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Exclusive Q&A with Ivan Montik, Founder of SoftSwiss

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Exclusive Q&A with Ivan Montik, Founder of SoftSwissb
Reading Time: 9 minutes

 

Let’s begin with something about yourself. Our readers enjoy reading top technocrats’ version about themselves.

Technology has always been among my top interests. I got my first PC at school after taking the decision to sell my piano, and I knew it was the right decision. I tried to get as much out of it as possible and started learning the basics of programming on my own which then led me to studying Information Technology at the Belarussian State University. However, I found business just as fascinating as high tech, so I decided to combine both. I studied management and finance and got a Masters Degree in Economics.  That was followed by several years of corporate management in a bank, certain experience in oil trading, and a leading position in a large mass media project. And then I was fit for starting something on my own, something which involved IT. 

When I look back at those years and at all the jobs I did I realize that none of that was done in vain. These were small steps towards my present self: business owner and company CEO, but also investor in various sectors beyond IT and fin tech. Making a successful business opens up many opportunities and brings you to many interesting people with their ideas and projects, and you have enough experience to evaluate their chance for success. I invest into projects which are especially close to my heart and which I know have social importance,  and then I enjoy seeing them grow.  I have also reached the point where I can afford to support non-commercial projects and I’m thankful to have this opportunity to participate in social projects and charity. 

 

What were the circumstances under which you entered the gaming sector?

I founded SoftSwiss in 2009 and, as many other IT companies in Belarus, we started with outsourcing.  We developed custom software for different industries. In my home country, the number of talented software engineers is bigger than anywhere else, so we managed to create a really strong team and set up the right processes to deliver great projects to the clients, and at some point, I realized that we had got enough experience to do our own thing. So we launched our first product-online auction software, which further developed into a separate business and became the basis for our current fintech direction. And then we thought about gaming, although none of us had any prior experience with it. We knew it required complex technology, and we knew we had enough technical skills and expertise, so we took that risk. What we didn’t know was how many things you need to grasp beyond the technology. Gaming is all about regulation, jurisdictions and banks, and good software is just a small part. I’m glad I didn’t quite realize it at the moment I entered gaming, as it could have made me hesitant. But business is all about taking risks and overcoming challenges, so we learnt by doing and got to grips with every small aspect of working in the sector. 

 

How has been the journey so far for SoftSwiss? It would be great if you can share some fascinating stories or anecdotes.

As I said, the journey involved some ups and downs, and a lot of bottlenecks to overcome. When you start a new thing, you are not an expert in it despite all the theoretical knowledge you got at the university. But you need to position yourself as an expert because you need to gain trust. When you just start your company and need to employ people, especially programmers, you need to give them the sense of confidence that the company will survive in the highly competitive market. But it’s even harder with the clients. All of them want to see your previous experience, examples of working businesses, client references,  – everything you don’t have with your brand new product. I remember myself on the ICE Gaming Show in London back in 2013, with a small stand shared with a partner, presenting our online gaming platform for the first time to the public and trying to get my first contract. I knew the software was good, but there was no single online casino using it which I could show, so I just showed a demo and told about other products we already had. People were coming to our stand and asking questions I couldn’t always answer because I lacked that experience, but I tried to guess and promised to investigate further. I pretended to be an expert until our first client took the risk to work with the young company and try the new software. If you don’t know something, pretend you do, but pretend responsibly. 

One of the memories that matter a lot to me is the interview that I gave to Vitaly Buterin, the famous co-founder of Ethereum. It was back in 2013, long before he invented the breakthrough technology. Vitaly was working as a journalist for an online magazine and I was telling him about my vision of the future of cryptocurrencies. Ethereum wasn’t part of that vision, Buterin wasn’t the most well-known name in the crypto world, and SoftSwiss didn’t have 600 employees. Things have changed!

 

How is the business going for SoftSwiss? Could you share some stats with us which would demonstrate SoftSwiss achievements over the years?

Since 2009, my business has been developing in different directions and has grown into a group of companies employing over 600 people. The online casino platform supports over 300 websites with 4B EUR bets processed monthly. SoftSwiss game aggregator with 11 000 games from 70 providers in its portfolio has recently met the 150 mln EUR GGR goal.  Our proprietary games brand already has over 60 exclusive games. Our software is licensed by 7 jurisdictions. We are already working with India, Japan and South Korea and are now entering the African continent. We were the first company to implement Bitcoin payments in the online casino platform and remain the leader in crypto payment processing. I’m proud of these achievements we’ve made in a bit more that 10 years.

