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First up, tell us about yourself. It’s always great to hear successful entrepreneurs speak about themselves.
Mine is the classic affiliate story: in my final year of college in 2004, I started getting seriously into poker after winning €450 in a home game. Having been broke my entire student life, winning that amount of money in a night piqued my interest. I started to read a lot about poker, immersing myself in books, forums, and any other poker-related content I could find.
Soon after, I graduated from university and started my first job with a telecoms company, working in their web content department. At this point, I was playing online poker almost every day. After some initial struggles, I was earning more playing poker in the evenings than I was in my day job.
I was keen to travel while I was still young. Having saved up some money, I decided to quit my job to seek adventures overseas. At this point, I had enough of a bankroll to play poker full-time and sufficient money left in the bank for a return ticket, in case poker didn’t work out. I headed off to Asia with some friends and started my professional poker-playing journey.
The next three years went brilliantly. By 2008, I had travelled across Asia and moved from low-stakes to high-stakes games.
I was also getting an amazing rakeback deal from the poker site I played on. The manager signed me up to their affiliate programme and told me to offer the same deal to my poker network. Not long after, I had 20-30 of my poker friends on the same deal and got a 5% cut of their action.
Most of my poker network were professional players, so 5% of their rake added up to a pretty significant amount. That then got me interested in the business side of poker, and it was from there that I found affiliation and immersed myself in online marketing in the same way I had previously done with poker.
I had very strong links with several members of the close-knit Irish poker community and regularly chatted with a gentleman who went by the name of “roadsweeper”. After we got talking about building a website together, we decided to try our hands at the online marketing game.
When roadsweeper (or Paudie, as he’s better known these days) and I started working together, affiliation went from a part-time hobby to a full-time job. Our first site was dedicated to our shared passion – poker – and we had immediate success, reaching four-figure earnings in our first few months. Soon after, we made our first foray into casino, and sports betting followed not long after that.
While I’m wearing the hat of CEO, Blexr is very much a partnership. Our success to date would not have been possible without Paudie’s positive energy, work ethic, and sense of humour, as well as his superhuman ability to put up with my pig-headedness. He was also the driving force behind the eventual creation of Blexr in 2015.
It has been four years since Blexr started. What were the ideas and circumstances behind founding it?
At the start of 2015, I was in China and Paudie was in Ireland. We were running 10-20 websites, and had freelancers spread across the world managing everything from design to dev to content.
Back then, we assumed every affiliate was running a similar operation to our own, and that everybody was running a “two guys in a garage” type of setup. On receiving an invite to a private affiliate event in Punta Cana, our eyes were opened when we learned that several of the super affiliates in attendance ran “real” companies with offices, staff, and the rest of the things you’d expect in a normal business.
That led to discussions on centralising operations. We went on to do some research on the various gaming hubs around the world and finally settled on Malta as the home for Blexr.
The company is going great, judging from the awards you get. What is the secret of maintaining freshness and motivation even after four years?
That’s a great question. While Blexr opened its doors four years ago, we’ve actually been working together since 2008.
Our motivations have changed a lot over the years. Initially, the main motivation was money. When you have bills to pay, you need to have a viable business that can cover your living costs. Luckily, things went well from the very beginning, so we never had financial worries.
Once you reach a certain level of financial success, money becomes much less of a motivating factor. Nowadays, there are other aspects of running a company that are far more important to us.
The first is our focus on building great products, something that is part of Blexr’s mission. Being part of a team that works on products users love is highly motivating.
Secondly, developing and growing a company culture is both fun and challenging. It can be an emotional rollercoaster at times, but ultimately it’s very rewarding.
Blexr has reputably earned a standing in the lead generation, especially in the gaming and casino verticals. Tell us about some of your innovations in the digital marketing arena.
All of Blexr’s success is a result of the hard work and dedication of the 100 or so individuals that make up our team of teams. Our growth and constant evolution and innovation is a result of their creativity, dedication, and commitment. Malta often gets a bad reputation when it comes to the quality of talent on the island; we’re fortunate to be blessed with some of the smartest and hardest-working people in the industry.
When it comes to innovation, at the moment we’re putting a lot of focus on big data. We’re working on a number of different projects that aim to provide a personalised gaming experience for our users. We’re also exploring different ways to discover what users want to then tailor our products to their needs.
Since you are into the business of bringing customers to the gaming and gambling websites, you must be in a great position to judge what customers really need. Could you specify a couple of things that customers really need or want, but not available at present in the gambling industry?
I think the big thing that customers in gaming want is trust and transparency, which is often lacking in the industry. Transparency is something we really care about at Blexr. It’s one of the core values of the company, and it’s also part of our mission statement when it comes to how we approach our products and our users.
The digital marketing space keeps on evolving. There was once Google’s near monopoly. Then Facebook arrived. Now, a host of new social media upstarts threaten to disrupt the digital marketing space every other day. How do you keep calm and generate leads amidst such fast-paced evolution?
The affiliate industry and SEO have changed a lot over the past ten years. The methods we used to rank websites a decade ago would have your website penalised for life if you tried them today.
It’s always important to look towards the future. What way is SEO going? What sites are ranking well these days and why? What other channels can be used to generate leads apart from SEO? We try to keep one eye on the future at all times, to ensure that we’re building sites and products that will stand the test of time.
You bring leads from all over the world. What are the steps that you take to ensure legal compliance, as the rules on gambling practically change from country to country – even from state to state in many countries?
We have fantastic commercial and content teams with dedicated people managing compliance across our network of sites. We are in regular contact with all our partners to ensure our sites are always up to date and aligned with current regulations.
Now you have an office in Barcelona as well, apart from the headquarters in Malta. Any plans to expand further, especially to the USA and Asia?
Right now, we’re focused on our two offices in Malta and Barcelona. As the regulatory landscape changes in the US, Asia, and other markets, we may look to strategically set up offices in those locations. However, for now, our priorities are Malta and Barcelona.
Source: European Gaming Media
This is a Syndicated News piece. Photo credits or photo sources can be found on the source article: Exclusive Q&A with Ian McDonnell CEO at Blexr