The white-label in-game micro-betting platform, Kero Gaming, was awarded the top prize at the inaugural SBC Summit Barcelona First Pitch competition that saw six industry start-ups showcase their product to a panel of independent judges.
Kero, a company with the vision to disrupt the sports betting experience by offering a mindless sports betting experience to bettors, secured a prize package valued at more than €50,000. The prize fund, which aims to help the company’s development and growth plans, includes a trip to Tallinn for two days of workshops with Yolo investments, an SBC Media promotional package and a booth at the 2023 edition of SBC Summit Barcelona.
Tomash Devenishek, CEO and Founder of Kero, discusses his SBC First Pitch experience, the challenges of leading a start-up, the gap his company is trying to fill, and how SBC events have helped the company meet prospective clients and investors.
SBC: Before discussing Kero Gaming, can you tell us about yourself? What’s your background? How did you get into this industry?
TD: Before founding Kero, I did not have any professional exposure to the world of sports betting or iGaming. Instead, I worked on the consumer technology side as a CTO and Head of Product in social, gamification, blockchain and other technological areas that have disrupted many industries.
I got into this industry because, as an avid sports fan who also enjoys betting on sports, I realised that the next generation of bettors will reject today’s sports betting products because of what is happening in their digital lives. More specifically, everything people consume today en masse consists of three components — instant gratification, social, and, most importantly, mindless consumption.
The last part is very important. The most popular apps require almost no user effort (except for maybe swiping your thumb). The vast majority of sports betting products lack most of the above-mentioned aspects, but micro-betting is starting to solve this.
I think Kero plays a crucial part in making this happen by reimagining the way consumers interact with sports betting products.
SBC: You are a young CEO and Founder. How did you get there? Do you recall the day the Kero Gamng idea was born?
TD: As my girlfriend at the time (and now wife) puts it, I “got up in the middle of the night and went to my office to write down a bunch of things.” The next day, Kero was born.
As mentioned, I was very lucky to be at the forefront of a few technological disruptions and had previously been approached by different people to work in sports betting. It didn’t interest me much at the time because I didn’t feel like I could improve anything beyond what was already there.
But I guess, subconsciously, “disrupting sports betting” became a puzzle that I was thinking about and was the initial kernel for what Kero is today. I remember that night as well. The idea was to make sports betting contextual and mindless, using the same principles that many other mainstream apps used to their advantage.
SBC: What was/is your biggest challenge as a start-up?
TD: I love the phrase: “New levels, new devils.”
We’re over two years old now. Back when I started and was self-funding the company, the biggest challenge was handling all the key aspects of the business on my own as I led tech, product, sales, and all the other departments.
Then, when we closed an initial round of financing from a bunch of industry investors, I was lucky to finally be in the position to hire a superstar executive team to lead each aspect of the business.
Nowadays, the biggest challenge has to do with going through growing pains as smoothly as possible because we are close to thirty employees now and scaling quite fast.
SBC: Can you tell us a little bit more about Kero? Who is your potential client, and what is the gap you’re trying to fill?
TD: We’re reimagining the sports betting experience through the lens of what makes modern-day technologies like TikTok and Instagram popular.
The biggest missing part, in my opinion, from today’s sportsbook products is that even though the most widely used technologies are being consumed mindlessly with very little cognitive or physical effort, this ‘effortless’ aspect isn’t yet present in a typical sportsbook app.
When we launched the company, the path towards productization was to build it with real users, so we white-labelled our tech to some major industry players, and used the insights to continue to work on it in the background.
Today our target clients are sportsbook operators because we’ve been able to mature and validate that our approach creates hyper-immersive and sticky user experiences. I am very proud of how quickly we’ve been able to establish the real-money version of our product and all the various launches we are working on with operator partners around the world.
SBC: Kero places a lot of focus and emphasis on social and interactive gameplay. Why is it important?
TD: Let’s decouple these two. From a social standpoint, almost every winning category product has a social component; think Spotify, Robinhood, CashApp, Uber, etc. Sports betting is not going to be the exception. It is definitely a fact that people use their phones a lot while watching sports, but they rarely stay in the sportsbook app. They’re leaving to engage in group chats, Twitter, or forums and re-engaging them is just as difficult as getting them there in the first place. Social features help solve that and keep users longer in your app during game time, which creates numerous opportunities for your product.
The second part is algorithmically curated micro-betting. What we aim to do at Kero is remove the work needed and enable a more mindless consumption experience by algorithmically answering: “What is the most engaging and contextual thing someone would want to be on right now,” and then delivering that, at a consistent cadence of 15-30 seconds. No searching, browsing or thinking, just a single binary decision on the curated market is needed from the user. Then repeat that process every thirty seconds or so. It’s like slots but in sports betting.
SBC: What has been your biggest success so far? It could be anything from signing a client to implementing an interesting new feature.
TD: Certainly winning our first real money deals. This is not something I can yet discuss, but we have a few incredible partners who buy into our vision. For a small company, it’s hard to get noticed, let alone win big deals in such a competitive market.
For us, real success is working with partners on the other side of the gold rush. Sportsbooks in North America are still undergoing the growth phase, and face a few challenges that come with launching in new states or competing for market share. In Europe, most partners already have an established market share and institutional capacity to think about and implement innovative products and approaches. We are having a lot of good conversations in Europe and other markets and are excited about the future.
SBC: Your company has been shortlisted for the SBC First Pitch competition three times — the first edition of the SBC First Pitch in North America, the second edition of the same competition this July in New Jersey, and the inaugural First Pitch competition in Barcelona. What kept you motivated, and why was the competition an attractive prospect for Kero?
TD: Our traction and progress are what kept us going in between these competitions. Each time we showed up, it was almost like a new company was pitching. Same vision but an entirely different level of success.
This is a good reminder for other start-ups that you can’t take failure as a reason for giving up. The better approach is to use it as feedback to understand where you come short and make up the difference.
To be honest, I am going to miss participating in the First Pitch competition because we go to every SBC event around the world. I will be cheering on the new cohort now.
SBC: You’ve attended SBC events as a start-up at least three times now. How has attending SBC’s conferences and trade shows helped you in showcasing your product and generating leads?
TD: I’ve done it in every way possible — as an attendee, a speaker and a sponsor with a booth. All these are great ways to get yourself introduced to partners, investors and other strategic contacts.
I couldn’t recommend it enough to any small company trying to establish itself. SBC Summit Barcelona, in particular, really caught me by surprise in terms of just how important it was from a global perspective.
Being a US company, one tends to have blinders about the global opportunity in this industry. Visiting these international renditions of the event makes you understand just how big the industry is and the impact you can have beyond the North American market.
SBC: SBC is planning to continue its support of industry start-ups — what advice would you give to the companies that will enter the competition next year?
TD: More than anything, I would suggest using this opportunity as a feedback loop and understanding its real value — recognition and access to partners, investors, employees and more.
I shared this advice with the other pitching founders in Barcelona after Kero won. We gained just as much value from the other two times that we tried and failed to win the pitch.
Another thing I love about SBC is the networking events you put together around the conference and exhibition. Those are also invaluable from a networking standpoint, and I was able to meet great people that ultimately helped us get to the point we are at now.
SBC: What was the favourite moment of your SBC Summit Barcelona experience (apart from winning the competition, of course)?
Being able to get in front of roughly fifteen prospective clients, pitch what we do and set up follow-up meetings. As much as fundraising is important, every business needs to focus on selling its product and service.
And again, the depth of people who attend the event makes it so great from a sales pipeline point of view. I don’t think I have missed a single SBC event from Miami to New Jersey and Barcelona, and I will continue attending every single one of them.