Sapar Karyagdyyev, Gamingtec CEO, talks to European Gaming about the growth of the company and shares his tips on how to start a business in the iGaming industry.
1. What made you interested in the iGaming field of entertainment?
I had already been working in the iGaming industry for five years when the idea for Gamingteс came about. We started the project in London, in 2013, as part of Offside Gaming. The problem we set out to solve was the slow speed at which new White Label projects were developed and launched. Most B2B companies relied on legacy technologies, which caused delays. It was obvious that only new technologies and a different resource setup could change the speed of the service and launch new projects more quickly. Our speed and efficiency has become our competitive advantage and we work hard to preserve it. We also rely heavily on our partners, as there are a number of tasks that need to be delivered on their side. Therefore, we usually only collaborate with companies that truly understand the iGaming industry and its challenges. Finding the right partner is a crucial part of the working process for us.
2. Can you give any tips to companies that want to start an iGaming business?
To build a fast-growing and profitable project, you should choose the target market very carefully. Realistically assess your capabilities and ensure that the marketing strategy is thought out properly. Choose the most appropriate strategy, according to the country and legislative system: traffic, sponsoring, flyers, TV ads, or even word of mouth.
Whilst developing your company, pay attention to the quality of the team and the company culture. Hiring qualified specialists and looking for enthusiasts that can develop the project is an ongoing process. You will need specialists that not only get the job done, but can offer smart and profitable solutions.
3. What service do you provide to your partners?
Every client and partner requires an individual approach. Sometimes, we provide full turnkey solutions and other times, selected services only. Gamingtec does not develop games or payments. Instead, we find companies that specialise in it and we integrate the best products into our platform. This, in turn, allows us to focus on our core speciality, which is high-quality turnkey product.
That is what we are really good at: we can find the right and the best products, put them together and offer the final solutions that work in the most effective way.
4. Could you describe your clients? Who are they?
Most of our clients are media companies with an access and experience in acquiring customers. By partnering with us, such companies receive tools and solutions that allow us to build a profitable business.
Less often, we work with large affiliate networks; companies that decided to start their own operator businesses. Most of the time, such clients do not take into account operating costs and fail to generate a profit. Our task is to explain all the nuances of operating the business, and the costs and risks involved, so they can implement these into their business model.
5. What do you think about innovations in the betting industry? Is cybersport as promising as many experts say?
Since the last shift towards live betting and faster markets, the sports betting industry has not changed much. This shift happened over five years ago and most of the products in the industry have been commoditised by now. There has been a notable shift in the source of innovation from product providers to operators, which I think, is partly explained by the lack of innovation from product providers. When you are operating in highly competitive conditions with very similar products, you have to find the innovation elsewhere in order to stay competitive and grow.
As for cybersport, I think this is just a new type of product to be offered to customers, in combination with everything else in the portfolio. I do not believe it will be a success on its own. The main audience is underage and, like any other responsible company, we have a duty to protect them from the exposure to gambling.
6. Is there anyone who has impressed you with their approach to business? Who is an example for you?
I really like Amazon’s approach. They work with third parties, until they develop a similar level of expertise and then launch their own versions. This approach allows them to offer clients a good level of service to start with and then they can take it to the next level by perfecting the process with an in-house solution. For instance, at the very beginning, goods from Amazon in the UK were delivered by Royal Mail. Gradually, the company built its own delivery system. The results are amazing: same-day delivery, weekend delivery and higher margins, perhaps.
7. What principles do you follow when developing Gamingtec?
I follow our code of conduct principles: celebrate diversity and create opportunities for all specialists, regardless of their age, gender, or nationality. In particular, during the last two years we have increased the number of female employees, from 10% to 36%. When we hire people, we look at their competences and skills, not their gender, or religion. However, age diversity is a challenge that we are yet to tackle.
