Chris Holbrook tells us what's next for the Free Postcode Lottery after Zeal's £1m backing
When the Free Postcode Lottery (FPL) revealed back in early February that it had received a £1m investment from one of the continent’s biggest lottery operators, it completed a remarkable journey for its founder, Chris Holbrook.
On the surface a niche concern, the website has become something of a British success story, attracting more visitors than the likes of the National Lottery and Ticketmaster and garnering a huge following of dedicated daily players on Facebook.
The investment from Zeal Network SE, the London-based group which runs a number of B2C lottery games in Germany and Spain, was a far cry from the site’s humble beginnings as a side project to complement Holbrook’s day job as a web developer.
While cycling to work one morning (he couldn’t afford the Tube fare at this point) a passing comment on the radio mentioning a ‘postcode lottery’ planted the seed for FPL, a lottery funded by advertising revenue that plucks a registered user’s postcode out of a hat.
However, things didn’t progress immediately. Chris shelved the idea for a few years before the shock of turning 32 finally forced his hand, the existential crisis pushing him to reconsider his long-term life prospects and so FPL was born.
Taking inspiration from Alex Tew’s legendary Million Dollar Webpage which allowed advertisers to buy one pixel-worth of advertising space for $1, Holbrook’s vision was for a free, ad-funded postcode lottery that neatly scaled with the uptick in visitor numbers.
The idea seemed simple enough, but that’s not to say that he still didn’t have his doubts, as he admits: “When I started I was primarily thinking is this a good idea or is it not a good idea? Could this work or could it not work? In my head I was thinking yeah it kind of makes sense if I can get enough people.”
“A lot of successes are in the right place in the right time. The conditions were there to allow it to flourish.”
Three years of running the website on the side with early adopters drawn from his friendship group eventually saw the website take off, helped immeasurably by mentions and endorsements from competitions and deal websites, including UK star MoneySavingExpert.
As the site really started to come into its own, and with the number of visitors skyrocketing, Chris was able to quit his day job and focus on the site full time.
Holbrook, rather modestly, credits this organic success to being in the right place at the right place at the right time, as well as the credibility that comes from an endorsement by such a UK household name: “A lot of successes are in the right place in the right time. The conditions were there to allow it to flourish. Another real driver was that we’ve had a lot of support from other websites.
“Most notably MoneySavingExpert, who started telling their users about the site in early 2014 and very regularly tell their users whenever we raise the prize money they get behind it and put us in the newsletter.
“They’ve really helped us grow our userbase and also give us that seal of credibility. If they’re talking about it then obviously it’s trustworthy or much more likely to be trustworthy.”
“They stop, have a break, have a bit of cake and check Free Postcode Lottery. I had no idea that people would actually enjoy the daily experience.”
This element of trustworthiness has been a big hurdle for the site to overcome; put simply, the wider public are naturally sceptical about the prospect of a free lottery and convincing them otherwise has been a big part of FPL’s battle to win over users.
At the same time, however, the site’s style and design is a masterclass in unfussy web design and homespun British charm. Chris likens it to a comfy pair of slippers and it is that sense of comfort and approachability that has fuelled user growth and swelled its number of Facebook likes to over 61,000.
This too has come as something of a surprise for Chris, with his loyal legion of players both returning every day and acting as advocates for the brand who quell any fears that FPL is anything but what it is says it is.
“I’ve had it described to me as their coffee and cake moment,” he says. “They stop, have a break, have a bit of cake and check Free Postcode Lottery. I had no idea that people would actually enjoy the daily experience.”
From its homely British beginnings, the FPL and its growing stable of other free lottery games is now setting its sights on global expansion, fuelled by its Zeal Investments backing.
“I thought if I was lucky I could get a little bit of beer money out of it, and for the first three years I was getting a bit of beer money out of it.”
Chris is targeting maximum UK saturation for FPL as part of the company’s 20/20 Vision plan - 20% of the entire UK adult population, equating to 13.5m, accessing the site daily by 2020 with top prizes of £20,000 on offer.
Outside of the FPL, the company has launched two further daily lotteries, with a third in the pipeline, which are open to anyone in the world.
The snappily titled, Win A Dinner, which gives users the chance to win dining vouchers from chains such as Nando’s, and the Freemoji Lottery, which asks users to pick their five favourite emojis, have both launched recently as part of FPL’s global expansion plans.
Uptake has been swift and Chris has an ambitious target of one billion global players with cash pots in the tens of millions of pounds across its various lottery games in the coming years.
Big talk from such a modest man, but with little to no regulatory hurdles for free lottery games as opposed to traditional lotteries and FPL’s already loyal legion of fans, it might not be such an unattainable target in the grand scheme.
Chris himself still seems stunned by the rapid, organic growth of FPL in the last few years, but his story should certainly provide inspiration for anyone longingly eyeing up a passion project that could provide them with an escape route from the drudgery of their day job.
“I had no idea it was going to be this big,” reflects Chris. “I thought if I was lucky I could get a little bit of beer money out of it, and for the first three years I was getting a bit of beer money out of it.
“But now I’m getting living money out of it.”