 

How do you keep the company and workforce improving constantly? Tell us about the methodologies that you implement to ensure consistent growth.

We apply the agile methodology in company management as it has proved to be the most effective one in running a large orgranization. Quick decision making, flexibility and scalability, as well as mutual respect and open communication are the principles our employees learn first. 

SoftSwiss consists of autonomous teams which have their own business goals, develop strategy on how to reach them and share the responsibility. This way, decisions are taken much faster on each company level and that contributes to speedier progress. 

Human capital is our biggest value and that’s what I focus on. You can’t do business alone, it’s all about teamwork. At the very beginning, I was lucky to have people beside me who shared my vision and my life principles, we looked in the same direction and trusted one another in key decisions. This core team is still with me after all the years, but of course many new people have joined. I can’t talk to each and every employee to make sure we are on the same page, but I tried to transmit my personal values into our corporate culture, so everyone knows what global objectives our company has and how we reach them. 

 

What are the core values do you think a gaming business should have? We understand you have been a strong advocate of freedom of opinion and democratic rights.

Gaming business is not much different from other businesses in terms of its values. You just need to describe these values clearly, make sure they are shared by people who work with you and be consistent with them. A company is part of the society, and freedom of opinion and democratic rights are just as important here as in the society as a whole. People want and need to be heard, it’s crucial in terms of progress and has a great impact on the organizational climate. Every initiative which aims at improving something within a company and establishing a more effective working process is welcome.    

As for other important values, these are high quality of our products and top client service. Quality is more important than quantity or quick delivery. Our clients’ interests are our top priority because we are in the same boat and their success is our success. We’d rather have one client and grow big together than many clients who come and go.  Moreover, here at SoftSwiss we care a lot about the security of our solutions – we tend to work really hard to make sure we provide our clients with the most reliable technology out there. 

 

Now on to Crypto currency. It has had a roller-coaster ride over the last decade. Do you foresee a consistent and robust growth for crypto currencies and their use in businesses?

I’ve been advocating the value of crypro currencies since 2013 when we first decided to use them in our online casino platform. With the numerous ups and downs that Bitcoin has faced since then, I’ve never doubted about its future. During the drastic meltdown we experienced in 2018, when it fell down 75% from its biggest value, many people started questioning Bitcoin efficiency and security and many start ups suffered from this loss of public trust. But the fall-winter 2020 showed the crisis was over: Bitcoin keeps beating its own records, large businesses are quickly jumping in and the reputation is being restored. I’m pretty sure that the trend will be stable and that cryptocurrencies will take the world economy to a completely new level. It will be a new level of property and assets: Money 3.0, Properties 3.0, Assets 3.0.

 

What is your take on the allegations of scams and frauds that come up from time to time? Can it be curtailed completely or is it something we all have to live on with?

There have always been unscrupulous people trying to find loopholes in new technologies and use them in their interests. Cryptocurrency is not an exception. However, it’s wrong to judge the effectiveness or moral aspects of the technology based on a couple of reports on fraud. According to my personal observations, there are about 97% of good people and 3% of bad people on the earth. We can’t stop the profiteers’ attempts but we can use common sense and technology to protect ourselves and minimize fraud. 

 

What do you think are the significant advantages that cryptocurrencies possess for the gaming industry, in comparison with the traditional currencies, as things stand now?

Cryptocurrencies are very important for online business, and online gaming in particular, because they save operators a lot of time and money. With Bitcoin, you have really low commissions compared to what you pay to the acquiring banks for processing the fiat currency transactions.   No other bank or payment system can offer worldwide coverage, only Bitcoin can, so you can expand your geographic reach and target much larger territories. Cryptocurrency casinos are much faster to launch and easier to operate, as you don‘t have to negotiate with the payment system providers.  Players are also at advantage enjoying instant cashouts whereas bank payout transfers may take up to several days. Finally, it’s all become more transparent with the possibility to apply the “provably fair” technology and check the game fairness. 

 

You have been actively pushing for the use of artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) in gaming software. Could you share your experience of using AI and ML for detecting frauds? 

