Interview With Aleksandr: A Sports Data Project Manager

aleksandrExpanding on our interview series offering insights into what it is like to work in the iGaming industry today we chat to Aleksandr Tihhonjuk who currently works as a project manager in sports data. Aleksandr is also an affiliate and runs several sites such as Canada-Betting.

The company Aleksandr works for specialises in collecting, processing and distributing sports data providing business to business (b2b) services to iGaming businesses.  Here we explore with Aleksandr what exactly that is, what the role involves and how he got into it.

We also talk about how he got into the industry initially. Aleksandr discusses the merits of support roles as a perfect way to get into iGaming without specific qualifications or experience.

Can you give us a bit of background on yourself and how you got into the iGaming industry?

I work in a sports data company as a project manager, dealing with a lot of different areas of this business like operations, product, customer relations and processes.

Originally, I got into iGaming through support roles, which I will probably cover in more detail going forward.

You started off working for Xbox customer support, how did you get into that and what was it like?

This is probably one of the best things that happened to me professionally. It’s been quite a while since then, I was 21 and had absolutely no idea what I should be doing. My wife (who I just met back then) told me that she saw a job ad for Xbox support and said “if you sit and play that thing with your friends, you might as well give that job a go”.

I didn’t have any real experience applying for a proper job, so I went there in person and asked if I can work there. It was quite surprising how easily they agreed to take me, but later I learned that it was due to how often people leave.

This was a support call center, so you were required to sit on the phone and take calls. A lot of people would consider it quite intense, as you are often (not always though) confronted by angry customers who are hostile and offensive / aggressive. That’s exactly why a lot of people leave, 50% leave right after their first day.

To that point I have only had manual labour jobs, so despite all the things that made new starters leave – the fact that you get paid for sitting in an office and talking overweighed any obvious drawback. Also, this was one of the best possible places to “master” customer communication as you talk with 10’s of people daily, so you learn exactly what to say, when to say it, how to frame it and what not to say.

Because I actually enjoyed being there, I was pretty good at it and has the chance to move into other roles like, quality monitoring, training and other similar activities.

Next you moved into iGaming with Optibet, what was involved with your role in customer support?

This was a casino and sportsbook brand support role. Mainly chat support for billing queries, and various promotion / bonus related issues and complaints.

I can’t really say I got a lot out of this, as it wasn’t particularly challenging, although I got to learn about iGaming from the player and the brand perspective. i.e. what betting and casino products consist of, what drives customer engagement, how things work under the hood, brand-supplier relationship, affiliates, etc.

Would you recommend customer support roles for someone who wants to get into iGaming without previous experience and if so, why?

Support roles, where applicable, are in my opinion generally one of the best ways to get into any industry / line of work if you have no prior experience or qualification. Usually, all you need to get in is common sense and communication skills.

Support representatives often have to have generalised domain knowledge about all existing products and services. Also, as a support rep, you are in contact with commercials, product, development, management and external customers. This puts you in a great position to accumulate knowledge and build relationships with colleagues from other departments / divisions.

In my experience, people who put the right amount of effort in while working in a support role, always had the chance to explore other avenues whenever an opening appeared.

Can you explain what b2b companies do and what services they offer, how do people get involved with this side of the industry?

In an iGaming context b2b companies range from data providers all the way to complete turn-key solutions and there might be an interesting hierarchy involved.

Let me give an abstract example to illustrate this:

Let’s imagine there is a person, company or group that want to invest money in the iGaming sector and they would like to do it by creating their own brand. At that stage they only have the financial resources.

In the above scenario, they can reach out to a company that provides a turn-key iGaming solution (casino, sportsbook, platform, crm, risk, pam, branding, UIs, etc).

The company that provides the turn-key solution will, in many cases, have deals with other, more specific iGaming suppliers, simply because it is not manageable to have all the required domain knowledge and manpower under one roof.

You would then have them working with other b2b companies such as casino game suppliers, sports (odds) data providers, platform providers, potentially outsourced support teams and so on.

At the end, the b2c company is effectively run by the owners of the new brands, however that’s the tip of the iceberg, while you will usually have 5-10 other companies working under the hood.

How did you then get involved with sports data?

With me it was relatively simple, I was looking for a place where I can put my support experience and knowledge to good use and further develop it. By chance I landed in a company that specializes in gathering, processing and distributing sports data.

You mention you were involved in customer care to begin with at the sports data company, what was involved with this role and how was it different from your previous roles?

All my previous roles involved supporting end users, the last support role was focused on b2b customers, i.e. other companies.

Usual b2c support roles often tilt towards soft skills and controlling people’s emotions. B2c support roles are more analytical and troubleshooting focused.

Can you tell us a little about your role now and what is involved?

My current role revolves around business processes and “classical” project management work.

Scoping potential projects, facilitating discussions with stakeholders, working with project teams and (hopefully) getting projects over the finish line. “Projects” can be related to almost anything: new products, new services / features, hardware, business operations.

How did you progress into project management and how have you progressed in this area?

I entered project management from a support role. Support positions are often a good segway into many different internal openings as long as you get a good reputation and do your job with a certain level of integrity.

Even though I had zero project management experience, I had enough domain and company knowledge to overweigh a potential candidate who has PM experience but knows nothing about iGaming of sports data.

Finding an external candidate that has both is usually quite expensive 😊 so companies often go with the cheaper option.

What is it like working with operators within iGaming?

It is generally quite a pleasant experience work-wise. iGaming operators are usually what is considered “IT” companies and are also very profitable businesses at the same time.

Therefore, they are pretty “chill” about most things, things are rarely being rushed and communication usually happens on a positive note.

For someone that wants to get involved in the iGaming industry would you recommend your role, or previous roles, as a good career opportunity?

Depends on the person and their qualification / previous experience. If a person doesn’t have a good idea how they can fit in – starting off with a support role is a very good idea in many industries.

It’s not that difficult to get in and once you are in – you can use your natural curiosity to find something interesting that you would gravitate to. Then potentially find a person that does that and ask them to tell you more about that, most people would be happy to share some knowledge with others who are genuinely interested.

Any time I joined a new company or team / division, I quickly saw somebody that made me think “I want to do that too”, so you’d just go and talk to them.