Beyond the Biz | David Yu

10 December 2008

Midway through a telephone interview with David Yu, he paused and said, “These are really random questions, I must admit.”

Fortunately he stayed the course, much like he has at Betfair, where after four years of duty he climbed to the top of the ranks to become chief executive of one of the largest betting exchanges in the world.

Ranked No. 18 out of 50 top agenda setters last year by (right above Satoru Iwata, the chief executive of Nintendo Company Ltd.), Mr. Yu has taken his tech background -- he holds an M.S. in computer science from Stanford University -- and more than a decade's worth of online experience to the forefront of the I-gaming industry.

So, when this veteran from the early days of dot-com asked us to make him sound “somewhat intelligent” after discussing YouTube videos and his first-ever job in junior high, we knew he was just teasing.

You've been the C.E.O. of Betfair for almost three years ... give me a high point of your time.

    I really enjoy the job. I can honestly say that I enjoy coming to work every day. I think that's because it's a great business, and we've got a terrific team here. It's very challenging, which really makes it quite enjoyable.

A low point?

    Not really. Any kind of challenges and frustrations that we get . . . over a longer time horizon actually you realize that they are not bad at all. Obviously I think the biggest frustration in this role and in this industry has to do with just a lot of the regulatory volatility.

What did you do before you were in the I-gaming industry?

    I've been involved in the Internet space for quite a while. First, I had worked as a consultant back in the early 90's with some very early Internet companies such as Prodigy, and then later worked for a variety of startups. And before joining Betfair, I was working for a company called Alta Vista, which was a business that had search and e-commerce.

    So, I've been doing Internet and technology for quite some time. That's the bulk of my career.

Tell me about the first job you ever had?

    The first job I ever had . . . gosh . . . it must've been when I was in junior high, and I was working as a software programmer that was reviewing some programs written in Basic and fixing them.

Wow. That's a pretty intense job for a junior high student.

    It was a long time ago. It was fun for a junior high kid to get access to computers and to work on something. It was quite enjoyable. It sort of sent me in a way on an interesting career of technology.

What will you do after you're out of the gaming Industry?

    I think immediately afterward it would be to take a nice, long break. Having spent coming up on seven years at Betfair, it's been pretty full on for that seven years. I'd like to take a break a little while after that. Beyond that, I would remain in high tech in some way, certainly in consumer products businesses, certainly technology related, most likely Internet-related.

What do you do when you're not working?

    (Laughs.) Probably what most people do -- try to relax. I try to travel a bit, and I enjoy photography -- I try to combine the two if possible. I recently bought a house, so I spend a fair amount of time dealing with that, as you can imagine.

Do you have a favorite holiday? Favorite time of the year?

    In terms of time of year, I tend to like the autumn and the lead-up to Christmas. In terms of places, I like California because I grew up there. In terms of cities, I like New York, I like San Francisco. I've traveled a lot through Europe. I spent a couple very nice holidays this year there -- one in Italy and one in France.

Where did you grow up in California?

    I grew up in Silicon Valley, actually, right there in the Bay area.

Well, that makes sense that your first job was on a computer.

    I grew up there before it was Silicon Valley, before it became sort of the tech center and a very expensive place to live. I lived in Southern California for a bit, and I would say one thing I don't miss about California is that there aren't earthquakes in the U.K., which is quite nice.

What's the best gift you've ever given?

    (Laughs.) I guess you'd have to ask the person getting it to see if they actually agree.

Ever received?

    My wife gets me interesting gifts every year. So, last year she got me a terrific photography trip where it would be one where I'd actually go somewhere in France and photograph there with people from National Geographic or instructors and so on. It was a terrific gift. And she never let me forget that I actually didn't go because of work. I really wanted to go; I just didn't actually get to do it. But that was nice for my 40th birthday gift.

What's the last thing you Googled?

    Let me see if I can have a look here -- actually, I was looking for a supermarket because my wife asked me to pick up some things on the way home tonight for a dinner party. I was just pulling up a map.

What's the last thing you watched on YouTube? Or how about the most interesting thing?

    The most interesting thing I saw -- it was pretty popular -- it was a video of one of those African safari parks of sort this buffalo verses lion verses crocodile.

Oh yeah, I saw that one.

    That one is fantastic.

    Actually, the last thing I probably watched on YouTube was some “Saturday Night Live” skits and parodies of the recent elections. I think that was the most recent thing.

Since you have spent a lot of time working online, can you tell me what you've found to be the scariest place on the Internet?

    It's sort of an interesting one. I think that when you look at some of these sites that are out there that are huge and can be huge timesinks when you think about productivity and the amount of time that we spend on them. I mean, I know that it's very easy to spend a lot of time on these sites, and you realize what we were doing before the Internet and before people could spend hours a day looking up videos or looking up news or connecting with friends. From a timesink standpoint, I think it's quite interesting, and it's interesting how people will spend their leisure time going forward.

You've done a bit of traveling lately. Can you tell me about your last plane ride?

    Well, I just got back from Las Vegas. I just arrived yesterday. It was a nice flight -- I slept most of the way back actually.

What's the longest flight you've ever taken?

    Certainly going down to Australia from the U.K. is quite a long trip, it's about 24 hours. I'm heading down to Australia next week. It can be a bit depressing that you can fly for 12 to 14 hours and then realize that you still have an eight-to-10-hour flight ahead of you.

If you had to throw away one gadget, what would it be?

    That's an interesting question. Um, I don't know if this counts, but I'd throw away my mobile phone but keep my Blackberry. I have a mobile, a Blackberry and an iPhone as well. So, I should try to consolidate a bit.

    For business work, I prefer the Blackberry; it's a little easier to do e-mails on. It depends on how you look at it: Some people would view it as an electronic leash, but I think it's actually a good tool because it means you can be out of the office and still sort of be connected and maintain communications with the office or others. Contrary to what other people think, I believe it actually gives me more free time than it takes away. I don't know if my wife would agree.

What's your favorite iPhone application?

    I think the iPhone Web browser is probably the best application in the sense that it is really a reliable Web browser versus a lot of other mobile devices where the browsers are a bit hit or miss.

Where do you get your news?

    Online predominantly. I will look at sites like CNN or the BBC for general world news,, or TechCrunch for more technology-centric news, and then various sports sites like Yahoo Sports and ESPN for sports-related content.

Give me a few words to describe the current global economic climate.

    I think it's very scary and uncertain. It feels like consumers haven't really seen the worst of it yet, and I think the worst is still to come. It's a bit unsettling.

Jeanette Kozlowski is a staff writer for IGamingNews and manager of Clarion Gaming's Gaming Industry Media portal. She lives in Kirkwood, Mo.