From provider to operator – interview with Itai Zak, GoWild
From CEO of an established B2B platform to CEO of a mid-sized B2C operator, we met with Itai Zak to find out more about his ambitions with GoWild Gaming.
You made a big shift in your sterling career recently – switching from CEO of the world-renowned platform provider SBTech to GoWild Gaming, a relatively small but fast-developing operator. Was it the start-up romantic in you that contributed to the final decision? It must have nevertheless been a tough decision! Tell us more about the different company ethos, what you found easiest and hardest to get accustomed to – was it company red tape? Office locations? What were your motivations and biggest challenges connected with it?
I had an incredibly amazing five and a half years as the CEO of SBTech, both personally and professionally. It was a phenomenal experience to help shape the company as it expanded and matured, establishing itself as the leading gaming and betting provider for regulated markets. This included a tenfold increase in staff in just five short years, as we forayed into multiple new markets throughout the world.
I feel fortunate for having been given the opportunity to lead such a great company. However, after such a long period I felt that the right thing for me was to make a change, and the right thing for SBTech was to continue its growth trajectory with fresh leadership.
Leaving the company that I loved and nurtured for all those years was definitely a very hard decision, and it took a very special company to convince me to take the step. I wanted a new challenge and when I was approached with the opportunity to lead GoWild, I knew immediately it was the perfect fit.
GoWild is not actually a start-up, but more of a fast developing mid-size operator; and one of the more respected veteran casino brands, operating for well over a decade now. A Maltese company with highly talented and professional teams that are passionate about what they do, and totally on board for helping to move the company forward.
At the moment we’re in the middle of a number of interesting and ambitious projects that aim to take the company to the next level. First and foremost, we’re putting our primary focus on migrating the business from our current exclusive supplier, Microgaming, onto our own, proprietary gaming platform by the end of Q2 2017. In addition to offering our loyal players the best-of-breed content from more than 20 leading gaming providers, for an unparalleled personalized gaming experience, this unique platform will give us better control over all aspects of the business, from end-to-end – which is good for us, good for our players, and good for our affiliates alike.
We have also been recently granted our UK license and we will soon be launching our products on the UK market. Both of these projects offer plenty of challenges, and among the other initiatives in the works, are a big part of what motivated me to come on board.
With such rich experience in iGaming, you have a 360° perspective of the industry. What, in your opinion, are the critical factors for a successful platform provider-operator relationship?
I truly believe that in order to be successful, each side in the platform provider-operator relationship needs to focus on what it does best. Meaning, platform providers should constantly focus on the needs of the operators, developing the platform further, understanding their operators’ needs, and providing them with the best technical solution. Operators, for their part, need to focus on the marketing, on driving traffic, and on providing the best possible user experience and value for money to players.
At the end of the day, we’re all in this business together, so we need each other to succeed. This requires a lot of team work; platform providers and operators must constantly communicate with each other, engage, and share ideas and experiences. That being said, it’s important to remember that the operators are essentially the customer, and have a better understanding of the day-to-day challenges. To this end it’s usually best when the platform providers listen to their operators, understand their business needs and requirements, and provide them with the best tools to compete in this very competitive market.
Let’s focus on your newest project – GoWild Gaming. We’re sure you have some ambitious plans for the future. Could you shed some light on the more pertinent ones?
Like I said above, first and foremost on the horizon, there’s the transition to our revolutionary new gaming platform, which will give players access to the best games and content from more than 20 of the top software providers. In addition, the platform has a sophisticated CRM system which will enable us to personalise promotions and content in an unprecedented manner to boost retention and customer loyalty. This project is already well underway and expected to be completed by Q2 this year.
We have also finalised our UK license, and like the new platform, plan to launch in the UK by Q2 2017. To further expand, we’re now looking at other regulated markets, where we hope to be by the end of the year. We’re also looking to add more product verticals to our offering, mainly sports betting, for a more complete gaming experience.
So, in a nutshell, within this year, GoWild will change from offering content from a single provider – Microgaming – into a major player, with the best-of-breed content from all the leading providers, and various gaming products beyond casino, across multiple markets, for a complete gaming experience.
In January 2017 GoWild Gaming announced that it will start using its own independent casino platform. Why did you choose to develop your own solution, rather than rely on an outsourced product? When is the right time for a white label to go solo?
Our decision to move to our own casino platform was based on two things. It started with the desire to provide our players with the best gaming experience possible, which went hand-in-hand with our desire to further build our business.
After more than 10 years of operating exclusively on the Microgaming platform – 10 very successful years I might add – we wanted to be in full control of our business, which we can only do through our own platform. The core of our business, after all, has a lot to do with our ability to manage our players and their user-experience; being able to segment them properly, provide them with personalised offers, and give them the best overall gaming experience. All of this we can do most effectively by integrating different third-party software (each with its own added value) into our own platform, and then controlling the overall experience from there.
You have two brands in your portfolio – GoWild Casino and Wild Jackpots. What is the difference between them in terms of the marketing strategy? Which markets do they target and are you planning to expand on any new markets in the nearest future?
GoWild and Wild Jackpots more or less target the same markets – the Nordic markets, as well as the UK market, as soon as we receive our licensing there. However, they are different in terms of the offering we give our players. By having two similar brands, we’re able to launch various innovative promotions and basically A/B test which our players prefer.
As for expansion, we’re constantly looking at various markets to identify where we can best offer added value and productive collaborations with local partners. As such, it’s quite certain that we’ll be operating in more regulated markets by the end of the year.
With so many affiliate programs, it is a big challenge to gain the affiliates’ trust and loyalty. We know you have an outstanding team behind you because we dealt with them in person! How do you keep your affiliates engaged with your brands? What makes your program worth staying with?
The GoWild affiliates are our esteemed partners. That’s the difference here. We treat them like members of the team, and recognise that the brand would not succeed without the partnership of our affiliates. As such, we are always listening to them and supporting them, bringing them the
types of offers and features that convert and engage players. We are sure that timely payments and constant communication are the keys to a successful casino-affiliate relationship.
You are now based in Bucharest, Romania. How do you find the new environment?
Bucharest is a very beautiful city. Making the move was certainly a bit of a change, but I have to say, I love it here. The winter cold took some getting used to, but the warmth of the people more than makes up for it. If you haven’t visited, I highly recommend!
What do you see for the future of the gaming industry in terms of emerging trends, such as VR, increased regulated markets, financial technology and cryptos…. Which of all these developments hits your radar most prominently?
The gaming industry is constantly evolving. That’s part of what makes it so appealing.
Regulation will continue to have a big impact as more and more countries in Europe and South America move towards regulating online gaming. With more regulation comes more costs on the operators, so we will see the trend of M&A continuing as well, as companies try to find synergies in order to save costs.
We will also see more land-based operations moving into the online realm, with the aim of creating more revenue streams.
When it comes to technologies, everyone says that VR is one the next big things. However, it is yet to be proven, so I’m less certain there.
With operators sitting on a huge amount of data regarding their players’ behaviors and patterns, the bigger shift will be towards a more personalised offering. Operators and providers will invest more and more in building powerful CRM capabilities and having the right analytics, in order to offer each individual customer a tailor-made fit.
Anything you would like to add, Itai?
These are very exciting times for us at GoWild Gaming as we embark on unprecedented growth and development. We have numerous projects on the horizon, and I personally look forward to the challenges and successes that lie ahead.
GoWild will exhibit at SiGMA17. Don’t miss a chance to visit their stand and register today!
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