Thursday, December 9, 2010

Kiwi Ezi-Pay Partners with Yank InComm For Prepaid Cards

Great prepaid concept here; "New Zealand gift card company Ezi-Pay has teamed up with the largest United States gift card provider, inComm, to launch a card that allows anyone to give online gaming as a gift."

Linden Lab's Last Hurrah ...

Seems the Linden Management is going to offer virtual gambing with an Israeli company 888 Well, about time they reversed this stupid decision from 2 years ago. This could actuallly save Linden's ass and the sooner they offer 3D poker and sports betting for punters - the better! Just look at how much these Brits rake in and and full article here;

“It was very clear to me that this was something pretty special”, reminisces Malcolm Graham, chief executive of PKR, when describing his first impressions of the concept behind one of Europe’s best poker brands. “When I met [PKR creator] Jez [San] and he showed me what he was building, it seemed to me that there was a real opportunity for that kind of approach to the online gaming space. I always felt the product quality offerings weren’t particularly high-end and clearly his ambition was to build something that was a much better product.”

Graham joined PKR in time for its launch in 2006 after meeting San, IT prodigy, creator of the 3D online poker room and the computer industry’s first ever recipient of an OBE, in late 2005. He had previously been running the Ritz Club’s online and land-based casinos and managed to perfectly time the leap from off- to online. “The Ritz was a great place to work but we were never going to make it into a material business. The online division was always going to be very modest in scale,” Graham reflects, admitting he was instantly “blown away” by the originality of San’s idea when they met. “I was intrigued but it took us three or four months to get to the right place on how best to work on it together.”

But it was not all plain sailing, as capital-raising in the early days proved “very tricky”, according to Graham. “We were trying to raise money in the middle of the whole Carruthers/Peter Dicks issues [high profile online gaming-related arrest cases in the US] and the summer of 2006 was a pretty painful time,” he recalls. “Investors were increasingly nervous about whether a standalone poker business could be built in Europe. I think many people kindly said we were optimistic but in private thought we were slightly bonkers.”

Little did Graham know, however, that the dramatic change to the regulatory landscape in the US was about to add fuel to the fire. “I remember we signed the shareholders’ agreement on the Friday afternoon of the same day as UIGEA was passed six hours later, so that was an interesting weekend.

“Fortunately they didn’t ask for their money back and a month later we started marketing the product and it became clear that we could acquire customers pretty cost effectively.” Following US legislation, PKR barred US customers and has “never attempted to get any American customers”, Graham emphasises.

Challenges and opportunities in Europe

PKR was initially launched in the UK and Scandinavia, however the UK remains its core market, accounting for 50% of its demographic. Along with Germany and Holland, France is now also a growing part of the business, following the launch of the French PKR site in September, but expansion in Europe has proved difficult in light of the patchwork of regulations across the continent, says Graham. “We’ve all found it a bit hard to navigate, it provides massive operational challenges for the business to manage different regulatory frameworks.” He admits that PKR had spent “a substantial sum of money” going live in France, which he describes as “a large six digit figure”, although he does not reveal an exact amount.

But Graham is focused on cutting his way through mounting red tape, acquiring licences wherever possible. “That’s the way the ministry is moving, so we have to work in that context,” he explained. “As each regime evolves, it provides another example of how you can regulate online gaming efficiently and with economic benefit. My sense is that it provides the impetus for other jurisdictions to follow a similar route, so one would hope that at some level it would have a knock on effect on North America.”

A self-professed sceptic on the possibility of the US opening up in the short term, Graham’s immediate strategy for PKR is aimed squarely at Europe. He says that the initial reaction to the recently launched French site “looks pretty positive” and that the business can “replicate it elsewhere in Europe as markets evolve”. An Italian site will be the next to launch and is expected to go live in the next 10 to 12 months.

Due to stringent ring-fenced online gambling regulation in France, the site is only open to French players, unlike the original site which has an international customer base. Although the French site has cut off French players from the global PKR community, Graham is not concerned about the effects. “The reality is that the vast majority of French customers are playing on sites that are licensed in France [thus only open to French players], so it levels the playing field, particularly against Poker Stars and Full Tilt, because they don’t have the massive liquidity benefit they get from their North American customers to leverage in the French market.

“So from my perspective, ring fencing in the market place, while conceptually and dispassionately does not seem to be a good thing, is actually a benefit as I’m not competing with people whose liquidity pools are unfairly advantaged,” he added.

Furthermore, Graham believes that despite the differences in regulatory frameworks we will begin to see agreements between regulated European markets. “We will see regulator-to-regulator partnerships where they will agree to pool their liquidity,” he predicts. “I would imagine that relationships will materialise in the next 24 months. Denmark is clearly looking to start that ball rolling given that as a standalone geography Denmark is a little sub scale.”

Maintaining growth

PKR has seen phenomenal growth since fruition with yearly sales growth of 356.44% for the period 2006/7 to 2009/10, according to the Sunday Times, which ranked it as the UK’s most successful technology company in its annual Tech Track 100 survey. Despite being a private business and Graham reluctant to disclose any top or bottom line figures, the newspaper reported that PKR had seen revenues increase from £347,000 to more than £33m in the last three years.

