SOFTSWISS Founder Ivan Montik turned 40 in January. He agreed to talk to us about this milestone in his life, about his career and his experience of managing a company.
You are the Founder of one of the most successful software gambling companies in the world, which now has more than 1,000 employees. Could you imagine something like this in your 20s and what key decisions led you to your current role?
I actually imagined something like this when I started SOFTSWISS as a small custom software development company in 2009. Growing it to 1,000 employees was not a coincidence but a result of the long-term strategy and hard work of many like-minded people. Without thinking big, you’ll never grow big. When we founded SOFTSWISS, it wasn’t just to make a living (although profit was an important goal) but to create a company that would stand out among the competition with its quality of services and become a well-known name on the market.
There were many decisions made on the way. Switching from custom software development to creating our own products was an important step, and of course entering the iGaming industry played a crucial role. We didn’t just create a quality software platform, but developed our own White Label Solution, a unique service at that time. It brought us our first clients, casino operators, and some of them became key players in the market and contributed greatly to our mutual success.
Integrating cryptocurrencies into our software was another important decision and a turning point in the history of SOFTSWISS. We were the first company to offer a Crypto Casino Solution to the market. Becoming a pioneer in crypto gaming, we took a special place in the industry and made it a large part of our current business.
Launching various microservices and developing them into separate brands was a series of right decisions, too. Now we have such successful products, as a game studio, game aggregator, affiliate system, and payment provider, all functioning as standalone solutions and contributing to the brand’s overall success.
Finally, partnering with people who have been beside me in good and bad times, working with me on the most challenging tasks and showing their trust has definitely helped to lead the company to where we are now.
You have mentioned many times in interviews that you have a degree in economics but not IT, nevertheless, you have managed to build one of the most innovative companies in the online gambling industry. In your experience, in order to create a successful and, most importantly, in-demand product, which background is more important?
Although economics and management were in focus during my university years, computer science and programming were also there. It’s been my long standing passion. When I was at school, I sold my piano to purchase my first computer and learn the basics of programming on my own. This passion played an important role in choosing what business to do and helped me make many useful contacts among technical gurus. However, to lead a company to success, it was more important to have a business vision. You need to have an understanding of how to organise people and establish effective working processes. The knowledge of economics and management is very helpful here, but it’s also about personal qualities, such as the ability to take risks, evaluate partnerships and pursue business ideas which you believe are worth pursuing.
What obstacles have you faced during the creation and development of SOFTSWISS? Tell us about the most difficult personal and professional challenges you have had to overcome.
Entering the iGaming market was a risky idea on its own, as our team had no prior experience in this area and we were almost unaware of how complex it was. The conclusion I made was that ignorance is bliss as it keeps us connected to real-time challenges and helps tackle problems fearlessly. I learned all aspects of the industry from scratch, from the principles and requirements of gambling jurisdictions to the technical details of casino payment processing, to the peculiarities of the local gaming markets and player preferencences. It was my biggest personal challenge, but acquiring this knowledge has made the most positive impact on business.
Another challenge I faced several times in the company’s history was managing partnerships. When you grow big and do successful business, you become very noticeable and people start thinking about how they can become part of your success. Some of them are really eager to contribute their knowledge and/or money and establish a fair and mutually beneficial relationship, but unfortunately that’s not always the case. Others just want to jump in and take advantage of the company without any real contribution. I’ve had several negative experiences with unscrupulous partners who have had a destructive impact on the business, but we managed to overcome it. In the end, it made all of us stronger and taught us to be more picky when it comes to investment and partnership offers.
Having achieved success, it is sometimes difficult to maintain the same rhythm and not be tempted to relax and reap the rewards of your work. Where do you find points of growth and motivation to develop yourself?
I have several sources of motivation that help me stay tuned. First of all, I follow the example of the outstanding people who have reached much bigger success than myself and still haven’t stopped climbing new heights. I’m talking about the leaders of such giants, as Amazon and Google, but there are also people in our industry who I admire. The desire to stay on top of the competition is a strong driving force. iGaming is a fast changing market with new strong players appearing every day and evolving trends. If we stop and relax, it won’t take them long to take our market share.
The responsibility for the people who work with us, supporting them in their career and providing growth opportunities is another strong driving force for me. They joined SOFTSWISS and shared our corporate goals to become part of the common success, and I’m not allowed to let them down.
Finally, my passion for innovation doesn’t let me stop at where we are. There are so many new areas to explore, both within the iGaming industry and outside of it, and so many new projects to investigate. With the opportunities I have now, I can’t help taking on new technological challenges and investing into innovation.
What was your approach as a manager towards driving SOFTSWISS to success? Tell us about your managerial principles and practises. Were there any surprising revelations over the several years of managing your own company?
