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Startups can disrupt iGaming – but they need a helping hand

BY Find My Expert

Hiring top talent and raising capital are two key issues iGaming startups face. This is how project-based consultants can help overcome these challenges and allow new businesses to thrive.

The global iGaming landscape is changing.

When the sector began to grow significantly in the early 2000s, it was very much a European affair. The key markets were focused in Europe, and many of the early movers were established businesses which had enjoyed decades of success in the land-based sector.

Today’s environment is, of course, very different. More importantly, it is always evolving.

Asia continues to grow at a remarkable pace. It remains the biggest iGaming market in the world, and while regulatory progress has been slow, the continent’s grey markets still offer plenty of opportunity.

Younger emerging markets in Latin America and Africa are now becoming very interesting to international operators, with some encouraging movements on the regulatory front and the potential for very quick returns.

But perhaps most of all, the repeal of PASPA in the United States, and the move by a number of states to introduce sports betting legislation for the first time, opens up a new market that could be completely game changing for the industry.

It is fair to say that in the 20 plus years iGaming has existed, the sector has never had such a bright future.

The startup disruption

The international gaming industry has not wholly been disrupted by tech startups in the same way many other sectors have.

Within the first wave of online gaming growth, we saw a handful of new operators – particularly PokerStars and bet365 – join the established land-based players in rolling out online offerings.

More recently, we have observed agile, mobile-focused casinos and sportsbooks, such as LeoVegas and Sky Bet, grabbing market share from larger competitors.

But what we haven’t seen is a complete rewriting of the established order, the sort that developed over the past two decades in the book, music and television sectors.

This has been for a number of reasons. Regulatory burdens, scale issues and the importance of an established, trustworthy brand has made it tougher for some smaller operators to make significant inroads into iGaming.

However, today’s wealth of third-party suppliers are beginning to change that. It is now easier than ever for a smaller operator to circumnavigate otherwise costly business functions by leaning on external providers.

As such, when we look at the operators who will define the space over the next decade – not just in Europe but also in emerging markets in Asia, Africa, Latin America and the US – startups are perfectly placed.

To be frank, legacy operators are there for the taking. Many are still using outdated technology that makes it difficult for them to react to new markets and challenges. Others have bloated teams and high overheads. And some have simply lost their spark.

On the other hand, startups with lean, agile business models and a wealth of creative thinking – often borrowed from the successes of peers in other industries – are perfectly placed to capitalise.

The challenges facing startups in the iGaming industry

But nobody said it would be easy, and it usually takes a helping hand and a healthy dose of industry experience to turn a fantastic idea into an industry-moving business.

Startups face numerous challenges – some common among colleagues in other sectors, others unique to iGaming – that must be overcome if they are to successfully take on incumbents.

If we assume that the startup is bringing something unique from the technology perspective, then perhaps the key hurdle is marketing and consumer awareness.

There is something of a divide in opinion among major iGaming operators as to exactly what type of business they should be defined as.

Some claim they are technology businesses, leveraging a platform to deliver a user experience to their customer base, in much the same way Facebook or Netflix does.

However, with third-party and outsourced technology increasingly prevalent these days, there is perhaps a more compelling case to be made that iGaming operators are ultimately marketers.

Sure, a new innovation can help differentiate one operator from the crowd, but success will still only be forthcoming if the business clearly communicates its USP to customers.

This is never a simple task, especially when competing with larger, more established operators with far greater marketing budgets.

The second key challenge is scaling. It is not uncommon in the iGaming sector to see startups enjoy a bright first couple of years, but then struggle to take the next step.

This can be down to a plethora of reasons, such as an inability to raise capital or to assemble a team that can take the project forward.

In a sector that is moving quickly, the failure to capitalise on early success can be fatal. Many of these businesses end up stagnating, selling to a more established rival, or shutting down entirely.

Making your money go further

So, how does a startup make the leap from promising future to profitable present? The answer is simple to conceive but incredibly difficult to deliver: money and people.

Without the right financial backing and a world-class team to deliver upon your vision, startups in a sector as competitive as iGaming simply don’t stand a chance.

Fortunately there are reasons for optimism. Newly emerging markets tend not to be as demanding on the wallet in the race to grab market share.

If you look at the mature markets of Europe, where online operators routinely drop tens of millions of pounds each year on all-encompassing marketing campaigns, making an impact as a new startup on a limited budget is no simple task.

That is not to say it is impossible. Those startups that have grabbed market share in the UK over the past few years have tended to have deep pockets, often accrued from successes in other markets initially.

But they’ve also been creative in their approach, carving out a unique space without the need to go directly head-to-head with the market’s larger operators.

However, when it comes to a successful launch, this approach tends to reap even greater rewards in emerging markets, where competition is not as intense, and any financial backing will go a lot further in terms of helping the startup find an audience.

