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.