7 September, 2021

In Front of the Curve

Alex Leese speaks to Tim Poole on the GI Huddle about his gaming industry journey so far, life as a CEO and his vision for expanding Pronet Gaming

You didn’t mention you were a Liverpool supporter – I should have worn my Liverpool top! Could you explain your history in the industry and how you got involved in gaming?  

I always think gaming is an industry that finds you, rather than you find gaming. A lot of people seem to come across it accidentally, but once they’re in, they get the bug – and it’s very difficult to leave. 

I went into sports broadcasting, then eventually went through to the Press Association where I was Head of Sales. I moved to GVC (now Entain), then to Offside Gaming  – where I took on a Managing Director role. I then had a stint with running a site in the UK – Smart Live Casino – which it is fair to say was a difficult experience given the shareholders involved, but one I certainly learned a lot from. I then moved to William Hill, where I worked as the International Director. Two years after that I moved on into their Corporate Development department.

Looking back at my time as the CEO of Smart Live Casino, once you’ve experienced doing it yourself from the top, it’s very difficult to go back to working for a big corporate. I was waiting for the right opportunity to arise and that’s when I heard of the role with Pronet Gaming. It was absolutely the role I was always waiting for. 


You've spoken about your time at William Hill: how useful and beneficial was it working in emerging markets and new territories there?

At William Hill, my role was to run their regulated businesses with Italy and Spain, which came with its own challenges including a lot of advertising restrictions. When you’ve got a business as big as WIlliam Hill, it’s very difficult sometimes to be as agile as you need to be. As I moved into Corporate Development, it became obvious to me there was a clear appetite to go into new markets. I started off the licence application into the Buenos Aires province and made partnerships – maybe something that William Hill wasn’t used to; that was quite an exciting role.


And Pronet’s focus?

There was a perception previously before I joined that it was an emerging market specialist; however, that’s something I’m keen for us to get away from because we are operating in regulated markets!


So, in that bid to change perceptions, what do you have to do to get the message out about regulated markets?

The level of marketing we now have across LinkedIn and digital advertising is excellent, and something I’m very proud of. The stand we had at ICE 2020 was a real statement and a huge success. It was what paved the way for the growth we saw during 2020, when we signed over 21 new customers.

It’s about getting Pronet at the top of B2B platform providers and that’s been the working progress of the last 18 months.


Given the achievements you’ve set out and what you’re aiming for, how would you sum up your time as Pronet CEO so far?

Pretty successful I would hope! It was always my aim to build a company I always wanted to work for. As a CEO my focus is obviously to drive growth, and we’ve seen that.  In 2020, we drove 18% growth in relation to 2019. And in 2021, it would be a disappointment if we are not seeing 25-30% growth in the business; and that comes down to improving the product.


If you had one wish for improving Pronet  – anything in the world – what would it be? 

Good question! It’s our job to be at the forefront of product development, on behalf of our clients, to push boundaries. Since the pandemic, the challenge has actually been the recruitment of new developers. Global demand for developers has gone up and it’s much more difficult to recruit developers, in particular, which is why we have upped our game in regards to marketing, recruitment and the benefits we offer.  So my wish would be to have an additional 500 developers now, to be able to make sure our platform is pushing at the forefront of new technologies. Not that we are actually behind the curve now, but you’re effectively behind the curve if you are not constantly moving on. It will happen. It’s just not fast enough for my liking because of the increased competition.


What are the major challenges you face in the industry right now. You alluded to one there in terms of the development side, what about regulation?

For a B2B platform provider, the regulation challenge is almost indirect, in some respects. For example, for us to be able to take clients into regulated markets, we ourselves do not always need to have a B2B licence from that jurisdiction.

What we are finding is how we respond to the challenges the B2C operators are facing. As they are going into these new emerging markets, they don’t have the expertise to do it. In a European market they know what to do in terms of platforms, teams and marketing. But some of the newer markets can be quite alien to them. So, we are coming under more pressure now, not just to provide the platform but to provide the managed solution, which includes the marketing, affiliate marketing, advising clients on local law firms and how to create new companies. We have been taking a consultative approach with these new clients. In certain markets, because of the team I have, we all    have our specialist areas in terms of specific knowledge in particular sectors. And very often it’s about knowing who to pick the phone up to to get something done! It’s about making sure we can support our clients in the relevant jurisdictions.


How does Pronet stand out with such competition in sports betting, and how exactly do you stand out in an industry that’s so saturated?

I think with any market with a significant tax burden it’s difficult for companies to use a third-party provider. It’s just a harder business case to look through when you are having to consider an extra percentage of your gross gaming revenue (GGR) to pay a platform provider. That’s why I think our strength lies actually when it comes to other markets, which are obviously regulated in a very different way, and maybe where the marketing spend doesn’t need to be so big.

There has been a bit of consolidation at the moment and I think the aspirations into the US market have actually played in our favour. What we are seeing is that it’s very difficult for either B2B and B2C to be effective in both at the same time. It almost feels like people are going into the US in a big rush with all their eggs in one basket. This is making it even more difficult for them to be cutting edge in the other markets, which is where I think we can compete very effectively.


To conclude, what are your goals moving forward for Pronet? 

Pronet’s goal is of course to grow the business and also get to the point where we are the number one provider. We want to be known to have the best product and solidify our position in respect of gaining industry recognition. With us being a relatively new entrant into the B2B industry, things are going really well; we have completely changed the perception of the brand. I want to see us in the top three of every award.  

My challenge and aims are to make sure we maintain our family-like, close-knit culture.  It’s a difficult thing as you get bigger because you can’t spend time with everyone, so that puts down a challenge for me to try and maintain that. How we see our team is like this: we have the robustness of a big corporate, but the agility of a startup. It’s the startup culture that I want to maintain, alongside winning an employer of the year award.