Erik Bergman, Founder of Great.com, joins the latest series of affiliate interviews on Affiliate Grand Slam.
Erik Bergman at Great.com says that he stays in the gaming industry because he believes that this is the best way for him to make the world a better place – follow his story below.
Tell us a bit more about your Great.com and your business model.
Sure, the intention with Great.com is to be the most trusted website on the internet for any purchase decision. I believe this is something that is missing at the moment, when I want to buy a pair of headphones or a new email software, I don’t feel that there is anything that can be trusted.
This is a very long-term goal and will take us decades to get anyway near it, but that’s the long-term intention. We will get there by testing all the products we write about and do unbiased reviews that can’t be bought, and all profits we will generate will be donated to protect our planet.
We are starting in the online casino space, because that’s what I know from before and I know it’s a very profitable space. It’s also a space where trust barely exists. If we can build something that is based on trust within online casino, I believe we can build it anywhere.
Once you spoke about feeling guilty that your traffic might have led to possible fatalities, literally people suiciding because they have ruined their families with gambling. If that’s the case why are you still promoting gambling?
No, I’ve never said that I feel guilty. What I have said is that I feel responsible. That’s not the same thing.
I’m well aware that I have played a role in the misery of other people and that it’s possible that it has led to suicide.
To feel guilty, I believe there needs to be an element of regret – and I don’t regret what I’ve done. The businesses that I’ve been a part of building has generated large amounts of wealth and I’m now using that wealth to make the world a better place.
I’m staying in this industry because I believe this is the best way for me to make the world a better place. Partly because I want to create a business that can generate as much donations as possible, and partly because I want to make the casino industry a safer place. Responsible gambling will be a key element to how we build Great.com. One of our goals and long-term missions is to decrease the amount of problem gamblers in the world.
Are you a modern day Robin Hood? You’re taking it from the gamblers, giving it to charity. But the gamblers aren’t necessarily the rich folks out there.
Well, you could argue that I’m taking from the gamblers. You could also argue that I’m taking from the other casino affiliates. At the end of the day, I don’t believe a search-based affiliate generates a lot of extra players. It’s more or less a zero-sum game of who ranks where. If Great.com wouldn’t be ranking on the search, some other affiliate would. They would get the same revenue from the same casino players, but as far as I know, no other affiliate has the intention of giving it all away.
Whether or not I’m a modern-day Robin Hood, I leave for someone else to decide. Just the fact that someone makes the comparison feels honorable to me.
You speak about “saving the world through online gambling”. This seems a bit contradictory. Tell us more about it.
Yes, it is contradictory. Charity and casino usually don’t go well together. At the same time the gambling industry as a whole generates hundreds of billions of dollars in revenues each year. As far as I know most of it goes to people like me, who are already very rich. If all the profits instead were donated towards the climate crises for example, we would solve it easily.
Our intention is to get as big part of the market as possible over the coming decades, and instead of bringing the profits to rich people like myself, we want to use it to save the world, or at least a little part of the world.
You are currently focused on New Jersey and Sweden. Are you targeting new jurisdictions? Do you see any potential in the emerging markets?
Yes, our current focus is online casino in New Jersey and online casino in Sweden. The reason for this focus is that we want to build something very long term. Trust will be the main thing for us. There are lots of potential in lots of different emerging markets, but we will leave that for other affiliates to explore. We are growing very slowly, and we will not be a big money machine anytime soon, but our goal is to take a very strong position in the regulated markets over the next 10 years.
How important are your podcast channel and your social media activities for your affiliate business? How do you optimise social media for SEO? Building social media presence seems like a long shot to me, and not quite a short term strategy.
I want to reinvent casino SEO and link-building. I’ve done the PBN’s and the paid links many times and it doesn’t excite me to do it again. The podcast and the social media activities is a part of how to reinvent SEO.
So far it hasn’t generated much in terms of links or rankings, but it is getting a stronger and stronger audience and some natural links are starting to show. I currently have about 250 000 followers on Instagram and we have a few thousand people following the podcast. A year ago, we had basically nothing.