Graham attributes this success to two areas – a great core product, which he refers to as “absolutely the best graphical and visual experience you could imagine for playing poker,” and effective marketing. “The reality is that online gaming is a lot about marketing,” he explains. “We’ve got a nice product to sell, but there’s no doubt this business is about cost per acquisition (CPA), revenue per user (RPU) and churn [rate]. Anything else is window dressing. You’ve got to get those customers in, so marketing is important.”

Looking further ahead, Graham sees continuing to improve PKR’s core product as an integral part of maintaining the company’s impressive growth. He says the aim is to “evolve our game, making the gap between us and everyone else a little harder to breach… I’m hopeful that over the last four years we’ve developed the product so dramatically that it’s becoming harder for someone to come up and build something as comprehensive.”

Sulake Will Never Be Profitable ...

.. with only HABBO Hotel and Bobba. As Finnish Business mag Kauppalehti analyses, Sulake must erase over 20 million euros of accumulated losses for the HABBO portfolio to grow to cumulative profit Sulake needs to change its management and partner with a social network, or create its own kiddie social network with its current and past HABBO population. The HABBOS have been so stuck in a rut the last 5 years they are hardly worth blogging or reporting about. Except for the sex (oops I mean social) lives of the HABBO upper management.

New Kids on the Block

Looking for some High End Payment Devs? Then check out these ex-Lindens who have formed Singing Horse Studios Serious, experienced and good enough to make sure you don't look like a ....

Ollie Polonen goes APE Shit

PG agrees with Ollie that the main things this new startup has goig is "unlike its current competitors, its technology enables extremely small payments ranging from only few cents to some ten cents by managing to reduce the share of various payment fees substantially." And they have good browser integration for account management. Let's see if APE can turn into an 800 lb gorilla.
Article here and reproduced below.


Finnish APE Payment will open its anticipated web payment service on May 20, just six months later the company was originally established. Everything seems to be on track as the company gets ready to revolutionize the web payment culture – in the beginning in Finnish scale, but hopefully soon enough also internationally.

APE Payment is a micro payment service for consumers enabling small and simple payment transactions in online purchases. The key differentiator of APE Payment is that unlike its current competitors, its technology enables extremely small payments ranging from only few cents to some ten cents by managing to reduce the share of various payment fees substantially. Another factor that makes the service so interesting is its appearance as an e-wallet in the upper-left corner of your browser on those web sites that have enabled the service. The e-wallet icon shows you the balance of account and thus eases the control of your funds whilst browsing.

At first, APE Payment’s service will be taken into use by some of the most influential magazines and newspapers in Finland. The idea is to offer chargeable special content besides the regular free-of-charge web articles for very reasonable price. So what is the upside for the users then? Firstly, the users can now get their hands on top quality content that is only available for paying customers. Another positive influence the service could have is lessened, aggressive (could call it annoying as well) web advertisement that at least some pages obviously have, through better incomes caused by the paid content. Even though, only few magazines have decided to join the first wave, the company is ambitious about its future and the expectations are that many will follow soon. APE Payment currently has several patents pending both in the U.S and in Europe.

Last years there have been lots of great eCommerce and mCommerce companies coming from Finland, but in my opinion they have struggled too much to find their way to be a mainstream solution. However, Finland still ranks 5th among the EU countries for e-commerce industry, so one would naturally assume that sooner or later one of these start-ups would become mainstream. Clearly, the difficulty is to plan a easy enough service so that even not so tech-oriented people can utilize it in their daily routines and on the other hand to reach enough of those consumers that test – and later fall in love with the service.

The men behind APE Payment are serial entrepreneur Marko Parkkinen, who has been getting familiar with eCommerce in his current role as a board member of Fruugo, and Lauri Hulkko, former CEO of Logonet and partner at News to Screen. The company got recently a lot of media coverage among the leading newspapers as Risto Siilasmaa joined the company as a partner. Besides joining the company, Siilasmaa also invested capital to help the company to take off. Siilasmaa will bring the young company important experience from tech giants like F-secure, Nokia, Elisa, Fruugo and an interesting mCommerce company Valimo Wireless, which was recently acquired by Gemalto.

If nothing else, I’m at least expecting to see the company to land a new financing round still this year, because it’s difficult to imagine that the business model would or could grow organically until it reaches nearly all influential Medias at least in the domestic market. In any case, there is no doubt that there wouldn’t be enough web sites of also outside news media that could benefit of utilizing this type of micro payment service. As the company clarifies, there hasn't been a solution with small enough fees yet to make the business attractive for service providers - so maybe APE Payment actually has found a huge market gap. So what remains to be done, is to hope that APE Payment finds enough of open-minded consumers and currently suffering old media houses and services before the service ends up buried like so many predecessors have done before.

Finland "Won’t get another Nokia ...”

... said Risto Siilasmaa, a Nokia board member who founded software company F-Secure Oyj as an engineering student. “But we should definitely get 10 or 100 F-Secures and a lot of Angry Birds and APE Payments.” Sure Risto, Angry Birds is the big thing at the moment. But APE Payments? PG thinks they are just another WALLET. And payment WALLETS are kinda of a dinosaur. Well, then again, PayPal could use a challenger. Seems PG should do a post on these APE guys. PS PG: Good old Risto here is a "Partner" of APE Payments. Hence the endorsement.?

StarGirl of StarDoll Revealed

What a revealing and heart warming story by Helsingen Sanomat on Liisa Wrang - the rags-to-riches story behind Stardoll . You Go Girl!