Product Development, Strategy and Growth – Ebbe Groes Interview for Casino News Daily

Ebbe Groes, EveryMatrix CEO, speaks in this interview to Casino News Daily about what makes CasinoEngine a great content aggregator and gives more details on our company’s strategy and why personalized content is a key feature today.

Given your years of experience in the iGaming industry, you have certainly witnessed many of its ups and downs. What key events would you note that has formed it into what is now?

The iGaming industry has always contained a constant tendency towards change, and the most important transformation affecting our industry has been the regulatory shocks, from US closure to European regulation.

The unregulated past – and part present – of our industry made fortunes and allowed huge creativity by entrepreneurs unrestricted by regulation and embracing modern technology that an until then land-based industry did not. Wild West capitalism at full throttle.

And then, with fortunes and experiences made – and largely forced to do so – many of the same people skillfully embracing regulation in Europe.

The end effect has been an industry that truly embraces change, welcomes newcomers, is never boring, all the while maturing as people, processes, regulation became more orderly.

You founded EveryMatrix in 2008. What were some of the main hurdles you and your team have had to overcome over the past eight years since the company was brought to live?

I’ll stick with a single hurdle: Managing growth.

EveryMatrix has by and large grown organically. Fast but without (large) mergers and acquisitions. This gives a quite harmonious organization, a staff that I’m proud of working with and whom I truly feel buy into our company’s vision and goals.

Still, as we’ve grown it’s become harder to maintain the entrepreneurial spirit of the past and maintain innovation. Key people don’t scale, including myself and my co-founder Stian Hornsletten, and that forces more thinking into organization. Of course, hiring smartly into middle management is one key action but, we’ve come to believe, it’s not enough.

In 2016 we took the quite radical decision to start splitting up our company in virtual sub companies, each with their own management team. So, a CEO, CTO, COO, head of sales, account manager, support for our sports product, OddsMatrix. This management team can focus fully on their product, technically, operationally, commercially, aiming to make it – stand alone – the best it can be, taking control and competing against the best in the business. We did the same for Casino, for Payments and the other products.

It’s early days but overall I feel it was a move that is paying off handsomely – and will do so even more as we progress and gain experience with this. I think the only other alternative would have been to give up some of the business areas and focus purely on one or two products, as for instance Evolution and Kambi are doing.

I believe this split into verticals is what will allow us to yet again double and re-double our size, both in terms of revenues and even to handle well the continuous growth of staff.

It’s not without its challenges of course. We must ensure good co-ordination between the different sub companies, we must ensure that they are well serviced and catered for from the common departments such as legal, HR, marketing, sales, account management. Our future success depends on how well we solve this and how well each of the sub companies manage their gradual autonomy.

Your CasinoEngine content aggregator is a product we have written a lot about lately. What are the engine’s strategic advantages, the ones that would instantly catch potential clients’ attention?

The obvious element is the enormous wealth of content. With more casino vendors and games than any others we allow clients to compete favorably in their market. We have clients strongly focusing on types of games, for instance Codeta with their beautiful live casino focused solution. We have clients focused on small regulated markets like Denmark, where there are only few certified vendors, forcing you to have almost all to stand out. Or Asian focused clients where yet again the set of preferred suppliers is massively different from what we know in Europe. So, the enormous selection of content is not there to give all to everybody, it’s to give the right games to the right players. And I strongly believe we’ve only seen the start of this, as casino sites become better at segmentation of their player base according to game preferences. For a player that likes a certain niche type of games it’s great to be able to offer say 100 great games, which will be impossible if you only have a small set of gaming vendors.

Today our casino integrations happen in a new and independent application. This has given us faster and safer integrations, with a dedicated team and application doing nothing else. It’s also led to a record high speed of addition of new providers. We can sign with even the small, new, innovative or niche providers since our costs of integration are very low. This in turn allows a credible promise to our clients: If you need a vendor then we’ll get it done for you. Delivery is something every software company will have struggles with, including EveryMatrix, but when it comes to casino content we never want to disappoint a client.

The third key element is the set of add-on features that go across games. The most important of these is bonusing, key for any casino vendor in player acquisition and retention. We early on realized that a joint bonus system, independent of a casino provider bonus system, was a necessity, including taking full advantage of free spin capabilities. Gradually we added more and more bonus features but decided a year ago to build a new system completely from scratch for better performance, but most of all with a dedicated stand-alone bonus application, a dedicated team, and a software architecture that allowed us to quickly reply to the number one request from our many casino clients: A new bonus feature.

And then, just because I can’t stop at only three large advantages, it’s well worth noting the benefits one gets in the management of content. Information about new game release dates, thumbnails and game descriptions and categorizations, all of this is tedious and error prone work. Our clients get the information from one single source, information that’s not in APIs of the vendors, but by necessity manually maintained by EveryMatrix and then made available via APIs, feeds, and back office applications.

How has CasinoEngine benefited your business and in what way do you plan to further develop the product?

EveryMatrix was founded with our Sports product but what took us to a major take-off has been CasinoEngine. It’s also brought technological challenges as the number of peak transactions kept growing at breakneck speed.

At times, we’ve worried about performance suffering from this continued exponential growth. So, development has for the last year been focused not only on features such as the new bonus system but also on quite dramatic redesign of the core applications.

We’re far with this now and the key objective is simple: Keep CasinoEngine as the number one casino aggregator in the world and start making headway into the largest gambling operators who until now have been handling such in-house.

Key to this is scalability and performance. CasinoEngine has been fully split out of our gaming platform and is now sold and delivered stand-alone. We’ve cut away latency overheads in using CasinoEngine between operators’ own platform and the casino providers. And we’re now building a completely new and dedicated reporting system capable of handling far larger amounts of data than we do today, catering for even the largest companies in the industry.