AI and ML have long been used for anti-fraud policies in finance and other industries and have now come to online gaming bringing its fight against casino fraudsters to a completely new level. It helps detect unscrupulous players who use various probability algorithms to make bigger wins. Our software uses AI mechanisms to analyze such behaviour and figure out suspicious actions. The system reports such cases to the casino manager and automatically blocks cash-outs until it’s all cleared up. The mechanism can even recognize players’ fake documents. 

That’s about protecting the operator, but it’s not the only advantage AI brings into online gaming. It’s also about protecting the players and bringing the responsible gaming concept to life. The AI algorithms we implement within our software detect problematic player’s behavior and reveal possible gambling addiction. In this case, players can get real time help. 

 

Also, how far do you think AI and ML can reliably be used for predicting player behavior and designing CRM initiatives?

Predicting players’ behaviour in order to provide more effective client management is the key goal of AI and ML. What we already do within our software is LTV prediction which analyzes a player’s actions and makes certain changes in live mode to make the game more exciting and motivate this particular player to stay longer. In other words, each client is approached individually and gets customized content, bonuses and free spins. That really works: the lifetime value of a player has already increased by 7- 10%.

AI will inevitably penetrate all aspects of online gaming, from fraud protection to UX personalization and customer support. I believe that in five years online casinos will be operated completely by AI and the day-to-day work which is now done by the operator’s employees will be done automatically. Smart customer care assistants have already won over the silly bots and manage to resolve players’ issues in a much faster way, leaving players happy. So, I believe we are talking about 100% replacement in the near future. 

 

Final question. Time for prediction. We are probably into the new wave of Covid-19 outbreak. How do you see the pandemic going to affect the gaming industry? What’s your bet?

Covid-19 has been impacting all spheres of life and business, making all sorts of activities only possible online. Of course we can speak about the skyrocketing growth of online gaming during the pandemic. With very few entertainment options remaining during the numerous lockdowns and very limited options on how you can spend your free time and money, more people are turning to digital gaming activities.  However, it’s just a temporary effect. We all hope that the pandemic will be over soon, no matter if it stops the boost of our industry. It’s important that we all go back to our normal.

 

Interviews

Crypto Millions Lotto’s Sulim Malook on What Happens When Lotto Meets Bitcoin

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Reading Time: 3 minutes

 

The proposition of Bitcoin lotteries is simple. If you go to a casino, you have to buy chips from the cashier to play. When you finish playing, you can cash your chips in for money, or keep them for next time. With a digital lottery, you play with a digital currency. In the case of Crypto Millions Lotto it’s Bitcoin. Think of bitcoin as the chips you have to buy to play Crypto Millions Lotto. Players deposit bitcoin to play, and if they win, they get paid in bitcoin. One exception is that if you’re lucky enough to win the jackpot, this innovative digital lotto gives you the option to take your winnings in bitcoin or a local currency of your choice.

There are some really strong arguments for considering bitcoin lotteries vs traditional ones. There are two major reasons. The first is that if you play games across borders using a credit card or any other traditional form of payment, then there are complications and frustrations around whether the payment can be made or if it will be blocked, the exchange rate, and payment periods. Using bitcoin removes all of that because it knows no borders. 

The second reason is that by operating digitally using bitcoin companies like Crypto Millions Lotto can avoid a lot of infrastructure costs, including payment processing charges. According to Sulim Malook “Having a low cost base allows us to offer bigger jackpots. Our jackpots are bigger than the majority of state-run lotteries and bigger than any of our online competitors.”

 

How Does a Digital Lottery like Sulim’s work? 

“We allow people to play the numbers of eight of the world’s biggest lotteries on our website. Although they choose the numbers on our site, they’re actually betting on the numbers of a state lottery, so numbers are drawn by each of the underlying lotteries. That way we remain completely independent.

This means people can play every time one of those eight lotteries has a draw, in total 14 times a week.

In case people don’t see the live draw, we announce all of the winning numbers on our website, and we notify all winners by email immediately. Payment of winnings is made within minutes of the lottery ending.”

 

Bitcoin lotteries are the natural progression from digital lotteries

The first big shift was from offline to online, but all that really changed was how we bought and received tickets for a single lottery.

The next shift was allowing people to play many different lotteries online, and for that people needed a better way to buy tickets and to receive winnings. Sulim says “That’s where bitcoin came in. So, we haven’t adopted bitcoin just because it’s a digital currency. We’ve done it because it’s the best currency for the job.”

