In a conversation with SBC Leaders, Bob Akeret, VP of Operations, and Mike Van Ermen, VP of Business Development, discuss FSB’s expansion across the US and the reasons why their experience on the operator side has helped shape their leadership strategy.
Thanks for taking the time to chat with us! Can you give us a brief introduction to yourselves?
MVE: So I’m the VP of Business Development here at FSB, and I’m based out in Las Vegas. I used to work on the operator side of things, spending several years over at Circa Sports where I helped establish their operations not only in Nevada but Colorado as well. I wasn’t a bookmaker by any stretch of the imagination, but I’ve done all the business operations on the operator side.
BA: I’m the VP of Operations here at FSB, based out of Atlantic City, New Jersey – born and raised! I’ve been in the industry for a little over 10 years now. Similar to Mike, I also worked on the operator side with Resorts and Resorts Digital so I’ve got a lot of experience on the retail side of things pre-PASPA.
Unlike Mike who comes from Nevada which had sports betting, I came from a bit of a different background. In Atlantic City, we had the retail casinos – that experience was very instrumental in building a team with Resorts Digital on the operation side.
How did you become involved with FSB?
MVE: So both Bob and I started talking to FSB in around Q4 2020. At that point in time, they really hadn’t established their foothold in the United States yet. They were really looking for some industry experience to go ahead and lead that US business. Bob and I both received some phone calls, went through a lengthy interview process – this didn’t just involve us interviewing us, but us interviewing them! We really just wanted to make sure that we were aligned with FSB’s vision.
With both of us being on the operator side of things, it was very important to us to have a deep understanding of what FSB wanted to achieve. It was a big move for us to jump on to the other side of the counter.,
We wanted to be a part of a company that shared our vision, and that really leveraged our expertise and our passion for quality and operator-based software in the United States. So we both joined in late 2020 and we’ve been really helping shape the United States strategy ever since.
BA: With Dave McDowell and Sam Lawrence’s vision, they could have entered the US market in 2018 as plenty of other people did. As we all know, it was definitely a case of speed to market. But now, we’re seeing a lot of frustrations from sportsbooks. So there is a huge opportunity for the switcher market – those operators who are frustrated with their existing technology, many of whom have been promised the world which has been under-delivered really.
Both Mike and I have that previous platform experience. We know where platforms have excelled and what hasn’t. David and Sam really gave us a blank piece of paper, if you will, to enter the US and give our expertise. We have been able to say how the platform needs to run, because this is what the end user – namely the sportsbook or casino – is going to experience.
MVE: I completely agree! Following on from that, something that I’ve been very excited about and passionate about is that FSB really understands the differences between the markets, right? They know that a European sportsbook is not the same as a US sportsbook.
They said we need local boots on the ground to say ‘this is how the software needs to work to empower and enable these sportsbook operators who will actually become customers’.
BA: Localisation has also been a huge thing – it’s more than just replacing an S with a Z when switching up spellings! FSB are actually taking the time to localise their product to suit North American bettors.
In your opinion, how have your previous roles shaped your leadership styles when spearheading FSB’s expansion across the North American market?
BA: I think we’re both just really passionate about this opportunity. We were both given the keys to drive our business on the operator side. I mean, at least for me in New Jersey, everything was a greenfield opportunity.
We’re building this business from the ground up and it’s almost, you know, we’re mirroring that on the B2B side of things where I at least knew what the pitfalls were. As an operator, you’re passionate and you want to see something succeed. Now, it’s almost come full circle where I’m on the supplier side and we’re now creating this platform to fulfil that need that I had on the operator side.
MVE: For me, personally, the operator background is everything that I draw on in order to have success here in North America and shaping this vision for FSB. Just like Bob said, we’ve both been sold platforms before. We’ve both been told about theoretical functionality that we hope will exploit our local operations. And subsequently, we have both been frustrated with some of the representation on the technology side as operators.
We really took it as a challenge to say that we can absolutely do better. With our experience, we understand everything that happens before we go live with anybody, we understand what the potential problems may be. So hopefully five years down the road, all of the customers that we go live with will never understand what the problems were pre-2020 or pre-2021 with the industry and sportsbook platforms. That’s really the North Star in the driving light for us.
The North American market is becoming very saturated, very quickly. What is it that makes FSB stand out from the competition?
BA: Something that our Head of Marketing, Chris Graham, says is that FSB is ‘curating the win’. We’re not taking a product off the shelf, we don’t have an infomercial and it’s not a 1800 number that you can call for some hodgepodge, standard technology. We’re sitting on the other side of the table, we’ve been in the operator’s shoes and we fully understand what can be frustrating you.
If you’re new to the market, we can tell you about the things that you should be looking out for. Take our expertise and our experience, and let that speak for itself. I think that’s something that is setting FSB apart from some of the others out there.
MVE: I think the experience and expertise of the team is a big part of it, and that has certainly helped drive our success.But the experience would be nothing without the technology, which is the engine behind it all. The experience is the driver, but the actual engine and the gas pedal is the tech stack that the FSB platform is built upon.
I think it’s not too bold to say that for any customer who is looking for a B2B solution, we can accommodate any different type of style – whether that’s an enterprise trading solution or a fully managed trading solution.
If a company has their own front ends for their website or their mobile app, or they have their own PAM, we are flexible and dynamic enough. So because we are built on one technology stack, there is no “well, we can’t do this, we don’t provide this level of support, we don’t provide these components of the business”.
We can provide our version of a PAM or our version of a front end, but somebody can always come in and say “I love everything that FSB does, but I’ve already spent a lot of money developing my own front end, I’d like to plug that in”. So no matter who it is, if they are going a B2B route, FSB is a prime candidate.
BA: It’s a very modular, flexible platform where we understand that you’re going to want to plug and play and be able to pull levers on your business. We see sports betting exploding across the US, and this is almost the step into finding out whether igaming is going to be introduced across every state and whether operators are going to have to go through a migration process to get into igaming.
We have all of this under one roof, where it’s a single back office. It’s a single system, it’s not the case where you have these bolted-on bonusing engines and trading tools where nothing really talks with each other. I think that’s one of the most frustrating things about being an operator – you learn to live by logging into 10 different systems to do 10 different things. Being able to log into a single back office and touch all these different modules is just much more efficient.
MVE: I think there’s another component to that. If you look at the sports betting industry from 2018 to now, we’re coming up on the four year anniversary of the first state going live. The industry looks completely different, right? So in the summer of 2026, the industry will also look completely different than what it does now. None of us can exactly tell you what that difference is going to be.
The key component with FSB is that you will be future proofing yourself; you’re preventing yourself from having to go through a migration in a few years time. You have the opportunity to grow and carry FSB with you wherever you end up.
Watch the full interview HERE