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Exclusive Q&A with Phillip Runyan, Founder & CEO of Hold Gaming

George Miller



Exclusive Q&A with Phillip Runyan, Founder & CEO of Hold Gaming
Reading Time: 4 minutes


Let’s begin with a few words about yourself. It’s always great to hear confident, top-class professionals say something about themselves.

I refer to myself as the Chief Executive Risk Taker – not just at the helm of Hold Gaming, but in my day-to-day life. I’m fairly certain my wife has another name for it. If it’s unorthodox, off the beaten path, or considered ‘mad’ then I’m likely to be drawn to it. I think that internal need to try things in a different way is what has helped me find success in work and my personal life.

You talk about Hold Gaming’s “deep roots in the Midwest, an area long overlooked for talent and great ideas” and the resultant “underdog mentality”. Could you elaborate on that?

I grew up in Toledo, OH and recently returned, as many do, to be closer to family. I would not say that we have an abundance of tech in my hometown but what we lack in volume we make up in chutzpah. Like many others, I left when I was younger to pursue a life I didn’t think the region could support. That has all changed. I live in a state where you can pay for your taxes in bitcoin and that’s leading the way in autonomous driving. When I’m asked where Hold Gaming is located and I reply with “Ohio,” I typically get, “oh… ok that’s great” and I can hear the inflection in their voice battle with the words they are saying. Ohio has this stigma of being rural and certainly not where a gaming company would setup shop.

You started your corporate career as the Marketing head at DoubleDown Interactive where you were in charge of bringing in customers through social media, online branding and CRM initiatives and had spectacular success. What would be your main advice to online marketers, especially in the gaming and gambling industry, regarding customer acquisition and retention?

I’d say I started my career in gaming at DoubleDown Interactive. My core skillset of the last (gasp!) 18 years has been in Online Marketing and many of the tools and processes I incorporated at DoubleDown stemmed from selling a lot of product via the internet.

I would say my best advice is to stay flexible and never hesitate to pull the plug on things that don’t work. All too often we want a product, platform, channel, creative, or a cohort to work so badly that we will throw good money after bad. Cut your losses, learn from your mistakes, and get back to the drawing board. Dare I say, fail fast but fail forward.

You founded Hold Gaming about a year back. How was the going so far? Any significant milestones?

The first year is always terrifying and exciting, simultaneously. We’ve accomplished a lot with a skeleton crew and minimal resources considering we are a startup trying to disrupt a multi-billion dollar industry here in the US. As for milestones, I’d say being the first competitive casino game for cash prizes on Apple’s App Store is massive.

Could you tell us more about Blackjack Fire, the game that you launched recently? Our readers would be curious to understand how the game is skill based rather than chance based, especially it is the first skill-based Blackjack game.

Blackjack Fire is our first release and is live in the App Store in both the US and Australia. The game allows two or more competitors to sit at their own table, with the same starting balance, the same amount of time to play their decks of cards, and the same min/max wager amount. As players win hands wagered, the won amounts convert to points on a leaderboard. Once both players have completed their timed challenge, the points are tallied and the winner of the challenge receives the prize. This can be either of virtual currency (which we call Fire Chips) or actual cash, which ranges in prize amounts from $1.00 to $100.00 USD. On top of that we have leagues where competitors can earn more cash or Fire Chip prizes at the end of the month.

Gaming industry is fast becoming a crowded sector, with a lot of new initiatives and innovations coming up a rapid pace. How do you plan to stand out in the crowd?

It feels like the industry is hyper focused on sportsbook or casino floor gaming. While I love the innovation coming out of our competitors, I still believe that the best way to stand out and grab some serious market share is to reach people on their time: at work, at home, waiting to pick up their child from school… at their convenience. We want to consume those time slots and with our burst gaming model, we’re finding that’s exactly what is happening.

Everybody talks about social gaming and incorporating blockchain technology. What are the possibilities of developing a sustainable, feasible and profitable business model that blends social media and blockchain technology into the gaming sector? Is it going to happen in the near future? Or has it already happened?

Honestly, I don’t know how blockchain fits in with social. The idea of doling out transaction fees for free-to-play games sounds expensive, especially when 95% of those (social casino) gamers aren’t payers. We look at blockchain as an opportunity to ease concerns over fairness and to allow each player to see what the other did during their challenge. It’s not at the top of our to-do list, but it’s definitely on there.

The gaming industry has undergone a change in the USA over the last one year or so since the US Supreme Court lifted the blanket ban on sports betting. Do you see the country now emerging as the global hub of sports betting and gaming?

I’ve been so heads-down on the US market, I could only fancy a guess. I don’t know if we’ll dethrone APAC, but we should be comfortable at the #2 spot.

NSoft at ICE2020

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