Andrea Bellezza, VP of EU and Asia Pacific Markets at KaFe Rocks, joins the latest series of affiliate interviews on Affiliate Grand Slam
Andrea Bellezza of KaFe Rocks explains how their trust, transparency, and quality policy isn't just applicable when dealing with operators but it is also implemented on their sites - follow his story below.
From where did you start your affiliate business and how? How much were you willing to commit to it?
My affiliate journey began in 2016, when I was introduced by a mutual friend to one of the three founders/owners of what later became KaFe Rocks. At the start there were just four of us. We didn’t have many resources, but it was certainly a unique and exciting experience that made me build strong bonds with everyone.
What were your biggest challenges when first starting? What’s been your biggest nightmare to date?
On a personal level, the biggest challenge was learning about the iGaming industry. Before 2016, I had minimal experience because I came from the video game industry. Rollover, cash out, payout, etc., these were all terms completely new to me. I had no idea what they meant and what people were talking about! Luckily my background in marketing helped me to understand quickly and get a better sense of what people needed and looked for.
Regarding the company, one of the biggest challenges at the beginning was the limited amount of resources we had available. It meant compromising on certain things (I will never forget having lunch with the team in a University canteen to keep expenses low), but on the other hand it helped selecting people with the right attitude for our growth.
What do you know now that you wish you knew when starting out?
Do not be afraid to experiment and try different things, even if it may end up being wrong. At the start it was all new to me, so I tried to do everything by the book. However, as soon as I started to gain confidence (it took me a while…) and implement new ideas on our sites, I started learning a lot. I was also incredibly lucky as the working environment within the company allowed maximum freedom and no backlash for mistakes.
What are the main challenges for the sector in 2020, particularly during this pandemic?
Sports betting has taken a hit, but this has been partially compensated by increased interest in casino and even poker. However, I would say that the real challenge is keeping your team and coworkers happy and motivated as much as possible. Everyone is going through big changes in their everyday routines, so, in times like these, a bit more support and flexibility definitely helps.
What sets you apart from other affiliates?
From the outset, our company has focused on building strong and long-lasting relationships with operators based on trust, transparency, and quality. That may have meant less profits during the initial stage of each partnership, but it has certainly paid off in the long run.
What makes your traffic proposition/traffic sites unique?
Our trust, transparency, and quality policy isn’t just applicable when dealing with operators. We also implement it on our sites, which, in turn, makes the users coming to us aware of what they can expect from an iGaming portal. We help the users make the best choices for them, and informed users are more than likely satisfied customers!
Do you create all the marketing material you need to promote in-house, or do you out-source it?
Yes, we create everything in-house. We give our products a unique and customised touch that makes them instantly recognisable!
How important is social media activity for your affiliate business? How difficult is it with Google's constant updates?
While there’s certainly value there, we focus primarily on SEO, so social media activity is not currently one of our main priorities.
Google’s constant updates are what makes it interesting for us. Imagine how boring it would be if things that worked 10, 5, or even 2 years ago were still the best practices to reach the top.
How important is SEO? How did SEO change in the last few years and how will it change in the future?
As mentioned, we focus mainly on SEO, so for us and our partners it is quite important. One of Google’s goals is to provide users with the most valuable and reliable results, so things like keyword stuffing do not work anymore. As one can expect, Google’s mission is a particularly challenging one, and obviously ever-changing. Good quality content and great user experience is being rewarded more and more, and that’s what we focus on. But there are a lot of black-hat SEO tricks that still work (and always will do). In certain markets, SEO is also one of the very few ways through which operators can reach new users, so we believe it will retain a certain level of relevancy in the future.
How is your company structured, and what aspect of business development are you currently focused on?
As one could imagine, we have the usual departments that take care of the various aspects of business: Tech, Content, Product, Affiliation, Finance, HR, and so on. Currently, and even though we now have over 100 people in the company, we have a fairly flat structure where everyone can easily interact with each other, regardless of position. In my view, this is one of the main factors that makes KaFe Rocks a great place to work - the overall atmosphere is exceptionally light and pleasant.
My focus at the moment is on managing and growing several markets such as LatAm, Japan, Italy, French speaking countries, and others. With the collaborative effort of my teams, we make sure our sites are spot on and offer the best experience, personalised for every market to the users visiting them.