When it comes to our offices, we try to facilitate teamwork and find channels of communication between employees. To build a cohesive team, we hold team-building activities. I really like the framework developed by Patrick Lencioni, which he describes in his book, ‘5 Dysfunctions of a team’. This framework enables employees to work through five distinct problematic areas: trust, conflict, commitment, accountability, and results. It is a never-ending process through which we strive to achieve transparent and honest communication. I believe that our company should be a place where employees trust each other, are open to discussions and debates, are ready to commit to decisions and assign responsibilities and, of course, accomplish significant goals for our company, as well.
Head of Brand at Marathonbet warns of gaming brands losing identity to drive news content
Ahead of his participation in the new Advertising and Marketing Conference stream at this year’s ICE VOX, Marathonbet’s Head of Brand, Dan Towse explores how gambling consumers are ‘programmed to be promiscuous’, why trust is essential for brands and where Love Island influencers fit into the betting ecosystem
Story telling is an important way for brands to build their profile – how can this discipline be used by the gambling industry and what’s gambling’s most powerful narrative?
Too many brands are becoming a news feed like ‘Sky Sports News’. Whilst I do believe there is a place for editorial content – I still feel there is too much. With the recent announcement of Zlatan Ibrahimović returning to Italy – six bookmakers posted the same announcement within 30 minutes of each other. I understand, not everyone will follow all these brands like me. However, when I swipe through my feed, I have the same story and/or a variation of the same article from multiple operators and news outlets. I would suggest that consumers follow gambling brands for gambling content.
Social platforms launched for people to connect with each other. Now we find ourselves in an age where the original core proposition is still retained but brands now have social very much part of the normalised channel mix – we have an environment where social channels are broadcast platforms and should be used accordingly; ensuring a blend of content and story telling which meets the brands objectives but appeals to its audience interests and why they engaged with you in the first instance.
How do you leverage the power of the brand when the gambling consumer is apparently so promiscuous – certainly in the online sector?
The audience is programmed to be promiscuous because of the environment in which the way the industry has evolved. Brand is much deeper than just the logo. It’s your product, UX/UI, Customer service, tone of voice – the list goes on. If bonus, offers and email all stopped tomorrow, you need to ensure everything else is still stacking up. We are fortunate at Marathonbet where we have sponsorship portfolio which includes Man City and Sevilla FC. Both recognised and established brands in world football – this gives us awareness, equity and assets which enable us to do more than a badging exercise.
The former CMO of Unilever said that ‘A brand without trust is a product’ – do you agree with that definition and how do gaming companies build/earn trust especially in terms of their social media marketing?
Naturally, they are in a very different space to us and it boils down how much value the consumer puts on a product and its use. Do I care what brand of dishcloth I purchase? Not really. Do I care what brand of toothpaste I use? Absolutely.
From a gaming perspective, it’s incredibly important – especially how saturated the market now is to ensure content is original and where required you build a conversation both in terms of engagement but also responding to customer queries in a timely manner. Consumers are savvier than I think the industry gives them credit for and to a degree, the need and want of today’s customer is probably further ahead than we are able to keep up with. However, (although it pains me to say) when it comes to social I believe a high percentage of audiences still see ‘followers’ as a key number to help establish a perceived trust because of a brands ‘popularity’.
In terms of social media marketing and the different dynamics across platforms, do you see more potential for brands to appeal to the female gambling demographic?
In short, yes. Naturally, you have defined casino and or bingo brands whose target audience is clearly female. Typically, across core platforms (Twitter, Facebook and Instagram) its more female dominated however, the consumption of social content varies – as such, social campaigns need to be developed accordingly. It’s no different to segmentation/messaging for other channels.
Gaming companies have form using high profile sports influencers/sponsors to drive their product, where do you see the place for micro-influencers alongside world-class football, boxing, esports stars?
