Casino International: Our CEO's interview to Casino International

Exclusive interview about CEO Connective Games, Sergey Mukhanov.

Casino International Online [CIO]: Tell us about your background

Sergey Mukhanov |SM|: I was born into a family of Russian nuclear scientists, finished physical-math school and then graduated from Tomsk State University Computer Science Department. I then worked for different software outsourcing companies and my main specialization was big informational systems, financial and fraud control systems and high-load real time systems.

In 2005, I finished PMI courses of Project Management Institute Saint-Petersburg and later in 2007, finished a Government-sponsored MBA- program in Tomsk Polytechnic University called “Presidential Program for Management Training for Enterprises of the National Economy of the Russian Federation”.

I joined Connective Games in the very beginning as a Project Manager implementing its core platform, and my career progressed from there when I later became the Head of Casino, responsible for guiding the creation of our casino offering. In 2011 I was appointed Chief Customer Officer. We introduced our current principles of working with customers and focused our efforts on archiving synergy between the teams. During the next five years I sequentially worked with each of our key customers to build as close partnerships as possible. It seems we managed to build a balanced ecosystem which combines Connective technical expertise with customers’ marketing competence delivering high level of localization and innovations.

In January 2016 I was very proud to be promoted to CEO of Connective Games where I remain passionate about moving the company to the leading position within the market.

Now, according to Pokerscout, four of the world’s top 25 poker rooms used our software and we were ranked #2 by the total number of cash players among B2B poker suppliers. We are presented in South and Central America, CIS region, Georgia, Denmark, India and Middle East. Our poker software is recognized as being at the top end of the market.

Outside of work, I enjoy spending time with my happy family which includes three kids, all kinds of winter sports such as snowboarding, skating and skiing and I also enjoy swimming.

CIO: What brought you to Connective?

SM: The most attractive thing at Connective is the amazing people who work there. We have more than 50 bright, really smart and energetic individuals - not just professionals who enjoy what they do, but also very interesting personalities.

Another thing is the unique atmosphere which is formed by challenging tasks, encouraged creativity and the possibility of self-realization. I joined the company, loved it and been here more than 10 years.

CIO: What were your immediate key points of focus were when you arrived?

SM: There were several of them, but I started with improving the company structure of the Connective Games Group. As our business grew, so did the rapidity of our customers’ business and the old structure couldn’t handle the increased volume, therefore we had to quickly extend and transform our Russia-based company into an international structure.

CIO: Was it daunting to take over from longtime CEO Konstantin Zubarev?

SM: For sure. This was not only my first CEO job, but I had also worked under his guidance learning a lot from him on a daily basis. I definitely feel that Konstantin is someone, to this day, that can still provide me with necessary advice and consultancy when required.

CIO: Eight months in, how are you finding it?

SM: On the one hand it is really thrilling thing to manage one of the world’s leading gaming software companies; however, on the other hand I now see more things that would be nice to change than when I first started in this role. This brings its own challenges.

CIO: What qualities do you bring personally to the company that will help ensure ongoing success?

SM: I have an ability to focus on and solve complex tasks and really care about the obligation I have taken on, and I care about the company which has become like a second family. As previously mentioned, being CEO has its rewards but also its challenges and I feel that I have the experience and qualities to find solutions,

which in turn will create opportunities. Opportunities for the company to grow and ultimately our customers as we strive to bring innovation to the forefront of all we do.

CIO: What are you focused on right now?

SM: My current priority is to increase the company staff by a further 1.5 times, in order to address the increased demands from our dynamic customers who are growing at a great rate. We are also searching for new ways to recruit the right staff, making the management team stronger and introducing new practices to achieve better productivity - whilst honouring our company ethos.

We are also seeking to intensify our PR activity. We feel that Connective Games is the gaming industry’s best kept secret, but we have been powering poker operators for more than 10 years and in fact Connective Games is one of the largest suppliers of B2B-Poker. We significantly increased our marketing and PR activity this year and we hope this will bring results.

CIO: What are some of the advantages and disadvantages to being based in Tomsk? Is it difficult to attract the tech talent?

SM: Tomsk is a 400-year-old Siberian education and scientific center. Tomsk State University - the oldest university in Siberia - was founded in 1878, and today the city has six universities and nine Research Institutions of Siberian Branch of Russian Academy of Science. Interesting facts: 20% of the population are students, more than 200 IT companies and 300 innovative enterprises around scientific cluster.

So there are obvious advantages to being based here, since we have easy access to great home- grown talent. Also the energy and exceptional academic output gives Tomsk a “start up village” spirit which is really inspiring.

However, the greatest disadvantage is geographical. Tomsk is a small cold city located so far from gaming industry hubs, therefore it is very hard to conduct international business from here and one of the main reasons we opened an office in Malta.

CIO: How do you see the regulatory landscape panning out in Russia? The government has regulated sports betting; will poker be next?

SM: This question has caused many long discussions. In 2014, the First Deputy Prime Minister Igor Shuvalov instructed the ministries of Economic Development and Justice to produce a report on legalizing online poker, its taxation and regulation. Therefore there is still a lot of uncertainty on the plans to regulate the online poker as well as the timelines for the roll-out. However, we now think the decision is closer.

Recently Kirsan Ilyumzhinov, Head of the World Chess Federation and former President of the Russian Republic of Kalmykia, said that online poker “should be legalized; too many people are involved and are playing online. There are no reasons that it should be hidden and illegal.” Naturally we support Kirsan Ilyumzhinov’s point of view which considers poker as a “game of skill” rather than a “game of chance.”

CIO: What are some of the possible headwinds facing CG and the online gambling industry in general over the next few years?

SM: We think gaming addiction is becoming a greater issue, similar to other industries such as tobacco, alcohol etc. It seems that this threat will force the industry to make major changes or face increasing, stifling regulation. So in this regard, the operators and the software suppliers will have to figure out the plans, adapt to the changing reality, improve their approach and react quickly.

CIO: What will the rest of 2016 be consumed with?

SM: We are continuing to build our poker offering with a variety of launches such as Multi-entry tournaments (including re-entry function), Progressive Knockout Tournaments and Windfall for mobile applications. Perhaps one of the most fundamental will be the launch of the world s fastest HTML5 poker game client based on WebGL in 2017.

With regards to the casino, we are hoping to launch at least two new games that have been made in partnership with Fuga Gaming - a really exciting partnership that has already been well received by customers.

CIO: Where do you want Connective to be in 24 months?

SM: That’s easy; to be the largest B2B poker supplier in the world.

Published by Casino International, digital issue October 2016, Page 58

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