We met Sebastian Jarosch, Affiliate Director at Donkr.com for an interview about his business and thoughts about the industry.
Hello Sebastian, how are you? Are you ready for the SiGMA17?
Hi Marius, I’m great thanks. Always a pleasure to meet you my friend. Ever since SiGMA kicked off, I’ve been attending every single event and enjoyed it from the start. Networking is a big part of my job and I’m always happy to meet new and familiar faces at these events.
In fact, I always wondered why there weren’t any events in Malta despite a lot of affiliates and operators being here. SiGMA now is the most convenient conference for me, since it’s basically right at my doorstep and I always feel like I have a bit of a home advantage.
SiGMA has pretty much gone through the roof with so many operators and affiliates taking part these days. I also enjoyed meeting everyone in Tallinn for the Affiliate Grand Slam last week!
How did you come to enter the online gaming space and set up your company?
Games have always fascinated me in general and around 10 years ago I got the opportunity to join the iGaming industry. It’s a perfect match for me and since the sector is very exciting and competitive, I decided to go for the challenge. So I made a snap call, packed my things and relocated from Germany to Malta, where I was mainly involved in affiliation and poker management.
A bit over 4 years ago I joined Donkr, the poker arm of Innovation Labs, as an affiliate manager and now I’ve been running all aspects of the site for 3 years.
Can you tell us a little about how your company business is structured?
Innovation Labs is part of the stock listed Gaming Innovation Group and started out with Donkr way back in 2008. Ever since i-Labs has grown into one of the leading casino, sports book and poker lead generation companies. We’re constantly hiring talented staff and have our own in-house content teams, freelancers, developers and SEOs with Richard Brown being the CEO of Innovation labs. The company has offices in Malta and Tel Aviv.
With the recent wave of consolidation, mergers and acquisitions of affiliate sites, are you surprised at all of the changes happening in the industry?
Consolidation is a natural development in a maturing market, it already started a while back in the iGaming industry with the larger companies acquiring comparably smaller operators for market share or the other way around as we’ve seen with the Rational Group and Amaya.
The formation of larger companies accumulates a lot of expertise and brings stability into the market. The other side of the coin is a risk of monopolization, which poses certain dangers.
The same thing is happening with affiliate sites as well and we’re actually acquiring a lot of websites and networks ourselves. The iGaming industry is in a consolidation phase and you’ll have to make acquisitions if you want to stay in the game long term.
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’ve gone down that route already and have been very successful. Innovation Labs is part of the Gaming Innovation Group, which offers white label solutions and already owns several casinos such as the award winning Guts.com.
We started off under a software provider back then and quickly found that it didn’t give us enough room to evolve, so we decided to basically get our own license and do everything ourselves in-house.
Our main ambition is to do things better, which we do and our incredible success proves it. We’re constantly innovating and doing something fresh, which is probably the best way forward.
Developing unique content is a key pillar of your strategy. What will be your primary focus on this front over the next 6 months?
Donkr is a very established community with a lot of great content such as strategy guides, a forum and blogs. The site has been branded for almost a decade in Norway with the Norwegian Championships including radio shows, interviews and tournament live feeds, which brings us a lot of direct traffic. However, we also get some great organic traffic from relevant content such as our poker strategy guides and we will be adding more of those.
Which markets do you focus on and do you see any potential in the emerging markets?
Historically Donkr started out on the Norwegian market and we enjoy quite some popularity there. We’re basically working all over Europe though with a focus on Germany, the UK and Eastern Europe.
The Asian market is currently booming and a lot of poker affiliates are looking into it with new poker rooms popping up everywhere. The US is also becoming more interesting for us and optimally there will be a federal regulation in the near future.
How do you find Scandic market and competition?
The Scandinavian market is huge and the player value is extremely high, it has always been one of our key markets. Competition is fierce, but we have a strong presence there already and are strengthening our foothold continuously with market leading promotions and great service.
How have Google’s algorithm updates affected the way you go about traffic generation, SEO and content at your company?
The updates haven’t really affected Donkr because the site is not the typical SEO affiliate. We drive around 25% of our traffic organically but we’re keeping our traffic sources very diverse, with a lot of visitors coming from referrals such as paid advertisement, sub affiliation, social media and we’re well branded from offline events for example, so we get a lot of direct traffic too. Donkr is essentially run more like a poker operator and it works very well for us.
For our casino sites a Google update is a bigger thing, but we have a great SEO team who takes care of these matters. They’ve learned to identify the changes quickly and share them with our content teams, so that we can adapt very quickly.
Are there any exciting plans in the works that you can tell us about?
Our resources are one of our biggest advantages and we’re planning on utilizing them even more for marketing and revamping our site where it makes sense. We’re currently in the process adding more diversity to our promotions to target different market segments. Cross marketing products is a significant part of our income and we’re also finding ways to improve that.
What is the main thing that you’d like Sigma readers to know about your sites?
We’re very customer oriented and are there for our players 24/7 with professional support and market-leading offers. The aim is to deliver to both our customers and partners alike. Our dedication has earned Donkr.com a great reputation, which is one of the reasons for our continuous success.
What challenges and opportunities has the move to mobile presented you with?
We haven’t really moved to mobile yet for Donkr, but it’s something that we have talked about a while ago and I would like to see a mobile version of Donkr rather sooner than later.
For our grinder community mobile is not that important, however when targeting recreational players it is an absolute must and you don’t really get around it. Everyone has a smart phone and if you want to be able to engage your customers wherever they are. I see a lot of potential there for our poker content, mobile conversions and our forum section for example.
Mobile poker is mostly aimed at recreational players and you can see the products from the operators getting more sophisticated all the time to attract this popular player group.
What do you see as the biggest challenges ahead for your business and the wider affiliate sector in 2017?
It’s usually regulation which causes us headaches initially, but even there we find plenty of opportunities and it has its advantages when it comes to marketing and exclusivity. Poker hasn’t really had a boom in a while, but as mentioned earlier, Asia is coming and hopefully the US eventually. Donkr has shown growth within the last 12 months despite the industry being said to be in decline, but obviously the market is getting more and more competitive.
What two pieces of advice would you give to any new affiliate starting today?
Connections and solid partnerships make a big difference in the industry, it’s important to network and know the right people.
Reputation is also something you can’t really buy so I would always suggest to go for best practice to keep a clean image among partners and most importantly the customers. It’s the best long term approach and we’ll be sticking to it.
Do you play slots and what would you do with 1 million Euro from jackpot winnings?
Poker is actually more my thing, but if I did happen to win a million at a slot machine I would probably buy a Tesla, do a bit more of traveling and invest some of the money.
Sebastian Jarosch, the Affiliate Director at Donkr.com, has been with Donkr, the leading affiliate in the online gaming industry, since December 2012.
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.