Many of you may never have heard of Erik Bergman, but ‘Smiling Erik’, as he likes to be known, is one of the gaming industry’s more successful and, without doubt, engaging of characters.
Let us begin by declaring that this piece is not an ‘interview’ with Erik, we have neither spoken nor met. But reading about him was a fortunate accident and, hopefully, if and when he reads this modest piece, he will consider it as respectful as is intended.
By way of introduction, Swedish entrepreneur Erik Bergman founded Catena Media, spent eight years building it into one of the world’s largest affiliate businesses, before floating it on the Stockholm Stock Exchange in a $200m IPO, earning himself $50m before the age of 30. But the really interesting part is that having proved himself to be such a hotshot capitalist, he then announced a dramatic change to his direction of travel, launching Great.com, a marketing company for the online casino industry that is on a mission to give away 100% of its profits. So how did Erik arrive at such an epiphany..?
Affiliate marketing’s low barriers to entry
According to Erik, the casino affiliate sector is a business with low barriers to entry. Simply purchase a domain and hosting service, build a website with good content and affiliate links and away you go. Provided you create a clean, optimised affiliate website, know and understand your audience and have strong SEO (search engine optimisation), good commissions are there to be earned from both CPA (cost-per-acquisition per depositing player) and revenue sharing from your registered players’ losses.
Poker player to gaming entrepreneur
Erik’s interest in gambling blossomed as a teenager and led to a short-lived career as an online poker player. He was good, but at the age of 19, fell out of love with the game, ran out of money and had to return to live with his parents. A year of working on somebody else’s payroll followed, before Erik decided he wanted to start his own business and in 2008, in partnership with his friend, Emil Thidell, the young entrepreneur began creating guides for online bingo players, using basic SEO tactics to achieve rankings on Google. This proved to be so much fun that the pair worked day and night, although it would be a further two years before they could afford to give up their ‘day’ jobs!
In Erik’s own words, “2010-11 was the most fun year of my life.” When successful business founders look back, more often than not they consider the early days of their ventures, when everything is creative and ‘hands-on’, to have been the most enjoyable. And it was during this period, that Erik and Emil were building all the websites they could imagine and, if something proved popular and made money, they did more of it.
From two-man start-up to $200m flotation
Come 2012, the numbers were growing, and it was time to turn this venture into a ‘proper’ business. Joining forces with the right people, and selling them a 50% stake, was a game-changer and after a difficult and cost-heavy 2013, the next two years saw Catena Media grow to become a renowned name in the industry, achieving goals that were far beyond any of the founders’ expectations.
On February 11th, 2016, Erik’s 28th birthday, the company went public. On that single day, he pocketed €15m ($16.5m). However, in what was possibly a prelude to what was to follow, Erik reflects that what moved him most on that life-changing day, wasn’t the money, the celebrations or the attention.
Life is about emotions and emotions are about people
“It was a small yellow box, full of letters and postcards from my friends and family that my girlfriend had gathered for me in secret. I got that box in the morning and that box moved me to tears. It gave me goosebumps and left me with the most amazing feeling in my stomach. At that moment I realised that life is not about money, life is about emotions and emotions are about people.”
Wanting to do something with meaning, Erik decided to put his proven skills to work and establish a marketing company that gives away 100% of its profit to do good. For example, Great.com donated $1.2m to teamseas.org a global collaborative fundraising project that successfully removed 30m pounds of marine debris from the ocean in late 2021.
Clearly, some will point out that it is far easier for someone in Erik’s fortunate financial position to indulge themselves in this way than it is for the likes of you and I, but such a cynical view would be entirely missing the point. This industry, indeed the entire world, is full of wealthy people who only ever want more than what they already have, and care little for the cost to others. And the simple fact is, we can say ‘chapeau’ to Erik because has moved on from that place and is putting his well-earned money towards something helpful, meaningful and… well… just good.