My main approach is staying flexible in all situations. You can’t manage the company of 1,000 people the same way you did when there were just 10. When it all just started, I was interviewing each new candidate myself before making them the final job offer. It was extremely important for me that our employees shared my personal values, that we were on the same page. It hasn’t changed much and I’m still worried about sharing the corporate culture, but I already can’t interview each employee. So I make sure that the C-level management are the people I trust, and it’s their responsibility now to communicate the corporate culture to others.
I’m also a big supporter of the agile approach and at SOFTSWISS we try to organise our daily routine according to agile practices. From the very beginning, even before I knew what agile meant, I intuitively understood that people were our biggest asset and tried to empower each employee to take decisions and act quickly. Now, with over 1,000 employees and with our industry changing so quickly, I know it’s the only way to stay competitive. So I trust people and motivate them to take the responsibility by showing how unlimited their growth opportunities are. I noticed that when people get an opportunity to participate in the company’s profit, it’s a much better motivation than a high salary on its own. So we try to empower everyone to become part of the common success story.
Talking about the personal part of the subject, does managing such a company leave time for your personal life?
Finding a balance between work and life is just a myth, I think. It’s a never ending battle. However, practice makes perfect, and I think I found some tricks that help me combine both so that neither suffers too much. I used to have some difficulties with delegating responsibility, trying to accomplish all tasks on my own quickly rather than explaining it to somebody and facing unfulfilled expectations afterwards. I’ve worked on it and noticed that wise delegation saves so much time. I concentrate on the strategically important things now and let people I trust do other tasks.
Setting priorities is also important. For me, health is the top priority and sport is the only way to stay healthy. I do boxing and it keeps me sane both physically and mentally. Combined with the Russian sauna, it gives amazing results. Also, I never miss an opportunity to build new neural connections in my brain by learning something new. My latest achievement is snowboarding. Besides sports, time with family and friends is what makes me feel happy and complete.
Looking back on the four decades behind you, do you think you have become wiser and now make better decisions from both a managerial and a personal point of view?
I’ve definitely become wiser. Although I’m still demanding a lot from the people I work with, I’m less of a perfectionist today and I don’t expect it from my employees. As I said before, I’ve become more cautious in choosing partners and going into business relationships. Unfortunately, it’s the effect of some wrong decisions made in the past, but learning from my own mistakes is also an achievement. I still believe that it’s more important to take a risk and make a mistake than not to take a risk and miss a chance. So I can always forgive mistakes but I rarely forgive missed chances.
Finally, where to next? Has turning 40 changed anything? Do you feel just as energetic and motivated as before, looking for further ventures, or do you have other ambitions in mind?
I feel as motivated and energetic as I never did before. Life only starts at 40, doesn’t it? I have the experience, resources and people by my side to pursue new ventures. There are several exciting projects in the pipeline now, both for SOFTSWISS and outside of it. I’ll continue investing in innovation and supporting fresh ideas because this means investing in the future.
A unique World Cup – on and off the pitch!
The World Cup is held every four years and this edition of the most famous football tournament on the planet is unique given the venue and the fact it sits right in the middle of the domestic season.
With that in mind, how does this affect user engagement and betting patterns over the course of this prestigious competition? We spoke to BETEGY CEO, Alex Kornilov who gives his insights into how successful engagement with players could be.
With football already Europe’s most popular sport, what new ways of user engagement have you put together for the World Cup?
This football season brought many ways to explore user engagement into the industry. The World Cup in Qatar is the real test to show the best approaches to customers’ experience. At BETEGY, we knew that online betting would thrive during the tournament, and we have managed to deliver creative visuals with live data from all the matches, which can be used in various formats and presented on different platforms.
The World Cup is being hosted right in the middle of the domestic football season across Europe. Does this make the World Cup more or less popular from a betting perspective?
The World Cup has always been one of the most significant events in the betting industry – and I see no reason for this iteration to be less popular than before. In addition, the tournament duration has been decreased to 28 days, meaning more matches squeezed into a shorter space of time. This is definitely going to help keep the audience’s excitement and engagement at their highest.
The only competitor for the attention of sports punters will be the upcoming holiday hustle when people will be getting all set for the festive season. However, I don’t see that as a big risk. With football fans watching the biggest football event of the year from the comfort of their own homes, it’s an excellent opportunity to attract a new audience to the betting market.
A Middle Eastern country is hosting the World Cup for the first time. How is this unique environment playing to BETEGY’s strengths, given the majority of fans are watching from home?
