There are dozens of inspirational stories out there about
entrepreneurs who turned a small idea or a struggling family
business into a multi million dollar success story. But Denise
Coates’ journey has it all. The woman behind one of the world’s
leading online betting companies started out working from a portable
cabin stationed in the parking lot beside her father’s traditional
Made of money
Today, she is the richest woman in the UK, with an estimated net
worth in the region of $12 billion. As a woman operating in what is
still a male-dominated industry, and one who bore the early burden
of the “boss’s daughter” tag when she was starting out, her life is
packed with incredible stories. Here, we have distilled six lessons
that any entrepreneur would do well to take to heart.
Sometimes you’ve got to gamble
It sounds trite given the sector in which Bet365 operates, but the
fact is the business would not exist today if Denise had not taken
an enormous gamble. In 2000, the internet was just starting to take
shape. Denise was 33 years old and had been Managing Director of
Provincial Racing, a bookmaker business owned by her father, for
She was convinced that online betting represented the future and
that investing then and there would pay dividends, so she bought the
bet365.com domain name and took out a £10 million loan to get the
business off the ground, using the entire chain of betting shops as
collateral. She later acknowledged: “we were the ultimate gamblers,”
but the bet paid off. In taking out that loan, and registering that
domain, Denise Coates took the first steps in creating one of the
online gambling companies in the UK.
We’ve mentioned that Denise was the boss’s daughter. Her father,
Peter, was a self-made entrepreneur, albeit on a smaller scale than
his daughter would become and was himself from humble beginnings. He
was one of 14 children and his father was a miner who struggled to
keep his family above the poverty line.
Peter flirted with a career as a professional soccer player, turning
out a handful of times for
Stoke City. However, his entrepreneurial flair was stronger than
his athletic ability. He set up a succession of businesses,
including a catering company, a radio station and, of course, that
chain of betting shops that would be so pivotal later.
It pays to study
Denise left school with an average set of qualifications. She was
capable, but she was no academic genius. After school, she started
working in one of her father’s betting shops, processing customer
wagers. That could so easily have been the end of the story.
However, Denise wanted to be able to take a more active role in the
family business, so she enrolled at nearby Sheffield University and
spent the next three years studying for a
degree in econometrics. It meant that when she graduated, she
was able to help direct the overall strategic direction the business
was taking. Her father was not the sort of man to give his daughter
special treatment, but it soon became obvious that she was one of
the brightest people on the team, and by the age of 28 she was
Show your passion
Stoke City has always been pivotal to Denise Coates’ life, and that
of her family. In fact, three generations have grown up watching the
team, and Denise’s own children make a fourth. In 2006, Bet 365
purchased the club, and the ground where they play is now known as
Bet 365 Stadium.
Make no mistake, this was no vanity project. It also helped
establish Bet 365 as a real tangible company, one that is actively
involved in the real world and that shares its customers’ passions.
That’s an important thing to achieve, and is not always easy in
today’s online world.
You’ve got to put in the hours
Every entrepreneur knows that it takes hard work and long hours to
make a business work. But when Denise Coates shifted the focus away
from physical storefronts and bet everything on cyberspace, that
fact came into sharp focus.
In the online world, time operates differently. There is no place
for traditional office hours for staff, and customers expect you to
be open for business and responsive 24/7. Denise learned that the
hard way and spent long days and nights in that tiny mobile office.
There’s no place like home
Let’s not romanticize it, Stoke of Trent is neither the most
salubrious nor the wealthiest place in the UK. The
industrial town still shows plenty of clues as to its past, but
its future is less clear. Yet for Denise Coates, Stoke is home, and
she still lives just outside the city to this day. Her father Peter
is chairman of Stoke City, and her husband Richard is the club’s
Director. Denise is also closely involved in a number of
philanthropic projects in the local area.
Denise could easily move to Monte Carlo or the Hollywood Hills, and
live surrounded by other billionaire families. But Stoke was
instrumental in making her father a success story and in her
becoming the most successful businesswoman in the country. Wanting
to give something back is one thing, but also ask yourself this –
why break a winning formula? We can’t wait to see what the next
Coates generation will achieve!