SBC spoke to Speed Media CEO Nikola Teofilovic and Tetiana Vozniuk, Senior Investment Manager at JKR, about the expansion plans in the crypto affiliate market.
Last time you spoke to SBC Nikola, you were the Senior Investment Manager at JKR – but now you’re also the CEO of Speed Media. Can you tell us about this soft switch in roles?
Nikola Teofilovic: It’s quite a natural switch because our ambition and the main focus was to grow the media. When it comes to the timing, well you are acquiring a number of companies, you end up growing pretty fast and you need to have a larger team in to manage that growth.
Basically, we have made five acquisitions and a substantial investment in the year since I joined. So, we felt that the company had become big enough for me to take on the role of CEO.
For those that might not know, what is Speed Media? What would you say makes it stand out from the competition?
Tetiana Vozniuk: Speed Media is a group of affiliate websites with the main focus on crypto and Asian markets in the iGaming sector. There are many markets for that but Asia is growing fast in terms of the iGaming space. With crypto fast becoming a substitution for fiat money, we decided to focus on that and we believe it will be our winning strategy.
NT: There is growth in several places in the market. One where most players are focusing on is the US and North America, and Canada is opening up as well. My take on the market is that you have to be really big, go big or go home. I’m sure those who succeed in that market will do really, really well.
The path we have chosen to be competitive is in Asia, which is an amazing market and is growing really fast, and the crypto casino space. We have analysed our competitive edge and our size, and where we think we will play and win, is Asia and the crypto circuits.
Nikola, how has your previous experience as Senior Investment Manager shaped your leadership strategy as CEO?
NT: I’m quite good at wearing these two hats, they’re quite different. I started out in finance for a couple of years but I’ve been on C-level in tech doing my own companies for more than 23 years now. I’ve been in operations most of my life, but I also started investing when I was quite young. I think one of my strongpoints was that I understand investors very well because I’ve been on that side many times.
Speed Media has big ambitions. I think it helps with this experience when it comes to being able to see the synergies. When somebody wants to sell a company, there’s a reason why. At the beginning of last year many people wanted to sell their Dutch businesses and that’s for an obvious reason because those markets were going to be regulated.
There needs to be a proper trigger. In order to find a good acquisition, you need to look at the reason why the people are selling the business which means it is not easy to find good acquisitions. You have a lot of players, and many of them have been set up in the past three or four years which has been heavy for acquisitions. From my perspective, I think you will see a bit more activity, and if you look at the big companies most of that activity is focused on the US at the moment. Which leaves the door open for us in other markets.
Tetiana, can you tell us about the overall vision and strategy for Speed Media? How do you plan to establish the company as a super affiliate?
TV: We plan to continue investing in the business. From our side we are an anchoring investor. We would definitely like to attract more funds for our future acquisitions and, in general, to build companies organically.
One of the obvious investment areas to grow a company is to hire proper management like you see here with Nikola, who has strong experience in the industry in both M&A and investment. So, this means we leverage our strong M&A experience and I believe Nikola will be able to deliver on that.
M&A is becoming an increasingly important factor in expansion for many companies. Is this the case for Speed Media? How do you plan to expand the company even further?
TV: We have two kinds of directions. First one is we want to build company websites organically; build from scratch for orientation for the growing market such as Asia and US. Also we need to take into account the millennial approach to communication and work out how this can be used to attract new players and be creative in this area. Also use technological tools and tricks to deliver faster.
The second direction is to acquire assets and then also grow them organically. We don’t just want to acquire, but also add value with our team. We bring in our management expertise in terms of product, people, and connections which should help deliver and build further value. Our aim is to grow these companies to the next level.
NT: I think it’s much easier to grow through M&A in this industry than in any other. I think you need a sound mix between organic growth and M&A, but in M&A it is important to know when the right opportunity comes up, take it.
In today’s market having money on the balance is not worth much. We live in an economic market environment with negative interest rates, so you need to deploy that as well. You always get much better returns on smaller deals than just having cash on the balance.
It has always been cheap to borrow money with quite good interest rates because you have to remember the igaming business is a business with high margin rates. That is why M&A makes a lot of sense. It is important to have a playbook when it comes to M&A, to see if these acquisitions are fitting into your focus because it’s easy to acquire many sites and then lose that focus.
TV: We’ve also taken a strategic investment with WYN Global Media, which also gives us access to a great deal of expertise in key areas. It’s an Asian-oriented affiliate company and we have acquired a significant minority interest. The group has a very strong leadership team with staff all around the globe. This is a fantastic partnership for us.
Good recruitment is an issue for industries all over the globe at the moment. How have you approached building up the Speed Media team over the past few months?
NT: Look at London for instance, you need to jump around because the city is so expensive, you need to try and maximise your income all the time and you don’t have the privilege to stay at the place you love because someone pays more somewhere else.
You look at Silicon Valley, it’s a huge challenge because there is some calculation that the general turnover for developers is nine months, so people jump around because you need to maximise your salary and package all the time.
From an employer perspective this is very tough if the plan is to build a long-term company. This is why we see a trend in America where they are building product and admin hubs in other countries like Asia, as this gives a huge edge. It is for reasons like this that Ukraine and Serbia have become igaming hubs.
I think our edge is that we have a strong employer branding in Serbia with Speed Media so we can attract top talent. We are good at keeping key people happy and motivated and making them stay for a longer period of time because that’s the only way to build long-term value is to keep the stars but other people as well because, at the end of the day, everyone is important.
If everyone is passionate, everyone is involved and everyone’s ideas count, you get business development ideas from a wider group and some of which can be successfully implemented. This is something I believe is our secret sauce when it comes to being able to attract talent and making them stay, which is even more important than just attracting them.
So this approach has helped you with some senior hires lately?
NT: Absolutely. Our first acquisition was Bonfi Media, which was not just about acquiring the product but also about recruiting the core team. Its main product is Casino Bros which was built by Darko Brzica, one of my previous colleagues who was the Senior SEO Specialist at AskGamblers.
Recently in December we hired a CPO, a really experienced senior hire in the shape of Eitan Gorodetsky who was Head of Acquisition at Betsson Group. He also worked with me at Catena where he was the Head of SEO. I think we created a strong core team by using our networks and this first acquisition.
With M&A, it’s really hard to take entrepreneurs who have built these companies and integrate them into your corporate culture. So it is important to have a great team to do that. At the same time we want a team that was big enough to take on some of these acquisitions that would come without a team behind them – i.e. just the product.