Lars Wahlström, Founder & CEO at ARGO Gaming Group, joins the latest series of affiliate interviews on Affiliate Grand Slam
Having launched ARGO Gaming Group in 2020, Lars Wahlström and his team are channelling their experience in both the B2B and operator realm of iGaming to perfect their brand of affiliation - follow their story below.
How did your affiliate business take off? And, is iGaming your only vertical?
ARGO Gaming Group set up shop in 2020, after only a few months discussions about financing, staffing and strategy. Once the decision was made, it all happened very fast. The team of founders are 2 iGaming veterans and 1 search wizard. Us iGaming guys have done both B2B and the operator side of the business and the decision to go into affiliation was a combination of a lust to sort of go “full circle” in the business together with a belief that the opportunity to build company value is greater in this vertical than any other at the moment. Yes, iGaming is our only current vertical.
How did you first get into the affiliate space, and were you always focused on the iGaming sector?
Yes, focusing on the iGaming sector came naturally after more than 15 years in the industry.
How is your affiliate business structured, and what aspect of business development are you currently focused on?
We’re very much focused on speed and grabbing opportunity. After having spent too many years in a corporate environment, it really is a pure joy to work in a start-up. Quick decisions, no reporting. Just focusing on building the company. Pure bliss.
Which marketing technologies are business-critical for the affiliate industry?
So, we’re quite heavy fans of off the shelf solutions. Most of our sites are WordPress sites, although quite heavily modified with our own touch. We’ve spent quite a lot of time on customization of various kinds.
Also, the endless logins to affiliate back offices is a real pain in the butt. I have to mention both the guys at Matching Visions (thanks Stefan!) and Voonix here, for great support and solutions that make life as an affiliate much more pleasant.
What can operators do to increase support with affiliates?
Not sure really. I find that, as often in business, it has a lot to do with chemistry. A good account manager is worth his or her weight in gold.
How can affiliates stand out from the crowd to attract more audience and drive more traffic?
That’s a million-dollar question, isn’t it? I’m not sure I would answer it even if I had a simple answer…
What makes your traffic proposition unique for operators?
Not much really. The whole industry is very generic and there are loads of great affiliates out there. We do hope to be able to send quality traffic though, by not focusing too much on low value keywords. Time will tell, but it’s looking very promising already.
What can operators do to increase support from affiliates?
Listen. I think too many affiliate managers are stuck with very strict instructions with a lot of red tape. These instructions come from management and boils down to personal goals for each individual affiliate manager. This, in turn, comes from the love/hate relationship many operators have with affiliates. Yes, we take a cut. That’s the whole business model, but no, you couldn’t get that traffic without us. I think operators need to really decide either or. Either you stop viewing us as margin parasites and embrace us and the traffic we send as traffic you wouldn’t otherwise get, OR, you take a stance and you say “No, we don’t do affiliates”. A middle way here is a bad way.
What makes a top operator?
Life. Time. Value. Oh, and honesty. Untagging VIP players and not paying invoices are not good business values.
Why work with an affiliate program when you can work directly with an operator?
Logistics and negotiating power. Take Matching Visions for example. They’ve been a great help to us in the beginning. I’m sort of watching them as our “parents house”. Sure, there’ll come a day when we’re old and big enough to move out of the house but for now it’s home...
Has COVID-19 impacted the affiliate arena? Is it still profitable to be an affiliate in 2020?
I mean, if you’re sports book focused it obviously hasn’t been great. The casino vertical, however, has seen an uplift. People like to gamble.
How has your business dealt with COVID-19 restrictions?
We were working from home for 5 weeks, which obviously isn’t ideal as a startup but it actually worked out pretty well in the end. In terms of marketing restrictions, we weren’t really impacted much as none of our core markets implemented marketing restrictions.
Which genre of iGaming do you push to your audience? Casino / Slots / Poker / Sportsbook / Other (please specify)?
