Jeroen Bakker & Vincent Brons, Founders at BSB – iGaming professionals BV, join the latest series of affiliate interviews on Affiliate Grand Slam
With a long-term vision in mind, Jeroen Bakker & Vincent Brons at BSB – iGaming professionals BV do not focus on fast money, but dare to think ahead. Clickbait is not in their vocabulary, honesty is – follow their story below.
How did your affiliate business take off? And, is iGaming your only vertical?
In 2008 the two of us started the company: a designer and a web developer. A duo who could complement each other very well. We also worked closely with a search engine marketer, so a nice trio of specialists.
How did you first get into the affiliate space? And, were you always focused on the Gaming space?
In 2007, there was a real poker hype in the Netherlands. Everyone played poker; offline and online. Not only our friends, but also our parents, neighbours, roommates, and teammates. We had already been operating a web design company (B2Design BV) since 2004, and it made sense to us to develop an affiliate website around poker. This way we could not only work for our clients on a project basis, but also create a more stable source of income. Shortly thereafter we were ranking first for many poker-related Google search terms. However, when the poker hype fell into decline, we decided to invest the knowledge and skills we had gained into a new niche market. In 2008, we came into contact with online sports betting, a niche market for which there was not yet a significant community platform in the Netherlands. Our first sports betting website was born a short time later: https://www.voetbalwedden.net
How is your company structured, and what aspect of business development are you currently focused on?
The two founders are still the owners of the company. We have now built a nice team of professionals in various disciplines: (app) developers, SEO marketers, content marketers, copywriters and (UX) designers. At the moment our biggest focus is, as always, product development. Our product is the engine of our company. In addition, we are also focusing on market development in the form of international expansion.
What can operators do to increase support with affiliates?
Our experience with operators has been quite variable. Operators need to be easily reachable or at least indicate when they can be reached. Staff turnover at operators is understandable but can be quite frustrating. We always have a long-term vision. It creates challenges when contact persons only work somewhere for a few months, ‘hopping’ between companies. This does not really form the basis for working together and devising a long-term strategy.
How can affiliates be more unique in their approach?
Affiliates must try to make a difference, that’s the only way they can stand out from the rest. Don’t do what others do, try to be unique.
What makes your traffic proposition/traffic sites unique?
In 2008 we made a clear strategic choice that we have always stuck to. Where many affiliates sometimes maintained as many as a hundred smaller affiliate websites crowded with commercial elements, we chose to do it differently. All chips on one product, without commercial overkill. Our starting point has always been the long-term. Especially in the first years, we didn’t want any commercial overkill, which would only damage the trust in our brand. Our goal is essentially to develop a social and expert platform that adds value for our members. In our view, we have succeeded in this.
Are you contemplating bringing in investors to scale or grow your business? Or, with such a big M&A market, have you ever contemplated selling the business?
For us, our product feels like our child. And how that child should be raised, we have some very strong ideas about that. With this view in mind, added to the fact that we have never needed funding from third-parties to achieve our goals, we have always kindly shown interested investors to the door. However, this position has not changed our continual exploration of interesting possible collaborations. At the moment, we are looking ahead with great interest to the potential of the regulated Dutch market from next year onwards. It is reasonable that companies interested in our product would approach us. The product has everything it takes to maintain its existence and leading position in the new market. Although sales is not our current focus, we intend to remain realistic when the playing field is redistributed and our market value is high.
Which qualities and skills are essential in an affiliate team/business?
Knowing just a little bit about everything is not enough. You need to have specialists in their own field. The following specialties come up: UX-design, technical SEO, content, developers, and marketeers (organic, socials, paid). In addition, there must be someone who keeps the commercial branch in good order and someone who monitors the long-term vision by keeping intentions aligned in the same direction. Don’t just focus on the short-term, on fast money, but also dare to think ahead. In addition, it has helped that we as owners have always monitored contacts ourselves.
What sets you apart from other affiliates?
In Dutch we have a saying: ‘Trust comes on foot and goes on horseback.’ In the iGaming business trust is a significant asset that takes a long time to acquire. Too many operators don’t keep appointments, don’t pay customers or close accounts for very dubious reasons. We want to be honest and tell the right story. What are the dangers, which operators can you trust and where do the dangers of addiction lie. Clickbait is not in our vocabulary, honesty is. In addition, we attach great value to complying with the legal guidelines for ourselves and our partners. We are continuously advised by the best Gaming lawyers in our country.
How does technology play a part in your day-to-day?
After a recent front-end & API update, we have taken our product to new heights in the technical field. Technology and safety have always been of paramount importance to us. Our software is annually audited for safety by external parties and our developers have adopted the principle ‘safety by design’. Our servers use the latest updates, and our development process is automated with various unit & user tests before a new feature comes online. In short, technology is an important driver.
Which emerging technologies like AI and big data will impact the affiliate industry in 2020 and beyond?
We had expected that chatbots would be integrated in the customer service of operators by now, but we still come across them relatively infrequently, even though these could be cost effective and very customer friendly. In order to increase the gaming experience for customers, we do see something happening with Virtual Reality. Think for example of several cameras in the stadium (behind the goal, in the dugout, midline, high up in the stadium or next to a trainer). During live betting, sports bettors can determine the camera position themselves while wearing VR glasses. It’s as if you were standing or sitting in the stadium. How cool is that! Operators, do you read along?
Is the grass greener on the other side – have you considered going down the operator route?