With more fans watching football from home, keeping them entertained with the most high-quality offering and products is very important. Players in the industry will compete for the fans’ attention and will do their best to build a scalable relationship with them beyond the World Cup. Live scores, statistics, and betting prices in various markets must be delivered to the users’ screens with no delay and with the best look and feel. This is one of the aspects BETEGY is the best at – and we have thoroughly prepared to help our clients solve the pain points related to it.
With Europe not due to host another World Cup until 2030 at the earliest, is it a positive for technology and engagement that the tournament is being held in nations where football popularity is on the rise?
The next World Cup will take place in 16 different cities across North America. This tournament is probably the most important in the context of how “soccer” has been promoted in the United States recently. On one side, the USSF and the MLS clubs have been working a lot to promote soccer locally by bringing top-class players into the league. On the other hand, the US has rarely stuck to the traditional European perception of sport and football in particular. Sport in the US serves its goal – to entertain the audience. Strategists at NBA or NFL would do almost anything to keep fans engaged and ensure all the remote viewers are enjoying the show.
Also, this new, next-gen audience is highly discerning – which pushes the market to deliver innovative solutions and ideas to engage, excite and entertain. For sports tech and entertainment companies, it’s a huge opportunity and a challenge at the same time to find a key to the hearts and minds of potential new football fans. Some best practices for the US market are already known, so bringing football to new horizons is a certain path to making this game even more beautiful.
How can companies capture this new wave of interest?
US sports fans are already used to high standards of the content delivered to them. Everyone who wants to surf this wave of delight should definitely focus on innovation and quality. I’ve noticed that people love to know what’s happening on the pitch and, at the same time, are always willing to guess what’s going to happen next. The rise of technology helps to understand the game better, it gives birth to new betting markets, but it also helps companies enhance the users’ involvement in the game.
With the US online betting market opening, many players from the industry are seeking an opportunity to test their best offering on new audiences. Since soccer is undoubtedly on the rise, a chance to attract American bettors became a significant pull factor for most industry members – and we’re very excited with what we’re doing at BETEGY.
It has been 20 years since a non-European country won the World Cup. Do you think a European nation will win this prestigious tournament this year given the first round of results?
The first round has shown that football has advanced at all levels, especially geographically. For example, some national teams from Asia have had tremendous results against supposedly much stronger rivals from South America and Europe. And it’s not only about the result – those teams’ performance and style of play are a delight to watch. At this stage, almost any underdog has the chance to proceed to the knockout stages and refute the odds.
In my opinion, some Latin American national teams have a high chance of winning the World Cup. Still, they’ll need to deliver their best performance against the highly-experienced European contenders. It will be fascinating to watch it all happening. And may the best team win!
Exclusive Q&A w/ Paul Buianov, Founder and CEO at BetCare
Why is customer service so important for online casino operators? How does it allow them to stand out from their rivals?
Customer service is one of the most powerful player acquisition tools available to online casino and sportsbook operators. It allows brands to quickly build trust with players, and to answer any questions they may have before signing up, depositing and playing. This makes it a very important part of the onboarding process. Customer support is very much the front line for operators and the first point of contact the player will have with the brand. It’s also vital to retention, with good customer service providing players with answers to any questions they may have, resolving technical issues and strengthening responsible gambling processes and procedures. This means that customer service can be a significant differentiator, making players feel better looked after and more appreciated than at rival brands. The personal touch should never be underestimated, as this is often what keeps players coming back for more.
What are the key challenges that operators face when it comes to customer support? Does this differ from market to market? If so, how?
The greatest challenge with customer support in any market is ensuring that player questions are answered and that requests are satisfied. This might sound easy, but it’s not. Customer support must be available 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Agents must have a deep understanding of the online casino/sportsbook and how it works, while also being able to communicate with players with patience and empathy, and in a language they understand. This is especially challenging for operators active in multiple markets around the world – like the rest of their proposition, customer support must be localised.
How can these challenges be overcome?
To overcome these challenges, operators must build out a sophisticated customer support function with a highly trained team that can provide round-the-clock support in the market where their brands are active. What’s more, they must not be afraid to communicate with players – ultimately, communication is what makes customers feel valued and important to the brand. Internally, customer support must have a clear understanding of the business and the casino/sportsbook and have a direct line of communication with other departments and teams. This is the only way issues can be effectively escalated and resolved. As you can tell, customer support is a vast, all-encompassing part of the business and that’s why many operators look to outsource this part of the business to specialist third parties.
What does gold standard customer support look like? How can it be achieved?
In addition to the above, gold-standard customer support must be available to support players across all touchpoints and moments in their journey with the casino or sportsbook. This covers from the first time they land on the site through onboarding, depositing, playing, withdrawing and loyalty. That’s why it is so important for agents to be highly trained and also work hand in hand with other departments in order to be able to deliver the support players need with any aspect of the brand or their play.