Now I’m starting to feel that we are bringing a lot of value with the social channels and the more value we bring, the more potential it will have. The beauty of creating content for social channels is that it is the same amount of work to do it with 10 followers as with 10 million followers. If we get to 10 million, I’m sure it will bring immense results for our casino rankings.
I’m assuming, if anything, that the increased social media presence is also helping your affiliate business in HR terms, to find the best inaccessible talent available out there. Right?
Yes, the recruiting has been the most important part of the social media strategy so far. Our biggest challenge in Catena Media was always to find talent, my belief is that it’s the same for everyone else in the industry.
Almost everyone who works with Great.com now has come through the social channels, and we get applications every day. When we put out a role for a podcast coordinator, we got over 500 applicants.
You say that “if we can succeed at building a profitable online gambling business, with happy and motivated employees, that donates all its earnings, then maybe other businesses will join our cause”. If you donate all your earnings, how do you pay the salaries?
We don’t donate all the revenue. We are donating all the profits. So far, the profits have been zero but we have done several donations anyway, some of the funded by the team and some of them funded by me.
You sold Catena years back. Now you’re trying to rank great.com, quite successfully I must add. How harder is it these days to rank?
To be honest, I don’t know if it’s harder to rank today than it was back then. With Great.com we are using such a different strategy with is much slower and we are reinventing a lot of things. With Catena we had lots of link assets when we started and we were building hundreds of casino sites, with Great.com we are only building one. If we were to use the same strategies as we did with Catena in the beginning, it might still work, I haven’t tried in a long time.
How has the industry morphed since the days you rang that bell?
I don’t have a good answer to this question either. I’m barely a part of the industry anymore. I used to be at all the conferences and all the networking events. The last few years I’ve been thinking about how to do things differently and I barely even know who the competitors are anymore.
How big is the team at Great? How many are handling gaming affiliation?
We are about 10 people now depending on how you count it. Everyone is involved with the casino affiliation one way or another, but the main focus then is to create valuable assets that can help us to rank. Working specifically with the product and the content is only about half the team, the other half is figuring out how to scale social media, etc.
Biggest controversy you’ve entered into that you’re proud of. Biggest controversy you regret, if any.
I’m not sure about if it’s “the biggest controversy” but I’m very proud of taking a public stance within charity. I know some people say that I’m crazy and I’m just doing all of this to get attention – and sure, that’s partly true. I like attention. But more importantly I can see that I’m influencing more people in the casino industry to think about charity and to giving away some of their money. If me openly talking about what I believe in, controversial or not, can lead to other people being generous, then I will keep screaming off the top of my lungs.
When it comes to controversies I regret, I don’t think there are any. I’ve sure done many mistakes over my careers, but I’m grateful for them and I’ve learned from them.
If it wasn’t gambling affiliation, what would it be?
I don’t know. I’ve always wanted to have a rock band. There is definitely a part of me that is dreaming about singing in front of a full packed arena.
You and your bold thinking –
Tell us more about the work culture and environment at Great.com.
The culture in Great.com is very different from what I’ve been involved with before. I want to create an environment that as much as possible aligns with what I believe is the perfect life. What that means is that everyone feels safe enough to openly talk about the real things in life, their pain, and their struggles, and when someone is going through something hard, there is a full team there to support them. Work is not just about work; work is about being the tribe for one another.
We do this by having check-in processes in every meeting we and always start by going round the table and spending a few minutes talking about our life outside of Great.com.
Another part that is key to me is a combination of flexibility and passion. I believe that we work best if we enjoy what we are doing, and if we are doing it when we want to do it. We are constantly trying new angles of how everyone in the team can focus on tasks that they love, and if there aren’t any tasks they love, then we look for ways to reinvent the project so there will be.
This might sound all fluffy, and in some ways, it is – but I believe that if we keep looking for angles that makes sense for business and that are full of passion, over decades it will pay off big time.
Tell us more about your plans to retire with your family by building your own little village in Sweden.
Wow, that’s a full interview in itself. In short, it has nothing to do with retiring. Quite the opposite, I want to build an environment where I can be as productive as possible and make the biggest impact in the world.
