On today’s show, Avi Howard of Usability Digital joins the show to talk a bit about how their consultancy works for companies looking to enter new markets in the sports betting space. Listen in as Avi talks through their processes plus gives some tips to enter new markets.
Show notes from Avi Howard Interview
Ryan Knuppel: Hey, welcome back to another episode of the Knup Sports Show. I’m your host, Ryan Knuppel here with you each and every show. We are very, very blessed to have a special guest with us today. We are joined by Avi Howard, the CEO of Usability Digital. Avi, are you with us?
Avi Howard: Yeah. Hi Ryan. Thanks for having me on the show.
Ryan Knuppel: Absolutely, Avi. It’s my pleasure. I’ve been looking forward to talking to you on here. I know we chatted a few weeks back or a few days back and I couldn’t wait to have you on the show. So thank you again for joining me. How’s everything going in your world?
Avi Howard: Yeah, everything’s great. I’m here in central Europe. Of course, we’re dealing with the aftermath, well, at least here it feels like the aftermath of COVID, which I believe that they handled quite well here. They started to open the borders, so we’re starting to get a little bit of freedom back again. Life here went back to normal in the last few weeks and people here are actually starting to talk about summer holidays across the border. So I guess-
Ryan Knuppel: It’s so nice to get a little bit to normal. I’m the same way. With this COVID stuff, everything has been a little different the last three, four months, but we’re starting to get some sports back. Things are opening up a little bit here and there and same with me as well. So I’m really looking forward to that and hopefully… So first, I want to jump right into to what you do, what Usability Digital is. Can you give me a little background or I guess just intro to what you guys do and what you’ve been in in the iGaming industry?
Avi Howard: Sure. Yeah. Thanks again Ryan, for giving us this opportunity to explain about ourselves. So Usability Digital is a unique consultancy in the iGaming space. It’s focus is on delivering flex businesses and technology projects, solely in the gambling industry. Our services are relevant and useful for both suppliers and operators. And it can also support newly established regulatory bodies, such as state regulators. We’ve been working as individuals in the industry, I think an average, about 15 years. I’m in the industry for 15 years now. I had many years at Playtech, in a few locations around the world and work brought me here to the Czech Republic. I spent a lot of time in England as well. We have three partners in the business and together with Sean Carroll and Rob Henderson, we founded Usability Digital early this year, or kind of end of last year, but we’ve been working together running programs in the industry pretty much since 2010.
Ryan Knuppel: That’s amazing. So you have some experience in this space. That’s pretty cool that you’re able to kind of start your own thing and go from there. Tell me a bit about the services. What are some of the consulting services that you guys offer?
Avi Howard: As I said, we were kind of individual consultants, but always worked together. So I would get called out to run a large piece of work of integration or platform migration, but I always had my team. Even though we all had our own, individual companies, I always used the same team of about 10, 15 people. So we’ve been kind of roaming around different projects around the world for the last 10 years. So as it happens, earlier this year, we completed… I should say epic two and a half years of being here in the U.S, where we led a large program of work for them where we oversaw the platform development, integration, the licensing and certification, and eventually launched their Sports Book in New Jersey twice. They first went in with a initial deployment of what we call a tactical solution.
Avi Howard: It was a quick and dirty platform that they had, that was working. It took time to get it out to market, but they knew that they would like to upgrade that to something more robust that will take them into every state in the U.S. We all know that William Hill has brilliant market access in the U.S. and they have great partnership deals. And it’s that platform that we delivered to them end of last year, that now helped them go around the U.S. and bank on these partnerships. So we run these large integration projects on behalf of customers that give us the opportunity to do so.
Ryan Knuppel: That’s amazing. I can imagine that’s quite a big role, especially when you’re talking about United States and kind of the entry into the United States, there’s so many different, I don’t know if rules are the right thing, but there’s so many different licenses and different rules in different States and things like that, that you kind of have to go through. I’m assuming, you guys are experts in that space and you’re able to come on board and really help these companies and operators kind of come in and kind of solve that for them, right? That’s kind of what you’re there for.
Avi Howard: Yes, definitely. You touched right on a very important point. A lot of companies come into the market, but they’re not really aware of what they’re getting into. It might be companies that have done well in Europe, but they look at the U.S. as one market. They say, “We’re getting to the U.S. market.” But quickly, everybody realizes that the U.S. market there’s no such one market. It’s a collective of markets made up by States. Every state regulator pretty much want to do their own things and have their own regs. Of course, there are some similarities. Some States are copying stuff from each other, or relying on, let’s say, if you’re licensed in this state, you can get a license in another state. But it’s very difficult to come into the market and look at all of it as one market and prepare for the U.S. as a whole. Companies really need to look at what their market strategy is, which States they are going to go into. And depending, even on the sequence they go in, they need to build their platform accordingly.
