Interview: Johan Styren, CEO, LeoVegas
Published 17th July 2014
What was your industry background prior to LeoVegas and how did you come to head up the business?
Johan Styren: I started out at Unibet in London within business development and worked my way through different parts of the organisation. In November 2011, after three years at Unibet, I was given the opportunity to join the startup LeoVegas as COO and decided it was an opportunity I could not refuse.
As the organisation grew rapidly my position was changed to CEO after six months. Since then I have been building the organisation to challenge the big companies, not only in Scandinavia but also more recently in the UK.
When we started, no-one had a mobile casino in the Scandinavian market, and while the big guys like Betsson and Unibet were developing theirs to catch up, we had already managed to establish ourselves.
As a mobile-first business, how much of your business is transacted on mobile devices (i.e. smartphones and tablets) compared to desktop?
Johan Styren: It’s roughly 50% for mobile and tablet overall. However, when you look at markets with higher mobile penetration such as Sweden and the UK, that number rises to more than 60% on mobile and tablet.
What gave you the idea a mobile-first strategy could work in the Swedish market? Didn’t the major operators there such as Betsson and Unibet already offer mobile casino?
Johan Styren: Actually, when we started, no-one had a mobile casino in the Scandinavian market, and while the big guys like Betsson and Unibet were developing theirs to catch up, we had already managed to establish ourselves as “Sweden’s mobile casino”, and that still stands. So it was a matter not only of having a great product, but also great timing. Mr Green also managed to carve a niche that hardly anyone seemed to realise existed until they did it.
Are there any particular reasons why successful operators have emerged from Sweden?
Johan Styren: I think it helps that the Swedish customers are early adopters, but nowadays it also helps that there are a lot of Swedes with experience in the gaming industry. In combination, these elements create a fertile environment for start-ups.
You started in Sweden but have been diversifying the business into other markets since. What are your main territories now?
Johan Styren: Sweden is still the biggest market and makes up a significant part of our business followed by the UK, Norway and Finland.
You launched your brand in the UK via a marketing partnership with The Sun and The Mirror. Why did you choose this approach?
Johan Styren: We have been doing very well in Sweden with [Swedish tabloid] Aftonbladet, and we wanted to repeat the same success in the UK, and those were the partners we identified as the best match. Building the brand in this way helps us not only to bring in more customers but also more affiliates, by making the affiliate channel more effective and increasing our conversion rates.
Ahead of the UK launch, you were confident of replicating your success in Scandinavia. Now you have been in the market several months, do you still feel that confidence in your USP was wellplaced?
Johan Styren: Being completely confident with a market as competitive as the UK would be a bit much to claim, but we felt that USP in having the absolute best mobile casino was good enough to go for it. Looking at the numbers today, I’m more than happy that we made that decision.
Have you applied for your UK licence yet?
Johan Styren: We are following the process step by step and we are well prepared. Mobile payments and players’ trust of these are obviously important to the continued growth of your business.
We felt that USP in having the absolute best mobile casino was good enough to go for it in the UK. Looking at the numbers today I’m more than happy that we made that decision.
Do you think the battle here is nearly won, or is there still a long way to go?
Johan Styren: Payment providers have been a little bit behind but have caught up during the last 12 months. I am however sure that we will see even more interesting developments over the next 12 months. I would, for example, be very pleased if carrier billing would reach a competitive pricing level.
An increasing number of companies, several out of Malta, are now copying your mobilefirst model. Are you worried this competition will impede your progress in new markets?
Johan Styren: I still feel a strong confidence in our product and our ability to stay ahead of the competition.
How pivotal has your Friends of Leo affiliate programme been to the growth of the business, and what proportion of your business is driven through this channel?
Johan Styren: Affiliates are always important. However, considering our investments in more traditional media we have probably been less dependent than a lot of other startups .On the other hand, our investments have allowed us to develop a great relationship with affiliates since we can offer them better conversion and better customer value than our competitors.
Overall, it’s close to half of our business, but the numbers are very different depending on the market.
From an industry perspective, what will be the most transformative issues in iGaming over the next 12-24 months?
Johan Styren: The legislation all over the European markets. My hopes are up since I’m hearing more and more reasonable statements from politicians, but bad legislation would be a setback for the industry and an even bigger setback for the players.