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SOFTSWISS Founder Ivan Montik turned 40 in January. He agreed to talk to us about this milestone in his life, about his career and his experience of managing a company.
You are the Founder of one of the most successful software gambling companies in the world, which now has more than 1,000 employees. Could you imagine something like this in your 20s and what key decisions led you to your current role?
I actually imagined something like this when I started SOFTSWISS as a small custom software development company in 2009. Growing it to 1,000 employees was not a coincidence but a result of the long-term strategy and hard work of many like-minded people. Without thinking big, you’ll never grow big. When we founded SOFTSWISS, it wasn’t just to make a living (although profit was an important goal) but to create a company that would stand out among the competition with its quality of services and become a well-known name on the market.
There were many decisions made on the way. Switching from custom software development to creating our own products was an important step, and of course entering the iGaming industry played a crucial role. We didn’t just create a quality software platform, but developed our own White Label Solution, a unique service at that time. It brought us our first clients, casino operators, and some of them became key players in the market and contributed greatly to our mutual success.
Integrating cryptocurrencies into our software was another important decision and a turning point in the history of SOFTSWISS. We were the first company to offer a Crypto Casino Solution to the market. Becoming a pioneer in crypto gaming, we took a special place in the industry and made it a large part of our current business.
Launching various microservices and developing them into separate brands was a series of right decisions, too. Now we have such successful products, as a game studio, game aggregator, affiliate system, and payment provider, all functioning as standalone solutions and contributing to the brand’s overall success.
Finally, partnering with people who have been beside me in good and bad times, working with me on the most challenging tasks and showing their trust has definitely helped to lead the company to where we are now.
You have mentioned many times in interviews that you have a degree in economics but not IT, nevertheless, you have managed to build one of the most innovative companies in the online gambling industry. In your experience, in order to create a successful and, most importantly, in-demand product, which background is more important?
Although economics and management were in focus during my university years, computer science and programming were also there. It’s been my long standing passion. When I was at school, I sold my piano to purchase my first computer and learn the basics of programming on my own. This passion played an important role in choosing what business to do and helped me make many useful contacts among technical gurus. However, to lead a company to success, it was more important to have a business vision. You need to have an understanding of how to organise people and establish effective working processes. The knowledge of economics and management is very helpful here, but it’s also about personal qualities, such as the ability to take risks, evaluate partnerships and pursue business ideas which you believe are worth pursuing.
What obstacles have you faced during the creation and development of SOFTSWISS? Tell us about the most difficult personal and professional challenges you have had to overcome.
Entering the iGaming market was a risky idea on its own, as our team had no prior experience in this area and we were almost unaware of how complex it was. The conclusion I made was that ignorance is bliss as it keeps us connected to real-time challenges and helps tackle problems fearlessly. I learned all aspects of the industry from scratch, from the principles and requirements of gambling jurisdictions to the technical details of casino payment processing, to the peculiarities of the local gaming markets and player preferencences. It was my biggest personal challenge, but acquiring this knowledge has made the most positive impact on business.
Another challenge I faced several times in the company’s history was managing partnerships. When you grow big and do successful business, you become very noticeable and people start thinking about how they can become part of your success. Some of them are really eager to contribute their knowledge and/or money and establish a fair and mutually beneficial relationship, but unfortunately that’s not always the case. Others just want to jump in and take advantage of the company without any real contribution. I’ve had several negative experiences with unscrupulous partners who have had a destructive impact on the business, but we managed to overcome it. In the end, it made all of us stronger and taught us to be more picky when it comes to investment and partnership offers.
Having achieved success, it is sometimes difficult to maintain the same rhythm and not be tempted to relax and reap the rewards of your work. Where do you find points of growth and motivation to develop yourself?
I have several sources of motivation that help me stay tuned. First of all, I follow the example of the outstanding people who have reached much bigger success than myself and still haven’t stopped climbing new heights. I’m talking about the leaders of such giants, as Amazon and Google, but there are also people in our industry who I admire. The desire to stay on top of the competition is a strong driving force. iGaming is a fast changing market with new strong players appearing every day and evolving trends. If we stop and relax, it won’t take them long to take our market share.
The responsibility for the people who work with us, supporting them in their career and providing growth opportunities is another strong driving force for me. They joined SOFTSWISS and shared our corporate goals to become part of the common success, and I’m not allowed to let them down.
Finally, my passion for innovation doesn’t let me stop at where we are. There are so many new areas to explore, both within the iGaming industry and outside of it, and so many new projects to investigate. With the opportunities I have now, I can’t help taking on new technological challenges and investing into innovation.
What was your approach as a manager towards driving SOFTSWISS to success? Tell us about your managerial principles and practises. Were there any surprising revelations over the several years of managing your own company?
My main approach is staying flexible in all situations. You can’t manage the company of 1,000 people the same way you did when there were just 10. When it all just started, I was interviewing each new candidate myself before making them the final job offer. It was extremely important for me that our employees shared my personal values, that we were on the same page. It hasn’t changed much and I’m still worried about sharing the corporate culture, but I already can’t interview each employee. So I make sure that the C-level management are the people I trust, and it’s their responsibility now to communicate the corporate culture to others.
I’m also a big supporter of the agile approach and at SOFTSWISS we try to organise our daily routine according to agile practices. From the very beginning, even before I knew what agile meant, I intuitively understood that people were our biggest asset and tried to empower each employee to take decisions and act quickly. Now, with over 1,000 employees and with our industry changing so quickly, I know it’s the only way to stay competitive. So I trust people and motivate them to take the responsibility by showing how unlimited their growth opportunities are. I noticed that when people get an opportunity to participate in the company’s profit, it’s a much better motivation than a high salary on its own. So we try to empower everyone to become part of the common success story.
Talking about the personal part of the subject, does managing such a company leave time for your personal life?
Finding a balance between work and life is just a myth, I think. It’s a never ending battle. However, practice makes perfect, and I think I found some tricks that help me combine both so that neither suffers too much. I used to have some difficulties with delegating responsibility, trying to accomplish all tasks on my own quickly rather than explaining it to somebody and facing unfulfilled expectations afterwards. I’ve worked on it and noticed that wise delegation saves so much time. I concentrate on the strategically important things now and let people I trust do other tasks.
Setting priorities is also important. For me, health is the top priority and sport is the only way to stay healthy. I do boxing and it keeps me sane both physically and mentally. Combined with the Russian sauna, it gives amazing results. Also, I never miss an opportunity to build new neural connections in my brain by learning something new. My latest achievement is snowboarding. Besides sports, time with family and friends is what makes me feel happy and complete.
Looking back on the four decades behind you, do you think you have become wiser and now make better decisions from both a managerial and a personal point of view?
I’ve definitely become wiser. Although I’m still demanding a lot from the people I work with, I’m less of a perfectionist today and I don’t expect it from my employees. As I said before, I’ve become more cautious in choosing partners and going into business relationships. Unfortunately, it’s the effect of some wrong decisions made in the past, but learning from my own mistakes is also an achievement. I still believe that it’s more important to take a risk and make a mistake than not to take a risk and miss a chance. So I can always forgive mistakes but I rarely forgive missed chances.
Finally, where to next? Has turning 40 changed anything? Do you feel just as energetic and motivated as before, looking for further ventures, or do you have other ambitions in mind?
I feel as motivated and energetic as I never did before. Life only starts at 40, doesn’t it? I have the experience, resources and people by my side to pursue new ventures. There are several exciting projects in the pipeline now, both for SOFTSWISS and outside of it. I’ll continue investing in innovation and supporting fresh ideas because this means investing in the future.