Avi Howard: There is some variation in the requirements between different markets, and we find that customers don’t prepare properly for that movement and they’re going into their first licensing, realizing that they still have a lot of gaps in their platform because they just had something else in mind. So there’s a few problems that we see problem statements that we believed we were coming to solve. One of them is that many B2B and B2C companies are outside the U.S. They’re coming to this exciting market. Companies that we didn’t think before, like Betsson and Tipico and [inaudible 00:07:07] and other names that we heard recently, that are making the move into the U.S. They got a market access deal and they’re making a move.
Avi Howard: But the reality is that even the most established companies, that rent projects elsewhere, they’re usually not equipped to run such big projects. And they struggle to deliver large technology projects, let alone in an environment where they’re working in new territory with a strict regulator, even a new regulator that they’re learning themselves. Their headquarters are usually in Europe, and they’re establishing a new team in the U.S., so they’re far away from their people. And we are aware in some cases where operators are trying to launch their first station in 2018, that shouldn’t happen. So we’re trying to help companies with their, I’d say, the complexity of the work, and often them underestimating the complexity of the work that is coming towards them when they’re going into the U.S. market.
Ryan Knuppel: And a lot of times, that’s what it’s all about, right? When you get into business, you’re kind of starting your business and there’s so much that goes into it. There’s just so many different moving pieces and things. And that’s why I think, consultants like yourself and businesses like yourself exist to really tackle those specific areas that people need help with. And so I commend you guys for what you’re doing. This is more of a more of a personal question, but what are you thinking for the United States? Are you thinking that several more States are going to be going live here in the next year or so? Or are we kind of at a standstill, especially with this COVID halt? What are your outlooks on the United States as a whole, from a betting perspective?
Avi Howard: I think that from what I read, and of course I don’t have any crystal ball, more than anyone else, but from what I can see, I think it’s an interesting question, Ryan, because I think that COVID will actually expedite the legislation of a few more States that probably didn’t plan to be this year. I think that there is a much needed to be collected tax revenue, to help with the impacts of COVID that I think those States that were sitting on the fence or looking at a longer build process, who are probably going to take a shortcut and try to introduce this in an expedited manner. So I believe that this summer and the next few months are probably going to be a bit busier.
Avi Howard: I also know quite a few operators in New Jersey that want to go in only with sports betting initially, because that was their main product. And now they regret that they didn’t go in with iGaming and casino to make up for the lost revenues from their brick and mortar casino. So I know quite a few are now in the market of rushing to integrate the iGaming solution and putting it in front of the DG to get that certified while people are still in lockdown in some places.
Ryan Knuppel: Sure. I think that’s a great answer. And of course, none of us know the correct answer to that question, but I was curious what your opinion on that was. So thank you for sharing that. So give me a little bit of the steps. How would somebody, if they were looking forward to working with you guys as a company, what’s the process like? How do they start working with you? And what’s that process look like throughout the whole process?
Avi Howard: We have a few kind of strands or scenarios where we engage with customers. So we offer our services to suppliers, software providers and operators, and also to some regulators, if we take an example for suppliers, if a supplier wants to get into the U.S. for the first time, whether it’s a big one or a small one, we usually conduct what we call a gap analysis. So we take the regs that we know well, and there’s also the GLI standards, which are very commonly adopted by many state regulators. We know their regs well and we get updates all the time. We compare what we know from the regs with what we see, we study the customer systems, the business processes, and usually takes us somewhere between two to four weeks, depending on the size of the platform and the complexity to establish what the gap is.
Avi Howard: Then with our gap analysis, we tell the customer what gaps are showing in the system and if they would like to obviously go and bridge those gaps and develop them. There’s a lot of things that go beyond product development. For example, the business processes, the regulators are looking to see the internal controls, as they call them, which is a documentation of how the business is being run. Some companies just don’t have it written down and it’s important to document the business blueprint. We help with that as well. So if we see that these processes are not written anywhere, we help conduct this very massive piece of work that goes throughout the entire organization and document how they handle customers, how they handle data, where the servers are located and the security and all that.
