12 May, 2021

Work to your strengths

Speaking shortly after his appointment as Catena Media CEO, Michael Daly speaks with Tim Poole about settling into the new role and how a broadened perspective beyond North America.

Can you tell us about your transition into the role so far?
It's been invigorating. I've been with Catena already a couple of years running North America, but going into the global role as CEO just opens up so much more about all the other markets I only had an inkling of an understanding of in terms of all Catena's efforts. We talked about them at the executive level but never really had time to dive into those on a weekly call with the other executives when you're really focusing on your own areas. North America obviously had lots to focus on, so it's been very exciting for me to get to know more of the managers below the executives in the various groups around the world, just to see the depth of the team Catena has.

When we were doing this transition, we also started a transformation program, which I had been involved with, but now I'm spearheading some efforts to improve the small percentage of the business that was not essentially growing as we'd hoped. So we needed to put some focus on that and do some hard work. That's also very exciting, because the opportunity that's out there is clear, and being able to take advantage of that opportunity is what we're focusing on.

Can you expand on those particular areas that weren't meeting expectations?
It's particularly casino in Europe. Part of it was our structuring in terms of we had casino groups, and we had sports groups, and in certain markets, they're more geographically driven. If I were to use Germany as an example, we might have had two different groups running sports and casino. Does that make sense? The operators are the same.

We need to look at how we align ourselves for our customers, which are the end consumers for the operators, which are the ones we do the business with and on behalf of and then for our company. So how do you best align all of those elements? That's something we've been looking at, mostly focused on the casino product, but obviously that has a spider web to the rest of the organisation because of shared resources, shared teams, where they should be shared, and where they should be separated.

It's interesting to hear you talk of other markets outside North America because obviously there's a massive buzz about the US at the moment. Would it be fair to assess the US as Catena's biggest target area because you headed the US side, and now you're CEO?
It's been invigorating. I've been with Catena already a couple of years I think there are two questions in there. There's North America and the US, Catena's biggest target market. It's the fastest-regulating market and biggest numbers-wise on the near-term horizon anyway. So it's probably the biggest for Catena because our operators are viewing it as the biggest, and those are the operators we serve as an affiliate. So anywhere the operators are going in mass and in power, we go to support them. That's our business. But I don't think it means we're more focused on the US. We've been supporting that business and growth pretty well. I think if anything good came out of the global pandemic and the changes in 2020, it's the ability for us to think remotely. There were roles that were often viewed as in-office and had to be from a certain location. The CEO is the prime example of that. So as an executive on the team in North America, I thought I was essentially at the top of where I could grow in the organisation because I wasn't in Malta. North America had already been a remote team, but now remote thinking has allowed our company to change perspective. Maybe some of these things we had pre-existing thoughts about how they had to work, but 2020 has fractured those. So this is exciting for me and our teams as we grow. It opens up lots more opportunities in the organisation for everybody, because people are no longer geographically determined, and that means we can find the best people for the roles, regardless of where they are. So picking a US CEO for a European-based company means we can think globally and remotely, and find a blend and balance that makes a great organisation.

What are the most striking lessons you've learned since joining Catena, and has your experience changed your view about anything in particular within the affiliate market?
The lesson I've learned is affiliate is a really good business in the igaming space. I had never been associated with affiliate before joining Catena three years ago. I'd been working with platforms, operators and vendors going into various global markets with products, RGSs, gaming platforms and so on. Before, I just viewed affiliates as part of a marketing arm, never really looking at the business, but it's the most modern technology probably in the gaming space because while we are regulated, we're less regulated in the marketing rules than, say, the platform, which has to do the gambling but it has to do the wallet transactions.

So it allows us to bring in a lot more modern technology from other industries because we can work more openly. And because we're more modern, it gives us more people we can bring in like those with SEO experience, big players outside the gaming industry, world-class journalists and all sorts of people who are in the gaming industry as well. A phrase that has been out there since I've been in the industry for the last 18 years is the gaming industry is somewhat incestuous. People went from company to company, but we didn't bring in a lot of new talent. Catena to me is the opposite of that. So that's a lesson I learned about affiliates making really good businesses. And on top of that, it's clear finances: it's a very clean business in terms of what your costs and revenues are, how it all inter-reacts or inter-relates. It's also high margin, and because of that, it means there's lots of opportunity for affiliates to use healthy cash flow to grow the business.

We were also seeing a lot of acquisitions at Catena, and we slowed that down to try to figure out the balance between agility and efficiency. So often you have the startups that you acquire, and those are agile, but they're not very efficient from a global perspective. Catena probably tried to make everything work the same in some of these, and that leads to efficiency for the company. But again if we go back to what's good for customers, operators and the company, we have to find a balance in efficiency and agility that makes it able to grow at the speeds of the markets, as well as grow the bottom line, which is the efficiency part.

Given the heavy focus on growing Catena's US presence, how will Catena prioritise the rest of its existing markets?
There are lots of other markets with things going on. Some people refer to Europe as the legacy business for us. I hate the term personally because I think legacy implies various things that discredit the team and the markets. Germany is re-regulating, it's going to change. However, that's a great opportunity for an affiliate.

The operators are going to be there again, and they're going to need marketing. Like the UK, they'll be under new marketing rules and limitations on what they can do, so they'll need every resource available.

An affiliate that can operate in that space, and operate and drive traffic effectively, becomes an even more important element. So markets like Germany and the UK are growth opportunities. At some point those markets come back and become very healthy for us, similar to how North America has in a regulated space so Catena is able to not just run, but dominate.

Then we have lots of other markets. Latin America is a massive opportunity. I think one of the operator's CEOs said Brazil itself can be as big as the United States. That's further down the line, but, again, invest early, establish a position as an affiliate so you're ready for all the waves that come as sports and casino, and whatever other products, come online. An affiliate can invest for a relatively safe amount and see massive returns when those markets reach fruition.

As Catena Media CEO, what are your personal goals moving forward and what would you like to achieve and attain from this role?
I'll say to move forward the Catena team. We have a lot of good people. A lot of people focus on, 'Are they making the numbers or not?' The CEO doesn't make the numbers the CEO's job is to make the organisation that makes the numbers. I want to make sure that I as the CEO am spending the right amount of time investing in our people and how we grow our teams and give them opportunities. It's important for me to make sure I'm learning and growing and growing your organisation and learning from them.

Expand Your Knowledge

Knowledge is power - find out about all the hot topics for iGaming Affiliates