• Home
  • News
  • Features
  • Breakfast with NEXT: How the collapse of Lehman Brothers led Bombay Online MD Jose Micallef to iGaming
igamingnext photo
For the latest edition of Breakfast with NEXT, Sonja Lindenberg caught up with Bombay Online managing director Jose’ Micallef in Tallinn, Estonia.

Fifteen years ago, the world bore witness to one of the largest commercial collapses in history.

Lehman Brothers, a financial behemoth and titan of Wall Street, declared bankruptcy on 15 September 2008.

With a staggering debt of $613bn, this cataclysmic event not only left thousands of employees jobless, but also thrust the recession-ridden economy into a devastating downward spiral.

The consequences of Lehman Brothers’ bankruptcy had far-reaching effects on the banking industry, contributing to the broader financial crisis that followed.

In the midst of this turmoil, Jose’ Micallef, then self-employed trading oil futures from his home in Malta, faced a stark reality: he had lost everything overnight.

Micallef took a position at the Malta-based B3W Group, initially as a business development manager in 2009 before rising to the position of general manager in 2015.

His journey eventually led him to roles at NetEnt, Derivco and Pariplay.

In 2021, an introduction to Yolo Group set the stage for Micallef’s current role as the managing director of Bombay Online, which includes live dealer specialist Bombay Live, as well as Bombay RNG Games and content aggregator Hub88.

“I loved working in the industry from day one, and since I came from a fast-paced background, I found a lot of similarities,” he remarks.

Presently, he leads a team of 400 professionals working in various locations. Micallef is based in Tallinn, Estonia, but he’s often on the move. “That suits me perfectly, as I’m someone who thrives on change and can’t remain in a single place for more than eight to 10 weeks.”

The evolution of Bombay Live

Launched in 2020, Bombay Live aspires to be the epitome of the next-generation high-roller live dealer, offering games now accessible in 18 different UI languages.

“We initially embarked on this venture with our first studio right here in Tallinn. Subsequently, we expanded to Kyiv, Ukraine, but unfortunately had to close it down due to the conflict.

“However, last year marked a turning point as we successfully opened two studios, one in Argentina and another in Krakow, Poland.”

He also highlights Bombay’s technological advancements: “Over the past year, we’ve made significant strides in enhancing our technology, resulting in a robust and stable product.

“We are planning to unveil new games and even introduce popular game shows in the near future.”

When asked about the possibility of challenging live casino leader Evolution, Micallef responds with humility: “We wouldn’t even dream of competing with Evolution.”

Nonetheless, he adds, Bombay Live has found its very own niche, catering specifically to VIP players.

The ecosystem advantage

“Differentiation is a pivotal element,” underscores Micallef.

As with all companies in the Yolo Group family, Bombay enjoys the unique advantage of being able to access the thriving ecosystem established by the company.

“The industry continues to change and evolve, which means we need to make sure that our platforms, systems and processes are scalable.

“We carry out rigorous testing, and the advantage lies in the fact that most of our resources are in-house, including our own online casinos. Before introducing a feature to the wider market, we often engage operators in the testing phase.

“Their feedback is invaluable, and we persist with testing until it reaches a stage of readiness for release. This collaborative approach is a fundamental strength,” he explains.

Yolo Group, led by founder Tim Heath and Group CEO Maarja Pärt, has grand ambitions for its Bombay brand.

The company is currently undergoing extensive renovations on an old hotel in Tallinn’s historic old town, transforming it into an exclusive private members’ casino, including a hotel and several restaurants, aimed at high rollers. The opening is scheduled for spring 2024.

One might assume that financial constraints are not a concern for the group.

Micallef clarifies: “We don’t operate under the illusion that money is unlimited. That’s not the case. When we were smaller, there may have been more flexibility. We could act swiftly and had better visibility of our funds. However, as the group has grown, we’ve adopted a more structured approach.

“We generate project ideas, assess their scope, and develop a solid business case. Our focus is always on the value a project will bring to our business and our customers. It’s not a matter of someone coming up with an idea, and us hastily rushing into it.”

Blank cheque scenario

Nonetheless, Micallef acknowledges that within the group, they frequently adopt a concept akin to the “blank cheque scenario”.

When embarking on a new project, they ponder: “How would we approach this if resources were limitless?”

“This mindset serves as a means to eliminate all boundaries and restrictions, especially when striving to create the most impeccable products for future projects,” he says.

However, Micallef clarifies that this approach doesn’t imply a lack of accountability. They meticulously calculate the required man-hours, delivery timelines, and other essential factors.

“The goal,” Micallef notes, “is always to create great customer service.

“What matters most in the gaming industry is how the money flows from the player to the operator and to the suppliers. So there are all these transactions ongoing every second, and it’s also high volume.

“Therefore, you need to create swift systems for fast deposits, fast withdrawals, and provide good customer service.”

He points to banking services through Yolo Group’s HubWallet. It facilitates B2B transactions between operators and aggregator Hub88.

“With the HubWallet, transactions are cost-effective as we leverage cryptocurrencies. Additionally, we have plans to introduce fiat currencies in the future,” Micallef highlights.

Unique insight

He possesses a distinctive industry perspective, having the ability to speak from the vantage points of an operator, aggregator, and game developer.

“Players are seeking something special. There’s a plethora of content in this highly competitive, saturated market. Game studios are emerging from every corner, and operators and players are becoming more selective.

“Some studios release a game or two every week,” he remarks, highlighting the impact on the shelf life of games, which has dwindled from around 40 to 50 days to approximately 14 to 15 days before peaking.

“I believe that someone will soon crack the code and create more personalised games, where players may even have some ownership,” he predicts.

Life in Tallinn

His greatest challenge, Micallef points out, is managing a team with diverse backgrounds and nationalities.

Bombay prides itself on its diverse workforce, with individuals hailing from a multitude of countries and encompassing various professional and cultural backgrounds.

The challenges, therefore, are predominantly centred around people-related issues and bridging the gaps between cultural perspectives.

Micallef himself eagerly accepted the opportunity to relocate from Malta to Estonia, emphasising the allure of the city and its natural surroundings.

Nonetheless, there’s one element from Malta he longs for: “I do miss the Mediterranean Sea,” he says.

Sea creature

The sea has always held a special place in Micallef’s heart. In 2018, he engaged in ocean conservation through “My Ocean Road.”

“I’ve always had a deep passion for diving,” he explains. “So, I travelled to Mexico and participated in coral reef restoration. I joined a group of volunteers.

“We literally lived on a beach for several months. We embarked on two daily dives and operated a coral clinic for their rehabilitation.”

Micallef said they were isolated from the modern world, devoid of electricity or familiar conveniences.

“We ate what the land provided. It was tough at times, but it was a great experience, and if the ocean dies, we die,” he says.

Ecosystems in all forms

In every endeavor, Micallef’s journey reflects the interconnectedness of ecosystems, both in the natural world he cherishes and the corporate landscape he operates in.

Though he misses the sea from his homeland, he is keen to ensure that Bombay makes waves in the iGaming industry.

Similar posts