A part of that is to have everyone who is important to me close by. Family and friends. If they are close by and we can support and learn for each other, it will positively impact our changes of huge success.
The intention is to build a small village in Stockholm. It will be somewhere between 5-20 homes depending on how things will work out and it will be for me and my family as well as for some of the people closest to me who are also already involved with Great.com.
I believe that relationships are everything in life, and if they are close, they will be better.
Tell us more about how you plan to cut carbon emissions with gambling.
To my understanding about climate change, the most important thing we can do is large scale projects that cut emissions or provides alternatives. We want to fund the science behind these projects as well as pay to get the ideas in front of the politicians that makes decisions.
We are already funding some projects like this that focus on super safe nuclear power, innovative engines in the shipping industry, and tax reductions for coal plants that rebuild their technology to capture CO2 instead of letting it out.
Was there a time after you sold where you and/or your biz partner felt burned out?
Yes, definitely. We were not building Catena in a way that was healthy for us personally. We pushed ourselves way more than our bodies could handle and we both had to spend a couple of years after leaving Catena with our main focus to just recover. The fact that I’ve seen the downsides of pushing too hard makes me put such a value of building a long-term sustainable company culture now.
Will you rank casinos based on how much they pay to the cause? What metrics are you using to rank casinos on Great.com?
At the moment we are not ranking casinos based on what they do for charity. We might add that as a parameter in the future. Now it’s focused on how fast and accurately the customer support replies, how fast they process deposits and withdrawals, how fast the page load speed is, and a few other things.
Let’s role play a scenario – If I own a casino site and I pledge €1,000 to the climate change cause of your choice for every NDP. Would you rank my casino on top right away?
No, trust is too important for us. We might make a bigger short-term impact if we let the ones donating the most get the top position, but our goal is not to make short term impact, our goal is to change the world over decades.
Do you believe Swedish or UK regulator is taking it too far? Is over regulation pushing gambling underground? How can affiliates play a role in finding the right balance here?
I believe the regulators are trying to find a way that works for everyone. So far, they have not found that way. As long as there are bigger incentives not to have a license than there is to have a license, they are failing and it’s not long term sustainable for anyone.
I don’t know what affiliates can do for it to be honest. I haven’t thought much about the regulations. I feel confident that over decades of time, they will make it fair.
You’ve been with SiGMA since day 1, quite literally. In 2018, you delivered a speech at SiGMA Malta 2018. How was your experience? SiGMA Europe, Africa, Asia, or Americas – which of these four expo shows would you likely book on your diary for 2021, COVID-19 permitting?
Yes, I’ve been a long-term fan of SiGMA and I’ve always enjoyed the company of Eman Pulis and the team. For 2021, I’m becoming a father for the first time. Due date is March 16th and I got a strong feeling the little one with have me totally mesmerised. With that in mind I will probably not go to any conference at all but instead try to figure out what it means to be a great dad.
Tell us a bit about yourself – after all, business is done with people, not just companies! Your hobbies, favourite book, favourite quote, whether you are into Gaming yourself, etc.
Well, to sum myself up, I am a person who believes very deeply in my personal values. At the top of the list comes contribution to the world, it’s being followed by a conviction of transparency and honesty and after that comes a combination of passion, smiling, laughter, and building things.
If you combine all of that you get someone who loves learning, loves communication, and loves people. All that is me. At the moment lots of it takes place in the form of our podcast Becoming Great.com, it has created a space for me to combine lots of the things I love in life.
My favorite books have to do with communication, and I would trade all other books that I’ve read for just these two:
How to Win Friends and Influence People – Dale Carnegie
Nonviolent Communication – Marshall B. Rosenberg
They are by far the best books that I’ve read, and they have had a major impact on every area of my life.
If I’m adding in a quote to it as well, I would go with “Easy choices, hard life. Hard choices, easy life” by Jerzy Gregorek. It summarises my world view well. If you look for the easy ways out, your life will suck. If you are willing to put in the effort, your life will be amazing.