Giacomo Tognoni is the current CEO of social award-winning gaming platform Bethereum. The company has recently claimed the Best Blockchain Startup of the Year” distinction at CESAwards and was subsequently nominated for the “Best Startup” category at SIGMA iGaming, which Bethereum won against a competitive field of entrants. Our interview with Giacomo focuses on the platform in general and what Bethereum stands for.
Hi Giacomo and thank you for agreeing to speak with us. We are very excited about the opportunity. With your permission, we will proceed directly to the questions.
Q: Can you tell our readers what Bethereum is and how it’s different from any other gaming/sports betting project out there?
Bethereum is a peer-to-peer platform, meaning that we don’t set any odds; players do just by betting on their favorite bet outcome. But what makes us truly special is a heavy focus on user-friendliness, gamification, and social elements. Online betting platforms generally look and feel the same, offering a rather functional and complex experience.
Online betting has become a very mercenary and individual activity more akin to stock trading than the game it once was. We want to bring fun and social back to betting, and turn it into a game the whole player community can enjoy TOGETHER. So, we embed in our proposition elements from videogaming and social media, which have done retention and engagement wonders in those industries. For example, leaderboards, chat, time-limited events, avatars, achievements and badges.
The platform is primarily geared at casual and enthusiast bettors, who’d value even more how intuitive and game-like it all feels.
Q: When we covered any development around Bethereum, we always saw a great spike in engagement with the particular news piece. This begs the question, how has Bethereum managed to build a loyal player base around itself?
A project aiming at opening up a whole new betting category needs to be live by the very same standards it upholds: social and fun gaming. Now, social interaction is key for our platform because, as human beings, we’re essentially looking for social connection. We like to share, we like to compete, we like to feel we belong to a group. In the many games we ran for our community, players were not really saying “I am winning 10,000 Bether tokens.” They were saying “I am number 20 on the leaderboard, I just passed you!” So, it’s no surprise that our project attracted the largest and most active community in Blockchain gaming, achieved primarily by organizing a large number of social games and contests and engaging with the community on a personal level.
But beyond a great affinity between our players and our platform core principles, I’d say the community sticks with us because they know we care about them. And we truly do.
Q: Your project is ambitious, but do you feel that there is a ‘knowledge gap’ insofar that regular sports fans might find it difficult to handle a Blockchain-powered platform?
I’ve never seen myself as a Blockchain (or alas, crypto) guy. Blockchain is a great new technology but like any other technology, it is nothing more than a means to an end. The end being to create a whole new platform that players truly enjoy, while adhering to solid integrity and business fundamentals (e.g., full legality, revenue, and profitability). Blockchain allows us to provide a number of benefits, including greater transparency and fast, secure payments.
Many Blockchain advocates have also touted full decentralization as a benefit Blockchain can provide, as a way to “protect” the customer from the bad, bad centralized master. The argument has some merit, but I always say that the best way not to “screw the customer” is…not to screw the customer, as opposed to having technology preventing you from doing that. So, I only look at decentralization insofar has it brings practical benefits for our audience.
To recap, Blockchain is only a piece of the puzzle. It will be used to its own merit, but the plan has always been to deliver a service that can also compete with conventional operators. The fiat market is just too large to ignore.
Q: How do you feel about market variety? Do you think Bethereum offers enough markets to make the platform viable for the majority of sports fans out there?
Definitely. Even if we offered just football and two most popular “bet types” (1X2 and Over/Under), we would have covered 65% of the total betting market and 90% of what people actually bet on. There is such a thing as “less is more” in marketing and choice anxiety and cluttering arise when too much choice is offered. Apple knows this very well (it did so even better at the time Jobs was there, one of the very best marketers ever). Model scarcity is often a plus, vs. other manufacturers which thought confusing customers with a myriad of options may be the better strategy.
We limit our offering to only a few sports, a curated set of matches, and few markets. It doesn’t just make it easier to grasp for non-expert bettors. It also offsets one of the key shortcomings of peer-to-peer betting: maintaining liquidity on bets.
Many have tried and failed with peer-to-peer (which mind, also has some huge advantages over a bookmaker model), primarily because they took a bookmaker site and offered it peer-to-peer. That just cannot work, and reducing markets is one of the solutions to the model’s drawbacks. On the other hand, we’ll never need a risk-management team, or have to ban or restrict winners, or limit bet amounts, or even care about setting profitable odds. Peer-to-peer takes care of all these issues.