Can you list several main points in EveryMatrix’s growth strategy? What will the company be focusing on in 2017 and beyond?

We’ve spent the last two years completely redoing our software to allow sports, casino, payments to all be sold completely standalone. 2017 will put these new products to the test. So, while 2015 and 2016 were very technology focused, 2017 and 2018 will be very commercially focused. We will be beefing up sales and marketing efforts and aim for larger clients, both full-service as most of our clients are today and specialist clients who take only a single product from us.

With freshly built software comes the joy of being able to easily add features as a common malady of older software platforms is exactly showing up as increased difficulty in adding features. But we see the software features of 2017 to be more client driven and less EveryMatrix driven.

Are there any markets that EveryMatrix is currently not present in but is looking to enter?

EveryMatrix is always looking to support its clients access regulated markets from attractive regions of the world for online gambling purposes. Our expertise in iGaming allows our company to offer gaming solutions throughout the world while opening offices in countries in Europe and Asia, from Malta and Norway to Armenia, Vietnam, and Philippines.

Our core business today is in Scandinavia, UK, as well as central and eastern European markets. As countries from this region continue to improve their gaming legislations, we are convinced this space will attract large financial investments in the future and that EveryMatrix can be a key supplier in the region.

At the same time, EveryMatrix invests heavily into the Asian region, where PartnerMatrix – our Affiliate and Agent System – has been very well received by many operators that were looking for an affiliate platform with an integrated Agent System. Our Manila office is growing, we’ve established a development office in Vietnam in 2016 alongside our existing China office, and as the latest step we’re now establishing hosting in Asia to operate in parallel with our European data center and ensure the best possible user experience for Asian players.

How would you describe the current regulatory environment in Europe? How do you make sure that all your products are compliant with the regulations in the different jurisdictions you provide them in?

Online operators must now increasingly obtain national licenses to access national jurisdictions and this reality demands platform providers to spend time and financial efforts to focus on complying with the regulatory and operational requirements.

EveryMatrix typically seeks to be present both as a licensed software provider and as an operator upon which clients can white label, removing the need to obtain licenses themselves. Indeed, we regularly see clients initially going for white label operation and, as they grow and can sustain their own regulatory costs, compliance, fraud, etc, they switch away yet remain as a client on our platform.

Overseeing all of this is our Legal and Compliance team, growing in importance and complexity, both legally, financially, and technically. To some extent this development is both spurring and demanding growth. Without growth, we cannot sustain the costs of simultaneous presence in a growing number of jurisdictions.

The provision of personalized content has been gradually developing itself as an important industry topic. How much is your company focused on evolving in that direction?

The number one thing we do is to allow for completely unique and tailormade front end experience. We’ve moved away from delivery of template based user interface for players. One must not be able to look at two websites, casino lobbies, sportsbooks, and from the user interface discern that both originate from EveryMatrix.

But the personalization can be supported also in other ways.

A feature in our CasinoEngine is the ability to create a multitude of lobbies, with completely different categorizations of games, and assign each to different players – or even allow players to switch between them at will. A dedicated slots player does not want to see a lot of slots games pile together in a huge set. Instead she recognizes the different sub-types and wishes to navigate within each. Much like an ardent reader will be able to dive deep into the catalogue of an advanced library or bookseller to delve into her niche interest.

This is an example where we can support the operator in building a universe that fits his players. But we could also let the universe be built by player actions. This is the foundation for our Game Recommendation Engine, which based on the millions upon millions of game rounds detects similarities between all the casino games integrated into CasinoEngine as revealed by the choices of all the players from all the clients of EveryMatrix. Based on this we’re able to recommend games to players based on their own personal history, as you see books recommended by an advanced bookseller based on the knowledge of past individual purchases coupled with the totality of all purchases made.

Such personalization, within both casino and sports, lies beyond what the individual operator can offer, except for the largest ones. It’s natural to instead obtain it from your provider of choice, hopefully EveryMatrix.

Mobile is posed to quickly establish itself as one of the main growth drivers within the industry. How has EveryMatrix responded to this growing trend and how do you expect it to influence the industry in future?

I believe the increasing attention to delivering mobile content is strongly connected to the new technological novelties and the innovations that are needed to push the content quality forward and come with better products. At the same time, we know that changes in technology should be followed by better software integration for an improved user experience.

Regarding the drive for mobile development, our efforts were directed into improving the Web API features that offer the ability to even more easily adjust front end experience to the devices used by players. While it might be hard to foresee how this will evolve, smart watches are a good example, what is guaranteed that it will change and that our job is to ensure not some special interface but the flexibility and agility to quickly adapt and lead the field in whatever direction it takes.

We’ve seen much progress across the industry in this regard but overall there are still areas that are lagging behind. A case in point is sportsbook user interfaces, which still tend to be done in two, three, or even four different versions, expensive to maintain and by the nature of the exercise prone to becoming outdated faster. Our own new sportsbook front end will be fully responsive, suited equally well for phones, phablets, tablets, laptops, desktops, and kiosks. It’s built from common components that can be ordered, placed, included or omitted with ease.

Finally, can you provide your quick forecast of how the industry will evolve in the years to come?

I believe regulation will spread and that the model of regulated competition will win in both countries with legal monopolies and those with outright bans.

I believe modularization will continue – with large operators giving companies like EveryMatrix the role of delivering parts of their technology while retaining what they find to be key for their business proposition.

I believe user experience / communication will be that one part. User interface, CRM, data mining, support, medium of communication, those will be in-house.

The original version of this article has been published by Casino News Daily on December 17, 2016 under the title EveryMatrix CEO Talks Company Expansion, iGaming Industry Regulation and Growth.