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Exclusive Interview with George Shamugia, Singular’s CEO

George Miller

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Exclusive Interview with George Shamugia, Singular's CEO
Reading Time: 7 minutes

 

Could you briefly narrate the story of Singular, from its beginning in 2009 in Tbilisi to its present state as a global gaming technology provider?

The story of Singular started back in December 2009 in Tbilisi, Georgia when it was officially formed as a company by two longtime friends (friends, since high school) George Shamugia and Akaki Meladze. Initially, Singular was involved in social gaming and during the course of 2010 – 2011 has produced several popular mass scale social games. During the second half of 2011, Singular did few social games (Dice Poker, Fantasy Football) for the local online gambling operator Adjarabet. During that time Adjarabet had just started their online operations. Soon they became the leading Georgian casino operator, and Singular played a huge role in this.

This was the first exposure to iGaming for Singular. We instantly saw a big opportunity for us in the iGaming field and in 2012 fully pivoted to iGaming. Singular’s experience in Social Gaming field empowered the company to swiftly enter the iGaming field and provide a truly outstanding solution, which was innovative and forward-looking. Since then Singular has developed bespoke iGaming platform, Sports-betting platform, Poker, and some casino and live casino content.

During the next few years (till the end of 2014) Adjarabet fully migrated to Singular’s solutions across all verticals: iGaming platform, SportsBetting, P2P games including poker, casino and live casino content.
In 2013 Singular opened its first office outside Georgia, in Skopje Macedonia. The decision was mostly dictated by the rapidly growing demand for Singular’s products. At the end of 2014 Darko Gacov, who was previously heading Adjarabet’s online operations, from day one, joined Singular as one of the partners. In 2015 Singular moved its HQ to Malta and exhibited for the first time on ICE London. 2015 is the year when Singular started the expansion of its client base and soon it had clients across every single continent covering the regulated markets for online gambling.
Throughout the years, innovation has always been our focus, and at the end of 2018, this was recognized by the Venture capital fund – Vereeni Investments. Singular joined Vereeni Investments’ newly unveiled €100 million tech fund ‘Level Up’ which focuses on innovative companies within the fintech, media, iGaming, business intelligence, software development, crypto and blockchain verticals. This has initiated a number of growth plans which have the potential to further expand Singular’s presence, not only geographically, but also in new industry directions.

Singular provides the full spectrum of iGaming and land-based technology solutions to gaming companies, ranging from the front-end website through the games to CRM and back-end features. Could you share a couple of success stories of gaming companies that use Singular’s platform and services?

There are few examples that can be mentioned here, but one solid example is Adjarabet, the Georgian operator which, having being fueled solely by Singular’s technology, became the fastest growing online gaming company on a global level and dominated the local market. We empowered their transition from retail to online by successful digitalization of their brick and mortar roulettes and streaming them online – a bridge for players trust.
This year, Adjarabet was acquired by Paddy Power Betfair who want to prolong the utilization of Singular’s platform for several coming years thanks to the continuous innovation of the
solutions and our tailored approach for each operator which only confirms our dedication to helping our partners grow.

There is a buzz in the industry about the new sportsbook that Singular is developing. It is tipped to be the most innovative of its kind. Could you tell us more about it? When is the launch scheduled?

In September this year, we are planning to release a completely new sports-book which was engineered from scratch and will set a new standard for sports-betting in the iGaming Industry. The product is the result of long and thorough research of the market with a high focus on changing players’ demands. Also, we believe that these shifts in demand provide lots of opportunities to change their experience as well. This release is our attempt to redefine what Sports-betting platform should look like and offer in terms of functionality.
Our new sports-book will take user experience to the next level with some bold moves, with in-play first approach, a platform that automatically adapts to each player’s needs and gives them personalized game experience, based on their activities and interaction patterns with the platform.

Your development centers are located at Skopje and Tbilisi – not, for instance, London, California or Malta. Was it a deliberate decision to stick with the supposedly offbeat locations? What are its pros and cons, if any?

