How SiGMA quickly became the largest iGaming show in Malta
Eman Pulis, Managing Director at SiGMA.
Many will know you as a founder and organizer of SiGMA, but was this your very first project in the iGaming industry? Where is it your adventure in the iGaming industry started?
Thank you for having me for this interview. My experience is purely with events and, truth be told, my knowledge in gaming four years ago was embarrassing – I couldn’t tell the difference between an affiliate, an operator and a vendor.
I started doing events as a university student: whilst reading for my very first degree I started throwing some whacky parties which fast became must-attend dos, not only on campus but across the little island. A party with Bob Sinclar back in 2006 attracted 7,000 party goers. These parties and concerts catapulted me at the heart of campus life; from presiding over the Malta University Sports Club, then becoming a student council member and, later on, even a student representative on university senate, sparring ideas with the brightest professors and faculty deans, all in the student best interest. I found every excuse to stay on campus and keep doing events – to the extent that every time I graduated, I started a new degree the following Autumn, mainly so I could stay close to campus and the students – my event attendees.
As I got older and the age gap with the rest of the students grew (ha!) I realized I needed to reinvent a bit my style and the events I was organising – from parties I moved to concerts, then to expos – photographic expos, a boat show and then a gaming expo; SiGMA.
iGaming professionals were attending my parties – and it didn’t take long to realize they were the most affluent. This was probably a reason why I decided to organise an iGaming show.
Loved the journey and got hooked to events, specifically gaming events, ever since. It is fairly easy, compared to other businesses, to create a great event out of thin air, with no monetary investment, and fast results.
SiGMA quickly became the largest iGaming show in Malta. The event is doubling in size every year for the past four years. What do you think has been the key success factor?
Doubling in size – sounds too good to be true, but the event has gone viral since opening its door on October 31st, 2014. People were sceptical this could work until the very last moment. Once the doors opened and I felt the festive mood across the floor plan, I knew there was no turning back. Those who doubted the all-embracing formula are now vociferous fans too.
Which formula are you talking about?
I wanted to have a 360 show that brings under one roof affiliates, operators, vendors, regulators, start-ups and investors. The gaps between these pillars is constantly shrinking. For instance today’s affiliate is fast becoming an operator within months. Why shouldn’t we, then, introduce such big affiliates to the white label providers?
A lot in Malta insisted I should focus on B2B only, however, we stuck to our mantra. Today many in Malta understand the importance of looking at gaming from a holistic point of view in order to safeguard the industry.
To attract more affiliates for SiGMA 2016, you gave away 300 flights. What’s the business strategy behind your generosity? Are you going to be that generous again with SiGMA 2017 coming up? And with the event taking place in November already, can new participants still benefit?
We gave away 300 flights last year, inspired by the movie 300! This year we upped the ante to a whopping 1,000 flights! That’s half a million euros worth of flights and VIP dinners to attract the best minds and industry shifters. Last year we flew 300 affiliates. This year, however, we took heed of advice and are flying 500 affiliates to keep our exhibiting operators happy, but also 500 CEO operators to keep our exhibiting vendors happy. Anyone exhibiting at the show is guaranteed to meet new faces, fresh business leads.
This is a long-term plan – to increase awareness about the show. I’m keeping my best fingers crossed, hoping that it will work!
I read SiGMA 2017 welcomes a lot of first-time exhibitors including the world class brands Bet365, Ladbrokes, and PokerStars. What is it exactly that convinced these companies to join SiGMA this year?
I’m just a salesman that’s been hustling since day one. I’ve been turned down hundreds of times, but sometimes you just don’t accept no for an answer because you know you have a winning formula, so you patiently wait for the following year, for another chance for a sales pitch! Each year, some of the energy sticks – and with the bigger companies you just need to be a little more patient and show that the event works. Ultimately everyone wants to make money and if you can provide operators with good affiliates / vendors with c-level operators on their booths, you bet they’re signing up.
Our relationship with the exhibitors does not last just two days per year. Throughout the rest of the year we make sure to keep the industry tight together by organising lavish dinners in Malta for operators and vendors as well as two Affiliate Grand Slams outside of Malta – www.affiliategrandslam.com.
Ultimately it’s people doing business with people – we’re there to take the backseat, never the limelight, facilitate an ideal business environment and help business flourish.
From eight start-ups attending SiGMA last year to over fifty start-ups this year. What’s the secret? Talking about start-ups. In 2016, you’ve launched the SiGMA start-up pitch. What’s this initiative all about? Any updates?
This is, probably, my favourite part of the entire summit. I am a startup romantic myself and the energy around some start-ups is truly mesmerising. Jarek, Sophie and I went all out on the start-ups this year, investing a lot of money to help connect bright minds with deep pockets and experienced mentors.
We do not charge anything to start-ups and provide them with mentoring, office space in Malta, a free booth and much more. So this year, not only do we have an impressive number of start-ups taking part, but also a big number of VCs and investors – many from outside gaming – who are fond of experimenting with this vertical.
This is an important point worth pointing out – I think having such VCs interested in gaming for the first time is doing a lot of good to gaming – fuelling the industry with brain power and expertise which could have been lacking before.
Last but certainly not least. Now the White Paper has been published – proposing major reforms to Malta’s gaming legal framework – the Malta iGaming landscape is about to change completely. With SiGMA taking place in Malta, can participants expect anything in particular regarding these upcoming changes?
The Malta Gaming Authority, the Government of Malta and Gaming Malta have been vociferous fans of the show, with full support since day one. We have lined up eleven dedicated conferences and the government is taking active part in three of them:
- Regulatory Conference
- Daily Fantasy Sport Conference
- Blockchain and Disruptive Technology Conference
The Government has also recently issued an ambitious statement, aiming to put Malta at the forefront of Blockchain technology within the European Union. There seems to be a lot happening at Government level to, once again, put Malta ahead of the curve – all of these updates will be discussed in detail at the SiGMA conferences.
The site contains a wealth of information; from attendee list, to lineup of speakers and conference discussions, to the sold out floor plan and much much more. www.maltaigamingsummit.com
“one of the several exhibitors commenting on SiGMA last year”