Happy Birthday, Dennis: A Heart-to-heart with FSI’s CEO

FSI introduces the #FSITeam Q&A series: a close-up on the company’s Team members and their own #FSIstories. We will be celebrating birthdays, sharing achievements, thoughts and wisdom through up-close and personal one-on-ones and informative articles. Content to be making content that reminds us that the Game is Ours!

This week: Head of Marketing & People Comms, Maria Arnidou, interviews FSI CEO, Dennis Tsalikis - in a #FSIstories Birthday Special!


1) Happy Birthday, Dennis! Another birthday amidst COVID and in quarantine, another birthday at the office. What are your thoughts, hopes and special plans for today?

Happy to be safe and to personally be able to be at the office! Hopefully, next year we will be back to a semi-normal setting, where I will manage to celebrate properly with all my colleagues and family. For now, my special plans include work, work, work and special family time afterwards!


2) Looking back at the year that has gone by, what’s the story so far - what were the major events that marked this year for you and lessons learned, while operating under these special circumstances?

As for everyone, it was an unpredictable year and for me, the most important learning curve in my professional experience. Next to all the uncertainty, It’s been amazing how we all learned to adapt to special circumstances together as a team - and to me personally, it’s been invaluable to learn how to relate to specific people and empathize with them. It’s a precious process on every level, and I learned that it all comes down to not just choosing the right people for a job, but the people with the right mentality in general.


3) What was the tangible impact the pandemic had on FSI, and how has this affected your thinking and the way you lead and navigate your company?

The most tangible consequence in our industry with a great impact on FSI has been the global pause of most sports events last year and the rescheduling of the Euro. Business-wise and considering our active branch in Athens, the Greek environment was not very helpful for scalable companies, compared to the UK (where our base and Board is situated) and other countries. These facts led to new planning under a different mindset about our expansion strategy for the next few years, and realizing the importance of being always prepared; specifically, of having an effective plan in place for the upcoming 12-month work cycle of the company.


4) Speaking of leading, how do you personally view your evolution as a leader throughout the years? I have known you, worked for you and with you for 7 years now, since you launched the B2C company, Bet4theBest; looking back, it sometimes feels like a lifetime ago! How would you describe your growth in these years, what were the most decisive moments that influenced you and the most important lessons?

I found out that prior to any planning and business activity, I had to work on myself first, to evolve on all levels personally, in order to be able to evolve the company as a whole. I had the opportunity and obligation to meet many people, trust in them and keep investing in them, often regardless of results. I had to face the challenge and exploit the chance to expand my knowledge in various sectors, in order to have a complete view and understanding of all aspects of company operations. The most decisive factor was to successfully adapt to the business development model of the betting business - and there are no lessons to prepare  you for this, you need to just do it and experience it for yourself - especially the process of scaling up and completing the funding rounds. These experiences are the most important lessons that keep having an impact on me everyday. Last year was a most decisive and demanding time, when I had to handle the entire difficult situation with COVID and the financial conundrums in relation to investors and funding that could greatly affect my team and employees’ livelihood as well. 


5) And what about your industry, the fantasy sports and betting industry, and the international market - what are the biggest changes and challenges you faced throughout the years, how has the market evolved?

The biggest challenge with Fantasy, especially in the early 2010s and 2014 when we introduced paid fantasy sports contests to the UK and Europe, was that at one hand, fantasy was everywhere as a hot trend - in every publication of the industry - but people and operators didn’t have much knowledge about it or faith in it at first.

It was a demanding process to educate the audience and make it more “mature”. But seeing how fantasy sports were a star player in the U.S. and kept evolving through Daily Fantasy Sports, having a great commercial profile and still now attracting big investments, we kept going and we see now how promising fantasy sports still are, especially in relation to the nascent sports betting industry.


6) How have these changes affected and inspired you personally, and how have they impacted your business thinking and planning? Was there an “aha! moment”, an epiphany of sorts?

The most important change that has impacted the entire business world-wide, as well as my own thinking and FSI’s business planning, is the PASPA repeal in the US in 2018.

Seeing how fast the post-paspa sports betting market was founded, through the active pursuit of appropriate legislation and investments - in tandem with the established and ever-growing DFS market - made me realise the ongoing strength of the fantasy sports customer base and the potential of the eager sports betting audience.