When we started the Singular Story our goal was not only building a successful business but contributing towards building a more robust software community in our home country. Making a decision to start a company far from the innovation hubs bear its own risks, especially when your goal is to compete on a global scale. But, I think those are the decisions that make the journey worthwhile. You’d be surprised how skillful and ambitious talent pool these “offbeat” locations have. So, everything started in Tbilisi, Georgia where our first development base was opened and where today we have a strong and innovative team of engineers. Also, the development base in Skopje, Macedonia tackles all sports-book related development and innovation processes. Opening office in Macedonia for us was a straightforward decision. First, Macedonia offers a good pool of highly qualified backend java engineers. Second, the
fact that Darko Gacov, one of our partners, is from Macedonia gave Singular easy access to that market. The latest addition to our development bases is Tallinn, Estonia, which is one of the tech hubs of Europe. For this reason, finding top-notch software engineers there is easy.

Malta is the place where Singular is headquartered, and all the Singulars processes and activities are governed. The reason behind the opening HQ in Malta is simple – Malta is almost like the Silicon Valley for iGaming industry. It goes without saying that every single iGaming company must have some sort of presence in Malta.
San Francisco base, which is also a new addition to our team, works solely on a new iGaming product which will primarily target the US market only and initially will be launched as F2P (free to play).
On the cons side, having distributed teams across several locations with time zone differences requires a lot of effort to keep everyone in sync.

Could you tell us more about the regulated markets that have Singular’s footprint? What are your strategies to tackle vastly different and constantly changing legislations even across Europe?

Let me name a few markets: Europe, Nigeria from the African Continent and recently regulated LATAM market. We have quite frequent release cycles for almost every product, which makes it easy for us to adjust to new regulations almost instantly. The strategy we have in place to tackle vastly different and constantly changing legislation lays deep within the architecture of our platforms. Our solutions have modular architecture on the granular level, almost every aspect and functionality of them is fully configurable. In other words, every single module is a standalone service and fully configurable. This allows us to adjust and be compatible with almost every jurisdiction out there. It’s true that this kind of architecture requires more time and resources during the development time, but its flexibility fully pays off during operations. Almost no two deployments of our platform look the same thanks to the highly configurable nature. This does not only allow us to tackle different regulations required by different markets but also enables us to deliver a fully customizable and flexible platform to our clients. Ultimately, this helps our clients to stand out from the competition.

The USA and, to a lesser extent, Japan are the happening places at the moment for the sports betting service providers, especially the US Supreme Court’s verdict on PASPA Act. How do you see these developments and the role of Singular on these markets?

At this moment our primary focus is on the U.S market. It will be quite a challenging market because of its nature and will require a lot of innovation and leading-edge approaches. Good thing is that we, at Singular, love challenges while challenging markets and innovation is in our DNA.
At this moment, every single Sports-betting solution provider out there tries to directly launch their existing solutions in the U.S. In our opinion, this is a huge mistake because all the existing solutions are primarily focused on Europe. The U.S. is a totally different market and requires a tailored approach. The U.S. users’ demands and expectations in terms of the sports-betting experience totally varies from what we have in Europe or even in Africa or Asia. That is why we took a different approach for the U.S market and currently are in the process of developing new product tailored for the U.S. market. The launch is planned at the end of this year or beginning of next year.

Singular has been nominated for two categories in recently held Malta’s iGaming Excellence Awards 2019: Best iGaming Online Product of the Year and Best Gaming Online Betting Platform of the Year. What are awards and recognitions that have come by in your a decade-old journey?

We aim to continuously roll out new engaging features. We are simultaneously addressing our clients’ specific requirements, but we are also proactively innovating the solution. The nominations and awards are the cherry on the top. In addition to the nominations for Malta’s iGaming Excellence Awards 2019, our solutions have been nominated in four categories for the EGR B2B Awards 2019:

  • Sportsbook platform supplier
  • Innovation in sports betting software
  • Live casino supplier
  • Sports betting supplier

In the past 4 years, Singular’s Gaming Platform, Sports-book Solution and the Live Casino have been repeatedly nominated in number of categories by SBC Awards, EGR, G2E Asia and others. We feel extremely proud and grateful to receive recognition from the top authorities from the industry for all the hard work, year after year.

