Who are Hello Soda?

It’s a great name, but who are ‘Hello Soda’ and what do they do? Matt Broughton spoke to co-founder and Marketing Director, Paul Shepherd.

There are two people behind the launch of Hello Soda: James Blake – co-founder and CEO, and Paul Shepherd – co-founder and Marketing Director. Prior to setting up Hello Soda, James headed up the global sales divisions at two of the World’s biggest credit data reference agencies: Experian and Callcredit. With clients including Bank of America, HSBC, William Hill, Wonga and Google, James oversaw a 64% business growth trend across his last five years in a corporate environment.

James now brings his proven track record and extensive contact list to the world of FinTech start-ups, and aims to replicate his huge successes all over again with Hello Soda.cloud

Paul Shepherd is the co-founder and marketing director of Hello Soda and previously founded a Top 10 UK Social and Mobile technology agency, with a list of clients including Nike, Google, Twitter, Lloyds Banking Group and the BBC. Paul has extensive knowledge of the social data and tech start up space as well as a background in financial services.

“I guess Hello Soda was really founded on a phone call two years ago,” explains Paul. “James – who is also my cousin – rang me after attending a conference in the US. With James’s experience of the traditional credit world and mine in social media and technology we realised that between us we could build something unique that would fill a huge gap in the industry.”

Hello Soda came to Casino International Online’s attention after some of the world’s biggest gaming companies were reportedly “tuned into” the development of a platform going by the name of PROFILE. So… er… what’s that then?

“In a nutshell, PROFILE is a cloud-based, unstructured data engine,” explains Paul. “We help gaming companies enhance due diligence by gaining more insight in to a customer by utilising that customer’s digital footprint. We take all available customer information from platforms like Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, Google, Trip Advisor and Uber, and blend it with other third-party data sources to create reputation scores (including credit risk profiles, fraud scores and personality indicators).”

The advantages of using PROFILE fall into two simple categories: Speed and accuracy. On speed… “PROFILE reduces the number of manual checks needed to verify a player by triangulating,” and on accuracy…“The data we triangulate to create player personas is way deeper, more varied and complex than the current ID requirements. That makes tricking the system virtually impossible.”

“We analyse language used across social media, player’s connections and interaction on platforms like Facebook as well as times a player is online and then perform a whole host of ‘secret sauce’ analysis to confirm a player’s eligibility. All of the above is 100% permissions-based. We believe that the current regulatory framework for online gambling verification needs to be adapted to these evolving technologies and new sources of information from across the web. Social media and other unstructured data analysis can aid Know-Your-Customer obligations by more accurately and quickly verifying the age and eligibility of a potential customer. We think this is especially important in light of the growth in social gaming where the lines between gaming and gambling are becoming increasingly blurred.”

As far as benefiting the gaming sector specifically, PROFILE has a host of verification capabilities specifically geared towards gaming that traditional checks can’t deliver. The verification is automated too, which creates huge efficiencies in the player on-boarding process.

These capabilities include: age verification, employment confidence indicators, player profiling (to identify gold, silver or bronze prospects), high risk customers, date of salary confidence indicator and location of player.

“With age verification PROFILE delivers extra confidence that a player is 18 or over,” explains Paul. “Are the majority of their friends a similar age to that stated? Do the ‘likes’ and/or interactions suggest they are the age they say they are or do they have the majority of younger friends?”

“The employment confidence indicator asks ‘is the applicant employed where they say they are?’ Do social media profiles and time on social media or online activity match the job role/support the amount of spending happening in the account?”

As you might expect, ‘fraud and trustworthiness’ ascertains whether that person is a genuine player with real and active social links, while player profiling identifies if the player has the propensity to spend over the long term? “Our models will identify your gold, silver or bronze prospects and customers,” says Paul.

