In the latest edition of Breakfast with NEXT, Sonja Lindenberg sat down with Apostolos Dousias, Betsson COO and one of the company’s longest-serving team members, to discuss his unexpected journey through the gaming industry.
An appropriate name
The Greek word “apostolos” means “messenger” or “one sent with a message”.
Finding the right tone or message is essential for a COO who must navigate the often conflicting goals of various business units within one organisation, while ensuring that all units work towards the same strategic objectives.
It’s a fitting name for Betsson’s COO. But don’t let the title fool you – Apostolos Dousias is a down-to-earth guy.
He’s not one to blow his own trumpet, and that’s what makes this interview interesting. It provides a rare chance to learn more about him and his work.
Dousias’ journey to Malta started back in 2004 when he was studying for a Master’s degree in Human Rights and Democratisation at the island’s university.
Fast forward to 2008 and he made the move from Greece to Malta. With two Master’s degrees under his belt, Dousias was pretty set on a career in diplomacy.
But after graduation, he took a job in customer care at Betfair (now owned by Flutter) just to earn some money, although he never thought it would turn into a career.
Little did he know, he’d still be working in the industry to this day.
In 2011, Dousias joined Betsson as a customer team manager and worked his way up the ladder until he became COO in December 2017.
Looking back, he remembers that gaming was just getting started. It was a time of big changes with new technology and an increasing focus on responsible gambling, risk management, and fraud prevention.
“I was drawn to the excitement of the field and started to see a future for myself in it,” Dousias recalls.
Today, he leads Betsson’s ESquared Hub, the company’s second office in Malta. It is situated at the heart of St Julian’s, where around 500 people work.
He is responsible for various departments, including Betsson’s customer service, complaints management, payments, risk and AML functions, and sportsbook trading.
Understanding the business
According to Dousias, starting off in customer support was the secret to his successful career at Betsson.
“Customer service is the place where you can really learn about a company,” he says. “You get a feel for what the customers need and what their pain points are. That insight helped me move up quickly.”
Dousias believes that customer service can be a launching pad for a great career. “Sure, it’s an entry-level gig, but there’s plenty of room to grow and develop,” he says.
“And let me tell you, you don’t know the true meaning of a stressful situation until the sportsbook goes down during a Champions League game and you’re hearing complaints from customers left and right. That’s when you really understand the customer and learn what the business is all about.”
“You don’t know the true meaning of a stressful situation until the sportsbook goes down during a Champions League game.”
Dousias still places a high importance on user experience, and at Betsson, they have a team specifically focused on getting to know their customers.
This function, called “the voice of the customer,” collects customer feedback and collates insights for the product and commercial teams on a weekly basis.
“We’re pretty proud of our customer satisfaction rate as over 90% of customers are happy with our customer service, which is on par with top ecommerce platforms,” says Dousias.
In this area, Betsson has invested in AI and chatbot software, but “we don’t want to hide behind technology,” Dousias explains.
“Sure, we have chatbots that handle about 20-30% of incoming customer inquiries, but it’s always connected to one of our agents,” he adds.
Formula 1 team
Being a COO is not a one-size-fits-all job. The role changes from industry to industry and organisation to organisation.
One of the biggest challenges for a COO is managing different departments with contrasting goals.
“For example, I have to balance the customer service team, which focuses on keeping the customer happy, with the sportsbook team that is focused on making a profit.”
Dousias adds: “Think of it like a Formula 1 race car; you’ve got the tech and product team who design the car, the HR folk who support the back, the driver who’s the commercial and marketing team, and the pitstop crew who are operations.
“Being a COO is like being the glue that holds all the different departments together and ensuring that we all work towards the same goal for the company.”
It is a job that requires a lot of diplomacy after all and a deep understanding of how different parts of the organisation fit together.
As Dousias puts it: “You need to be able to take the wants and needs of the CPO, CTO, and CMO, and find a way to reconcile them. That’s where my background in humanities actually comes in handy. I have a broad knowledge, which allows me to see the big picture and navigate the various interests within the company.”
The secret to scalability
Despite being in the gaming industry for more than a decade, Dousias never gets bored at Betsson.
“People often asked me if I want to change, but there is always something new at Betsson, whether it is integrating a new company that we have acquired or adapting to new regulations,” he says.
A decade of broad exposure has not only shown Dousias which levers make each department work, but also how they can be coordinated for the company to succeed.
Dousias emphasises the importance of scalability in the operations of Betsson.
“You need to be able to take the wants and needs of the CPO, CTO, and CMO, and find a way to reconcile them. That’s where my background in humanities actually comes in handy.”
While he admits there are challenges in achieving scalability, the company follows three key principles: being multi-brand, multi-lingual, and multi-jurisdictional.
He reveals the aim is to be as agnostic as possible so that a customer service agent, for example, can effectively deal with a customer in Sweden or Greece, even if they are under a different brand, regulation permitting.
While scalability is essential for business growth, “maintaining a local touch is equally important”, he says.
Looking ahead to the future, Dousias expresses great enthusiasm for Betsson’s prospects.
Full-year 2022 was Betsson’s most successful year in business to date, having recorded four consecutive quarters of record-breaking financial performance.
Despite the recent economic downturn, Dousias remains confident that the company will maintain its upward trajectory.
According to him, this is partly due to Betsson’s diverse portfolio of brands and markets, which allows the company to weather any untimely economic fluctuations.
Dousias also highlights the importance of delivering both B2B and B2C products, such as the Betsson sportsbook, which he believes many industry players have yet to fully appreciate.