An interview series that highlights the human side of interesting people in tech.
Nikolai Livori interviewed by the FT.
What's your job title?
CEO of Kanon Gaming. We’re a group of companies with several brands, and I’m the CEO of the group. I’ve been in [the business of] betting and casinos for a long time, and it’s what I do best. If I make a mistake, I know how to quickly rectify it.
We tried something innovative back in 2012. Arbitrage trading on sports was in vogue back then — it was beautiful technology, but we had to pivot. We spent 25% [of the time] building the tech and 75% convincing people it was good. Now, I am targeting online gambling players directly, through sportsbooks, casinos, and lotteries, having both B2B and B2C offerings.
When I was a programmer, I wondered why companies were not focusing on IT, like, “why are they putting us on the sidelines”? But now, in this seat for the last eight years, I understand why. Because even if you have a good tech team, but don’t really know how to market the product and get your players onboard, you’ll never make money. I still do a lot of programming myself. At least six hours/day.
Is that your relief, or escape, from the madness that is marketing?
It’s a relief from chasing people, or chasing for money. So I go home with my three dogs, open my laptop and I just code. Recently I started using Dart and Flutter. I try to prototype stuff, and if it works, I try to open a brand behind it. We got some really cool upcoming casino and lottery products in the pipeline that targets mobile.
How much do your dogs help you when programming?
Rather than programming, they help with getting the team together. For two of our brands, the logo is a Jack Russell. He’s 9 years old now. Usually, there’s a dog sitting on me when I’m coding. You actually see people working on their desk, cuddling a dog next to them, or grabbing a dog and walking around the office scribbling on a whiteboard, so it helps with releasing endorphins. Very scientific 😆
You allow them into the office?
Yeah, they’re mandatory. Some other people used to bring their dogs to the office, so sometimes it’s madness. * laughs indulgently * We had to hire a full-timer who could take care of the dogs’ needs, like taking them out for walks. I wouldn’t mind having cats in the office, but I can’t take responsibility for my dogs eating those cats. Most likely, that’s what would happen. My dogs are bred to hunt rabbits, so if they see a cat, all they want is to just hunt for it.
What do you do on a normal day?
I don’t want to say that it revolves around dogs because that’ll sound desperate. I do some exercise first thing in the morning and make a healthy breakfast shake. Next, I’ll feed my dogs and clean their area, get the dogs ready for work, get my laptop and go to the office. Then it’s mostly meetings. Meeting with people or coding, spending time at whiteboards coming up with ideas, investing myself, or speaking to investors for the company. And I love cars. * grins * Sometimes, like an idiot, I spend hours and hours on autotrader to see what car I’m going to buy next, and at 4pm I realise “oh shit, I need to do some work”. In the evenings, I play the piano or code. I have a quite repetitive life. Not boring, but repetitive. I like drawing and playing the piano, but that’s it. I have this grand, digital piano that I got because of my neighbours — I don’t want them to hear me play. They might complain if I do it at 11pm, and I’m sure they can hear me. I mean, I can hear them — it’s a family with 11 kids.
What was the first piece of code you ever wrote?
It was back when I was 10 years old. I had an Amiga 500 that was using AMOS BASIC, and it came with a manual thicker than the bible. So that’s how I got exposed to it, by going through the tutorial for making ping-pong, I think. I was around 12 years old when I did my first real project. My father is a medical doctor. He had this program for statistics that he told me to learn; he wanted me to extract some graphs using an old statistical software for epidemiology. By then, I really liked the fact that I could create things. But my dad was against it. He said, “You have to become a doctor, so we have to see how much you like biology”. I hate biology. But I actually tried. I did study biology and chemistry until I shifted to maths and computing, and I found my passion with it. My sister is 13 years younger than me, and she just graduated as a medical doctor this year. So at least my dad got one.
What was the last piece of code you wrote?
Maybe two hours ago, before I had my morning cigarette and coffee on the terrace. It was Lottogami, a product I’m working on. I could have given it to the team, but I wanted to work on it myself. It has the results of all the worldwide lotteries, and you can also bet on the lottery result. We already operated this on YoMillions online, but I think an app is the way to go now. And I learned Flutter and Dart along the way.
How has the gaming industry changed in the last 10 years?
A lot! It’s totally different now. It’s more focused on casinos, yet there are still some sportsbooks out there. And it’s heavily regulated. Before, we could have a Maltese gaming license and do whatever we wanted with it. But now, you need to get a license in every country where you want to operate. So we have a license in Sweden, which is a nightmare to maintain and keep, and one in Denmark. And the MGA license. And we’re considering a couple of other countries. Before, gaming was really good in Malta, but now it’s pointless to even be here. I don’t know why the Malta Gaming Authority still exists. Most gaming firms are focusing on different jurisdictions, and having a Malta license doesn’t add much to your portfolio. It’s almost pointless to even try and start a small gaming company unless you have people with a lot of knowledge and they know what they want to do. There’s no space to experiment anymore. It’s changed from being a nice tech industry to being retail.
It sounds like gentrification for gaming
Yes, it’s true. It doesn’t make sense anymore. There’s not much tech innovation to do. If it wasn’t lucrative I wouldn’t be in it. My dream was to be in a game studio and develop mobile or console games, not in casino.
Last question for you, Nik. When I say Financial Times, you think…?
When I go to my accountant, and I sit down at the desk waiting for him, there’s always the Financial Times newspaper, and there I always read it. I don’t look at it online so much. I like to [day]trade, but I’m not an expert. I do follow crypto, which I still don’t see the total picture of, and I try to do forex. And I like sometimes to know some news about countries. I used to read CNN before, but it was too generic. So for me, Financial Times is better, it’s more focused. It’s a read when I need. For example, I’ll read about how the Swedish current economic affairs are doing, because I need to know — that’s where my market is.
Thank you Nikolai Livori.
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