We’re spending half a million euros on flights and dinners,” trumpets Eman Pullis, CEO and founder of SiGMA – and the antithesis of stingy when it comes to his “baby”.
“I can’t afford to be greedy,” he adds. “I have to share the cake, back with the exhibitors and the sponsors. It’s important to me to do that, and I feel it’s the best way to run the show.”
A self-professed “startup romantic”, Pulis could hardly come with a more fitting approach to running an expo for gaming’s most dynamic sector.
Having founded SiGMA in 2014, a humble startup company itself back then, the show’s doting CEO has nurtured a consistent doubling in size, year-on-year, and has packed it with USPs.
With 7,000 visitors and over 300 exhibitors, it’s set to happily outstrip its competitors this year as the largest online gaming event going. Key to this growth, he says, has been in embracing the entrepreneurial spirit of the sector, opening the show up to the talent on offer, and always looking for news ways of doing things.
“It’s what make this industry so unique: the permeability of change and how it changes so fast”, he explains. “So we always try develop the show to reflect that”.
The affiliates side of SiGMA has perhaps been treated with some the more eye-catching innovations. As the mastermind behind two editions of the Affiliate Grand Slam – one in Bucharest and another in Tallinn – Pulis knows more than most about the value affiliates bring to events, and has some particularly creative ways of dealing with them.
“At a lot of these events, all you see is affiliate managers trying to pouch the few affiliates that attend. I thought about how I could change this formula – to get only a handful of affiliate managers and the rest flooded with affiliates.”
The Affiliate Grand Slam solves that problem. “We accept only six affiliate managers and with the money we collect we pay for 200 affiliates to attend: flights, hotels, parties, networking – we pay for everything.
“I didn’t make money from these events – but it’s created a strong relationship with our affiliates because we’ve been wining and dining them.”
Pulis applies this approach and amplifies it for SiGMA. Inspired by the movie “300” he flew 300 affiliates to the show in 2016. For 2017, he’s flying 1,000 people.
“I’m flying 500 affiliates, to keep the operators that are exhibiting happy, and also 500 operators, to keep the B2B exhibitors happy. So anyone taking a booth is going to be happy, because I’m literally flying them these hot potatoes to their booth.”
In terms of content, as new sectors and technologies have emerged, so too has SiGMA’s conferences: from 4 in 2014, to 11 this year. Also unique to SiGMA, all those who register for the expo are invited to choose one conference, free of charge.
This year introduces several new angles that hadn’t previously existed, of which blockchain is already the most subscribed. And “reflecting the MGA’s shift to regulating games of skill,” a daily fantasy sports seminar will be delivered for the first time by Gaming Malta.
“We like to work with people,” Pulis adds. “It’s been a very important factor in the growth of the show. So all our conferences are run by external providers, who simply plug into us.”
The highlight for the show’s director however, is undoubtedly the StartUp Pitch – a Dragon’s Den-inspired session where a panel of investors, from the industry and beyond, sit ready to buy equity from a line-up of budding finalists. And yet another aspect of SiGMA where no expense is spared.
“I’m a startup romantic myself, so definitely, the pitch is something I hold dear to my heart,” he explains.
“Again, we don’t make money from it, but we’re giving an opportunity to start something, which I didn’t have when starting my own business. So there is a romantic element to this pitch for me.”
The competition has received over 1,000 applicants already. Ten finalists will have three minutes to pitch their business in front of an audience of some 500 operators. At SiGMA’s pitch however, it seems everyone’s a winner.
“All the startups that apply we give them a free booth, we give them consultancy, and we let them use our office for a whole year so they can rub shoulders with us, and benefit from our contacts,” he adds.
“So we make it really easy for them – there are no hidden fees. I only force myself to spend money on this one.”
And this events entrepreneur has no intention of lying back and watching his show peter out on the final day either. In the last four hours of the expo, “when the numbers start dwindling down and the floor plan starts looking empty,” Pulis launches his Careers Convention.
“Smart executives” and developers, from financial services, the banking sector, and other industries across Malta, are invited to come along on the afternoon to give the sector’s headhunters the chance for some fresh blood.
“Companies in Malta are always competing for employees,” Pulis laughs. “They’re always poaching each other.
“So rather than usual winding down, run-of-the mill, for the last four hours of the show I’ll open the floodgates to all the talent in Malta, and run a massive poaching campaign.”