The last few years have been exceptionally busy for PMI, but as of today, the company has entered a new era as it reveals a new brand identity.
Going by the name Growe, a moniker that its CEO Anton Rublievskyi believes is reflective of its future expansion plans, the brand will shift its focus in a whole new direction.
In an exclusive interview with SBC News, Rublievskyi sheds some light on this new era for Growe, and the strategy behind the brand evolution. He explains why this company has identified certain regions for future expansion before highlighting the importance of a localised experience when launching new brands.
As CEO of Growe, Rublievskyi primarily focuses on decision making, strategy creation and communication for the company as well as overseeing any investments that the company makes.
In addition to this, he has also overseen the brand’s growth since its inception in 2019, and most recently, its evolution from PMI to Growe which Rublievskyi says will open several more doors for the company to expand its footprint within new global markets.
He told SBC News: “Our company rebranding is a natural evolution for us. It’s the next step that we need to grow. So the PMI name limited our growth opportunities somewhat – we were also unable to register a trademark and protect our brand because of a non-unique name.
“For a short period of time, we had a mono brand strategy and were only launching Parimatch brands. But we started to step up our investments into other companies and we launched a portfolio of other brands. We understood that the PMI branding was limiting us.”
The brand evolution goes beyond a change in name, however. For the Growe CEO, this new identity will also mark a shift in focus as it moves away from the Parimatch B2C franchise model and more towards brand management.
He continued: “So now, Growe is a management company. We have launched various brands across the globe, we have some joint ventures in other countries as well as a number of local partnerships. This brand evolution has been a natural step for us and has marked the beginning of a new era.”
Previously, the Kyiv-headquartered brand was focused considerably more on the “operational side” of gambling, with a centralised team overseeing the company strategy from its hub in Ukraine.
The move towards becoming a management company has been one of the biggest changes for Growe, Rublievskyi explained, and has required some company restructuring which he believes will drive long-term successes for the brand.
Rublievskyi said: “With this reorganisation and new brand identity, we are now able to focus more on strategy, high level metrics, new investments and launches within new regions. We have created new divisions within the company and provided each of these with maximum autonomy – in essence, it’s like creating small startups.
“With the support and expertise of our team, these individual divisions then grow into big companies. We provide them with all the necessary tools, technology and benchmarks to grow. This, we believe, is a much more scalable model. We can grow each of these brands with this new structure.”
Looking back at the last four years of Growe can help explain the rationale behind completely restructuring the company.
Rublievskyi explained that when embarking on its journey as a gambling operator, the company had big plans for global expansion as well as a strategy for internal growth. But a few months in, the whole world found itself in the midst of the pandemic. As you can imagine, this threw somewhat of a spanner into the works.
While the plans for global expansion continue to shape Growe’s strategy today, back in 2020 the company had to make some considerable changes to adapt to remote working.
Similar to many other companies across the globe, restrictions on gatherings within the workplace presented some obstacles for both onboarding and maintaining – and even creating – a company culture that would define Growe as a brand. This was then compounded by the lack of sporting events – unless, of course, you were choosing to bet on marble racing or Belarusian football.
Rublievskyi said: “Before the pandemic, we were an office-based company located in Kyiv. The pandemic was a tough period, as it was for everyone, but it hit sports betting companies particularly hard. Our industry is so heavily based on sports events, so how can you accept wagers when no events are taking place? It’s difficult.
“At that time, we were initially focused on Asia. But in the last few years, we have realised that we need to restructure the company and focus on a range of different regions to diversify our brand – but keeping the focus on just one region is challenging in itself.
“We understood that to scale our company to the next level, we need to carry out that restructuring. It’s been a long process due to the pandemic and then the war in Ukraine, but we’re close to finalising that restructure now.”
It might be strange to think, but the global pandemic gave Growe the opportunity to reflect on its existing business practices and finetune its strategy to scale the company even further.
