EXCLUSIVE Interview with Vahe Baloulian, Managing Partner for Egaming Partners Inc.

INFINITY GAMING MAGAZINE caught up with Managing Partner for Egaming Partners, Vahe Baloulian.

He reveals the secrets behind creating a successful, online channel, especially as online gaming and its legislative is becoming more of an integral gaming issue. Vahe also identifies why there must be a distinction between man and the machine, not to mention how to avoid crucial mistakes in online gaming platforms.

IM: Thank you Vahe for your time today, it is truly appreciated. Firstly everyone knows that you are the respected Managing Partner for eGaming Partners. Can you tell us what your role involves?

VB: EGaming Partners is a partnership of online gaming specialists who have worked in many countries with a diverse group of companies. We have helped start-ups get off the ground, turned around underperforming poker operations, established training schools with ground-breaking methodologies, revamped gaming products and authored innovations.
My role is to discover what ails the client’s company, where they can do better without a lot of investment, and find and deliver solutions. Aside from being a generalist, I specialize in customer care and retention through service.

IM: What is eGaming Partner’s position within the online gaming world and how exactly does it turn around underperforming poker networks?

VB: I don’t know of another company offering the same services. We assist with the structure of the start-ups and established operations, as well as help with training and hiring. We are hands-on, result-oriented consultants with a no-nonsense approach. We don’t ask for your watch and then charge you for telling the time. We ensure your watch works so that you can always get the time yourself.
Our solutions are informed by our many years of work in e-gaming, but there are no identical situations and one-size-fits-all answers. Every ill-performing operation requires its own pill to get better.
In one case, we may guide the client to a very simple solution, which they overlooked because of complacency.
In another one, where failure is caused by mismanagement and lack of an independent voice within the company to spark discussion, we may provide that voice and offer a fix.
We also work with successful companies who would simply like to do better. We believe there is no limit to improvement. There are many players who have yet to give any company a chance to serve them.

IM: From a corporate perspective, what is the biggest mistake online gaming sites often make when they launch? What is the most successful creative solution in launching a new site?

VB: The biggest mistake is going in with a lack of knowledge and the subsequent refusal to face it. What you don’t know cannot benefit you. What you know that is not so can outright hurt you. Online gaming is a unique business. You shouldn’t approach it with “it’s like” model. It’s not like telecoms, it’s not like e-commerce, it’s not like anything else. There is no universal formula for a successful launch, but if I had to give one piece of advice, it would be this: don’t mislead yourself.

IM: With the rocky race to legalize online poker in the USA, from your perspective, do you think there is more potential in legalizing it as opposed to eradicating it? In light of this, how can these gaming sites form a trustworthy affiliation with their global customers? (Especially after the FTP fiasco!)

VB: Legalizing has no alternative. Those in favor of eradicating online gaming know perfectly well that it is impossible and that’s why they are for it - it gives them a lifetime cause to fight against and benefit from. However, I say that legalizing has no alternative not because eradicating online gaming is unachievable, but because it is an absolutely immoral thing to do.
Compared to most other industries, gaming companies have a harder work to do in building trust. E-gaming is a business that we have been relentlessly conditioned not to trust. I am all for ruthless competition but Trustworthiness is one area where you don’t want your competitors to fail. In building trust, as with problem gambling issues, online gaming companies should cooperate.
Rogue behavior of one blemishes the rest. As insiders, we see that PokerStars fulfilled its obligations and paid their players and FullTilt failed to do so. However, all the potential players, who have yet to give online gaming a try, are hearing is that an online gaming company didn’t pay their players. Will they be flocking to an e-gaming site to play after that?
There is no scandal in paying the players but failing to do so is a juicy story. For its own sake, the industry should do everything possible to avoid these juicy yet detrimental stories.

IM: If American online poker opens up in the USA, does eGaming Partners have any plans to enter the market to expand its brand/operation?

VB: We work from different locations worldwide but eGaming Partners is a US-based company. We are engaged with a few companies in the US who are already active in or planning to enter the online gaming sphere. This is an important market for us and I am confident that there is a need for the services we provide. However, we are a boutique consulting firm and we don’t plan to expand at the expense of quality we provide.

IM: Online gaming is expanding on a global basis, so how does eGaming Partners stand out from its competitors? In terms of your unique selling point, why should online gaming networks reach out to you to gain a greater online presence?