How can affiliates be more unique in their approach?
This has been repeated over and over by everyone, but I must reaffirm that the key to being unique is to always innovate and to come out with solutions to improve your users’ experience.
Although this was one of our main characteristics since the company launched, we sort of neglected that aspect at a certain stage. Luckily, we realised it quickly, and have made it one of our priorities since. And yes, it does pay off!
Which markets are you eyeing up as a priority and why? Do you see any potential in the emerging markets?
The usual suspects are the Asian markets and the US. There is clearly a lot of potential there, but entering these areas is not an easy task. As a European company, you need a substantial amount of resources and a focus on hiring people that really know the ins and outs of these markets.
Which niches work best for your affiliate marketing, and which are the most profitable? How did you find your most profitable niche?
Connected to the point above, in every market there is always a niche to be found that other competitors are overlooking. The best way to find them? By hiring the right person who is often a native, with specific knowledge of the topic and market.
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? Have you considered going down the operator route?
We are an affiliate and this is the focus of our business, so it’s very unlikely we’d look at becoming an operator down the line. We’re also privately owned with three committed owners and the company is in a strong financial position, with our main aim to grow organically. However, we made our first acquisition in February 2020 and keep our eyes and options open for further non-organic growth.
Which qualities and skills are essential in an affiliate team/business?
Flexibility certainly plays a big role in our industry. As things are constantly changing, it is vital to be able to adapt and always improve.
Although we have a lot of tools that help us in our daily job, a clear understanding of user’s needs is important. This helps us navigate all the data and info we extrapolate.
How does technology play a part in your day-to-day?
Simply put, it’s vital! And not only because our whole industry is based on technology and innovation. We have a cool office in Malta, but many of us are spread around the world and have always worked remotely. If it were not for technology, we wouldn’t be able to do that.
Which emerging technologies like AI and big data will impact the affiliate industry in 2020 and beyond?
I firmly believe that AI will have a huge impact on our industry. On a large scale, it is not going to be 2020, and maybe not even 2021, but it is coming. There is some AI out there that is already doing exceptional work, and it won’t be long before more affiliates start to realise its importance and adopt it.
How has the fragmentation of regulated markets affected your business? UKGC, Swedish regulator and now also the German regulator is mulling regulating this space.
When a market becomes regulated, it is usually good news for a lot of operators and affiliates that want to play by the rules. However, I am not fully convinced that the German case falls into this category, as some hefty limits have currently been imposed by the government. I guess we will have to wait and see how things evolve there.
How is the Asian market shaping-up for affiliates?
There are opportunities and potential there, and a lot of companies are already capitalising on it. But regulations are a big unknown factor in most of these countries, and I think this is what is currently holding up its growth.
In your opinion, is affiliate business still expanding?
On a global level? For sure. In Europe? We’re probably very close to the limit.
What can operators do to increase support with affiliates? Do communication and support with operators meet your expectations? How do you manage your relationship with them?
We manage our relationships with operators through our Affiliate department, and we make sure we have one person dealing with the same account. This way, communication can grow and develop through time, and it’s the best way to build trust for a long-lasting partnership.
What are the benefits of attending large iGaming events, and what can they do better?
It is always a great way to meet people face to face who you usually deal with via email or Skype. It is always good to reconnect and catch up, and there’s always an interesting panel to listen to. You rarely go home disappointed after these events!
Have you ever been to SiGMA? SiGMA Europe, Africa, Asia, or Americas - which of these four expo shows would you likely book on your diary for 2021, COVID-19 permitting?
Yes, I've been to SiGMA Malta, and COVID-19 permitting I'll certainly attend SiGMA Europe and highly considering SiGMA Asia!
Tell us a bit about yourself - after all, business is done with people, not just companies! Your hobbies, favourite book, favourite quote, whether you are into iGaming yourself, etc.
I'm not an avid iGamer, but I do enjoy playing at a live casino from time to time. Especially when it's done socially (i.e., with friends), it can be really fun!
Whilst I am a modest bettor, I am, however, a maniac when it comes to video games. Time is an issue, so I can’t play much, but I love to collect various titles from a variety of gaming consoles. I have more than 1000 different games in my collection from the last 35 years.
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