Considering that in the US and globally fantasy players are a big demographic, the “epiphany” I had was to proceed with a winner fantasy sports + betting combo, a fusion of those offerings to a performance betting concept and special props markets that would attract all sports fans and bettors - the Fixed-Odds-Fantasy.  The “aha!” moment was the realization that we should plan ahead especially for the US audience and the sports they love.


7) Back in 2017, when you were still thinking and planning the development of the Fixed-Odds-Fantasy #FOF, as FSI’s innovative performance betting suite, what was your inspiration for this product? And up until now, when #FOF Version 2 is about to roll out, what were the most difficult and the most triumphant moments?

My inspiration came both from our experience with the European market, where clients were reluctant to invest in fantasy sports products (mainly, in their marketing, to be exact), and the evolution of the sports betting scene and the special markets. The most difficult aspect in FOF’s product development was to create the right algorithmic models for our odds and then prove they work. After that, the most triumphant moment was that following a year-long live pilot on OPAP’s betting stores network and online platform, we got the best proof that our models and product were successful, in the form of our official contract with OPAP.


8) Where is the global gambling market heading now? Which you consider to be the most important trends now and how will they impact the future of the business? And how is FSI working towards this future?

Right now and for the next 3 years all operators and providers will be focusing on the US market. It’s a first-come, first-served competition to enter the American betting space before it’s saturated. I see single bets and special markets being the “hottest” trends and they will definitely enrich operators’ portfolios and customer retention strategies. As a company, we have already invested in the current trends and the “American” future of the industry, through our product development strategy and strategic partnerships. These enable us to successfully penetrate the US market and contribute to its growth via FOF and its original performance props and betting markets.


9) Describe the future of the industry in one phrase only.

Sportsbook, In-Play and special events/player markets.


10) Throughout the years, the good and bad times, what and/or who has been your anchor and compass? What is your drive in the darkest hours and your pride and joy in the good days?

I have been fortunate enough to operate and grow in a world-wide and open business field, connect with all sorts of great people and create a tight-knit team. Regardless of this wide exposure, my compass has always pointed to an “inner North” - my family. I have been blessed with a loving and supportive wife and amazing kids. Their love and happiness have always been the ultimate motivation and my constant pride and joy.


11) Through the good, not-so-good and the great times at FSI, which points you consider to be the best moments and landmark points in the history of the company? Why?

Undoubtedly, our first Fixed-Odds-Fantasy online client - a great one at that, because we partnered with South Africa’s biggest operator, Hollywoodbets. Year by year, we have developed a constructive and mutually beneficial relationship. Certainly, our landmark deal with renowned Scientific Games since it enables us to provide our product Suite to SG’s global top-tier clientele through their emblematic Open Arena platform.  And of course, our contract with OPAP, Greece’s ex State Lottery, WLA member and biggest retail player in the country.


12) Best moment in everyday routine - the one you look forward to in a hectic work day?

Coffee with the team at the office - well, with as many colleagues have been able to work at the office; I really am looking forward to when it will be safe for all of us to be together again! 


13) So, this is you, now - an accomplished and ever-growing CEO in the B2B gambling software business; but what did you want to be as a kid? And who do you aim to become next?

Since I was a teenager, I  wanted to be an Aeronautical engineer - that’s what I studied, too. My next personal goal is to become the CEO making FSI a success story, establishing it as the first choice of all operators seeking to include performance betting markets and player props.


14) Dennis Tsalikis in 2021: what do you consider to be your biggest personal achievement, your greatest flaw, and your very own “super power”?

My biggest personal achievement is FSI surviving 2020 and the pandemic. I realize that my biggest flaw is I assume and expect that all people work in the same fast-paced mode as I do - which doesn’t really make sense. My “super power”: I am hard-working and focused on my goals.


15) Finally, what’s your advice for the young people starting their careers now and to all the aspiring CEOs out there?

I would advise young professionals to remain focused on their goals and work hard to reach them. My advice to all new or aspiring CEOs is to pay the most attention and give extra thought to the people they will have in their company - not just employees, but investors as well, who are fundamental. I would suggest their first step to be some thorough research on where to focus and how to plan the structure of their company, so it can develop and evolve under all circumstances - from best to worst. Because only one thing is for certain: we should take nothing for granted.


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