Finally, look at your crystal ball and tell us about the future! What is your take on the direction in which the industry grows, in the light of frequently emerging disruptive technologies? And what are the new products and services that Singular is going to launch?

Big data and Machine Learning is a science by itself and it is no wonder that more and more companies start referring to data as “the new oil”. It simply creates vast opportunities not only for player personalization and targeted marketing but also for discovering trends and patterns that were not visible before. If someone does it right, they will have a significant edge over their competition and it will not take long for this to have an operational effect. If you have a platform that can collect, process and package the data in relevant information and of course personnel that can interpret the data in a strategic and operational capacity for different departments, it has the potential to directly affect the success of the company.

As mentioned before, this September we plan to roll out our new Sports-betting solution. This release will be an inaugural step of an innovation process across the entire product portfolio. Through leveraging big-data and machine learning, we aim to create personalized player journey at a higher level. Also, at the end of this year, we plan to launch out U.S. centric F2P iGaming product.

We started designing the concept back in 2013 with the ultimate goal to empower operators with opportunities to offer each player a unique experience. We have a lot of modules and services that provide tools that enable this, starting with our segmentation engine, and continuing with our CRM. This approach also spreads across the rest of Singular’s products like sports-book and casino integrations, so that personalized experience is also applicable to the content delivery. However, segmentation and personalization are not “one-time – we did it” thing. It is perpetual work in the direction of improving the approach and experimenting with new and better technologies, constantly.

George Miller started his career in content marketing and has started working as an Editor/Content Manager for our company in 2016. George has acquired many experiences when it comes to interviews and newsworthy content becoming Head of Content in 2017. He is responsible for the news being shared on multiple websites that are part of the European Gaming Media Network.

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Interviews

“Impressive is a synonym for efficient” – An exclusive interview with Iryna Kurochkina, Founder & CEO of Digital Choo (DC)

Niji Narayan

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In this photo: Iryna Kurochkina, Founder & CEO of Digital Choo (DC)
Reading Time: 6 minutes

 

We managed to catch up with Iryna Kurochkina, Founder & CEO of Digital Choo (DC) for an in detail interview about digital marketing and the creative work behind it.

EG: Let’s begin with a few words about Digital Choo. How did the idea of Digital Choo as a digital marketing company evolve? Who were your first clients? Any interesting stories about the company’s early years? What does the name Digital Choo signify?

Iryna: Looking back at Digital Choo’s first year and compared with what has been accomplished, I am extremely satisfied with our progress. The idea has been growing with 10 key team members for the last couple of years and was conceived from the remnants of some standardized marketing practices that are arcane and unsurprising. We wanted to create, amaze and showcase unique features that would not just inspire but also bring exponentially great results to a client’s business.

The agency’s name makes you think of digital, but it doesn’t indicate our primary direction. We are not only digital; we are a full-range marketing agency, unlimited in our capabilities. But of course, digital is the primary performance media channel of our focus. Our approach fits perfectly with one of our first clients, Parimatch. Other clients supported it too, and the agency grew from 10 people to well over 200 – all of them with the same spark in their eyes and inspiration for unconventionality.

EG: You seem to invest a lot of time and effort in attending conferences. How do you approach conferences? Could you offer any tips to those who are new in the field? What are the things that a participant should do to get maximum leverage out of conferences?

 

Iryna: Conferences always provide the best opportunities for practice exchanges. They expand our breadth of knowledge through interactions between Product Owners and Service Providers in the gaming industry. This provides a greater understanding of the current capabilities from industry representatives who understand the existing barriers and expanding them through meaningful collaboration. This it is important to DC, as we never rest on our laurels. We are continually working on future trends within the industry and immediately turning them into a general market for customer demand.