 

Covid’s Effect on The Lottery

Contrary to what you might imagine, historically, the lottery performs well in downturns and recessions, as people try to generate fast money for themselves. Covid, of course, has put a lot of the world into recession, so the lotto industry as a whole as well as the gaming sector has performed well. 

But more significant than that, Covid has exposed the flaws and tensions in the traditional lottery model. Specifically, that it relies on a network of small retailers to sell tickets, most of which have now been closed and certainly were not contactless anyway.

The result, according to Sulim, is that people have gone online. “So not just us, the whole online lottery industry has seen a big uplift, while the traditional lotteries have seen a negative impact.”

And yet the lifting of COVID restrictions has not impacted this sector negatively. Sulim was clear that “On the contrary, the effect has been positive. With some state lotteries closing down for months, playing online was the only option. In our view, this is a good thing for an industry that has been living in the dark ages.

I’d liken it to working from home. Covid has opened many people’s eyes to the benefits of home working. Some people might go back to the office after Covid restrictions are lifted. But for many others, they’ve discovered a new way of doing things and will stick with it. It’s the same with the digital lottery. We introduced it to many people who now prefer it and who won’t go back to the old way.”

Business is booming at Crypto Millions Lotto and the team has a lot in the pipeline. So what comes next for a business of this ilk? 

“We have lots of exciting things in our pipeline. We’ve recently added six new lotteries, and we’re planning to add more. We also plan to add more games, as well as offering players the ability to get bitcoin using their credit cards directly on our site.

As our user base expands into more countries, we want to offer Crypto Millions Lotto in multiple languages.

We have also just launched an affiliate program, which we believe offers a more attractive proposition than other affiliate programs already out there.”

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Interviews

Exclusive Q&A with Sergey Tsukanov, Head of Sportsbook at Betby

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Exclusive Q&A with Sergey Tsukanov, Head of Sportsbook at Betby
Reading Time: 3 minutes

 

Are big summer events the most important part of the year, or just an added benefit to day-to-day activity?

Summer sporting events are a big deal for global sportsbook suppliers as they present endless opportunities to boost engagement and deliver unique promotions, but I see it as a bit of both.

After a prolonged period without any major football tournaments and over a season’s worth of fixtures being played behind closed doors, the European Championships and the Copa America have arrived at the perfect time for sport lovers around the world.

The spike of growth in the number of users around these events is very much influenced by the market and depends on many factors, like whether a local team is playing in the tournament and what sources the operator gets its traffic through.

We see a similar number of bets placed on a given day of the European Championships as we do on the night of the Champions League final, with the latter stages of the tournament only attracting more users. This is a testament to the popularity and appeal of summer sporting competitions.

 

How can sportsbook suppliers prepare for these huge events, which should see significantly increased traffic?

Betby prides itself on the flexibility of its products and ability to pivot its platform to suit specific requirements. Preparation for tournaments of this size is key due to the huge spike in user activity during the games.

Work schedules around the time of major events are changed to facilitate the increased number of bets being placed before games, as well as requests from clients to run campaigns in the build up to the tournament.  We also tend to increase the number of markets of bets ahead of these competitions to set it apart from regular sporting events.

 

Are regional sporting events, such as the European Championships or Copa America, popular globally or only within those regions where the games are being played?

For the most part, there is little interest in the Copa America in Europe, and the same can be said for interest in the European Championships in Latin America, but there are always sport enthusiasts and other outliers that must be catered to.

For example, the Argentina-Brazil clash will undoubtedly see some interest around the globe thanks to the prominence of superstars like Lionel Messi and Neymar. That said, when you consider the time difference and abundance of smaller ties, global figures will always be smaller in comparison.

This problem is not specific to football; we see the same issue in the NBA where European followers are expected to sacrifice sleep and brave the early hours of the morning just to watch their team play.

 

Can the Olympics ever become a major betting event?

This is a very complex question. There’s a feeling that the Olympics is slowly losing relevance in the sporting community.

Perhaps we should not talk about the Olympics as a whole, and rather focus on the separate events that make up the competition. The tennis is always interesting to watch from the start due to the ‘knock-out’ nature of the ties, whereas football in the Olympics only becomes a knock-out once teams pass the group stages.