They have a place but it links back to the trust element. I was asked a similar question at a forum earlier in the year. Whilst I agree there is a place for them – we have to be mindful that they need to be relevant. Chris Hughes (Coral) whose popularity came from Love Island already had a deep affinity with horse racing and therefore has opinion/stories which are relevant & credible. However, when other brands choose reality TV stars or influencers with reach, who clearly have no affinity to a sport and or an understanding of an event – it can come across as ‘forced’ and a freebie for the individual. In addition, I’d always question if their followers are the right target audience. Age? Possibly. Prospective gambling customers? Unlikely.
ICE VOX which is part of ICE London, the world’s biggest gaming technology event, comprises two days of comprehensive learning with streams entitled: Modernising Lotteries, Hospitality Technology, Marketing & Advertising, Cybercrime & Security, as well as the World Regulatory Briefing and the International Casino Conference. Dan Towse will form part of the Social Media & Influencer Marketing: Stuck in (low quality) traffic? session, alongside John Cole, Group Director – Brand Partnerships – Sport, Gambling and Alcohol, at LADbible Group, as part of the new Advertising and Marketing stream on the second day of this year’s conference (February 4, 2020).
Exclusive Q&A with Ian McDonnell CEO at Blexr
First up, tell us about yourself. It’s always great to hear successful entrepreneurs speak about themselves.
Mine is the classic affiliate story: in my final year of college in 2004, I started getting seriously into poker after winning €450 in a home game. Having been broke my entire student life, winning that amount of money in a night piqued my interest. I started to read a lot about poker, immersing myself in books, forums, and any other poker-related content I could find.
Soon after, I graduated from university and started my first job with a telecoms company, working in their web content department. At this point, I was playing online poker almost every day. After some initial struggles, I was earning more playing poker in the evenings than I was in my day job.
I was keen to travel while I was still young. Having saved up some money, I decided to quit my job to seek adventures overseas. At this point, I had enough of a bankroll to play poker full-time and sufficient money left in the bank for a return ticket, in case poker didn’t work out. I headed off to Asia with some friends and started my professional poker-playing journey.
The next three years went brilliantly. By 2008, I had travelled across Asia and moved from low-stakes to high-stakes games.
I was also getting an amazing rakeback deal from the poker site I played on. The manager signed me up to their affiliate programme and told me to offer the same deal to my poker network. Not long after, I had 20-30 of my poker friends on the same deal and got a 5% cut of their action.
Most of my poker network were professional players, so 5% of their rake added up to a pretty significant amount. That then got me interested in the business side of poker, and it was from there that I found affiliation and immersed myself in online marketing in the same way I had previously done with poker.
I had very strong links with several members of the close-knit Irish poker community and regularly chatted with a gentleman who went by the name of “roadsweeper”. After we got talking about building a website together, we decided to try our hands at the online marketing game.
When roadsweeper (or Paudie, as he’s better known these days) and I started working together, affiliation went from a part-time hobby to a full-time job. Our first site was dedicated to our shared passion – poker – and we had immediate success, reaching four-figure earnings in our first few months. Soon after, we made our first foray into casino, and sports betting followed not long after that.
While I’m wearing the hat of CEO, Blexr is very much a partnership. Our success to date would not have been possible without Paudie’s positive energy, work ethic, and sense of humour, as well as his superhuman ability to put up with my pig-headedness. He was also the driving force behind the eventual creation of Blexr in 2015.
It has been four years since Blexr started. What were the ideas and circumstances behind founding it?
At the start of 2015, I was in China and Paudie was in Ireland. We were running 10-20 websites, and had freelancers spread across the world managing everything from design to dev to content.
Back then, we assumed every affiliate was running a similar operation to our own, and that everybody was running a “two guys in a garage” type of setup. On receiving an invite to a private affiliate event in Punta Cana, our eyes were opened when we learned that several of the super affiliates in attendance ran “real” companies with offices, staff, and the rest of the things you’d expect in a normal business.
