A few words on the tragic death last May of John Delaney, the founder and CEO of prediction market company Intrade. John died near the peak of Mount Everest, climbing toward one of his life’s dreams and leaving behind a wife and three children, including one born only days before he died that he never met.

John founded Tradesports, a pre-cursor to Intrade, in 2000. Eventually, the non-sports contracts on Tradesports where spun off as Intrade, and Tradesports was shut down in 2008, in hopes of obtaining U.S. regulatory approval. I remember marveling at the technology, featuring ajax-ian magic like push updates — new bids appeared and filled bids disappeared live in a flash of color — well before its time, before we even knew what to call it.

The prediction market community embraced John, and John them. John was happy to take academics’ quixotic market ideas — like combinatorial markets, decision markets, merger markets, tax markets, or search engine markets — and float them on Tradesports or Intrade, and share back data for academic studies. I remember when we learned a Director at Intrade would speak at the first Prediction Markets Summit in 2005, we were thrilled to hear from a pioneer and innovator: one of the “big guns”. Chris Hibbert asked, “isn’t Tradesports the largest prediction market in the world?” It was hard to say: in a way, yes, it was and still is the largest market widely identified with the adjective ‘prediction’, but of course it depends how you define it: does Betfair count? Vegas? Stock options? If I recall, John himself spoke remotely at the second PM summit in New York.

Intrade became the prototypical example of a prediction market, mentioned in almost every academic paper on the subject. In 2008, Betfair, a goliath to Intrade’s David in terms of revenue and profit, got so annoyed they lashed out and sent the following attack on Intrade and defense of their own service dubbed Betfair Predicts (now shuttered):

InTrade’s election charts are republished frequently—despite continuing
problems with market manipulation.

Betfair is the world’s largest commercial prediction market with $33
Billion per year flowing through its exchange and is well known for
integrity and advanced technology…

I don’t believe I met John in person, but he and I emailed a bit, and beyond being whip smart and a fantastic entrepreneur, John was simply an incredibly nice guy. He kept repeating, at the end of nearly every email, that I must come to London so we could meet and have a beer. Talking to others, it seems I am far from alone in this standing offer from John. On the original prediction market mailing list, John Delaney was always the peacemaker: always diplomatic and rising about some surprisingly testy exchanges. He always spoke to raise the prominence of the field as a whole, ahead of his own interests with Intrade, not only believing but acting on his belief that “a rising tide lifts all boats”.

John didn’t seem like the type to seek out risk for the simple thrill of it; rather, he took calculated risks in business and life to progress. His success at work and at home attest to this. In hindsight, it’s easy to say he calculated wrong in attempting to climb Everest, but especially among prediction market proponents we know that decisions cannot be evaluated in hindsight. Decisions must be judged based on the information available at the time the decision is made. My guess is that John knew the risks and felt the climb was a gamble worth taking in an effort to achieve a long-standing goal and to accomplish a feat few others on the planet can claim.

John, you will be sorely missed, but your legacy lives on at Intrade, in the prediction market community, among your family and friends, and in the business world, sadly and suddenly now missing one of it’s great entrepreneurs with a spirit of adventure.

11 Responses to “On Intrade CEO John Delaney’s death”

  1. alex says:

    Well done. Nicely said.

    ~alex

  2. Dan Laffan says:

    David,

    On behalf of the entire Intrade team, I would like to thank you sincerely for so fairly and warmly remembering our founder and friend.

    Everybody at Intrade feels an honored duty to propel Intrade forwards. We hope the entire prediction market community will continue the Intrade journey with us as we strive to improve, experiment, and pioneer.

    Very best,

    Dan Laffan
    Interim CEO, Intrade

  3. Very nicely written, David. I think you really captured what it was like to speak with and work with John; he will be missed.

  4. @Dan, thanks so much for the kind words and for leading the way forward at Intrade: I wish you all the best of luck.

    @alex and @Jed: thanks, much appreciated.

  5. Jason Ruspini says:

    I had the same experience with John. He was always very friendly and helpful. It is a triple tragedy that a couple pieces of misinformation clouded the circumstances of his death.

  6. @Jason: thanks. Were the details in the stories I linked to incorrect? I didn’t know about the misinformation.

  7. Chris Masse says:

    When I die, I want the doctor Pennock to write my ob. Then, I am sure only the good things will be highlighted.

    On InTrade: All the economists blogging about their prediction markets never mentioned the numerous disputes about the non-sport contracts (North Korean Missile, Closure of Gitmo, Departure of Hosni Mubarak, US Debt Ceiling, etc. etc. etc. etc.).

    On John Delaney’s death: He did something very risky (climbing the top of the mount Everest) for his own pleasure, and he left a widow and a bunch of orphans. His personality raised red flags in the past.

    Disclosure: I am not an investor in prediction market companies, contrary to some lauding commentors above.

    http://www.midasoracle.org/2011/08/08/john-delaneys-obituary/

  8. Paul Kane says:

    David -

    Thanks for this piece, and I had the pleasure of meeting John Delaney circa 2000-2001 while doing venture investing in Ireland. He was one of the “good guys” indeed, a rarity it seems among today’s global business community.

    I wondered, do you know who took over the reins at InTrade after John? Feel free to email me. – - Paul

  9. Paul: Sure, glad it resonated and thanks for your comment and your impressions of John Delaney. No, I’m not sure who is the new CEO but it might be Carl Wolfenden? carl.wolfenden-AT-intrade.com http://www.intrade.net/faq/aboutUs.faces

  10. Related article: Robin Hanson asks on OvercomingBias why we mandate bicycle helmets but scarcely regulate mountain climbing, feeling it’s because the former is low status and the later is high status.

    http://www.overcomingbias.com/2011/05/status-and-glory.html

  11. gsgs says:

    I found this with search-engine. Now intrade has closed and Delaney being accused
    of transferring customer money illegally to his (controlled?) account.
    And we hear no details about this from either side. Secrecy …
    How does that fit the image that was painted here, what might he have wanted
    to use that money for ? expanding intrade ? invest in something and pay back later ?
    hard to believe that he just “stole” it.

    Who will continue this ? Maybe by buying the intrade software and building on the concept
    that was so much praised for over a decade. Should it die now ?

    I would appreciate if Dan Laffan or Carl Wolfenden could say something.

    gsgs

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