How to launch a new sports betting operator with 5000 dealers within 6 months from scratch?

Many people urged me to write about my experience at Şans Girişim (the operator of Iddaa).  After winning the tender of Iddaa, I was appointed as the founding CEO of Şans Girişim and faced a critical challenge of launching a new sports betting operator with 5000 retail shops, 6 online dealers within 6 months of signing the contract with Spor Toto. To add to this challenge, we only had 5 employees in the company at the signing date with no office space available.  Just to give a comparison, similar projects are usually completed between 12-15 months around the world.

Not everything was against us though.  We were backed with one of the biggest groups in Turkey (Demirören), with all their resources at our disposal.  Also, I was fortunate enough to have a full project plan ready from our partners Scientific Games, which was responsible with the central betting system software and hardware as well as with the manufacturing of the terminals.

Just to summarize the complexity of the task in front of us, here are some of the key challenges we faced:

  • Launching the entire service within 6 months with all the functionality at all channels
  • Hire at least 100 people 
  • Found an office from scratch with basic functions like IT, telecommunications, SAP, purchasing, HR, etc…
  • Multiple technical integrations like 6 online dealer, 2 banks, etc…
  • Delivering and setting up 5000 betting terminals spread out in all around of Turkey.
  • Signing several multiple million dollar purchasing contracts like datacenters, rollout, connectivity, hardware purchases, paper and other consumables.

When I take a high-level view now, main task I was facing was actually to manage multiple projects (around 50), hire the right people to complete those tasks, make sure to find solutions for showstoppers (a term used for problems which would prevent us from launching on time).  

During the 6 months before the launch, I remember more than 20 instances when my fellow colleagues came to my room with the news that we had a showstopper.  Fortunately, we were able to create solutions to each of them.

It is impossible to summarize all the key aspects of this journey, but I’d like to share some of the key take outs that I learned during this process, which was a once in a lifetime experience.

  • Define clear goals:  That was simple, to launch on time with the best possible product.  According to our contract with the Administration, the consequences of not launching on time were harsh.  We knew being on time was the utmost priority
  • Hire the right people with the right mentality:  Although we were backed with one of the Turkey’s leading groups, we were still a startup.  Yes, we had financial and other resources from Demirören Group, but still we needed people with a startup mentality in the team.  In each job interview, I shared the same two messages to each candidate that they should be ready to help other team members in different positions from time to time and work for long hours.  We didn’t hire any candidate who had problems with those two principles.  At the end we worked for long hours, argued from time to time but never had a major problem since we created the right company culture from the beginning.  
  • Find the right business partners to outsource non-critical functions: We set a very clear strategy to outsource any not critical functionality to meet our deadline with our limited headcount. Finding the right partners to work with was essential in our success, and we were fortunate enough to work with suppliers like Turk Telekom, Innova, Vodafone, Spintek, Hobim and many others.
  • Create the right corporate culture: That was one of the most important points for me.  We had to work hard and long and that can only be achieved with the right people within the right corporate culture.  We created a lean operation with minimum layers.  We worked for long hours, weekends.  We worked hard, but also had a lot of fun.  Most people were looking forward to coming to the office, honestly, we couldn’t succeed otherwise.
  • Be flexible:  It was important to hire very fast.  In an established company, usually hiring takes 2-3 months.  Since we didn’t have this luxury of time, we were hiring like crazy.  It was important to find candidates who can start very quickly.  So, once we had the right candidate, we hired them even if that person was not the perfect match.  We were revising the organization chart around the people we hired, which is the opposite of the traditional approach.  When I look back now, despite the time constraints, our success rate in hiring was over 95%.
  • Give people authority, hold them responsible:  We had more than 50 simultaneously running projects.  It was critical to assign those to the right colleague and make sure to hold them responsible for the results.
  • Never lose the positive attitude:  As the leader, it was important to show strength and optimism in a balanced way.  As mentioned, we had many moments that I thought we will not succeed.  In each instance like this, it was important to stay calm and assuring, since the team will be seeking guidance. 

I see myself very fortunate to have led such a unique experience.  At the end, it was a huge success which firstly belonged to the entire Şans Girişim team.  My role was simply just being a catalysator, making sure that everybody was reaching its personal potential.  I must thank many people, without them none of this would be possible.  It was a very challenging assignment, which also became a life lasting learning experince for me.