The same could be recommended to others – newbies and those who have been in the field for a long time. Productive communication is the key to the development of individual units and the industry as a whole – it’s a synergic process, one that is not possible without the other. To get the maximum from every event, define the most important ones for the development of your business, invest maximum effort in them, and expand gradually.

EG: DC has won a number of awards recently, especially creative awards. Which of these are the most satisfying to receive? How do you handle the pressure of maintaining such high benchmarks in subsequent campaigns?

Iryna: Each award is a win and we don’t get tired of winning. Of course, we are really proud of the international recognition received. Just this year we were named Best Marketing Services Provider by Betting Awards. Last year we received an Effie Award for providing business efficiency to our local clients. International and local awards are important as they confirm our efficiency and pre-eminence not only on a global scale but also within individual countries that have their own distinctive peculiarities.

In regards to stress, I believe it all depends on how you see it. For us, high benchmarks are the average, something that we strive for on a daily basis, which is our starting point. Taking it to another level, we raise the bar by creating trends, not following them. That develops undue pressure which is the norm, a source of inspiration.

EG: DC operates in a number of countries across continents, Europe, North America, and Africa, offering services to betting and gaming companies. The legal frameworks and regulations regarding betting and gaming vary substantially across countries. Isn’t it a challenge to unleash the creativity, while keeping a close eye on the legal aspects? What are your strategies to handle this?

Iryna: It’s like life, everything is very simple. If you can’t make a difference, change yourself and your perception. In fact, in our business, adaptation is a key tactical tool used within the gaming industry. You cannot change regulations that are constantly changing but you can adapt. You can adapt your product to be responsive to these changes in the shortest of possible terms, you cannot avoid or increase the online or offline frontiers but you can create unique ways to break through the clatter of these frontiers by thinking outside the box and observe the performance in your results.

By taking a fresh approach, we strive for the best and brightest solutions. It is the primary approach of every one of our teams and is integrated into our company when providing services to every one of our clients.

EG: The betting and gaming industries are crowded places with a number of companies operating in each segment. What are the primary yardsticks or criteria that you use for making a particular brand stand out among the crowd?

Iryna: In our time, emotion has become a kind of cult and has already turned into one of the fundamental drivers of success for many businesses that have been gradually introduced into each industry. The bolder the clients, the more efficient are the agencies that are not afraid to accept their challenges. In other words, always be ready to make the impossible possible, and do not just use your expertise with rational persuasion factors and logical arguments on customers.

We try to inspire clients with our ideas and deeds and they often come to us just for this emotion. To us, “bucking” the old stereotypes and not proving every new unique decision that in the current world of transformation of the consumer is what works and brings them multiple results. Moreover, this concerns not only creative solutions but also the methods of implementation and distribution, formats and methods of media distribution and delivery to the consumer. We continue to develop this trend. These are the primary tools of self-measurement, to be out of the box.

EG: It is one thing creating amazingly impressive marketing campaigns for a brand and it is another thing bringing in revenue for the brand. these factors may not always go hand in hand. Could you share a particular case where both aspects went exactly as planned?

Iryna: In my opinion impressive is a synonym for efficient.

For example, let’s take a look at our rebranding campaign, the last one we made for our client Parimatch. We had to find a new spirit of true Parimatch customers and develop new communication language with them in order to grow the brand from an online bookmaker to a lifestyle platform for the courageous. Utilizing research and possessing a deep understanding of Parimatch’ typical customers. We have known that in order to create a new concept that is relevant for them it is imperative that their perception of themselves be; bold, adaptive and bright as they are.

The information field is saturated, the audience has become more “muscular”, it is more demanding on the visual presentation of brands.

You need to instill and introduce strong core beliefs into them, and then like a great designer using bead after bead to string up different WOW chips; enriched with non-standard shooting techniques, visual trends, and high-quality sound.