The advantages of project-based consulting

There are also hacks that will enable a startup to compete on that second make-or-break component of any business: the talent.

The iGaming industry is increasingly turning towards project-based consulting, and the approach is particularly relevant for startups on a shoestring budget.

So, what exactly is project-based consulting? To put it simply, it is the process by which a startup or more established company will outsource a task or business area to an industry consultant for a limited period.

During this period, the consultant or expert will oversee their remit – be it marketing, business development, IT or establishing a brand in a new market – and transfer their knowledge and skills to an in-house team, before finally stepping back to allow that team to run operations independently.

It is a new way of working which provides a far more agile and flexible approach to businesses looking to upskill their staff or make strategic moves without the need to build expensive new teams from scratch.

Let’s take a simple, theoretical example. A small but successful European startup operator has heard promising things about the emerging and newly-regulated Colombian market.

The operator has conducted research and identified a major opportunity for growth in Colombia that is currently being overlooked by larger competitors.

How does this startup act upon the opportunity? Traditionally, the only option would have been to open an office in Colombia, hiring dedicated marketing, product, tech and compliance teams in the country before a big launch.

Of course, this is more than likely well beyond the budget of our pioneering startup. Fortunately, project-based consulting provides a far more efficient and agile solution.

By hiring a single expert with experience launching an iGaming brand into Colombia, the startup suddenly has a resource that can work with the rest of the company to prepare it for a launch in the country.

Perhaps the expert has had interactions with Colombia’s gaming regulator, Coljuegos, and can work alongside the startup’s legal team on the licence application.

The expert may also have an intimate knowledge of the marketing landscape in Colombia. He or she is thus perfectly positioned to help an existing marketing team that has been focused on, say, the Spanish market, pivot towards Colombia.

By the end of the project, the whole of the startup will have attained a greater understanding of what is required to launch in Colombia. And the great thing about the nature of project-based consulting is that the expert can be brought back a few months later if required to ensure everything is running smoothly.

Fundraising through your team

For startups needing to raise funds, using project-based consulting can be a route towards finding additional capital at a sensible cost.

There is a large network of professional capital raisers that work in a consulting capacity to help startups attract investors and undertake funding rounds.

In some cases, this is not a full-time role while in others the fundraising expert may only be required for a few months at a time.

Traditionally, startups looking to raise capital would have to employ someone on a fulltime basis to carry out this work, often at substantial expense, or not at all if budgets didn’t allow.

Project-based consulting gives startups access to fundraising experts on demand, and they only pay for the work undertaken.

This ensures they can access the required expertise to raise funds, without it being cost prohibitive.

What’s more, iGaming experts available for hire through Findmyexpert tend to draw on large networks of personal contacts from within and beyond the iGaming sector.

Early-stage business often have issues accessing this level of industry expertise; the most in-demand CEOs or senior execs tend to be well out of the price range of typical startups.

But the project-based consultancy model offers access to C-level expertise at a fraction of the cost. We find that many of our experts have already worked at the very top of the industry in their preferred specialism, but have turned to project-based consultancy as a lifestyle choice.

They too enjoy greater flexibility, the ability to work from anywhere in the world, and the option to take on new projects that interest them.

Hiring an expert usually ends up opening doors for startups that would have otherwise remained firmly shut.

Indeed, when it comes to fundraising, a startup will often appear far more appealing to potential investors when it can show the support of an expert with years of experience at more established firms.

Those investors will also appreciate a startup that understands the importance of operating within its limits, rather than splashing the cash on a series of expensive, full-time hires that are unlikely to add considerable value to the venture.

Redefining the future of iGaming

Startups have a rich history of redefining the iGaming sector, but this process is only just beginning.

With the US, Asia, Africa and Latin America likely to grow at unprecedented rates over the next decade, the iGaming sector of 2028 will look very different to that of today.

Do not be surprised to see many of the most established names fall by the wayside, while some of the biggest players in these newly-emerging markets will likely be operators that have not even been founded yet.

But for startups to fulfil their potential, they must stay true to their ethos. They must be cannier, braver and more agile than their competitors.

This is why project-based consultancy is such a perfect fit.

As an approach to building a world-class team, it gives access to top talent at an affordable price. It upskills your entire team without the need for a mass of new hires. And it puts startups in a position to compete with larger operators in new markets.

Platforms such as Findmyexpert are already being used by iGaming companies large and small to gain a crucial competitive advantage.

The consultants Findmyexpert has paired with operators are already making a meaningful difference to bottom lines around the world.

This is a way for startups to supercharge their growth and begin to make a material impact on a sector that is ripe for innovation and transformation.

Startups can change the iGaming world. They may just need a little help to do so.

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