We’re starting off as casino affiliates only. We do have plans for other verticals however, starting with New Jersey…
Would you consider investment to scale your business? Or, with such a big M&A market, have you ever contemplated selling the business?
We did contemplate a seed round but ended up funding the business between the owners instead. We might look at a Series A later but hopefully we won’t need to. I find the thought of expanding and growing organically very appealing.
Which qualities and skills are essential in an affiliate team/business?
Speed. Initiative. Being thorough. Kicking ass.
How does technology play a part in your day-to-day?
Very much. We use a multitude of tools both for the sites as well business control. We use Monday for our backlog and task management and the Google Gsuite for most everything else.
Which emerging technologies like AI and big data will impact the affiliate industry in 2020 and beyond?
Very interesting question. AI, I’m not sure. Big Data most definitely. However, as always, quite few will have the will or insight to use it properly. Those who do will certainly have an edge.
Which tech innovations (implemented by operators) determine your affiliate focus for audience conversion? PayNPlay / KYC / AML / other (please specify)
All of those, but many are just pure hygiene factors rather than help. Operators need to have all of this, if relevant in the market. It’s what they do beyond that that matters. Good CRM is really high on the list for us because that in turn is so fundamental to Life Time Value. Many White Label operators are stuck with the platform CRM team which often aren’t too bothered with each individual brand.
Is the grass greener on the other side - have you considered going down the white label or even operator route?
No. I spent 7 years as an operator. Great times but wouldn’t do it anytime soon again!
Which global markets are you eyeing up as a priority in 2020, and why?
So we started off with Canada (https://casinoclaw.com/), Germany (https://kasinoklapper.com/), and Finland (https://nettikasinoo.com/). We then launched Japan (https://rakkikajino.com/) and New Zealand (https://nzcasinoo.com/).
The common theme, obviously, is markets in expansion and yet to be regulated. We’re also launching a site for Spain as well as LatAm, but our main focus right now is New Jersey, where we’re currently waiting for our affiliate license.
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)
Yes indeed. Hard not to be concerned about lower margins. This said though, there will still be enough money in those markets to make a profit. I just think it’s sad to have a whole country’s licensing system hijacked by individual politicians with more interest in building their own CVs than actually creating a fair system that works well. Yes, I’m talking about Sweden now.
How is the Asian market shaping-up for affiliates?
Nothing short of fantastic. Japan is exciting but also markets like Thailand, India and the Philippines look very interesting. Then, of course, there is China. Whoever figures out China will do well to say the least.
What do you know now that you wish you knew when starting out?
I’m too fresh in the business for any insights like that, haha.
What’s been your biggest nightmare to date?
Nothing. It’s been all unicorns and rainbows so far.
What are the main challenges for the sector in 2020?
Hmm. I think the whole sector has a challenge in proving it’s worth to the operators. Too many see affiliates as vampires just sucking at the margins. This is not the case in my view, but the operators need to realize this as well.
What are your predictions for the future of the sector?
I think the sector will continue to do well in the near future and the coming 1-3 years will be more or less business as usual. After that, who knows.
What are the challenges in managing relationships with multiple operators?
Yes, this is a challenge. Skype helps. And Excel-skills. We have tried multiple ways to do this but do find that a large Excel “master document” is probably the best way, together with a simple “Gold, Silver, Bronze” classification of each operator. Again, I also have to raise our friends at Matching Visions here.
What are the benefits of attending large iGaming events, and what can they do better?
I might be old fashioned but doing business face to face is always better than over Skype or email.
Have you ever been to SiGMA? Would you consider attending SiGMA Manila or SiGMA Malta at some point?
Yes, I’ve been to SiGMA Malta numerous times, but as an operator. Can’t wait to go there as a representative of “the dark side” now!
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About SiGMA LatAm Focus:
This event brings the Americas closer to delegates from Europe and Asia, with an interesting agenda featuring a line-up of speakers that showcases the company’s commitment to covering the various gaming verticals. Explore the full agenda here and register now, this one’s on us!