That led to discussions on centralising operations. We went on to do some research on the various gaming hubs around the world and finally settled on Malta as the home for Blexr.
The company is going great, judging from the awards you get. What is the secret of maintaining freshness and motivation even after four years?
That’s a great question. While Blexr opened its doors four years ago, we’ve actually been working together since 2008.
Our motivations have changed a lot over the years. Initially, the main motivation was money. When you have bills to pay, you need to have a viable business that can cover your living costs. Luckily, things went well from the very beginning, so we never had financial worries.
Once you reach a certain level of financial success, money becomes much less of a motivating factor. Nowadays, there are other aspects of running a company that are far more important to us.
The first is our focus on building great products, something that is part of Blexr’s mission. Being part of a team that works on products users love is highly motivating.
Secondly, developing and growing a company culture is both fun and challenging. It can be an emotional rollercoaster at times, but ultimately it’s very rewarding.
Blexr has reputably earned a standing in the lead generation, especially in the gaming and casino verticals. Tell us about some of your innovations in the digital marketing arena.
All of Blexr’s success is a result of the hard work and dedication of the 100 or so individuals that make up our team of teams. Our growth and constant evolution and innovation is a result of their creativity, dedication, and commitment. Malta often gets a bad reputation when it comes to the quality of talent on the island; we’re fortunate to be blessed with some of the smartest and hardest-working people in the industry.
When it comes to innovation, at the moment we’re putting a lot of focus on big data. We’re working on a number of different projects that aim to provide a personalised gaming experience for our users. We’re also exploring different ways to discover what users want to then tailor our products to their needs.
Since you are into the business of bringing customers to the gaming and gambling websites, you must be in a great position to judge what customers really need. Could you specify a couple of things that customers really need or want, but not available at present in the gambling industry?
I think the big thing that customers in gaming want is trust and transparency, which is often lacking in the industry. Transparency is something we really care about at Blexr. It’s one of the core values of the company, and it’s also part of our mission statement when it comes to how we approach our products and our users.
The digital marketing space keeps on evolving. There was once Google’s near monopoly. Then Facebook arrived. Now, a host of new social media upstarts threaten to disrupt the digital marketing space every other day. How do you keep calm and generate leads amidst such fast-paced evolution?
The affiliate industry and SEO have changed a lot over the past ten years. The methods we used to rank websites a decade ago would have your website penalised for life if you tried them today.
It’s always important to look towards the future. What way is SEO going? What sites are ranking well these days and why? What other channels can be used to generate leads apart from SEO? We try to keep one eye on the future at all times, to ensure that we’re building sites and products that will stand the test of time.
You bring leads from all over the world. What are the steps that you take to ensure legal compliance, as the rules on gambling practically change from country to country – even from state to state in many countries?
We have fantastic commercial and content teams with dedicated people managing compliance across our network of sites. We are in regular contact with all our partners to ensure our sites are always up to date and aligned with current regulations.
Now you have an office in Barcelona as well, apart from the headquarters in Malta. Any plans to expand further, especially to the USA and Asia?
Right now, we’re focused on our two offices in Malta and Barcelona. As the regulatory landscape changes in the US, Asia, and other markets, we may look to strategically set up offices in those locations. However, for now, our priorities are Malta and Barcelona.
”In an increasingly digitised world, engaging customers with action-packed content and a tailored user experience has never been more important.”
With the industry’s leading supplier of bespoke data and picture content set to close 2019 on a record-breaking high, we caught up with Business Development Director Peter Woodfine to talk success, innovation and their plans for 2020.
Can you tell us a bit about Vermantia and what you do?
Vermantia is a one-stop-shop for retail and online, whether that be for bespoke data and picture content, or our next-generation delivery solutions and self-service betting ecosystem.
