The odds of success as a start-up in such a competitive industry can often seem insurmountable, but smaller companies continue to thrive thanks to forward-thinking attitudes and a wealth of talent at their disposal.
CasinoBeats spoke to Thomas Jones, CEO of Yolted, Chris Oltyan, CEO at Compliable, David Marcus, CEO at Jogo Global, and Claire Ward, Head of HR at Future Anthem, to discover the challenges they face and how they utilise their unique position to gain a market share.
CasinoBeats: How do you feel start-up culture differs from that of larger, incumbent companies?
Thomas Jones: Energy and immediacy are probably the most obvious differentiators at any start-up. When you have less red tape and lines of authority to navigate, things just get done.
The pressure is on to make the right decisions along the way, but you’re all in it together and a keen sense of cooperation and communication is the way we’ll all prosper, which makes for a rewarding, positive atmosphere. Larger companies tend to suffer from legacy decisions and it’s much harder to change course when you’re so far into a journey.
Chris Oltyan: While I feel the word is somewhat overused, I do believe that start-ups tend to have more authentic cultures than larger corporations. As companies grow, the disconnect between what executive management and folks on the ground are living becomes a point of friction. When two groups have two different sets of values, those values can feel hollow and empty.
Whether you say a start-up just hasn’t had time to have its employees get jaded that way, or they are just better at maintaining that fresh perspective and energy, it is a difference that I’ve noticed a lot. The authenticity of the company can really help preserve a culture that reinforces itself over time.
David Marcus: The culture is one of flexibility. If you are a start-up, you need to be able to change, and quickly. Change is a positive thing; it doesn’t mean you have gotten something wrong. It means you are adapting to what lies ahead in your journey.
The ability to adapt to change is all part of the start-up mindset, you have to take responsibilities for things you may not have expected you would. The benefit of that, in terms of growth, is that it gives people the opportunity to expand and explore areas of work that they perhaps didn’t think they had the ability to do.
It is amazing to see the latent abilities that people have – Ellen Sezerino secured our UKGC, for example, one of our crowning achievements of 2021. The freedom to allow people to flourish in this way is the kind of culture we foster at Jogo.
Claire Ward: The main differentiator – which gives start-ups their unique appeal – is that they are employee-centric. Everyone has the potential to make a difference, be seen, and have their say in how the organisation is run.
They will typically have the chance to take more responsibility than comparable roles in larger organisations, or than even than their job descriptions outline. This is reflective of the fact that start-ups are, by nature and necessity, more agile. People feel more involved and there is the chance to seek, offer and implement ideas and innovations across the business.
CB: What advantages do you have over these companies, and how do you utilise these to fuel growth? Conversely, are there any disadvantages that present themselves, and how do you overcome them, if so?
CO: Speed is one of the major advantages we have, whether that’s growing and scaling the business or adapting to customer feedback. We aren’t a consulting group, so we can’t just build everything a customer asks for, but if all of our customers ask for the same feature? Well, we can shift our roadmap quickly and efficiently to meet that demand.
Being able to identify and solve problems for our customers as they evolve really makes us an attractive partner to work with compared to slower moving companies.
DM: One of the key benefits we have is that decisions can be made almost instantly. The structure of larger companies is such that things take time and opportunities can be missed. We have often had to make quick decisions in a meeting, but those decisions have led to positive outcomes like the closing of a project or a change of perspective when approaching a task.
Overall, the advantages are speed, flexibility, instant decision-making, and courage. You’ve got to be bold and prepared for failure, but also aware not to make the same mistakes twice.
The downside to operating as a self-funded start-up is the limitation on resources. Without a specific person for a specific role, multitasking ensues, which leads to delays on other tasks.
However, we always see these occurrences as opportunities for growth. We pride ourselves on our adaptability and functioning at such a high level with these constraints is testament to Jogo’s character.
CW: As a start-up you have a chance to create and uphold a bespoke culture. Everyone is ‘in it together’ and one of the main attractions is the family feel. People can see in real-time the influence that their role has on the company. They get to work closely with colleagues from all functions and tend to have direct access to the founder(s), no matter their own level.
Rather than disadvantages, it’s more a case of challenges. You can compare it to adolescence and being a teenager – you know what you want to do, have an idea of how to get there, but there’s a lack of experience and you don’t have answers for everything.
You’ll have to step out of your comfort zone; it’s a learning process and the curve can be steep at times. But the inherent agility means that decisions can be taken and any issues resolved quickly.
Larger companies have their distinct advantages. The main one is the brand awareness that can be a huge pull when it comes to recruitment, alongside sometimes aspirational and generous employee benefits. From an operational perspective, processes can be slick and efficient – although this isn’t always the case.
TJ: An advantage is an amplified ability to immediately recognise where improvements are needed and make rapid changes. Being newer and leaner, everyone is acutely aware of what is going well and what isn’t, and inaction can be disastrous.
Recognising and doubling down on wins, while quickly learning from missteps along the journey, is a galvanising characteristic that you must embrace, where you may even see your original vision evolving into something new over time, which is exciting in itself.
You tend to wear many hats in these kinds of companies, certainly at the beginning, which some could consider a handicap. But to me, it’s an opportunity to have a better understanding of the business generally. There’s something very rewarding about rolling up your sleeves and doing what’s needed.