Affiliate Grand Slam by SiGMA
Julien Josset, Co-founder at North Star Network, joins the latest series of affiliate interviews on Affiliate Grand Slam
Owning a very clear strategy as from the very beginning, at North Star Network, Julien Josset and his associate, Yann Decoopman, deliver high-quality depositors to their partners - follow his story below.
How did your affiliate business take off? And, is iGaming your only vertical?
My associate (Yann Decoopman) and I have a combined 20 years of experience in affiliate marketing. Our strategy was clear from the very beginning: to deploy a scalable, global network in the first months, focusing exclusively on iGaming. We were fortunate enough to get a breakthrough in the first months, allowing us to reinvest in more sites and target new markets. Since then, at North Star Network, we have been working on delivering more and more high-quality depositors to our top partners.
How did you first get into the affiliate space? And, were you always focused on the Gaming space?
I entered the affiliate industry as Head of Content. I soon discovered a really challenging, fast-moving space, where you could wake up having made commission overnight. That’s a priceless advantage compared to brick & mortar businesses.
How is your company structured, and what aspect of business development are you currently focused on?
As a company focusing on organic traffic, SEO is at the heart of everything we are doing. Furthermore, teams are divided to focus on clusters of markets, in order to get a real expertise of the local landscapes.
What can operators do to increase support with affiliates?
Most of the larger operators have efficient affiliate teams. But technologically speaking, there are still greater delays when compared to the e-commerce sector. Just one example: live reporting is still really rare in gaming, while it would help affiliates to be more accurate.
How can affiliates be more unique in their approach?
It’s very hard for affiliates to bring a different value proposal, as operators ultimately focus on player value. Retention and reactivation help many affiliates to stand out from the crowd.
Which markets do you focus on and do you see any potential in the emerging markets?
The US is of course everyone’s big focus right now. The US market will have a different structure compared to more traditional European markets, as affiliates themselves are required to have licenses. Most likely, only large network will be able to partner operators in the long run.
Aside from the US, Ukraine and Brazil are in the process of regulating online gaming. Those markets will no doubt be attractive. Germany also has a long-awaited ongoing regulation for sports betting. The battle will be fierce to attract the best-value players in continental Europe.
Are you contemplating bringing in investors to scale or grow your business? Or, with such a big M&A market, have you ever contemplated selling the business?
M&A is totally part of our strategy. We already bought a lot of sites in UK, Brazil, and France. Our last acquisitions are footballwhispers.com and futdados.com for instance. We built a complete team to grow the business organically so our focus is not to sell.
Which qualities and skills are essential in an affiliate team/business?
When you run a large network, organization is key. More so than creativity.
What sets you apart from other affiliates?
We operate on a global level, with traffic from every continent.
How does technology play a part in your day-to-day?
Our main challenge is to operate hundreds of sites, maintaining them at a high-level of speed and availability. We developed an internal tool to monitor the whole network, with the ability to deploy or upgrade sites in a single click.
Is the grass greener on the other side - have you considered going down the operator route?
No. The required skill set to succeed on the operator side is much more complex. There are many other considerations, like CRM, technology, fraud, and branding, to name just a few.
Which markets are you eyeing up as a priority in 2020, and why?
US and Brazil.
The US is already moving fast - we are currently licensed in 7 states with more to come.
A regulated Brazilian market is likely to be the next big development as a source of growth for the sector.
How has the fragmentation of regulated markets affected your business? UKGC, Swedish regulator and now also the German regulator is mulling regulating this space.
We are fervent supporters of regulated markets. It develops business, brings revenues for states and protects consumers from rogue operators. The US is a model on this: not only operators, but also affiliates, have to be licensed to enter the sector.
How is the Asian market shaping-up for affiliates?
The Asian market is still very young as most of the countries (even India recently) have put in place outright bans on online gaming.
What do you know now that you wish you knew when starting out?
Google has almost the same ranking algorithm on a global scale.
What’s been your biggest nightmare to date?
I guess it would have to be the same as for many others in the industry. That is having another global sports shutdown for an extended period of time.
What are the main challenges for the sector in 2020?
In mature markets, to find the right balance between consumer protection / regulation and business development.
In emerging markets, setting up frameworks as quickly as possible, to allow clean businesses to operate.
What are your predictions for the future of the sector?
Less market players, on both the operator and affiliate sides. Market concentration will remain strong and barriers to entry will be higher and higher.
How do you manage relationships with multiple operators?
Our team is divided into market clusters, as our operations involve discussing with everyone on a market. That is through daily chats, regular calls, and meetings at industry events. We learn more with a client in 10 minutes than over 2 days of internet browsing.
Tell us a bit about yourself - after all, business is done with people, not just companies!
I studied philosophy, so I was not necessarily the perfect match for the iGaming industry. Even less, to run a business! But who really is? When I recruit new employees, I rarely look closely at their university degrees, but rather at their experience and the personal skills they are developing.