Gaming operators can use PROFILE to identify:

  • VIP customers – to tailor and enhance the journey of that player, (i.e increased bonus, VIP treatment of player). 
  • Game selection – determine which channel/game the customer is more suited to (i.e Bingo, Poker, Sports book etc.) and provide a tailored journey. 
  • High Risk customers – automated EDD at point of registration or deposit. 
  • Date of salary confidence indicator – does the player get paid when they say they do? Use PROFILE’s salary indicator to market to prospects at the optimum time and increase player acquisition. 
  • Location of player – do PROFILE’s findings support the player’s location or are they from/have a large number of connections in blacklisted countries (like Turkey) or non-regulated US States.PROFILE can identify from the written word the geographical location of players down to City of residence. 
  • Life changing events – has the player recently gone through a major life change (unemployment, promotion, marriage, childbirth, house move house, travelling, relocation, death and so on)? 
  • Affordability indicator – does anything in the applicant’s social data suggest that affordability might be an issue? 

That sounds like A LOT of looking into people’s lives. I ask Paul about concerns with infringing on privacy: “Every touch-point we access is permission based,” he explains. “We explicitly outline why people are connecting their social profiles and what information we’ll access. We don’t (and can’t) access any information without the player’s consent. This is about streamlining the process for players too – less paper ID, less time taken, less manual checks etc. We sit squarely between client and customer to make everyone’s life easier. Traditionally, players can face delays taking their money out once they have won but with PROFILE this process can be simplified.”

And what about when players become more savvy and tighten up their privacy settings to become more ‘invisible’ online? “As above,” replies Paul. “We do need permission, so if someone locks down their social profile then we can’t override those settings. However Facebook has recently allowed users to customise permissions and in that instance a player may opt to override their ‘master’ settings to allow the access requested by PROFILE.”

PROFILE also targets issues like bonus abuse, as Paul explains: “Knowing your customer should go beyond the regulatory requirements if gaming companies really want to target bonus abuse. The focus needs to be on building deeper, longer term relationships and that’s how PROFILE can help.”

“PROFILE’s depth of information enables us to identity people who gamble on a regular basis and prevent them from repeating offers by verifying not just the names but their full digital profile. We radiate so much information about ourselves in today’s world that there is no excuse for gaming companies not to know us incredibly well and make it work to everyone’s advantage. What team do I support? How often do I watch them? Do my friends follow the same team? What sports do I like to bet on, how often, and how do I celebrate my wins/commiserate my losses? Where do I go to watch the event I’ve bet on, and so on and so forth. Know the customer, know what makes up the fabric of their life, and know the messages they want to hear. In doing that you build trust, deeper relationships and reduce bonus abuse. PROFILE helps gaming companies get to the heart of their players and the lives they lead.”

PROFILE also promises to increase player acquisition. How? “Operators lose customers because they either don’t have the correct paper ID or they aren’t on a CRA credit file to a large enough extent,” explains Paul. “With PROFILE we empower the customer and enable the operator to speed up customer acquisition with one simple login which offers the strongest form of KYC, enhances due diligence and has a transparent customer sign up process with a depth of customer insight which enables a tailored customer approach.”

Key to PROFILE’s DNA is “inbuilt AI capabilities”. Immediate visions of humans enslaved by gleaming metal robot overlords fill my mind (I watch WAY too many sci-fi films) but these are quickly quashed by Paul: “Artificial Intelligence is simply the process of machine learning; computers perform tasks, analyse outcomes and adjust their behaviour based on learnings. So for example a player identified as a silver customer would be expected to behave in a certain manner (play a certain number of times/games, have a certain spend level etc.). If that turned out not to be the case and PROFILE identified a trend whereby silver players weren’t behaving as predicted, the definition of ‘silver player’ would be adjusted over time within the algorithms.” (Damn. Not a laser rifle in sight!)

Hello Soda was voted a ‘Rising Star’ in the Northern tech Awards and was also a finalist in the national ‘Pitch at Palace’ Awards at St. James Palace. I ask Paul what expectations he has for the rest of the year. “Our plan is to maintain momentum and to secure more clients across the world (we are currently working across three continents). We’re constantly refining the technology and have some really exciting innovations planned for Q3 this year.

“By this time next year we expect the team to have grown – specifically our data analytics team – and we expect to have grown our presence across Europe and the US. Our technology is right on the cutting edge and we’re discovering new things all the time so we’re confident that the product will evolve beyond the roadmap we’re working to and that’s really exciting.”