Who’s who: Raf Keustermans

How/when did you first get involved with the gaming industry?
I was a freelance marketing consultant in Belgium in 2005, working mostly for advertising agencies, when a small new start-up asked me to work on a CRM project for them. That start-up was MrBookmaker.com, based in Ghent, Belgium, one of the first online gambling operators active in Belgium, Holland and France. I liked the company, the people, the industry and my contract got extended a couple of times. In the summer of 2005 MrBookmaker was acquired by Unibet. At that time Unibet was already a listed operator but was still a fairly small company; in the London HQ there were only 60-70 people, in total they had around 200 staff; it still felt very start-uppy. After a couple of months working on the integration between the two companies I decided to join the mothership and move to London.
What attracted you to this sector?
Back in 2005 it was still very new – at least in markets like Belgium, Holland, France and the Nordics. And it was exploding; we were growing double digits every single month. We launched new products, moved in new markets… It was hugely exciting, working with a lot of young, passionate people we really felt that the sky was the limit. In 2005-2006 egaming was probably the single most exciting part of the booming entertainment industry.
What were you doing prior to the gaming industry?
I was mostly an advertising guy; I started my career in 1998 working for BBDO and left the company after three years to found a tech start-up. We sold the company two years later and I returned to the advertising world as an independent consultant, working for agencies like Grey, Publicis and independent agencies.
What are you responsible for in your current position?
As the CEO I’m of course responsible for the overall strategy and vision, making sure the teams know where we are going and why. I’m less involved in the ‘how’, which is more where our CTO, Head of Product and other senior leaders are focused on. I’m also the ‘face’ of the company and spend a fair bit of my time on managing external relations: investors, partners, media, regulators etc.
What are you working on right now?
Mobile is a big focus. We are still very bullish on Facebook as a gaming platform but it is clear for everyone that mobile and tablet gaming is where the growth is right now. We launched our first iOS game a couple of months ago and we are now working on Android.
What have been the biggest industry changes you’ve seen in your time?
Since 2005 the industry has obviously changed a lot. UIGEA happened, social happened, mobile, dot country… It’s hard to compare the gaming industry of today with the industry we had eight years ago really.
What are the biggest positive factors for your sector right now?
While it’s far from perfect I see regulation as a positive force; for any industry growing up a clear legal framework is crucial. Obviously it is painful to have a fragmented market like we see today but I genuinely believe this is just a phase and we will eventually end up with a more streamlined regulatory framework across several key markets for the industry.
And what are the negatives factors – the obstacles to growth?
I think the main concern I have is that most of the real entrepreneurs have left the industry and are replaced by professional managers, mostly accountants and lawyers instead of dreamers with big ideas. I am convinced the lack of innovation in the industry is directly linked with this. There are not enough crazy people with fire in their eyes and sky high ambitions to disrupt the market. Social and mobile are probably some exceptions to the rule but they are still very much on the fringe of the industry.
Looking at your entire career, what do you think was your smartest move?
Making the jump in 2005 to join the industry and eventually move to London, the epicentre of the gaming world.
And dumbest one?
Waiting until 2011 to launch Plumbee and get into the social casino space; if we had launched a year earlier it would have been a lot easier (and cheaper) to launch and scale!
Where do you hope you’ll be, professionally, in ten years’ time?
Still leading Plumbee, which in 10 years will be one of the leading ‘new generation’ players in the industry.