GSH Online Media boss shares his vision
Viorel Stan, founder and chief executive officer of start-up GSH Online Media, sets out his roadmap for affiliate success.
When did you start your iGaming experience?
My journey in the igaming industry started around ten years ago. Back then, I was managing OddsMatrix, the SportsBook solution powered by EveryMatrix. After four great years, I decided to try something else, and I managed to make the transition from B2B to B2C. That’s how my journey as the CEO of Jetbull, an online casino and sportsbook brand, started. I realised in a short time that the feeling generated by interacting directly with the end customer was exactly what I needed.
After several years in this position, thanks to the good results obtained, I convinced the board to add under my wing all the B2C brands owned by EveryMatrix, which included online operators and online affiliates. That’s how I became the CEO of EveryMatrix Business to Consumer Division.
During those ten years, because I was first a provider, afterwards an operator, and in the end, also an affiliate, I managed to create a complete understanding of the Igaming industry value chain. After I accumulated all this know-how, in July 2019 I decided to start GSH Online Media.
Keeping in mind that you managed online gambling brands and also affiliates, which one do you like the most and why?
Each part of the business has it’s own good parts and bad parts, but both of them are fun to manage.
As an online operator, you are keeping a bigger part of the profits, but at the same time, you are exposing yourself to many more risks, as the player is betting against you. Of course on the long term, if it’s well managed, the house always wins, but if you don’t manage the business properly, there are a lot of smart punters or abusers which can close your business. Also, the operator is heavily regulated, and if you don’t follow the guidelines, you might end up with a huge fine.
On the other side, as an affiliate, although your margin per player is smaller, usually you tend to have fewer risks. You will never end up in a situation when you need to pay a player, in the worst-case scenario you don’t do any revenues. We should keep in mind that there is a fearless competition with a lot of big sharks and you really need to differentiate yourself from the competitors; otherwise, you will never be able to attract enough players to make your business sustainable.
What was the trigger which made you create GSH Online Media?
I started developing my entrepreneurial spirit when I was a youngster. In my early twenties, I had my own business in the real estate industry. The company had a strong start but unfortunately was severely hit by the great recession from 2007-2008 and didn’t recover. Afterwards, I was lucky enough to find a company like EveryMatrix, which believed in me and offered me the freedom of managing the divisions as they were my own. Of course, this also happened because my team delivered excellent results on a monthly basis. EveryMatrix fostered and helped me grow my entrepreneurial spirit.
Coming back to your initial question, it was just a matter of time until I would have started a new business. Probably you are wondering why I have decided to focus on the igaming affiliate industry. Well, there have been several triggers which made me pay more attention to this part of the business.
The first trigger was when I realised that negotiation power is slowly being moved from the operator to the Affiliates. I experienced this on my skin, while I was managing Jetbull. I saw each month at least one affiliate that we worked with being bought by a big group and imposing their conditions across all the affiliate brands owned.
The second trigger was when CatenaMedia bought Askgamblers, a brand that I appreciate and respect a lot. That’s when I started doing more in-depth research, decided to start a side project to test my theory and also built my EMBA thesis on this topic.
The results of my research made me realise that I have what it takes to build a company with the potential of becoming a top player in the industry in the next five years and the initial thesis become the core business plan for GSH Online Media.
Can you share with us more about GSH Online Media Strategy?
Sure. GSH media was built with the sole objective of becoming a top player in the market in the next five years.
First, we said that we need to have a bit of diversity, and we should have one flagship brand for each vertical. We could have built our flagship brands from scratch, but this would have been time-consuming, so we decided to acquire some already strong brands on the market. That’s how we chose to purchase from EveryMatrix their affiliate brands, BetBrain and SlotsCalendar.
Once we had the brands, we decided to continue monetising the UK and other English speaking markets, where our brands are very well established. In the same time, to stress-test our plan, we have chosen one additional market were to become #1. Because we are based in Bucharest and our team is mainly Romanian, the decision was pretty easy, Romania will be the market to “conquer first”.
Of course, all this comes with a lot of background work on acquisition, which for us is focused on organic traffic, on the technical core of our business and daily operational excellence.
