betillion’s “Gandalf the White” – the Wizard of Coding, Master of Betting & Trading

Meet G-Unit, or as we lovingly call him, “Gandalf the White” (not because he’s a bit long in the tooth, but because he’s the wizard of developing the coolest betting & trading platform on the planet). Well, Gandalf didn’t always conjure up epic and magical code. He was born in Napoli, Italy, where he claims there is absolutely no mafia, so don’t even ask (the dons were very surprised when he graduated with a very wizardly degree in economics, after which he was sworn to secrecy on the whole mafia thing). In the spirit of thoughtful team interviews that allow our players and guests to take a dive into the world of betting, trading, and social games, we present our first look into the life of one of the dedicated people who make it all happen:

  • What was your proudest moment?
    Birth of my baby girl Chiara
  • What is your second proudest moment?
    Joining the betillion family
  • How did you get into the gambling industry?
    I moved to the UK back in 2002. Offered a job at betfair. I had no idea who they were and what gambling was
  • What is the most interesting thing about gambling, according to you?
    The professionals. They do not gamble, They are very much like traders in the city. They follow up rumors, they check stats, they try to make a strategy. Luck factor is for the average Joe
  • What are you working on now?
    Re-engineering the current bet.tra.de platform (on which betillion is based). We’re moving from the typical start up monolith approach to SOA
  • Why is it important?
    We need to be resilient, flexible, robust, and scalable for the change to come: horizontally and vertically. Low latency is not yet an issue yet, but we’re already working to address it when the game will be used for trading purposes by gazillions of users
  • How do you know the founders of betillion?
    Through a trusted contact with whom I used to work in two different companies
  • Why do you buy into the betillion concept? Why is it special?
    betillion is a completely different concept from traditional gambling games. It brings two elements. First, it allows for dynamic betting, which is very much luck based, comprising the very core of the app that revolves around trading said bets. The second aspect is very interesting. I still remember the study conducted by Stiglitz about the importance of information asymmetry. The game would level the field, as everyone would have exactly the same information available in real time (something that traditional games fail to offer).
  • What’s up for the future?
    Making the betillion platform the envy of the gambling industry
  • Do you plan to buy any private islands off the coast of Dubai when betillion takes off and is wildly successful?
    I was thinking of buying the Silverstone circuit, so I can keep my bike there and ride around the track whenever I like.
  • What do you wish you knew before you started working on betillion?
    I knew it was going to be a challenge. But this is more than a challenge. It’s like a journey to the center of the earth by Jules Verne.

We are proud to have Gandalf on the team, and spearheading the betillion betting and trading social game, but if you ever want to hear more on our progress, or his work, please don’t hesitate to contact us through this website. As always, we are undergoing Beta testing of the betting and trading platform, and we encourage you to register to try the game during this exciting phase. Please visit http://www.betillion.com, or visit our Facebook and Twitter pages for real time updates.

What’s a nice girl like you doing workin’ for betillion ;)

In October 2011, during my second year at Wharton, I was approached by George Georgiopoulos (WG’13) and invited to join a team (of what was then three people) in a UK-based online gambling venture. Unsurprisingly, I was apprehensive. The startup environment is ruthlessly unstructured and the gaming space is notoriously male-dominated; the product is market-making, disruptive, and completely unexpected in what is arguably the most regulated industry in the world; my background was seemingly incompatible. A lesser woman would have shirked these challenges, but opportunities such as the one George proposed are exactly why I came to Wharton.

“I’ll do it”, I told George without an ounce of hesitation, and since last November I have been working and building my expertise in a field dramatically different from my previous experiences.

The fledgling startup presented me with some interesting challenges. Despite the unique product offering, I knew that we had to establish the size of our market and quantify the scope of our potential penetration. Thus, I started to analyze current betting and trading trends in the UK, to profile the ideal British player, and to find “white space” to strategically position the game. In addition to research, I focused on understanding betillion’s unique offering to users. As a new product, betillion required testing before the official launch and called for a detailed online marketing plan that included search engine optimization (SEO) and social media strategy. Finally, I knew that we would need to build a creative design team to help betillion’s brand DNA from the very beginning.

As such, I decided to structure the marketing team in “triangular” way: online marketing would develop and implement the strategy in the e-channel; customer analytics would analyze the data and predict customer behavior; creative would prepare the web aesthetics and brand’s image. My work with betillion prompted me to reflect on the role of marketing at such an early stage of a startup’s life – how is it important?

I feel that marketing is infinitely more subtle than art or science. Similar to baker’s yeast, the mystical and necessary ingredient behind a tasteful and beloved product, a targeted marketing strategy is essential in the beginning of the brand-making process. Some of the most crucial and brand-defining decisions take place in the early stages of a startup’s life: how to position the product, who is the target customer, what are the product benefits, how to communicate the benefits and positioning. The fact remains that there are many fantastic products that never reach a wide audience because they were marketed poorly. In the online gaming industry, getting noticed is especially tough, because the customer has a huge variety of options and the space is ultracompetitive.

Big companies like Zynga have enjoyed success with the help of persistent and clear marketing strategies. I firmly believe that smart marketing can catalyze the growth of a business, whereas the lack of solid marketing objectives may lead to blindside failure, or worse mediocrity. The internet age ushered in some of the most sophisticated customer analytics modeling and data analysis techniques, and I feel empowered by the plethora of data I am able to use to allow betillion to reach its full potential. After all, betillion’s main DNA component is numbers and thus it is an inevitable part of the team’s culture; the entire logic and strategy is built behind data analysis, customer-centricity, and behavioral projections using probabilities models, evaluation of ROI measured in conversion rates and click-through rates (CTR). Even our daily productivity is measured on a program that allows supervision of everyone’s work with a glimpse; decreasing lead time between projects’ phases.