Avi Howard: There’s a lot of details and what the regulator wants to see. So we are doing this kind of an audit, and if we’re being instructed to move to the next stage, then we then go on and deliver all of this on behalf of the customer. If we take the example of William Hill, they trusted us to manage all of this for us. And I’m glad that companies are doing it because essentially companies need to be focusing on getting more customers, focusing on the marketing and retention and they need to focus on the business and operation and not on the pains of taking on a new role. So we help with all of that stuff. That’s in the case of a supplier. In the case of an operator, we can do the same and tell them where they stand versus the regulator requirements, and also looking at their technical [inaudible 00:00:13:38], which is usually supplied by a third party supplier [inaudible 00:13:46] or SBTech or whatever the supplier is. And we help them establish the gap.
Avi Howard: And if we are instructed, we are taking the project to go all the way up to live. And we usually stay a good few months after that to make sure that we help them hire and train more employees and establish an operational hub. So the establishment of new offices abroad is a big piece of work that everybody’s going through, especially newcomers to the U.S. They need to do all the technology work, but they also need to deal with massive hiring of people and training them, getting new offices. We know of some companies that even throughout all of this, move offices from one part of the country to the other side, these are massive pieces of change that usually is a lot for every company to take on all on their own.
Ryan Knuppel: Sure, sure. Well, it sounds like you guys have a very detailed process and definitely know what you’re talking about. That’s the first step to running any successful business. So props for that. It sounds like you guys are well on your way there. Before we go here, I’ve got a question for you. I know there’s a lot of listeners on this show, maybe starting up or trying to kind of penetrate the market here in the U.S., do you have any tips or any one tip or two tips on how they maybe can achieve successful market entry here into the U.S. before we go?
Avi Howard: Yeah, definitely. I think I would say don’t underestimate project management. I know it’s a big word, but project management shouldn’t be underestimated when it comes to deal with launching a new state or taking new technology and specifically migrating from one platform or the other. We hear a lot of things now about established brands potentially moving away from the technology they have now to other companies. I can’t name any names, but we believe it’s going to be now a cycle of some migration from one part into the others. This is, Ryan, the Holy grail of complexity. Changing the platform in a regulatory environment is the biggest undertaking anybody can do. And the regulator has a very keen eye on this. We recommend to them to engage with their supplier early as possible, plan is early as possible and work collaboratively with all the parties.
Avi Howard: It’s very important to establish realistic plans and not just have a date that you want to go live. It’s good to be ambitious, but it’s very important to build a plan, including the regulator, that they all buy into the date that you want to go live. Just by setting a date in stone and not doing the finding, if it’s really doable, can create a lot of disappointment. We have a lot of experience and we welcome any companies that are going through that process to consult with us. I think we can add a lot of value into their planning and their role, I think, to the U.S.
Ryan Knuppel: Amazing. Amazing answer. Avi Howard, the CEO of Usability Digital. Avi, if anybody wanted to get ahold of you, how would they reach you? Do you have an email or some way of contacting you guys here going forward?
Avi Howard: Yeah, the best way to reach us is at email@example.com. We’re also going to be next week, we’re pleased to announce that we’re going to be exhibiting on the SBC Digital North America. It’s the first time for us doing something like that. I’m sure you know that show, Ryan. So under the circumstances, I actually believe it’s a good platform. So we’ll have a booth there for three days next week from Tuesday to Thursday, for a whole three full days. There’s enough opportunity there to connect with us in various ways. So looking forward to the listeners of this show coming to the SBC North America and connecting with us.
Ryan Knuppel: I’ll piggyback on that. That event’s going to be amazing. We’re also going to have a booth, so Avi, maybe you and I will have virtual booths next to each other. People can pop in and say hello to you, and then come and say hello to me as well. But I encourage all you listeners definitely to attend that show. It’s next Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, I believe, all day long. Those three days you can find the agenda out on SBC’s website. But definitely stop by Avi’s booth. Stop in and say hello, hear what they have to say. It should be a good show. And I’m excited you guys are going to be there as well, Avi.
Avi Howard: Thank you, Ryan. Likewise.
Ryan Knuppel: Awesome. Well, thank you for joining me. Any last words you’d like to say before you leave here and go on our way?
Avi Howard: No, nothing else. Thanks very much for letting us be part of this show. And we’re looking forward to next week. And most importantly, looking forward to the next few months to see how the industry is getting out of COVID and bringing more positivity into sports and into gambling. So hopefully in a few months, we’re all going to laugh about it.
Ryan Knuppel: Absolutely. My pleasure having you. That was Avi Howard, the CEO of Usability Digital. Thanks everybody for listening, tuning in. Hopefully you’re staying safe here through all this COVID and hopefully we’ll get some sports back here soon. We’ll see you guys all at the SBC Digital Summit here next week online. Be sure to be there. For now, have a great day. Avi, thanks again. Take care everyone. Bye bye.
Avi Howard: Take care. Bye.
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