.
Week to date: Staked £72.50, +£9.10.
Month to date: Staked £7,039.50, +£582.57, roi 8.27%.
Who's excited then? You know it's times like this that I realise that I am not a "natural" gambler. Yes, I'm really looking forward to watching Cheltenham. I have the time off work and will be in my element as a spectator. But, I also know that there is going to be some serious action amongst the various tipsters and there is real potential for big profits to be made or big losses to accrue. Quite frankly, I'm bricking it!