In short, marketing has played a significant part in betillion’s inception. It has defined betillion’s identity and image, even within the corporate culture, and has helped us set the map for the future. From a personal perspective, being involved in a startup while pursuing my MBA was by far the best decision I ever made, in the process having gained experience and exposure in an industry that was starkly different from my previous background. Working with Wharton MBA students in an unstructured environment truly broadened my horizons! Would I describe my experience as enjoyable? Yes! Risky? Actually, no! Unless you are referring to the game itself, which is that of betting and trading. Of course, if you are interested, you may sign up to try on the official website (Beta testing to be conducted throughout summer and fall months): www.betillion.com. Also, get to know us on our Facebook page: www.facebook.com/betillion.

betillion’s Mariya opens to Wharton eClub about working in a gaming startup (extended interview) – Part 2

Mariya Nikiforova is a Wharton MBA focusing on management strategy. Her background is in lead generation online marketing. We’re proud to publish extended interview with Wharton eClub:

What is your role with Betillion? What recent projects have you worked on?

As the online marketing manager with Betillion, a social betting and trading gaming site, I am responsible for a three-prong strategy encompassing paid, owned, and earned media. Paid media refers to traditional direct-response channels that include search engine marketing and other forms of paid advertising (Google, Bing, Yahoo!, FacebookAds), aimed at purchasing traffic with a keyword-, context- or lifestyle-targeted approach. Owned media comprises branding, positioning, search engine optimization, social media representation, and any activity that grows Betillion’s presence organically (in the “free” environment).

Finally, “earned” media can be best described as the viral component of the overall online marketing strategy. Earned media is arguably the most unpredictable component, and near impossible to fabricate, as the brand can inspire the word-of-mouth, but not control it in the traditional sense. At this stage of Betillion’s life, I am primarily focusing on the paid and owned factors of the media strategy. My last project involved several Google and FacebookAds marketing campaigns in conjunction with an A/B testing initiative that allowed me to determine the best positioning for Betillion.

In the future, I would love to explore viral marketing, as this is my secret passion, and an area that I am interested in exploring further.

How do you address competition as a small startup?

Betillion is entering a highly competitive market of online gaming. As we introduce this social betting and trading game to our audience, we will focus on awareness, education, and customer analytics with the ultimate goal of competing with the likes of Zynga. That said, we monitor the practices of our peers closely. For example, we keep track of their social networking and organic content; we also follow their relationship with other brands. As we build our reputation, we must maintain a certain unspoken standard that comes only through consistent research of the market and its top and rising players.

How do you adapt and innovate online marketing strategy as the startup grows?

It is important to continuously seek the next big trends in not only advertising, but also in internet user behavior across the board (be it rage comics, memes, top tweets, or trending Google searches). I am also very interested in following the new media of expression, new devices, and new platforms. Now more than ever, it is important to stay flexible and to follow the preferences of users, rather than to target any specific outlet just because it may be the most popular at the moment. With Google, Facebook, Amazon, and Apple encroaching on each other’s core competencies, it is anyone’s guess where advertising, media, and ecommerce will go next!

My advice to startups is to really think about the main vision of the company and define it in terms of milestones on a timeline. With every milestone, you will find that your online marketing strategy will have to be adjusted. The worst thing to do is to rely on one approach for every situation based on past success – fluidity is key.

betillion’s Mariya opens to Wharton eClub about working in a gaming startup (extended interview) – Part 1

Mariya Nikiforova is a Wharton MBA focusing on management strategy. Her background is in lead generation online marketing. We’re proud to publish extended interview with Wharton eClub (you go girl):

What is the significance of online marketing for a brand?

Online marketing is essential for every brand, be it a behemoth like Coca Cola or a small startup like betillion. The purpose of online marketing is to engage the user on all levels of the traditional sales funnel – through raising awareness, satisfying interest, affecting decisions, and driving specific user actions. However, the growing social interconnectedness and innovative customer analytics inherent to online marketing make it a formidable rival to traditional media by extending brand presence beyond 30 seconds of air time or print ads.

Companies will continue to invest in TV advertising over the next 5 years, but investment in digital advertising is rising at a much higher rate (Source: eMarketer). Yes, online marketing is increasingly more significant, and will continue to grow for years to come.

What are the various types of online marketing and how do I know which one is right for my startup?

Online marketing has grown infinitely more complicated, and basic search engine marketing and optimization are no longer adequate. Advertisers and brands can utilize a variety of platforms, search engines, devices, and cross-media channels.  However, I found that it is much more effective to seek a deeper understanding of the behavior of your target audience than to invest in a specific medium.

For example, is your audience mainly male or female? Women are 30% more active on social networks then men, and make over 80% of discretionary purchases. They are also nearly twice as likely to make a purchase online as men. Browsing habits cannot be simply described with age demographics, but rather by lifestyle. A soccer mom will visit sites that are vastly different from a career-climbing woman of the same age, thus it’s important to understand marketing from the perspective of user behavior.

That said, there is no silver bullet, and online marketing strategy will depend heavily on the goals of the startup at a specific point in time. Are you trying to generate buzz? Do you need sales leads? Are you building your brand? Are you addressing an urgent PR issue?

Today, marketing is inseparable from the social media conversation, which is why so many more companies are open to integrating specific social strategies into their marketing mix. Take the Olympics for example, a huge advertising opportunity where companies paid upwards of $300,000 for  a 30 second spot. Interestingly, the Pew centre found that 31 per cent of Americans aged 18 to 29 had followed Olympics coverage on social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter – it makes one wonder how companies could ever pass on this kind of exposure (over 50% of advertisers made no mention of social media, while only 10% provided this information in advertising, according to the MarketingPilgrim).