We met Lee Gwilliam, Commercial Manager at Blexr Ltd, for an interview about the company and thoughts about the industry.
Hello Lee, how are you? How did you find Affiliate Grand Slam? Are you ready for SiGMA17?
I can only praise how good AGS was – it is a unique alternative to the other affiliate events of the year. We do love new and innovative ideas here at Blexr and can’t wait to see a repeat performance.
SiGMA of course, fulfills the need for Malta, as a critical iGaming location, to have its own conference and it’s an event which just gets better each time. We are eagerly anticipating what this year’s conference will bring and look forward to co-operating further with SiGMA and other local partners.
How did you come to enter the online gaming space and join your company?
Well, I guess it’s an obvious cliché that Blexr was formed by ex-poker pro’s and indeed, many of the existing staff fall into the same category! What started as a rake back site so many years ago is now a huge affiliate network operating globally and in many verticals. I joined in Jan last year after a year in a customer facing role to look at building our email acquisition channel and setting up a more formal account management structure to support the company’s growth.
Can you tell us a little about how your company business is structured?
We’ve a very flat structure overall with employees tending to ‘’own’’ specialist roles to maximize the benefits of their skill set. This is across our whole network of web properties rather than micromanaging by brand and thus the business structure falls in line with people rather than people reporting to products. Sure, you will find exceptions where niche knowledge dictates differently but that is the exception rather than the norm.
Right from the start of the company’s relocation to Malta our hiring strategy has been based around finding the right talent and developing it in house. In fact – almost all the team leaders and department heads started off in more junior roles here and grew with the company to where they now are. It creates a close-knit team environment where people feel they can develop at a rapid pace and be rewarded for their efforts. Our in-house training really pays dividends in an industry where hiring and retention are a constant challenge.
With the recent wave of consolidation, mergers and acquisitions of affiliate sites, are you surprised at all of the changes happening in the industry?
I think the top heavy super affiliate structure was always inevitable if you look at the way other online industries have developed in recent years. If you view recent capital raises from major affiliates,acquisition will definitely be just as strong in 2017. The surprising thing for us is a lack of change in one specific area.This is a technology based industry, and it’s incredible how far some areas of tech in this industry, such as affiliate software programs, fall behind the mainstream.
A number of your competitors have gone down the real money operator route, and tried their hand at white labels. Have you also done this?
We have competitors? Jokes aside, of course, we concede once you reach a certain size as an affiliate it’s very tempting. That said, the best performing brands in each GEO, the ‘’market leaders’’, don’t tend to be white labels. Instead they are bespoke operations optimized for their target markets. With that in mind right now we think it better to concentrate on leveraging our affiliate experience and providing more services in the B2B field rather than trying to operate a casino. As with all strategies, if we find a way to do it correctly, we would of course consider it.
Developing unique content is a key pillar of your strategy. What will be your primary focus on this front over the next 6 months?
‘’Content is king’’ – a lesson which sadly business on both sides of the industry are seriously neglecting, preferring shortcuts to try and keep up with googles ever changing algorithms rather than providing consumer value. We view that deep, value based content is still worthwhile as an affiliate and as you will see with our ongoing reworks of smaller sites are heavily expanding the depth of inherited content from acquisitions. In addition, we are looking at different ways to provide content outside of the mainstream – watch this space!
Which markets do you focus on and do you see any potential in the emerging markets ?
The English-speaking markets are still a huge core section of our portfolio but that is undergoing heavy diversification in 2017 through both product creation, strategic partnerships with our B2B partners and acquisition. The sheer size of our network dictates that in any GEO we have good volumes of traffic to optimize and thus must maintain a global strategy. Emerging markets are a priority focus for us in 2017 and it is an area where we are doing extensive research and testing.
How do you find UK market and competition?
Whilst UK player value is very high, the existing regulations and upcoming changes present significant challenges for both casino operators and affiliates alike. We can’t be far away from serious affiliate regulation in line with other markets. Also, the cost of doing business in the UK tends to dictate significant percentage admin fees from many operators which lead to a lower overall profit for affiliates and casinos despite the generous up front value of the players. More worryingly some less reputable operators are trying to hide these fee’s in the NGR calculations without declaring them to affiliate partners.
How have Google’s algorithm updates affected the way you go about traffic generation, SEO and content at your company?
Honestly, it’s been business as usual for us when it comes to the search engines. We expect google to be constantly updating and making changes and find it an asset for us rather than a problem. We’ve a world class digital media and SEO team that are constantly aiming to keep us ahead of the curve. You know the head of this team, Alessandro Focardi, very well and, we are both aware he’s a man of innovation.
Are there any exciting plans in the works that you can tell us about?
Always Marius. For us, this year is about exploring new ways in which affiliates can liaise with partners outside of acquisition to improve performance on both sides. There is a huge amount of underutilized data which partners can share and form mutual growth strategies. I’m generalizing of course, but you will see some unique partnerships announced this year, particularly with our flagship site http://www.vegasslotsonline.com.
What is the main thing that you’d like Sigma readers to know about your sites?
That’s a tough one. I guess from our perspective as we haven’t always been so public facing or accessible, it’s about making potential partners aware that we have web properties and opportunities across most products and in almost all geographical locations. We are here and ready to listen to a wide variety of cooperation ideas.
What challenges and opportunities has the move to mobile presented you with?
I think it’s a simple one and most others would agree – mobile 1st. The split of mobile versus desktop traffic now dictates that you must design for mobile from the beginning and then optimize for desktop afterwards, rather than the other way around. A challenge for us here has been in the reworking of acquired sites where the mobile optimization was far behind our properties developed in house.
What do you see as the biggest challenges ahead for your business and the wider affiliate sector in 2017?
Regulation, regulation, regulation. We’ve seen in Australia recently that market turmoil can quickly erupt and impact revenues significantly. More markets are moving towards formal regulation and not just for operators but for affiliates too. In some ways, this is incredibly healthy for the industry but it does create significant challenges, particularly for affiliates who’ve had a free reign in many areas thus far. I don’t think you have to be a soothsayer to envisage that all markets will either be regulated or monopolies at some point and the whole industry is gradually moving along that path.
What two pieces of advice would you give to any new affiliate starting today?
Target yourself to master a niche and offer value. The barrier to entry in the affiliate world is high but, the potential rewards are huge. I’d actually say the same thing for new operators. What are your USP’s? What makes you different to competitors and what value are you going to bring to consumers?
Do you play slots and what would you do with 1 million Euro from jackpot winnings?
I play fairly regularly to assess games and keep abreast of trends and technology though, rarely for real cash as my poker hobby tends to absorb that! If I won the million it’s easy – I’d pick out a nice 69 Camaro and invest the rest in the company.
Lee Gwilliam is the Commercial Manager at Blexr Ltd and has been in the iGaming industry a little over two years. Previously he enjoyed a long online business development career in affiliation of custom car parts and consumer electronics products.
Have you attended SiGMA last year? Relive the highlights from our last show and stay tuned for this year’s SiGMA. Watch out for what we’re branding as the ‘iGaming Village’ this year.