Rublievskyi noted that over the last few years, the company has managed to grow between 3x – 4x each year, both in terms of revenue and the number of employees. And on paper, this is incredibly impressive – but it’s hard to maintain that fast-paced growth.
He said: “We went from 50 people to 300 and then to 500 all within the space of two years! It is sometimes challenging when you’re growing that fast. We didn’t have much time to stop and reflect, and ask ourselves ‘are we doing everything to the best of our ability?’.
“We’ve been travelling down a very fast road and had to make sure that we took a pitstop to change our tyres – because otherwise you end up burning out, or worse, crashing.”
Growe has since deployed a more ‘divisional structure’ which, as the name suggests, means individual divisions are responsible for different regions of operation. Rublievskyi believes that this overhaul in company structure will better reflect the Growe’s global ambitions, Growe will continue to maintain our hub in Kyiv and launched a new one in Warsaw. Operating divisions are located directly in the countries of product presence, e.g., in Brazil, Ghana, Nigeria and Tanzania.
These company bases will not only provide immeasurably more local knowledge for individual markets, but from a hiring perspective, enable Growe to tap into a much wider pool of gambling experts from around the world.
“Our main headquarters was in Kyiv until the full-scale invasion of Russia in Ukraine in 2022. But even when we had around 90% of employees based in Kyiv, we understood that Ukraine was not our main focus market – it was our home country and where our headquarters were based, but it was not actually a jurisdiction that we wanted to expand into from an operational perspective,” the CEO continued.
“To ensure that we were hiring the best experts, we needed to establish different hubs around the world. If you only have one hub, it limits your ability to be able to hire the best professionals. That expertise is a core part of our business. At the same time, we continue to hire in Ukraine and Ukrainians in other countries, mostly in Poland. We value their experience and expertise in technology and marketing. In addition, this is one of the forms of support for our homeland.
“We place a huge emphasis on teamwork. We really trust the process in offline office work. Even though we started during COVID, we had some short periods where we were able to collaborate closely. Now of course, we have adapted and have hybrid remote working for different groups of employees.”
Rublievskyi soon turned his attention towards Growe’s new focus for 2023 and 2024, which predominantly centres around emerging markets – more specifically Africa, Asia and Latin America.
This decision to pursue opportunities within emerging markets rather than more mature markets stems from Growe’s previous franchise with Parimatch.
He said: “PMI started out as a partnership with Parimatch back in 2019 – we had an agreement where we could operate in certain regions under the Parimatch branding.
“As you well know, Parimatch is a strong global brand that has sponsorship agreements with football teams and UFC organisations. However, the brand is predominantly CIS focused. They weren’t really focused on emerging markets.”
From this partnership with Parimatch, Growe gained significant expertise from more mature jurisdictions but has since chosen to focus its activities away from tier-one gambling markets.
“Tier-one markets have already gone through that development process,” Rublievskyi shared.
“They’ve been around for decades and, as a result, these markets have become hugely competitive. It’s much more difficult to build exposure for your brand because there will be a handful of companies which hold 20-30% of the market share. To compete with them, you need huge marketing budgets.
“We decided that this battle wasn’t for us. Instead, we saw more opportunity for growth within emerging markets. Initially, it is more challenging. But over the next five or ten years, it will pay off.
“We will take the time to fully understand the pain points of the market, the key drivers for growth and what we need to do for customers to want to bet with us. Finding those gaps for growth within emerging markets will be our niche – this is where our expertise will come in handy.
“Since day one, Growe has been focusing on emerging markets. This will be one of our key drivers for growth going forward.”
This strategy of focusing purely on emerging markets involved launching several local brands within each market, with Rublievskyi drawing particular attention towards its recently launched Jugabet in Chile.
The CEO cited this operator brand as a prime example of local branding, and more importantly, the need for ‘boots on the ground’ when looking at emerging markets. This is integral to building trust with new audiences.
He said: “When it comes to branding, it can come down to the simple things like pronunciation or association. Some countries prefer not to have the word ‘bet’ within a brand name, others will trust a brand more if you mention betting with your branding.”
