Q&A: Joonas Karhu, CEO, Bojoko
Joonas, you’ve been with Bojoko since its inception as one of its founding members, and recently became the company’s chief executive officer. What is it about the business that made you want to sit at the helm?
When co-founder Toni Halonen told me the bold vision he had for Bojoko.com and how it would transform the industry, I was in right away. At that point I had more than 10 years’ experience in the gambling sector and I felt his ideas were groundbreaking. They still are, to be honest. They also aligned with my own ideas for the route that affiliates should be taking.
The driving force behind this was to turn Bojoko into the first globally recognised online gambling affiliate brand. I have been interested in brands and marketing for as long as I can remember and have studied three business degrees focused on these areas. Having the opportunity to put this learning into practice was a huge opportunity and one that I am forever grateful to have taken.
I am now in the fortunate position of leading the Bojoko organisation and team as we continue to drive towards our goal. That this is a passion as well as a career makes it all the more special for me.
Despite the challenges presented by the competitiveness of the market, why is the UK such an attractive geography for affiliate businesses such as Bojoko?
The UK is a well-established market with a solid regulatory framework that makes clear what affiliates can and can’t do when it comes to the methods used to engage players. Due to its maturity, the UK is a stable market making it an ideal environment for companies looking to drive growth. It is also the second biggest market in Europe after Italy, so despite the competition there is plenty of opportunity to capture significant market share.
What other geographies or markets most interest you, besides the UK?
The US market is a major focus for Bojoko. We are already live in New Jersey and are applying for a licence in Pennsylvania. We have established a separate US company and plan to open an office in Florida in the future. We believe the US will become the largest online gambling market in the world and plan to enter every state that legalises the activity.
That being said, we will take a considered approach to the market and will only enter states when we have the right talent on board to ensure that the product we launch into each not only meets but exceeds player expectations. There is a first mover advantage, for sure, but ultimately the quality of the product and branding is what will drive long-term engagement and loyalty.
When it comes to selecting your operator partners, what are the most important qualities you look for?
Across everything we do at Bojoko, site visitors and members come first. This also applies to the brands that we list on Bojoko – today we have more than 550. In order to be listed, they must be reputable and deliver an excellent player experience. To ensure this is the case, we check whether there have been any reports of player issues in the past and, if there are, what those issues have been. We are
also connected to a large network of affiliate companies so we can always speak with them if we have concerns about an operator and learn how they have been treated. Of course, it goes without saying that all brands listed on Bojoko are licensed and meet the highest possible responsible gambling standards.
Bojoko recently published a report showing that some affiliate programmes were paying as little as 8% commission on referrals, despite advertising rates of 40% or more. What advice do you have for affiliates to avoid being put in this situation, and what would you say to the operators offering such deals?
The most important point to raise is the marketing practices being undertaken by operators and their affiliate programmes. To advertise revenue share agreements of 40% when the reality is the affiliate only receives 8% is clearly misleading. As affiliates we must be careful with how we market to players and with compliance always front of mind – unfortunately the same can’t be said for some operators with their affiliate programmes.
Because of the current situation, affiliates must be rigorous with their data and reporting, especially at the beginning of the partnership. It is vital to check that the numbers add up based on the deal you are working to. New affiliates should also network with more established affiliates to understand which operators are bad actors, so they can avoid the mistakes that others have made in the past.
How would you describe the core pillars of a solid affiliate strategy from a digital marketing perspective?
We are committed to building Bojoko into the first globally recognised affiliate brand and that requires broadscale marketing activity. While we remain focused on SEO, we are undertaking additional marketing activity such as PR and social media to drive brand awareness. This culminated in our first big-budget video advertising campaign – The National Anthem – which so far has amassed more than 11.5 million views and led to a steep rise in brand searches and direct traffic.
With industry consolidation, and M&A activity continuing apace across the affiliate sector, and with digital marketing strategies becoming increasingly sophisticated, do you still see a space in the market for smaller, independent affiliates in the future? What advice would you give to such businesses?
There will always be opportunities for niche affiliates that focus on a specific vertical or market and become experts in these areas. While it is tempting to start out and go after the power players, most new affiliates will have more success by picking an area or market where they are knowledgeable, and devoting themselves to becoming the best in that sector or jurisdiction.
We know you used to be an avid online poker player – do you still find the time for the occasional cash game or tournament, and are there any other forms of gambling you like to take part in?
I would love to book a trip to either Las Vegas or Macau and take part in a few tournaments for a week or so once all the Covid-19 restrictions have been lifted. I haven’t played much poker in recent years, but I do occasionally bet on major golf tournaments and other big sports events.