The dedicated following that we see at club and international level in football, rugby and other global sports audiences is just incomparable to the following that Olympic sports like rowing or fencing get throughout the year.

 

How has Betby approached the bumper sporting summer of 2021?

Without going into too much detail on our plans for the upcoming summer, I can confirm that we have changed our priorities to assist the launch of a host of additional football markets for the European Championships.

We recently reimagined the ‘classic’ sportsbook in the design of our site’s new layout, so it now boasts a fully responsive user interface, easy site navigation and swift betting placement, which addresses feedback we received from our users.

With a brand-new sidebar, high-quality widgets and more markets than ever before, we have done everything in our power to make this summer as enjoyable as possible for our audiences. After all, there has been so little to celebrate over the past 18 months that a touch excitement is long overdue.

 

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Interviews

Spiffbet – Rhino Gaming’s next-level gaming experience

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Spiffbet - Rhino Gaming's next-level gaming experience
Reading Time: 3 minutes

Spiffbet’s Head of Game Development Riaan du Randt shares his thoughts about Rhino Gaming’s re-launch, new focus, and opportunities ahead. 

Riaan, please tell us about your background

I started working in the igaming industry in 2005. During this period, the industry was tiny yet innovative. After many years in igaming, I started focusing on R&D for mobile gaming in the casual gaming market for a period of time instead. It was exciting, and I learned a lot, but it never really motivated me as much as igaming. The next chapter of my career was the most exciting, as the entire online casino industry started moving towards HTML 5. This prompted me to move back to igaming which has always been my passion. I joined Spiffbet in 2018, and it has been one of the most exciting and rewarding experiences to date.

Spiffbet recently rebranded parts of their game portfolio to Rhino Gaming. What is the rationale behind the rebranding?

We see Rhino Gaming as the next chapter in our game production journey. When we started the studio, our priority was to balance quality with quantity since we needed to grow our portfolio as fast as possible. Now that we have established ourselves as a solid gaming studio, we are switching gears to start producing games that stand out from the crowd, emphasizing innovative games with robust features. We have a talented and creative team that I am proud to be part of.

Can you describe the concept and the type of games that are produced under Rhino Gaming? How does it differ from Spiffbet’s other portfolio STHLM Gaming?

In this competitive market, it is essential to offer the operators something special. We believe the best way to achieve this is by developing unique game mechanics combined with high production quality. Our STHLM Gaming products cater to a specific market that likes fun games with easy to relate themes. With Rhino Gaming, we aim to appeal more to players looking for edgy games and players in growth markets.

Do you have a particular target group for your games?

Yes, I believe our main target will be the plus 20-something to middle age that likes fresh, innovative games. A great example would be to look at Metal Casino. Niche operators like these will give us an audience that is seeking an edgy content.

Game development is a sector where the competition is fierce. How do you relate to your competition, and do you have clear-cut competitors?

Our goal is not to compete with the top-tier studios head-on, but to target niches with unique games and stand out by creating a next level experience and meeting the preferences in new growth markets.

Today Spiffbet has completely changed its character and is now perceived as a B2C player. What is your comment on this change?

The recent year with high growth within the B2C casino business will strengthen the overall operations. However, people tend to forget that we, Spiffbet, comes from game development. Last year’s acquisitions have certainly overshadowed that part of the company. Many have not picked up all the positive changes that have taken place within the game development. The relaunch under Rhino Gaming will hopefully put the spotlight back onto our games. We welcome that other studios of similar size have taken the step out in the spotlight by becoming publicly traded companies. Good examples are Fantasma Games and LL Lucky Games (Lady Luck). Fantasma Games has as a similar operating model as STHLM Gaming but is somewhat larger. Lady Luck is similar to Rhino Gaming. Currenty, Lady Luck games is supplied along side our games on our platform. These companies are both interesting benchmarks when we evaluate our development and future steps.

What benefits do you see working within a larger group like Spiffbet with one foot in casino operations and the other in game development?

It puts us in a unique position that presents many opportunities to take advantage of. It all played a big part in our decision to push the production value up a notch. We also get valuable feedback from Spiffbet’s online gaming branch on the games we produce.

Looking ahead, what can we expect from Rhino Gaming?

We got plenty of exciting stuff in our pipeline. Check out the teaser for our upcoming release of Dragons of Asgard. Stay tuned!

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