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The forward-looking online casino

Ivan Montik, founder of SoftSwiss, reflects on the company’s origins and how it has gone on to position itself as a unique entity within the online casino space

EGR Intel (EGR): What was the genesis of SoftSwiss? What did you want to do better with the company and what experience from your previous career has informed the company?

Ivan Montik (IM): My previous career was rich in both corporate experience and small business operations. On the business side, I founded a web design studio together with a couple of university friends, a car wash business that I sold in 2005 (which is still up and running today) and a couple of other ventures. However, my goal has always been to go international.

My experience of corporate client management at the Raiffeisen Group’s Priorbank played an important role and helped to get an understanding of how large companies manage their finances – something that many company leaders are often missing.

I used the knowledge I’d accumulated and founded an IT company. SoftSwiss was started as an outsourcing company and we developed custom projects for international clients. The several years that I devoted to learning information technology at university helped me speak the same language with the programming engineers and build a small but strong team. My previous business experience taught me how to get clients and work with them.

One of our first clients was from Switzerland and had us build a penny auction platform. Unfortunately, the client could not pay for the project in full, and, as a compromise, we reserved the rights to further market the product as our proprietary software. The first results of a simple AdWords marketing campaign were really impressive and brought more deals than we could handle.

Making your own product turned out to be a much more exciting and rewarding thing than outsourcing software development. For our next step, we considered developing an online gaming platform and after brief discussions, the decision was made to go forward.

We had no prior experience in the gaming sector and decided to make this our competitive advantage. The market analysis showed that most of the existing products were developed using outdated technologies, lacked technical innovation and were not strong enough in terms of security and performance. The reason was, they were developed by people from the gaming industry rather than IT specialists.

With our IT know-how and the strongest software engineers from Belarus, we thought we could conquer the market. It wasn’t that easy of course, and the more we learned about the industry, the clearer we saw how many obstacles had to be overcome. But we were not about to back down – we wanted to prove that we had made the right decision.

EGR: What factors do you consider in terms of sustainable development of SoftSwiss as a company?

IM: The factor of sustainable development for any company is hard work, as simple as that. I’m a perfectionist with a very keen sense of responsibility which never lets me deliver work of poor quality or break deadlines. During the first years in business, before we grew to 30-35 people, I was working more than 16 hours a day, and I felt great since it was bringing me closer to my goals. I learned by doing and with each new project I got a better understanding of how to structure the company, manage clients and employees and develop methodologies that worked for us.

Another crucial point was building a strong team. At the very beginning, I was lucky to have like-minded people at my side. They were inviting their friends to join the company and I used social networks to find smart professionals who wanted to be part of a young start-up and grow it into a big company. I tried to talk to each new employee personally, share my vision and evaluate whether we shared common values.

I find that sharing corporate values is extremely important. Ours are mutual respect, attention to one another and willingness to help and support colleagues, respect towards clients, staying faithful and transparent, as well as ensuring constant self-development and personal growth.

If the personal goals of a potential team member contradict our company values, we don’t go for the hire. With this approach, we managed to grow really big – about 700 people today – and achieve extremely low staff turnover of just 3%.

Finally, an agile approach in company management has helped SoftSwiss over the years to develop sustainably. It’s written in our company policy: “Flexibility in all processes and decisions: being agile on all levels is part of effective work”. I always teach our employees that they should never stop optimising the processes, reworking the structure and improving their approach.

Staying dynamic helps overcome bottlenecks and makes you resilient to industry challenges. Some employees find it hard to adapt to constant change and strive for stability. In reality, change is the main tool of effective agile management.

EGR: One of the key SoftSwiss values is innovation. What due diligence do you conduct to inform your R&D investment decisions?

IM: Innovation has always been one of our competitive advantages. However, a separate R&D department was founded only about two years ago. Earlier, research tasks were performed within different development teams and covered the needs of a particular project. But with the rapid growth of data volumes, the need for analysis and further implementation in promoting innovation has become evident. Today, our R&D team consists of the industry-best data science engineers who analyse huge amounts of data and perform experimental development.

Their main goals are improving the performance of various modules of our platforms, decreasing system load and breaking large monolith software blocks into microservices. Artificial intelligence is among the top priorities of our R&D department. First of all, this has to do with the need for increased security and greater fraud protection, but also improving the player experience and making it more personal. AI also brings customer support to a completely new level. All of this helps increase player lifetime value and maximise retention figures, so it’s definitely a worthy investment.

EGR: Which investment do you think has been the most successful for you in terms of company development and innovation?

IM: Introducing cryptocurrency and blockchain technology into our product and online gaming as a whole was a breakthrough moment and one of the most successful investments. It was back in 2013, when bitcoin experienced its first significant growth and became a topic of conversation.

