Who is Rich Wheeler?
In college, I was a frustrated architect, turned civil engineer. I realized while application of math and science to real world problems held some interest, civil engineering was not for me. So, I ended up pursuing a career in management consulting and found that whole process of working in teams and with customers to help solve business problems really interesting. After 12 years with Accenture, I was ready for a new challenge and joined a small boutique consultancy in London – the Berkeley Partnership – and found myself in the Lottery Industry for the first time. One of my first clients was Camelot, the UK’s National Lottery operator. I loved the company and found the work interesting to the extent I went to work for Camelot full-time and led their early stage expansion into the U.S. market in 2009. That’s when I moved my family to California, and we’ve called The Golden State home since then. In 2014, I joined IGT where I was responsible for all of their Lottery business across 12 states, which gave me great insight into the day-to-day operations of Lottery operations and technology. I’ve always been fairly entrepreneurial, and that experience was really the foundation for starting Lottery Now and figuring out how to think differently about the problems I saw Lotteries facing.
What’s the story behind Lottery Now?
After working with vendors and operators for some time, it seemed there was a real opportunity to address some key pain points the industry had been mulling over for years. Lottery is a $90 billion business in the U.S. alone, and Lotteries globally have been wrestling with the problem of declining playership over time, struggling to attract younger, more affluent demographics who typically do not identify or engage with Lottery brands. The research is clear: the single biggest barrier in getting most people to play more regularly is convenience. It seems bizarre in 2021 that it’s not possible in most states to order a $2 Powerball ticket on your phone. I can buy a car, chewing gum, pretty much anything you can imagine via an app, so why not a Lottery ticket? While many Lotteries would like to sell online directly, the reality is it’s proven difficult for them to move as fast as they might like because there are so many constraints, barriers and various constituencies with opinions on what is appropriate for responsible growth and distribution. I realized that a new way of thinking about connecting consumers to Lottery retailers, under a completely different business model, could help overcome these roadblocks. Our app, Mido Lotto, is a digital courier service for ordering Lottery tickets. We often describe ourselves as Instacart for Lottery, and that is a pretty good analogy except the tickets are effectively digitized in the app, which aside from improving the convenience of getting a ticket, means no more lost tickets or forgetting to check your numbers or claim a prize. After launching in California last year Mido Lotto now has hundreds of thousands of users across multiple states and over 15,000 5-star reviews in the app store.
What was the most difficult part of your experience in the early beginnings?
We faced a lot of challenges when starting out. In particular, this is a new business model for the industry, and we operate in what is still a largely unregulated environment in most states where we’re available. That means what we do was not contemplated when the regulatory framework to launch the Lottery in each state was developed. So, our services are legal but not well understood by everyone, which has made things take a lot longer than expected. For example, when we began running ads on Facebook they were blocked for being gambling ads. They asked us for a gambling license to run the ads, which we don’t have. In fact, there isn’t one available for what we do. So it’s taken a lot of work and communication with the compliance teams at our various partners to get the business up and running and scaling.
What are you most proud of regarding your business?
I’m really proud of being part of the team that’s figured out how to take an idea to market, prove that the business model works and, at the end of the day, seeing such great feedback from our users who love the service we provide. After working in a big company environment for my entire career, I’ve learned nothing comes easy in a start-up context, and the only way to figure out those problems is to have that mindset of being persistent enough to eventually figure out an answer and surrounding yourself with great people to maximize your chances of success.
What is your vision for the future of Lottery Now?
We absolutely see ourselves as a catalyst for transforming how consumers engage with Lottery. Lottery is a sector that hasn’t changed much since inception in most states in terms of how the product is sold and marketed to users. It’s still predominantly a cash at the corner store type business, and it’s very hard to reach new audiences when you’re not adapting to the way they shop and engage with brands over time. That applies to any business. Lotteries all over the U.S. have been trying for years to figure out ways to attract new players, as opposed to relying on the same people spending more money, and increasing returns for their beneficiaries in a responsible way. We believe this begins with digital convenience and understanding how to engage different audiences through direct channels.
What’s your advice for the businesses that are trying to adapt to this economic climate?
The timing of Mido Lotto’s launch right before the pandemic was a complete coincidence, but one of those situations where our business model was providing a service that absolutely met a changing consumer need – i.e. get your lottery tickets from the safety and comfort of home without making a trip to the store. It’s perhaps obvious given what we’ve been through, but being adaptable enough to reassess growth opportunities, reconfiguring business models and figuring out how to take the value that you offer online has been critical. Additionally, being extra mindful with allocation of capital. While all companies have an eye on conserving capital, times like this present an opportunity to take some targeted, well considered risks if the opportunities are there.
Please name a few technologies which have the greatest impact on your business.
I doubt we could have gotten where we are without the ability to deploy and maintain software quickly, easily and without significant capital investment. To that end, cloud based services such as AWS have been a complete game changer in the ability for an early stage company like ours to get to market and support the kind of growth we needed to show. Additionally, with working practices changing so drastically over the last 18 months, working remotely has presented some challenges – as it has for nearly everyone. We have missed that atmosphere of all being together in one room to figure things out with three people and a whiteboard. To that end, collaboration tools and software have become ever important in working effectively as a team.
What books do you have on your nightstand?
I’m a bit of a secret science nut, and I’m currently midway through a great book called “Why Does E=mc2?” It might sound strange, but I’ve never thought about how that famous equation came to be. The book is extremely well written for most people like me who benefit from careful explanation of abstract concepts. I’m also an avid golfer and just finished a book called “Dream Golf,” which is the story of how Mike Kaiser, an entrepreneur from Chicago, conceived and built Bandon Dunes on the Oregon coast when everyone else thought he was crazy. I’ve been lucky enough to make it Bandon a couple of times, and it’s safe to say he was right!
Because of the current economic climate our publication has started a series of discussions with professional individuals meant to engage our readers with relevant companies and their representatives in order to discuss their involvement, what challenges they have had in the past and what they are looking forward to in the future. This sequence aims to present a series of experiences, recent developments, changes and downsides in terms of their business areas, as well as their goals, values, career history, the high-impact success outcomes and achievements.