So you have two flagship brands, let us know the unique selling point for each brand.
Yes, we have two flagship brands, BetBrain for the sports vertical and SlotsCalendar for the casino vertical.
BetBrain, the first and still the best odds comparison product from the market has a lot of history and at this moment is like a sacred monster waiting to be awakened. We need to move the rights wheels in the right direction, and the inevitable will happen, BetBrain will take its rightful place as the leader of the odds comparison websites. BetBrain’s unique selling point is DATA, the amount and the high quality of the data available. Even at this moment, BetBrain is the biggest odds comparison from the market, with the highest number of odds feed integrated and, at the same time, the fastest odds. Majority of our competitors are updating the displayed odds with significant delays while in our case, where the bookie allowed, is closed to real-time.
Our second flagship brand is SlotsCalendar. This brand is focused on the casino vertical. I like to call SlotsCalendar the IMDB of online slots because on SlotsCalendar you can check all needed details about any slot, regardless if they are already live or soon to be released, and you can plan your fun accordingly. Of course, that play for fun version of the slots is included, and in the following days, after we finish implementing age check, we will also allow the verified British players to “test drive” their preferred slots.
What vertical do you prefer the most, Sports or Casino?
My heart is on the sports side, I always had a huge passion for sports. Although I’m doing my best to be as objective as possible, the sports projects tend to be closer to my heart.
What do you think about E-Sports?
Although I’m not a gamer, there are two games which I like, and I have had a weakness for since I was a little kid. Those games are, of course, under the E-Sports umbrella, FIFA and Counter-Strike. Since the pandemic started, I opened a steam account and re-started playing CS:GO, Friday nights, with my friends. I was very proud when I got my silver rank :).
Getting back to the main topic, I’m sure E-sports will have a bright future in the igaming industry. But very important to mention, although in some cases the transition from regular sports betting to e-sports betting is relatively smooth, I still see E-Sports as a completely different vertical. Any operator or affiliate which is trying to gain some market share should keep in mind that e-sports it has a different specific. A completely different audience and must be treated with the needed respect, otherwise will remain just a low performing side product in your portfolio.
How has the global pandemic affected your business?
Because a big part of our revenue is sports-oriented, once the sports events got cancelled, our figures dropped. Here, the efficiency of our strategy of targeting both verticals proved its success, as the casino brands showed accelerated growth and covered a big part of the loss from the sports side. Now, that the big football leagues started, we are delighted to see the sports figures getting back to normal while casino is still increasing.
Operational wise, it wasn’t a big shock for us, as the core of the team is already in place and work relations and procedures are well built.
In the first part of the work from home period, we have seen a significant increase in productivity, afterwards a slight decrease, but now things have stabilised.
I was completely aware that this boost in productivity would be temporary. To keep the spirit and productivity high, in the long term, we all need a good balance between work and personal life.
During this period, we have used video calls a lot, to be sure that we continue communicating efficiently and keep the energy and enthusiasm at a high level. Regarding the rest of this year, we are prepared to continue working from home, but we are eager to see the things stabilising so we can use our lovely office more often.
What’s your opinion related to the restrictions imposed by online gambling regulators?
I’m a big supporter of responsible gambling. Although I like to see the igaming industry as an entertainment industry, we should admit that this comes with a risk for the players to develop addictions. I do support a big part of the measures imposed by the gambling regulators, although they are cutting the potential profits of the businesses, but they are very good for the players and the industry, on the long term. On the other side, we must admit that some decisions are … let’s be polite and say not the best. My advice for the regulators is to continue protecting the players, but in the same time assure that they don’t impose conditions which will severely impact the igaming industry and, most important, will force the players to gamble on the black market, where they have no safety net.
Any pieces of advice for new affiliates?
Sure, if you are considering opening an affiliate business as a side project, please do it as it will be a fun project which will allow you to understand the entire landscape. In case you want to make a living out of it or to build a strong brand, that’s an entirely different story, and you must be aware that the competition is fearless.
It will be tough, but if you have a great idea, an excellent team and the needed founding, fight for your dream, and you might become one of the best igaming affiliate companies.