Drawing upon Growe’s experience within the Ukrainian market, the CEO wanted to err on the side of caution when it comes to applying a ‘one size fits all’ approach to betting products.
To do this, gambling companies need to go beyond branding and prioritise product and markets available. This means that if you’re launching an operator brand for the Latin American market, using a Spanish-sounding company name is not enough – you need to look at what the players are betting on, and what products are popular within that market. A sport that might be popular in Brazil might have very little traction in the UK, and so on.
Rublievskyi commented: “We’re always trying to be local in the market. We’ve experienced this ourselves when international companies would enter the Ukrainian market. When you feel that a global company hasn’t localised their offering, and something has been lost in translation, it affects the service that you can offer. For us, it’s therefore very important to deliver a more localised product.
“It’s also incredibly important to be able to deliver high quality customer support. We’ve found that a lot of our competitors have struggled to create a customer support service within emerging markets – so that really sets us apart from the crowd.
“We are also trying to create a strong sense of trust between ourselves and our customers. In all of the markets that we’re operating in, we’re building a brand – but we’re going beyond that too.”
This trifecta of customer support, trust building and branding is arguably a very costly strategy, Rublievskyi shared, however he is confident that this will pay off in the long-run.
He continued: “We’re deploying a long term strategy that may be more investment up front, but it will be worth it in the long term. We are investing in more than just performance marketing to acquire customers. Growe is investing in sports, ambassadors and we’re working with influencers. We’re trying to be a brand that our players can trust.”
Entering several emerging markets has thrust particular challenges into the spotlight for Growe, one of which has been the integration of payment solutions at a local level.
Operator brands must consider whether players choose to bet with cash, debit card or even local payment methods such as Pix when launching a new brand. Without this understanding, sportsbooks are going to find it difficult to acquire new players.
The Growe CEO said: “One of the major challenges is the integration of an effective payment solution. Payments are key to operating an online business.
“In tier-one markets, you can take your card out of your wallet, input the 16 digits and place a bet. But in emerging, this process is a bit more complicated. A lot of people don’t use cards, they opt for more local wallets. To solve this, you need to create a stand-out UX so people can make payments easily.
“The biggest bottleneck within any emerging market that we’re entering is actually how you collect that payment. If you have strong approval rates for payments, you’re able to give more customers the opportunity to bet with you.”
Growe has been drawing upon its experience in mature markets to ensure that it delivers a streamlined customer support experience. Drawing inspiration from markets such as the UK, Rublievskyi affirmed his belief that a solid customer service division is key to long-term success.
“When gambling is a new industry, you need to be able to build that trust and relationship with your audience. In some emerging markets, gambling has only really been around for five or six years – if you compare that to markets such as the UK, which has had legal gambling since around 1960, it’s a very different landscape.
“I recently read some statistics which said that around 60% of UK citizens had placed at least one bet during their lifetime. But in countries such as Brazil, this drops to around 2%. Gambling isn’t as prominent, and there isn’t the awareness of these types of products.”
To ensure that it creates that support experience for its customers, Growe has been carrying out “extensive research with local groups” to fully understand its target customers and the pain points that they may be facing. This will then enable the company to deliver “the best possible product”.
Looking to the future
With a new brand, new markets, new focus and even a completely new strategy, you may well be thinking that Growe has a lot to sink its teeth into in 2023. But this, according to its CEO, is only the tip of the iceberg.
Despite keeping his cards relatively close to his chest, Rublievskyi explained that Growe’s future plans are ‘hidden in plain sight’. Just look at the company’s name for a clue.
“The short answer for what the future holds is hidden in our name: Growe, Growe, Growe. That’s our main focus for 2023 and 2024,” he concluded.
“We also want to invest in new markets and create new divisions. We’ll be investing more in the expertise of our team to create a stronger team within different regions. And of course, we want to continue improving the product and processes within our company.”