Having said this, it is quite likely we will add a few selected sports to our offer, depending on customer demand and location (if we were to operate in India, for example, clearly, we’d add cricket).
Q: Have you thought about leveraging esports and target a demographic of younger, and tech-savvier users?
Definitely, and it’s a key focus for us. I would not say tech-savvy users are our target audience (we make everything so easy so you don’t need to worry about the technology). But I would say that eSports audiences are very likely to respond very positively to our gamification and social approach. After all, these bettors are almost invariably gamers themselves, and are used to our community-enhancing and videogaming elements in the games they play on a daily basis. We already offer eSports, with advanced features such as live match streaming, but we’ll focus on the category even more so in future.
As an eSports betting provider, our peer-to-peer model also offers a huge. eSports betting is growing strongly, but bookmakers struggle to make it profitable, as it is very hard to set reliable odds in eSports matches. We take a commission of 4.75% from players’ winnings, regardless of how a match ends. This makes every single bet operationally profitable.
Q: What’s the next big move for you come 2020?
I look at our platform now, knowing that the best is yet to come. There is a ton more we can bring in terms of innovation. I can’t disclose the more confidential elements of the roadmap, but I can say we have a revolutionary peer-to-peer / bookmaker hybrid model under works, and an in-game currency plan that will combine the best benefits of fiat and crypto betting, while making Bethereum accessible to anybody (Blockchain fan or not).
But other than major improvements in the service, 2020 is the year in which Bethereum will mature to a full-scale betting operator, with proper betting licenses, go-to-market strategies, player acquisition and retention campaigns, and hopefully very, very rosy numbers at the end of the year.
Q: Do you have any forecasts about expected player acquisition and growth next year, and are you in a position to share?
I certainly do, as part of our business case. We expect 12,000 monthly active players by the end of next year, with the aim of turning operationally profitable in the first half of 2021. But you know, this is very sensitive to budgets. We can easily beat these numbers if we get enough investor support to do so.
Q: What’s the biggest challenge Bethereum has had to overcome to date?
Without a doubt, market conditions. Crypto is not the booming paradise it was “before our times.” Blockchain itself is not the buzzword so many “experts” were uttering with passion a short 18 months ago. Add to that the unsavory reputation crypto betting has gained thanks to unscrupulous, selfish individuals only aiming at enriching themselves and, well…sometimes we feel like a salmon swimming upstream a river.
The sector reputation in particular I find sadly amusing, because integrity and honesty are by far and large two uncompromisable values this team lives by. Investors have been and honesty are by far and large two uncompromisable values this team lives by. It has closed quite a few doors with investors that would have otherwise stayed open. But we are fairly relentless, and those who know us know they can trust us.
Q: Is there a project out there that comes to Bethereum’s own mission in your opinion or are you still one of a kind?
Together with my team, we have researched hundreds of betting sites and projects and never found one that came close to our set of ingredients. Until recently. There is a service called Thunderpick which resembles our direction in many aspects. They are eSports-focused only and I believe our UX is still significantly better, but they have had more time to work on the platform and are already successfully operating and quite profitable. Given how novel some of the elements we’re bringing to market are, I take it as a strong validation that what we plan will work commercially. It just has to work even better.
Q: Do you think blockchain sports betting can ever catch up to mainstream sports betting industry, and/or failing that, what would be a realistic prognosis about the industry?
I don’t think bettors would move from conventional outlets to Blockchain services just because of the Blockchain. Granted, some bettors who require full anonymity of simply have a lot of crypto to dispose of will surely be attracted to crypto betting services. But I think that any platform that will succeed will need to offer more than just being Blockchain-powered. And that the Blockchain market is too small to strike a positive balance between customer lifetime value and acquisition cost, on a scalable basis (and while being respectful of betting licensing requirements and the relevant legal framework, which we certainly are).
Provided we receive the necessary investment backup any growing startup requires, we are going to deliver a platform that takes the benefits of Blockchain and projects them onto both crypto and fiat players. And that has enough new and attractive elements to serve certain market audiences better than anyone out there.
Thank you for your time.