With both SiGMA and Betfinal sharing same offices at the Msida Skate Park’s Gaming Hub, it was relatively easy to catch up with this formidable team, whose strong personal relationships are vital to the success of their sportsbook and casino. SiGMA interviewed Joakim Ling, CEO of Betfinal.
Please tell us a bit about yourself and your brand – Betfinal. How did you get into iGaming industry – could you share your story with us?
I come from an e-commerce background, previously building platform solutions in Sweden and London. In 2009 I found the timing right to make the leap into the iGaming industry. As a tech-driven person myself, adapting to iGaming was an easy adjustment and after 5 years as a business developer it was time to embark on my own journey and Betfinal online was created. To create a new brand was a tough challenge and it was a rocky start to say the least. With a small team, we learned in many aspects the hard way and the countless hours of work the company needed in order to grow. We decided early on that we wanted to focus on sports as our main product, and that was a brilliant move we can confidently say now looking at our results. I’d have to say that being a big sports fan myself has definitely added to the mix and we follow all the events that are to fully emerge ourselves in the world of sports. I’m a firm believer that the best products in any industry comes from passionate professionals that see the shortcomings of the product and market, and acts accordingly. That’s why I’m proud to say we push ourselves to the limit at Betfinal to make sure our products are of the highest quality and that the user experience feels genuine and exciting.
If you met your younger self just when you founded Betfinal – what piece of advice would share? Could you tell us about the learning curve effect you experienced? How important is it to save on the little costs, for instance, bank charges, conversion to other currencies etc.
Well, this is a fun one. You don’t really comprehend the full power of a bad deal until you are wondering where the money is. Luckily, we noticed our poor deals and extra charges at an early stage before we had too much of activity. My first advice would be to analyse BI data and affiliates frequently and trust your instincts. It’s very addictive to follow results when you grow, so my second advice would be to stay focused on point as that can be hard sometimes. We started our online business early in 2015 and it took about 1 year to get ready for soft launch and an extra 6 months to launch fully. That time during our soft launch was probably the most critical time, to basically run the operation and make sure it can be profitable and scalable.
We are aware that you’re set to grow from four to over twelve employees within the company in the next few months – how do you find recruiting good quality talent in Malta? What are you in most dire need of?
To continue our growth, we have of course some open positions in areas where we want to improve. Right now, we are looking to grow our support team and also the urgent need to get more developers onboard is present. Until now we have been headhunting everyone, focusing on what we wanted to achieve and who we could do that with. Being based in Malta for many years that made it a lot easier, as the island is swamped with talent. When recruiting for a small team it’s just as important to take into the account the social fit of the potential employee as the skill set. In the end we are all trying to achieve the same goal together and in order to be on the same page you have to make sure to project those ambitions in a clear and concise manner. So far, we have been very successful with our recruiting process and I’m relieved to say we haven’t had any problems with it.
We’re witnessing strong consolidation trends among affiliates nowadays. Is this something that a effects your business? Have you experienced any changes in your relationship with affiliates since when you started as an operator?
Indeed, our strongest market is Scandinavia, and you see that the Scandinavian affiliate websites are being sold all the time and changing owners to bigger affiliate networks. It’s really an open market and we definitely feel that the Scandinavian affiliates are more demanding than other affiliates. However, we have tried to turn the fact that the industry is extremely competitive to our advantage with a focus on marketing spending. Because of the competitive business there are a lot of affiliates that try their luck with insane deals that you didn’t see 5-10 years ago, and that gives us the opportunity to land a good deal with the right partners. Being a smaller company, we are able to establish a unique dialogue with our affiliates with a focus on optimizing deals and strategies.
You’ve recently moved to a new office at Msida Skatepark – Gaming Hub. We know that before you had an office at your house. What was the reason behind changing the environment? It’s an extra cost after all and some people actually like the idea of working from home.
Our team is quite spread out in Europe, but we saw that it would make most sense to keep our headquarters in Malta and grow from here. So, in 2015, we started out with only three in Malta, and we started working from our house. Once we launched and had all the pieces in place in order to grow the business we were happy to move into the Gaming HUB early this year. I can see how some might think working from home can be a dream, but for us it was not ideal and we could not wait to get into the office atmosphere again. In order to scale your business we needed the office space, and also the social part of sharing the space with other companies made it even more attractive for our small team.
Mr and Mrs Ling – being a married couple working in the same industry is a quite common thing, but running a betting website and working back to back doesn’t happen so often. We’re curious how it works for you, not going too private, of course!
So far, so good! We have both put our souls into our work and even though we do not always agree, we can always agree on what’s best for the company. Furthermore, it’s not only the two of us, but we also hired our best friend. Being the three of us we already feel like a family and that has only made our chemistry better and stronger. The missus and I are, of course, aware of the risks in doing all of this together, but as we have progressed, the rewards along the way have felt twice as big for that same reason. It’s truly something special to share your passion and line of work with your partner, we play on each other’s strengths and make up for each other’s weaknesses.
What will be the next step for Betfinal? How do you see the future of online betting in one year and in 5 years from now?
We are focusing a lot on our brand and guidelines to make sure the brand can reach up to its full potential. Being a team of sports and casino enthusiasts, we take great pleasure in constantly developing our products and trying to be ahead of the more and more competitive market. That requires full dedication and long hours, but we got this far and at this point, we are only looking to the future.