Is customer service important from a responsible gambling perspective? How?
Yes, it is vital. Effective responsible gambling comes down to communication with players and customer support agents are best placed to do this. By asking the right questions, they can understand player behaviours and help to determine if they are displaying signs of problem play. Those with the right training can also make interventions and direct players to the support they need. But customer service can also be preventive, making players aware of the risks of gambling addiction and helping them use the tools available to keep in control of their play. Ultimately, prevention is the best approach as it stops players going on to generate gambling problems, and customer support is a very effective preventative tool.
Why should operators look to outsource customer support rather than build an in-house team?
Building out a customer service function is a significant undertaking, especially for smaller operators that tend to have to prioritise other areas of the business. Customer support specialists such as BetCare can take control of the entire function and localise it for each of the markets the operator targets. We have the experience and the expertise to know what it takes to deliver five-star support, and the team in place to provide it. We also offer a range of additional services and solutions, such as reactivation, attracting players including mass-mailing and SMS campaigns along with KYC, risk payments and analysis of players’ behavioural patterns.
We pay special attention to VIP players, not only by providing exceptional service in a range of languages but also by varying our communication channels. We initiate communication with VIPs and, even more importantly, via the platforms they want to use.
Exclusive interview with Vladimir Malakchi: Evoplay kicks-off in Ireland!
Capping off an outstanding year for Evoplay with multiple industry awards and deals with major providers, including Relax Gaming, Bragg Gaming Group and Fortuna, we sat down with Evoplay’s CCO, Vladimir Malakchi to talk through his plans for their Irish debut.
The burgeoning Irish market is one of the fastest-growing markets in the iGaming landscape, but what promise does it hold for Evoplay?
I would say that the Irish market’s steady expansion stems from a crucial factor – a strong demand for iGaming. The latest research illustrates that Irish gamblers constitute one of the largest iGaming audiences across Europe. To be specific, around 59% of Ireland’s population regularly gambles online, rendering it a particularly attractive jurisdiction for providers that are looking to expand into up-and-coming markets.
Our recently established partnership with Novibet has allowed us to unlock the Irish market and reach iGaming enthusiasts across the country with our highly sought-after titles, including 52 gamification-packed video slots and 10 instant games, featuring bestsellers such as our World Cup-inspired Penalty Shoot-out.
How are you looking to cater to Irish players’ preferences, and how does that impact your game development strategy?
Online casino is in good company amongst some of the most popular types of entertainment in Ireland, and our rich portfolio is more than suitable to provide its players with the experiences they desire. The people in Ireland are sociable, outgoing, entertaining, and enjoy participating in healthy competition thanks to the nation’s rich heritage in sports.
Evoplay’s games are well-known for their innovative and gamified elements, which are core tenets of the development process surrounding each product. For this reason, we can rest assured that the variety of content we provide caters to all demographics of Irish players, with titles stacked full of social features such as leaderboards, live chats, progress systems, and tournaments.
The inclusion of these features ensures maximum excitement for players, thanks to their support of social interaction and healthy competition between players, with the experiences further enhanced by strong betting features, customisation, and well-designed peripherals.
Is there a particular demographic of Irish player that your products have seen success with?
As our development strategy is to create products that capture the imaginations of a broad audience, our games are popular with a real variety of demographics, from conservative players all the way to the next generation. Those coming from a background of traditional casino games will find a lot of joy in our impressive selection of our retro slots, such as the Fruit Super Nova series, while next-gen players seeking something fresh and unique can dive into our collection of modern experiences, featuring innovative yet easy-to-understand titles stacked full of social elements.
With almost half of the Irish population being interested in football, supporting football clubs and consuming a spread of sports content, our renowned football-themed instant game – Penalty Shoot-out – has every chance to become the next big hit in the market during the World Cup and beyond.
How have your Irish-themed slots been received by players in the region?
We already have Irish-themed titles in our portfolio, and that’s not only in regard to slots but instant games too, which have become the perfect accompaniment to Saint Patrick’s Day and a portion of our more traditional content.
Ireland as a country has a very rich culture and supplies us with so many exciting opportunities to develop themes and plots to create leading experiences. I am sure that the distinctive charm and the local peculiarities of Irish culture will inspire us to develop more titles that feature elements of Irish heritage in the months ahead.
Having recently taken your sought-after games portfolio live with Novibet, do you have any other operator deals on the horizon?
Ireland is a high-potential market with an online casino vertical generating more than €200 million year on year. Establishing an agreement with an operator as respected as Novibet is the first step in reaching Irish customers and making a statement about what we do at Evoplay. We definitely see more partnerships within the jurisdiction on the horizon and welcome opportunities to further establish a solid footing in the region.
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