Eskil Kvarnström, Founder and CEO at Leadstar Media, gives an exclusive interview to SiGMA News as part of our latest series on affiliates
How did you first get into the affiliate space, and were you always focused on the iGaming sector?
The first affiliate site I launched was back in 2006, it was a poker rakeback site. During that time online poker was a blooming business and I played professional poker myself. It was a natural step for me to start up an affiliate business. I had pretty good knowledge and I saw huge potential. A few years later online poker was decreasing in popularity and my co-founders and I shifted focus to sports betting instead, as we are big fans of sports.
How is your affiliate business structured, and what aspect of business development are you currently focused on?
Leadstar Media is today one of the fastest growing affiliates and one of the main actors within sports betting affiliation. We are around 20-25 people working full time at the company and many part time freelancers. Our office is based in Stockholm, Sweden, where most of the team work from.
Our focus the last 2-3 years has been on scaling up geographically. But we believe that you only should scale up if you have the resources to do that. So we only recruit the best international people that we know are going to be a part of Leadstar Media for a long time. That’s one of the biggest differences between us and many other affiliates - they are using freelancers based on projects while we are spending much time and effort on building a very strong team that works with long term goals.
Which markets do you focus on and do you see any potential in the emerging markets?
Today we are today operating in 16 geographical markets with at least two more to come this year; Japan and France. We are also establishing our business in the US with Unitedgamblers.com and Bettingscanner.com. We have just received our first state licence from the New Jersey Division of Gaming Enforcement and we are also in the application process for affiliate licences in Pennsylvania and Indiana. In some ways you can say that every state in the US is a specific market.
What makes your traffic proposition / traffic sites unique? What can you offer that others don't? Are there any exciting plans in the works that you can tell us about?
Our business is based on creating the best products for our target groups and our main focus is SEO. There are many actors in this industry who want to earn fast money and are doing everything they can to do that. We are putting a lot of pride into our products and see ourselves in a marathon, rather than a sprint. Our partners have known us since many years back. They know that we always deliver great results.
Is the grass greener on the other side? Have you considered giving white label casino or sports betting a go, for instance?
We believe that you should stick to your core business and become the best in that business. We have no thoughts of opening up a white label brand.
Are you concerned by the impact on the affiliate sector from shifting regulatory environments? (In particular UKGC, Sweden's Spelinspektionen, and Germany's 2020 State Treaty on Gaming Regulation)
If you run a business there will always be external factors that can affect your business both negative and positive. As a business you should always build a company that reduces the risks for negative external factors and opens up the possibility for positive external factors. One way to do that for us is to establish Leadstar Media in many different geographical markets.
In general we are very positive towards regulations but they have to be based on expertise.
It’s obvious that decision makers in many countries lack knowledge when it comes to the iGaming industry.
Are you contemplating bringing in investors to scale or grow your business? Or, with such a big M&A market, have you ever contemplated selling the business?
Our strategy is to build an organisation that is very easy to scale up so we can grow fast organically. We want to keep our team as tight as possible. We believe that in this business it’s better to have a SWAT Team of 20-40 people rather than a mediocre army of 400 people.
Our financials are very strong and with our strategy of growing organically there is no need to bring in investors.
What can operators do to increase support from affiliates?
Build relationships based on trust and transparency.
Which qualities and skills are essential in an affiliate team/business?
The core qualities and skills are the same as for other businesses. You must be eager to learn and strive to become the best. It’s essential to put pride into what you are doing and you should love building up a great team.
How does technology play a part in your day-to-day?
Technology is an essential part of all online businesses. The most important learning curve for us has been to realise that we never should implement advanced technological solutions just because they're cool.
How is the Asian market shaping-up for affiliates?
We are establishing our business in India and Japan. But we are of course looking into other Asian markets as well.
What do you know now that you wish you knew when starting out?
Learning is a process and I have been in this business for a long time. The most important thing is that you always are eager to learn and that you put pride into your business. If you do that you realise that learning and knowledge is a process and you will become wiser every year.
What's been your biggest nightmare to date?
The biggest nightmare when it comes to Leadstar Media has always been that extreme external factors will have a negative impact on our business. We are strongly confident that we are one of the absolute best iGaming affiliates looking at the quality of our products. There are only extreme external factors that can slow us down.
What are the challenges in managing relationships with multiple operators?
Good relationships are based on trust and trust is something that grows. For us it’s super important with trust and transparency. Unfortunately there is a pretty high employee turnover when it comes to affiliate managers and that can have a negative impact on long-term relationships with operators.
What are the benefits of attending large iGaming events, and what can they do better?
We are a Stockholm-based company. The most important benefit for us is to meet our partners and potential partners face-to-face! Also important is having a good time together! We love going out for nice dinners with our partners.
Have you ever been to SiGMA? Would you consider attending SiGMA Manila or SiGMA Malta at some point?
I have been to SiGMA Malta twice! It has been a great experience. It’s a perfect time for us to meet our partners face-to-face and discuss what we can improve.
Tell us a bit about yourself – after all business is done between people, not just companies!
Favourite quote? - The best books... are those that tell you what you know already. (George Orwell)
Get to know other great affiliates, responsible for killer traffic! Click the link below to read more insights from affiliates:
About SiGMA Expo:
SiGMA 2020 Malta will take place November 17th - 19th 2020 at the Malta Fairs and Conventions Centre in Ta’ Qali. Positioned at the cutting edge of a very competitive industry, the event has evolved since 2014 into the definitive iGaming showcase, operating on both a European and world stage. In 2019, SiGMA’19 welcomed over 400 sponsors and exhibitors, 200 industry leading speakers and a record-breaking 15,000 attendees from over 80 countries, and in 2020 this staple in the global iGaming calendar is set to grow even bigger. To become a part of Europe's leading iGaming event, book a pass or sponsor & exhibit.
For those planning to attend SiGMA events in 2020, this is the buzzing business environment to be expected: