As one of the longest-serving executives in global betting and gaming, few industry figureheads know the lay of the land better than OpenBet CEO Jeremy Thompson-Hill. Having been with the provider since 1999, when it was known as Orbis Technology, Thompson-Hill progressed to become COO in 2010 and then CEO in 2013, leaving him perfectly positioned to discuss just where the industry has come from and in which direction it’s headed.
In this exclusive interview with Gambling Insider, the experienced executive expands on his company’s culture and evolving identity, also explaining why the industry simply cannot ignore the omni-channel challenge. On a more personal level, he discusses his love of Arsenal FC, reminiscing about the sort of heartache that will be all too familiar to any serious football fan. The conversation begins however with a reflection on OpenBet’s development over the years.
You joined the company in 1999 when it was known as Orbis Technology. What has changed about the organisation in the time you’ve been working here?
In the very early stages of Orbis it wasn’t focused on betting. A lot of it was intranet work for large telecommunications industry businesses like Telewest and NTL. We had just started to work on a platform for a particular betting client and a friend of mine who was involved in the very early stages really sold me on the company recognising how important the betting industry was going to be, because nobody was doing online betting, and betting was big business. It was something new and a new industry that had the potential to be very valuable, which is basically how it’s panned out.
When you’re a start-up, you don’t have process. The culture is ‘all hands to the pump’. It’s a very different experience managing a start-up to being involved with a company 16 years on with approximately 650 employees. The implementation of necessary processes and structure to accommodate the growth of the business and to ensure its future success have been the biggest change in the last sixteen years to the culture of the company itself. How you want to do things doesn’t really change. How you actually do them changes as you get bigger and bigger.
The company changed its name to OpenBet in 2010. How do you think this altered its image and identity?
It was a bold change at the time, but it was definitely the right change, because the name was shared by a number of different companies and didn’t relate to what we did in the industry. It set us aside from a name that didn’t really support an understanding of the business. The business is very open in its style and in its technology. We run an open platform. We integrate other large providers into our platform and create an ecosystem, so it’s open and it’s around betting. The software was always called OpenBet and the customers always knew that, so there was an understanding there. The last Orbis I knew was a removal company!
How would you describe the culture of the company?
We have a culture of empowerment, openness and accountability; most importantly we want people to be people. We have a very flat management structure – we are not micro managers. We all know what the goal is and what we have to deliver to achieve that goal.
The best way to describe it is that there are lots of different ways to win a football game. You don’t have to play like Mourinho; you could play like Wenger and you can both win football games. There are different ways to achieve the same outcome and it is about finding the right strategy for the team. We have, I hope, the right culture for our employees and our business. We prefer to let people decide how best to score the goals for themselves with the right support and encouragement. We have a lot of really intelligent people within the company and it is my job to deliver a culture that empowers and enables growth both professionally and personally for every member of the team. The success of this business is down to the people that work here. It is all about people.
Why do you think the industry, including OpenBet, is moving towards more of an omni-channel approach?
One of the largest generations in history is about to move into its prime spending years. Millennials are poised to reshape the economy – their unique experiences will change the ways we buy and sell, and most importantly the way we all enjoy betting and gaming. We can’t pretend otherwise or think the industry is different in some way – players expect an omni-channel experience. Millennials are the first generation of digital natives, and their affinity for technology helps shape how they work and interact. They are used to instant access to price comparisons, product information and peer reviews. This generation doesn’t want to merely order online.
Millennials still enjoy in-store purchases: 85% like to use their mobile devices to research products before making purchases. Retailers who are aware of this keep their online presence strong and use reviews to their advantage. Half of millennials will visit a retailer’s location when they are offered a 20% discount, and spend on average 12.8% more than if they were shopping online due to the tactile nature of the shopping experience.
Over the next five years we will develop products born out of player insight that deliver a personalised gaming experience far superior to the one we have todayFor betting and gaming it is easy to treat in-venue or land-based gaming as the poor relation, when the reality is about 60% of the world’s bets are land-based. The omni-channel betting and gaming experience has the potential for growth – growth in player understanding through a 360 view of the player, growth in player experience via the advent of new technologies, and finally sales. Our recent player research showed that 75% of under 35’s would spend more if they had an omni-channel account. It is simply not something you can ignore – players demand it and the future generation not only demands an omni-channel betting and gaming experience, they expect it.
What do you think will be the key issues that you face over the next few years?
One of the challenges that any company in the technology space faces is how to grow your employee base and keep pace with the industry and the needs of customers. Recognising this, we recently completed the acquisition of our previously outsourced services in Athens to give us a new development hub that will allow us to grow our resources and continue to serve our customers’ needs.
At OpenBet, we try to think of challenges as opportunities. Our role here is to deliver great products for our customers that enable them to grow and serve their players. We rely on the support and product-led vision of our customers. If we look at why the business is successful, we have a best-in-class managed service that ensures every customer has access to bespoke development and roadmaps, which is essential in the age where the consumer demands and expects personalisation.
I suppose the challenge for OpenBet is maintaining our outstanding customer relationships and at the same time building our technology stack to ensure we continue to lead the market. Set this against a backdrop of an unpredictable rate of re-regulation, which is a challenge for any B2B supplier in the industry, and these are the biggest challenges for OpenBet. But it’s equally our biggest opportunity to grow the business with the support of our existing customer base, via the advent of new customers and the supply of new products to serve the ever-changing needs of players.
How do you think the industry will develop in the next five years?
The industry will continue to re-regulate, with what have previously been grey or monopoly markets re-regulating to provide a relevant and safe environment for the player to enjoy betting and gaming.
The player will continue to really shape the way technology is changing and the way they interact with betting and gaming products. As an industry, I think that over the next five years we will continue to develop our player understanding and that as a supplier we will develop products born out of player insight that deliver a personalised gaming experience far superior to the one we have today.
What sort of innovation can we expect from OpenBet as we enter 2016?
OpenBet is focused on and committed to investing in two key areas of innovation: products that deliver greater player understanding and products that deliver a superior player experience. To give some examples without giving too much away: a product which we will officially launch at the start of this year is Activity Feeds, which allows you real-time access to data to ensure that you really understand what your players are doing, as they do it.
As for our innovation in player experience, we are set to launch some great products at ICE. One is ‘mobile hand off’, which allows you to build your betslip on your phone and place the bet in retail with cash. We like to think of this product as the betting industry equivalent of click and collect. Or further enhancements to things like retail cash out that we launched with Coral at the end of last year. These are products designed to deliver a superior player experience and increase loyalty and spend.
The final area we are investing in is our ready to deploy product. We pride ourselves on our bespoke development services, but we also recognise that as markets re-regulate there is a greater demand for a more managed service style solution, and we are investing in this – enhancing our ready to deploy product to become an end-to-end solution that includes trading services, software and data services, and hosting.
Jeremy Thompson-Hill offers a glimpse into his life away from the workplace
Are you much of a gambler yourself?
No, I don’t gamble. That’s purely because I’m around the games so much. It’s not what I choose to do in my spare time. I’m also not allowed to play on so many sites because of my privileged position – you’re not encouraged to play if you’re a software supplier.
We know that you’re an Arsenal supporter. Do you get to many Arsenal games?
I used to be a season ticket holder, but now I get to maybe five games a season. Sometimes I’m lucky enough to get invited to some of the big games. I love sport – it takes me away from the day job.
Do you have an outstanding football memory from your time supporting Arsenal?
A really memorable moment is going to the 2006 Champions League final, with the sending off, holding out for so long and then Samuel Eto’o scoring. That was quite painful. I remember that really clearly. You get sucked into it. You’ve gone all that way and you feel really proud and really want to win. But we were disadvantaged in that game by the sending off. That was the problem.