 

The business goal was to attract the correct audience, to strengthen the connection with the core of the existing one, and eventually to grow profits. To see this connection, you have to look at any task strategically, in the long term. To me, there’s no other way to work. if you want the business to succeed, you have to gain true synergy from a combination of ‘impressive’ and ‘profitable’.

So, returning to the question, if you want to see cases where both aspects have gone exactly as planned, there are plenty on our website.

EG: In several countries, for example, in the UK, advertising watchdogs are increasingly tightening the screws on betting and gaming advertising, especially concerning the impact of these ads on children and problem gamblers. What is your take on this?

Iryna: I believe that bans and creating a stigma on communications regarding these issues won’t solve them. The Forbidden fruit is sweet and never enough.

Let’s consider a TV series for example. It’s a popular, accessible, and joyful product. It’s totally fine as a way to spend your free time occasionally. But binge-watching can become real trouble and harm people’s daily lives, jobs, sometimes even families. Does this mean we have to ban all TV series? The more logical and productive decision is to communicate the risks of binge-watching and promote shows as an entertainment hobby.

This approach applies well on betting and gambling as well. The real question always lies in the area of adequate perception and open discussions. Bans may cause a rise in unhealthy interest towards the industry, while legalization, on the contrary, will promote responsible gaming, introducing it as a totally acceptable hobby.

EG: Finally, let us talk about the future. Any big announcements coming up? How do you see DC developing in the next few years?

Iryna: After the last few years and our ambitious start, we have devoted ourselves to more rapid development. It is our primary driver. There are a lot of plans: it’s like the widening of the DC holding structure as a whole, its expanding by many digital innovation departments, as well as the introduction of new initiatives by our team, both in the scope of branded content projects and media platforms, which will be relevant within a couple of quarters.

We are already working on the next innovative trends of the industry and immediately turning it into a general market for customer demand.

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Interviews

Exclusive Interview with Andrei Andronic (Playson)

Vlad Poptamas

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Reading Time: 3 minutes

 

European Gaming caught up with Playson’s Andrei Andronic who talks European expansion, regulated markets, and why the ever-evolving nature of compliance is the perfect partner for innovation and a stepping stone to opportunity.

 

European Gaming: Is increased compliance and stricter regulation stifling innovation in betting and gaming, or should it be seen as an opportunity for more creative solutions?

Andrei Andronic (AA): It really depends on how one sees and understands compliance and regulations. Personally, I am of the opinion that the days when compliance was considered a constraint on a business’ development or innovation are now gone and this view is quite outdated.

For a business to thrive in an industry where regulations are evolving at such a pace, the key to success is flexibility. Though some companies see compliance as something that needs to be weathered, the pace setters view them as an opportunity to prosper. To reap the rewards of industry developments, companies must adapt.

With more countries regulating and competition intensifying, operators are under more pressure than ever to secure an advantage. Companies should be able to adapt deftly and swiftly, meaning the evolution of compliance, regulation and the industry as a whole should be welcomed as an opportunity to flourish.

European Gaming: What are the particular challenges for operators and suppliers in Central and Eastern Europe at the moment?

AA: At the moment, operators face significant challenges. The regulatory regimes are so dynamic that it is a real struggle to keep up with new and ever-changing requirements or occasionally completely new licensing regimes. These processes can take years and be a very busy period for compliance specialists. With the lack of homogeny in Central and Eastern European regions, what works in one area is completely different in another. Playson recently secured a Class II Licence from the Romanian regulators (ONJN), a licence I had been working on right from the start, and one that meant a lot with Romania being my home country. Yet, even knowing the gambling infrastructure well, the process still took a long time, and inevitably would be a completely different experience if you compared it to other regulations.

Operators are also scrutinised more by the relevant authorities than suppliers, but on the other hand, suppliers face more legal challenges. Though the competition in these markets, especially in relation to compliance, can be used as a unique tool to gain an advantage.

Many companies are embracing and implementing compliance as potential boost to their success in Central and Eastern Europe as it mitigates the risk of regulatory actions. Ultimately it presents a company as solid, reliable and trustworthy partner.