VB: We are able to spot problems and create new solutions that may not be visible to the company insiders simply because they are too close to the subject or too invested in it. We help launch, manage and refine the performance of our client’s online gaming property, streamline their processes after operational audit, transfer operational know-how to their employees and help recruit new specialists. After laying the foundation, we provide continuous training, supervision and advice to ensure optimized performance of their growing organization.
We have developed a unique course specifically for customer-facing employees of e-gaming companies. The emphasis is placed on teaching employees how to build profitable and sustainable relationships with players while being able to find creative solutions in any challenging situation.
We don’t teach what everyone already knows. We don’t recycle common knowledge. We take time to study our client’s player-facing operations and tell them what they need to know based on their relationship with their customers.
I can’t say anything about competition because I don’t know of any organization that does what we do.

IM: How does eGaming Partners help its clients to put the customers at the heart of the services they provide and do you think social networking plays a big role in getting established?

VB: Customer is the heart of any service. We teach that to keep their players and make them act as recruiters, e-gaming companies have to learn and then teach their employees to love their players. We help our clients move from lip-service to genuine service. For example, it may sound like mere common sense, but promises given in advertising campaigns should be kept. If you promised to treat me as a valued customer, please do so, and what’s more important, make sure I feel that way.
Just because you think that a player feels valued will not mean he does too. From my experience as a player at many online poker rooms and casinos, I can say that even the ones with the most resources often fail to find a way to touch the player. Due to the recent news stories, the player expects to be mugged by an online company and he will be most delighted should he be hugged instead.
Social networking is important. Once you’re in that space, you build expectations and have no choice but keep going. In radio broadcasts, just a second of silence can be deafening. The same is true with social networks. If you can’t afford to be active – don’t go there. If you can, it will play a big role in getting established. Players like to feel protected from surprises. The more channels you find to be in touch with them, the safer they will fill. Social networks are the perfect tool for that.

IM: What was the inspiration behind the development of eGaming Partners and what does it identify as the key aspects of getting an online gaming site off the ground?

VB: In the past, all of my consulting commitments were exclusive to particular companies, which meant I gave them 100% of my time. However, I always got drawn into advising others on a friendly basis. I saw that many companies failed where they didn’t have to and there was no advisory service to which they could turn.
After completing my last exclusive assignment, I decided to turn eGaming Partners into such a non-exclusive and technology-neutral advisory service.
The key aspects of getting an online gaming site off the ground are to have your vision fly but to be firmly grounded yourself; to be confident in the “why” you want to go into this business and to be willing to always learn the “how”; to learn from others but not copy them; to avoid being limited by established maxims and know that nothing is impossible.

IM: You say that your company provides a fresh eye, knowledge and objective skills. Can you perhaps give us an example of how you have turned around an underperforming poker site? How did you right its wrongs?

VB: In one case we had done it in 2 months simply because the network was stuck with a procedure that prevented new players from doing what they came for – playing right away. The players were forced to wait for up to 48 hours before they could start even the free play. The procedure was hard coded in the technology, and what’s worse – it was hard coded in the minds of the employees. They didn’t even think that it can be removed without a detriment.
In another case, it took us almost 2 years because the management was persuaded that their technology is superior and it became a mantra within the organization – they were looking for problems anywhere but in their technology. The trick was that while it indeed did have “superior” sophisticated qualities, it lacked in simple things that players needed. We worked with them to re-write the code.
Every situation is different. Now, for example, we are working with a well-financed group where answer to every problem is: let’s throw money at it. They were pleasantly surprised when we told them that their current assets, if positioned correctly, would be enough to resolve their problems.

IM: The online gaming industry always focuses on the technological advancements within eGaming; however, what about the human aspects of why and how eGaming is progressing on the internet and mobile phones? How does eGaming Partners strive towards creating this fine balance between “man and the machine?”

VB: There is an oil company whose tagline is: we are on the driver’s side.
I can say that in finding the balance between man and the machine, eGaming Partners is on man’s side. E-gaming companies often forget that they are gaming companies before they are technology companies.
To retain more players, we advise them to make an effort and see a human being behind all this data and technology. Learning to love your players can lead to serious profits.

IM: Why should gaming firms focus in particular on customer services within land-based and online operations? How much of a difference does it make to an online site for example?

VB: Because it can drastically improve their bottom line. I would bet that there is hardly an organization (with the exception of certain public service providers) that would argue against superior customer service.
However, it is easier to advocate principles than live by them. The passion for treating the player as a unique human being translates into a revenue source - one that’s continuous and renewable.