We understand that all operators and their customers are different and require a bespoke approach tailored to their individual locality and culture, and we do exactly that. As one of the industry’s largest broadcasters, we broadcast thousands of live events each year, complemented by a comprehensive portfolio of virtual games. All of that content is available 24/7, allowing us to provide operators in any corner of the world with the thrill of racing and sports. We deliver regardless of time zone, offering the very latest in technology to power the betting experience.
Your European operations have gone from strength-to-strength in recent years, what would you say have been the keys to your success?
In an increasingly digitised world, engaging customers with action-packed content and a tailored user experience has never been more important. We strive to offer our operator partners, such as OPAP, Lottomatica and Eurobet, a future-proofed betting environment, ensuring they attract the latest generation of tech savvy customers as well as retain their existing base.
While Europe in general is a mature market, and quick to adopt new industry trends, we are also mindful to ensure variations between countries are taken into account. Betting content needs to be round the clock, suitable for any location and customisable for any regional market. In total, we now broadcast more than 90,000 premium live racing and 35,000 live sporting events annually to meet demand, as well as an ever-widening range of virtual and next generation games. Gathered on our unique CONNECT platform and distributed via our ultra-low latency streaming or through satellite broadcasting, we’re able to harness the latest in technology and deliver a bespoke service to everyone we work with.
A particularly good example of this has been our recent work in Italy. With the Palinsesto Complementare offering international horse racing content for the first time, our recent deals with major Italian operators will see the adoption of our A-TV horse racing channel, making us the first supplier in Italy to offer top quality international live horse racing from some of the best tracks in the world.
Do European markets require a bespoke approach? How do you aim to deliver tailor-made products with clients so diversely spread across different verticals and different countries?
We take pride in listening to what our operator partners require and adapting accordingly. There is no one size fits all and it is important to be flexible. What may work in one region, may not work in another. A fully localised approach to regional challenges is essential, giving access to the best of both content and technology.
For instance, an operator in Romania is going to have different requirements and infrastructure to a brand servicing the UK. As a result, we offer either satellite broadcast or streaming to deliver our top-quality content.
We also provide our services in a user-friendly way wherever operators and their customers find themselves, ensuring a bespoke presentation for each. The principle reason we do this is to give operators choice. We appreciate there are local requirements in every territory, and we make sure operators can access a specific content mix that suits their needs. With bet markets, scheduling and their entire layout adapted to their own customers in any format required, we’ve got every base covered.
Looking ahead to 2020 – where does Vermantia aim to be this time next year?
Our aim is to continue cementing our position as the industry’s leading supplier of bespoke data and picture content as well as the industry’s largest broadcaster of bespoke betting channels.
We’ll be rolling out a host of next generation retail solutions to help operators cater for an increasingly tech-savvy generation of customers who demand a better in-shop betting experience. As part of our vision for retail, our latest FLAVOR suite of terminals offers a first-hand look into this futuristic, land-based environment. Bundled with our premium content as well as the latest in cashless and mobile payment options, they represent the final piece of our end-to-end retail solution. Enabling us to blend the speed and efficiency of futuristic devices with the thrill of top-quality betting content in a cashless betting environment, 2020 will no doubt prove to be a very exciting year.
A lot has been said recently about the future of the European retail scene – how do you think the betting experience will evolve over the coming years? What do you think will change?
While retail has been for too long the poor relation of online when it comes to innovation, I believe it has an exciting future in Europe. For the first time in the industry, advances in tech now mean that we can provide our partners with a genuine digitised retail experience.
We’ve already noticed a significant transformation in customer expectations, and this will no doubt grow over the coming years. Action-packed, fast paced content married with quality data and the next generation of self-service betting solutions will have a major say in how this is shaped. This is already playing out in real time: from content to technology, our operator partners are drawing in a far broader customer base to betting shops than ever before.
Key to this is our ability to produce and deliver live sports and racing channels tailored to suit each locality, ensuring increased player engagement. Alongside, we’re able to transform their approach to the customer experience, enabling our partners to take full control of their live betting offering thanks to our latest in content management and production technology.
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