In a previous internal swot analysis this certainly came up as an opportunity. In the past, we have been approached several times by operators to set up their own operator brand via a white label construction. And although we are flattered by the trust this shows in us as a company, we kindly passed on this. Reason: It would mainly distract us from our long-term vision and is therefore at odds with our focus strategy. In addition, we want to remain independent and impartial in the role we occupy between the providers (operators) and our (potential) customers.
Which markets are you eyeing up as a priority in 2021, and why?
In 2021, the iGaming market in the Netherlands will be legalized for the first time in history. A market that we, in our own opinion, know best, and whose expectations are extremely high worldwide. We are therefore busy optimally preparing ourselves for this unique development in our country.
How has the fragmentation of regulated markets affected your business? UKGC, Swedish regulator and now also the German regulator is mulling regulating this space.
Actually, we have only been more active on the international market since the beginning of this year via our platform https://www.bettingfans.com. So, it is difficult to make any meaningful statements about this. There have indeed been legislative changes in many countries. We are always pro-actively informed by the best Gaming Lawyers in countries where we are (or want to be) active, so we are always as well informed as possible about upcoming changes and their impact on operators. We also try to implement these requirements for operators as much as possible on our websites.
What do you know now that you wish you knew when starting out?
We can imagine that many entrepreneurs in any industry would have liked to have known sooner the potential impact of a virus like Covid-19 on the global economy. Then we would all have prepared differently. But anyway, entrepreneurship is also about anticipating change. In addition, we in the Netherlands have been waiting 10 years for legalization. It was first to come in 2010, then 2012 and then 2014. It is now 2020 and it seems like 2021 will be it. How unnerving such a process can be, it is something we would have liked to have known earlier. That could have prevented some disappointment. Furthermore, we would have liked to have had a crystal ball that gave us insight into operators who don’t hold to appointments so closely. We might not have worked with them under existing conditions.
What’s been your biggest nightmare to date?
We received a report that one of our hard disks was broken. No problem, we thought, all data is always stored in 2 locations. Well organized we thought. The backup disk appeared to have broken a month before, but the monitoring didn’t work properly. So, we had 2 broken hard disks. We had one of the disks repaired as soon as possible, it was our only hope. Fortunately, we got 99% of all data back. We now have active monitoring on our servers at True.nl which are backed up every hour.
What are the main challenges for the sector in 2021?
We think it’s important for many to catch the dips caused by Covid-19 and learn from the impact this has had on the business. In addition, you can see that responsible gaming is becoming more important worldwide. Something we fully support, but which brings challenges for both operators and affiliates. Not only are the earnings under pressure due to increased taxes, it’s also a demanding job to continue to comply with all the laws and regulations devised by various governments.
What are your predictions for the future of the sector?
We cannot predict the future, but we think that online gaming will mainly take place live. This trend has already started and is popular among sports bettors. Match-fixing needs to be fought as much as possible, which is the biggest challenge for all (international) sports federations in the coming years. You can see the consequences of this at many Asian football matches, the stadiums are empty. The locals there know very well that many matches have been fixed and that they are watching a theatre performance. How beautiful would it be if we worked with one uniform law throughout Europe, or even worldwide, that is understandable for everyone and that allows us to make sports betting fair, safe, and entertaining for everyone worldwide? It will remain a dream, but the idea is compelling.
How do you manage relationships with multiple operators?
We use a number of communication tools to communicate with all partners. We use LinkedIn, email, and Skype alternately. We have 2 people who maintain the contacts with partners, preferably face-to-face. We always try to respond within 24 hours (including weekends). In addition, with many partners we of course regularly sound the glass during the many iGaming events worldwide.
What are the benefits of attending large iGaming events, and what can they do better?
We think it is better to communicate with people in person. No matter how good your internet connection or video-call software is, meeting people in real life has so much more value. The non-verbal communication is perhaps more important than what people say. We take partners seriously, just as we expect partners to do with us. To do this, you need to invest time in really getting to know each other. There’s no better way to do that than visiting major iGaming events. Besides that, we have been in the iGaming world for a while now and know quite a few people from the past who also come to major events. So, it is also especially enjoyable and comfortable.
Have you ever been to SiGMA? Would you consider attending SiGMA Manila or SiGMA Malta at some point?
We went to SIGMA Malta for the first-time last year. As Dutch people we were not used to the high temperatures, so for us it was very hot in the tent. We then decided to have appointments outside in the shade. On several occasions we planned appointments at external locations in order to see the island a little better. In short: A fun event that for many people in the industry is like a home game, which also made it an enjoyable affair.
Tell us a bit about yourself – after all, business is done with people, not just companies!
We, Vincent and Jeroen, know each other from high school in Groningen (Netherlands). We have been driven by (a lot of) fun, ambition, and loyalty since day one. Groningen, the city of talent, is our home and we won’t leave here any time soon. We are proud of our family, our children, our colleagues, and of course our Martini Tower. Groningers are down-to-earth and don’t rush off, neither do we. Is there more than work? Certainly, there is! Outside office hours Vincent can often be found somewhere in nature with his family and dog Novy, and Jeroen will often be spotted on the tennis court or the football field.
What’s on your must-read list right now?
Our own recently published book about sports betting of course, of which the English version will be published in October 2020! This book combines the knowledge and skills of the experts into a logical and handy reference book with all the ins-and-outs surrounding betting on football. An absolute ‘must read’ for anyone who has something to do with betting on football!
Which quote do you live your life by?
“Life isn’t as serious as the mind makes it out to be.” — Eckhart Tolle.
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About SiGMA Europe Virtual Expo:
SiGMA Group is excited to announce the launch of their November event, SiGMA Europe Virtual Expo. The online event, which runs from the 24th to 25th, will focus on the European gaming and tech marketplace.