At that time, the only project based on blockchain was SatoshiDice, a game that used the provably fair method. A player made a bet on the outcome of a dice roll by sending bitcoin to a certain address. Each address represented a certain risk and the bigger the risk, the higher were the player’s chances to win.

With the bet sent, the hash of the secret keys was recorded on the blockchain when the bet transaction was generated. If the bet won, the system sent the corresponding amount back to the player’s address automatically. The game was popular among bitcoin owners but there was no online casino which offered more traditional casino games with gameplay in cryptocurrency.

We thought it could be our niche and as soon as we launched the product in autumn 2013, the demand for crypto casinos far exceeded our initial set-up capacity. The operators willing to launch a bitcoin casino had to queue for eight months to go live. I was even interviewed by Vitalik Buterin, the founder of ethereum, who was at that time writing for Bitcoin Magazine.

SoftSwiss became known as a pioneer in cryptocurrency gaming because we had the expertise, used top-notch technology and paid extra attention to security. It helped us earn trust and make bitcoin our hallmark. It then grew into a number of successful projects based on cryptocurrency payment processing which are now part of our product portfolio.

EGR: During Covid-19, how have you adapted your company’s approach to work?

IM: I actually appreciate the experience of working in the pandemic and try to see it as a valuable anti-crisis management coaching session! But speaking seriously, what is now happening in the world doesn’t make our work easier. The challenges are really significant and the ability to work in extreme conditions is a vital skill for every manager. At SoftSwiss, we appeared to be quite well-prepared for the pandemic.

Our top priority was keeping our employees safe and healthy so we switched to the home office almost immediately when Covid-19 was there. It wasn’t a big challenge to adapt our processes to distant work since the agile approach had always used taught us to work in a quickly changing environment and find new ways to structure our work effectively.

The hardest thing was keeping our hiring process ongoing. In terms of the volumes, the SoftSwiss business grew because online entertainment became the dominant type of entertainment available. We had to keep up with the growing business volumes and onboarding new employees. During a pandemic this could create real bottlenecks.

However, our HR team did its best and enabled 100% growth in 2020, an amazing result for such a difficult year. We even opened new offices worldwide. We have become much more flexible in terms of our employees’ location, it’s just a matter of organisation and self-discipline.

EGR: What does corporate social responsibility mean to you and how does it affect decision-making at SoftSwiss?

IM: When you are running a company of 600+ people, corporate social responsibility is extremely important, and we see it as an integral part of the corporate culture and our brand image. While reaching company profit goals and maximising individual income is still the top priority for most employees, we are constantly discussing how we can integrate social objectives into our common plan. The times we are in have reminded people of simpler values we started to forget, such as sympathy and compassion, and that doing little things together makes a big difference.

EGR: Tell us more about the most recent CSR projects SoftSwiss accomplished?

IM: SoftSwiss is supporting many social initiatives in Belarus, the home country for most of our employees. We are cooperating with IMENA (imenamag.by), a non-commercial media platform operating through crowdfunding.

We are actively participating in charity work and donating to projects and funds taking care of children’s health. In association with our business partners, we are regularly donating to Konstantin Khabensky’s Charity fund (khabenskiy.com/charity), the organisation specialising in medical help for children with oncological and other complex brain diseases. Our employees visit orphanages in Belarus and support children in foster homes.

Last spring, we provided Belarusian doctors with masks and protective clothing when the Covid-19 figures reached their peak and the hospitals were facing difficulties.

EGR: How has SoftSwiss evolved/grown in recent times? Where do you see the company heading throughout 2021 and beyond?

IM: SoftSwiss has become synonymous with high quality in the online gaming sector. We are now investing in products which will continue to prove that everything created under the SoftSwiss brand is top quality. Innovation will remain our principal goal and we will be implementing our know-how for further development of artificial intelligence and machine learning. I strongly believe that the future of gaming is in mobile technologies and blockchain and will continue investing in both.

We will be entering new markets, with Asia and Africa among our top priorities and adapting our products to meet the requirements of local jurisdictions.

As for the obstacles, there’s always a couple out there, but it is important to stay open to change and approach new challenges in an agile way. This way you can overcome any bottleneck.

Ivan Montik is the founder of SoftSwiss, BGaming, and Merkeleon. Since 2009, he has been running a number of successful projects in IT, fintech and igaming. The strongest supporter of cryptocurrency, he was the first to introduce bitcoin into the online entertainment industry in 2013. Montik founded CoinsPaid and Cryptoprocessing.com, crypto payment processing solutions for e-commerce, PSP, igaming and streaming. The group of companies founded by Montik employs over 500 people worldwide.

Blockchain | Covid-19 | Cryptocurrency | CSR | Innovation | Online casino | Promoted content | R&D | SoftSwiss | Sustainability

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