The apparently simple concept of providing an online facility for two people to bet against each other has been the cornerstone of Britain's fastest growing media company.
Betfair was founded just six years ago by Edward Wray and Andrew Black and has seen its annual revenues increase from £480,000 in 2001 to £107m in 2005, with a loss of £2m in its first year transformed into an operating profit of £22m in the same period.
The company, based in Hammersmith, west London, and Stevenage, expects this summer's World Cup to generate at least £300m in bets, from which it will take between 2 and 5 per cent of net winnings.
Betfair, which has 800 employees, including in Australia and Ireland, is at the head of the Media Momentum top 50 fastest-growing UK media companies, an annual league table published by the technology investment bank GP Bullhound, with Barclays and Olswang.
The table is based on growth in sales between 2002 and 2004; companies are then asked to demonstrate their "exceptional growth potential" by making a presentation to the Media Momentum panel in the style of TV shows such as Dragon's Den and Pop Idol.
The judging panel included Seb Bishop, who in 1999 co-founded Espotting Media, the online advertising specialist, and sold the company in 2004 to Miva for $170m. George Coelho from Benchmark Capital, the venture capital backer of eBay, is another judge.
The Top 50 companies collectively grew their revenues from £158m in 2002 to a staggering £596m in 2004. Not surprisingly since last year's event, there has been a spate of acquisitions by traditional media companies of digital media assets. News Corp spent well over $1bn on internet acquisitions in the second half of 2005. Google also recently announced plans to raise $2bn to take its war chest of cash to more than $10bn (£5.7bn).
GROWTH POTENTIAL - THE FIVE BEST COMPANIES
REVENUE GROWTH % 2002-04: 996
MEDIA MOMENTUM RANKING: 6
SECTOR: online betting exchange
DESCRIPTION: Betfair pioneered the concept of the online betting exchange. With cutting-edge technology, Betfair enables punters to choose their own odds and bet against each other, even after an event has started. It processes 5 million transactions a day and more than 300 bets a second.
Launched in 2000, Betfair is a debt-free company and its annual revenues have recently broken through £100m. A privately owned company, its largest shareholders are Andrew Black and Edward Wray, the co-founders. Earlier this year Betfair was valued at over £1.5bn when it sold 23 per cent of its shares to Softbank, the Japanese technology group.
REVENUE GROWTH % 2002-04: 3,659
MEDIA MOMENTUM RANKING: 1
SECTOR: search engine marketing
DESCRIPTION: Formerly Corporem Global, Latitude was formed in 2001 as one of the UK's first search engine marketing firms. According to Nielsen NetRatings, Europe alone has nearly 100 million search engine users.
From only six staff and £100,000 in sales in 2001, the company has grown to become one of the UK's leading search engine marketing agencies. Latitude now has nearly 70 search engine marketing staff working in three offices. The company's turnover for 2005 was £18.8m, and enables clients such as Alliance and Leicester, Auto Direct and Ocean Finance to rank in the best possible positions on the search results page.
COMPANY: Vibrant Media
REVENUE GROWTH % 2002-04: 346
MEDIA MOMENTUM RANKING: 9 SECTOR: online advertising
DESCRIPTION: Founded in 2000 by Doug Stevenson and Craig Gooding, two former AOL executives, Vibrant Media has been one of the pioneers of contextual online search.
With offices in San Francisco, London and New York, Vibrant Media enables its international network of web publishers to optimise the value of their content by harnessing its "intelligent" advertising technology. In an increasingly cluttered cyberspace, Vibrant has launched two products that enable clients such as Universal McCann, Microsoft and NEC to communicate with their customers when they're most likely to be interested in purchasing their products.
COMPANY: Inspired Broadcast Networks
REVENUE GROWTH % 2002-04: 2,833
MEDIA MOMENTUM RANKING: 2
DESCRIPTION: Provides software and platforms for server-based entertainment, betting and gaming.
Inspired provides software and content to more than 30,000 pay-to-play networked terminals in pubs, shops, licensed betting offices, bingo halls and casinos in the UK and abroad. Inspired provides consumers with a range of pop music, retail, entertainment, betting and gaming services. Fixed odd betting terminals managed by Inspired achieve more than £10m in bets a day. Inspired also supplies virtual events to the betting community generating more than £1bn in annual turnover for the industry.
COMPANY: Sit-Up TV
REVENUE GROWTH % 2002-04: 261
MEDIA MOMENTUM RANKING: 25
SECTOR: TV retailing
DESCRIPTION: Since 2000 Sit-up TV has pioneered retail TV channels in the UK. The channels comprise of bid tv - the world's first auction channel - and price-drop tv, the world's first falling price auction channel.
The company attracts more than 5 million viewers a month and has almost 3 million paying customers. Last May sit-up TV was wholly acquired by its then-majority shareholder Telewest Global (through its wholly owned subsidiary Screenshop), in a deal that valued the company at more than £194m.