European Gaming: What products and services are Playson putting in place to ensure they are both innovative and compliant at the same time?

AA: Our development/engineering, product and integration teams are doing a fantastic job and always creating interesting and unique products. We target regulated markets and ensure technical compliance with the help of our test lab.

When facilitating the evolution of compliance, innovation is an inherent by-product of staying ahead of the curve. At Playson, we are constantly training, be it in-house or utlisiing external workshops. All of our employees are kept up to date on the latest levels of compliance. There’s a truly cohesive structure here at Playson whereby those in all divisions are kept abreast of any changes in compliance, and training sessions can be suggested by any department in house to make sure we observe any updates to the social responsibility aspects and other regulatory requirements imposed to us through our licensing conditions.

European Gaming: How important are Central and Eastern European markets to Playson?

AA: Central and Eastern Europe is a big focus for us at the moment and we have made some prominent commercial advances into these areas over recent months. It’s a market that collectively we have a wealth of experience dealing with, and that as company, we see a huge amount of potential in. We’ve enhanced our position in markets such as Lithuania, Latvia, Italy with partnership deals and we recently obtained a Class II Romanian license by the ONJN.

These partnerships are not only a fantastic opportunity for us to have our games released to as many players as possible, but with each new market we enter we acquire more knowledge about regulations and territories. This makes us greater equipped to dealing with possible issues in a variety of regions should they arise, and ultimately makes us a more robust potential commercial partner.

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Interviews

Hyperion playing hard for a win-win all round

George Miller

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Hyperion playing hard for a win-win all round
Stav Zilbershtein, CEO and founder, Hyperion
Reading Time: 2 minutes

 

Stav Zilbershtein will be unveiling Hyperion’s new iGaming integrations team shortly and as a sneak preview of what the industry can expect from this pioneering development the phrase ‘creating powerful technology driven solutions’, gives a pretty good idea of where Zilbershtein is heading.

Hyperion is launching the iGaming integrations team – what is the service about and how does it benefit brands and platform providers?
We realised that many platform providers are constantly being approached by their clients with integration requirements. These can range from implementing game providers to payment providers and other custom 3rd party services. Most platform providers don’t want to occupy their core technology team with such requests because they are not setup to support their clients in the form of an agency. On the other hand, the reality is so that platform providers that can’t cooperate with the requirements of their clients and cannot provide them with the freedom and flexibility that they need will lose their clients. This is where our team comes into play. We allow platform providers to partner with us and leave this particular type of work to the Hyperion iGaming integrations team. This is a win win for all platform providers in the industry and for their clients.

How successful is it proving to be?
It feels like the most natural step for us. Being based strongly in the iGaming sphere we developed the expertise through our experience in the past years. For platform providers that don’t have such custom services unit it makes total sense and we get highly positive responses. Partnerships form fast and without much effort. For brands that we come across that are new or in the process of fast growth we see it as the fastest and most economically efficient solution.

What can brands achieve from working with the Hyperion integrations team?
No matter which platform provider the brand is based on, we can always assist with integrations of any 3rd party solution that the platform supports. Some brands have ideas for various mobile or web based apps and all of those visions require a fast agile provider that can manifest these apps in reality. With the knowledge and experience we have accumulated in the iGaming niche it is the path of least resistance for any fast growing brand.

Who do you look to partner with moving forward?
We constantly talk to all active big and small platform providers. From casino and game providers to sports betting platform providers, sports data providers and payment providers. If your solution is not mentioned on our iGaming integrations page we strongly invite you to contact us and establish a partnership with Hyperion. It’s a win win from all sides.

What do you aim to achieve this year with the integrations team?
We want to enable the flexibility to create powerful technology driven solutions to all brands and all clients of the popular platform providers. This year the market is getting much more sophisticated than what it used to be and only those that will be able to drive strong technological based solutions to their players will survive. We are here to enable that to any brand that realises that reality.

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