A Different Kind of Start-up

Kent Staahle is heading one of the iGaming industry’s most ambitious start-ups: River iGaming is looking at big acquisitions and a complete new product offering.

Can you briefly introduce River iGaming and your business model? 

It all started when our founders Ketil Skorstad’s and Kristian Lundkvist’s, who both head Norwegian investment companies, got in contact with Cherry’s Morten Klein. The idea was to build a Norwegian iGaming venture, and we sought a listing on the Stock Exchange in Oslo. We opened our operational headquarters in Malta, but we also have small offices in the UK and in Norway. Our vision is to become a strong market player though acquisitions and organic growth – not just in the Norwegian market but globally. River iGaming enjoys strong financial backing, which means we were able to build a structure that has the power and resources to invest and acquire fast-growing companies. During our first months of operation, we have already acquired a number of businesses in the iGaming and media industries. Our aim is to invest in all areas connected to the sector of iGaming, particularly technology and business intelligence.  

Can you tell us about your first acquisitions? 

Our first acquisition was Vegas Casino. We have completely reinvented its format and managed to diversify the customer base beyond the Norwegian market. From there we proceeded to the acquisition of Mediafusion, a content production and affiliate marketing company built around Norwegian and Swedish customers. This company specialises in digital marketing, content and visual production. The third acquisition was Gaming Realms, a B2C company based in the UK. Gaming Realms gives us access to four new well-established brands, two of which are connected to TV shows: Britain’s Got Talent and X Factor, which also appeal to a new player demographic with the majority of players being female and under 35.  

As a young company, how do you seek to differentiate yourself?  

We want to find a new take on the market. These days, a generic one-size-fits-all approach is just not enough. Personalisation and customer engagement are the most important elements in attracting and retaining players today. That’s why we are developing the business intelligence side of the company. River iGaming has invested heavily in technology, which does the heavy lifting when it comes to remembering customers and their game preferences through big data and managing it in the best possible way. For us it is important to offer the customers something new and unique, make them feel at home in our casinos. Maybe even offer them something they want before they even know they want it. So now our Vegas Casino features personalised architecture including, for instance, content offers. Then there is the gamification element, which we want to focus on. Even in an online casino, players today seek an experience – it is not just enough to add some sound and nice pictures.  

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What criteria do you look for when choosing a company to invest in? 

We are on the lookout for companies that complement our current portfolio. We are seeking companies that we can develop further; not companies that we need to clean up. The brand must be attractive, and it must boast innovative ideas that require money to come to fruition and grow. We would like to see the founders stay in the business and continue growing it with us. But we are not only targeting start-ups, we also have the ability and resources to handle bigger acquisitions.  

How are investors looking at the gaming industry and River iGaming?

Many people ask me why we are listed in Oslo and not in Stockholm or London. The reason for this is that we want to be a Norwegian company. It is true that Swedish investors are much more accustomed to the iGaming industry than investors from Norway, but there is increasing interest for iGaming companies in the Norwegian investor community. In Norway we still have much more explaining to do, while with Swedish investors we can already talk strategy. However, our investors are pretty much seated among Norway’s top 5% in terms of their net worth. We also feel that our connections into the Norwegian financial industry and institutions are one of our strong advantages. I also believe that it is attractive for investors to add iGaming to their portfolio. Although at the moment the margins and figures are going down, the long-term outlook is still good because developments such as consolidation and re-regulation offer significant growth opportunities for the larger players. 

How do you believe regulations will evolve and what new markets are on your agenda? 

Sweden will become a licensed gaming market in January 2018, and I believe that Norway will follow Sweden’s lead, it always does. So it’s likely that in three to five years Norway will move towards a licensing regime for gambling. Many companies are now rushing to enter the regulated US market, but we are in no hurry to follow the crowd. It is an attractive market, but there are still many regulated markets in Europe that are of interest to us, and we are also looking at other markets in Africa and South America. 

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How do you see the gaming industry in the next three to five years? 

There will always be a place for proper casinos, but there is also an increasing demand for more gamified products. We need to give our customers the ultimate gaming experience, and in order to do that, we should focus on new technological solutions. I expect this to be a real driver in the future. That’s why we are now working on a new project that we are going to launch in 2019. It is a game-oriented casino with a completely new product offering. 

River iGaming enjoyed an impressive growth in a short period of time. Where do you want to go from here? 

For the foreseeable future, there will be many smaller companies that are coming up with new ideas and innovative products. Some of them might even be outside the regulatory fold. As a company, we are looking to invest in these companies and bring them onto the regulated side. We are not interested in short-term wins, and we want to develop long-term relationships. Our ambition is to become one of the top industry leaders in a couple of years.  

Kent Staahle is the CEO of River iGaming. He has extensive experience in the finance industry and has previously worked at SpareBank1, Nets and ODIN Forvaltning. He holds an MSc in Marketing and Economics from BI Norwegian Business School.

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