“It’s already been almost four years since we set up Exacta,” Christopher Vella, one of the firm’s founders, smiles. “And, while we never planned for it to grow so big, so quickly, we’ve had a very busy time,” he attests. This may, in no small part, be due to the wealth of expertise upon which Exacta Solutions has been built. The firm was established in 2019 by Christopher, who had been working in recruitment and training within the iGaming sector since 2005, and his business partner, Anthony Hennessy, who, similarly, brought over a decade of human resource know-how, having overseen hires in the arenas of betting, iGaming, tech, and video games.
“Anthony and I set Exacta up as a continuation of the business relationship we had cultivated working together on other projects; we decided to launch the company after realising there was a gap in the market,” Christopher continues, elaborating that, through their experience, they learnt that iGaming firms needed a trustworthy and reliable partner who could help them recruit and build their teams. Indeed, today, Exacta Solutions caters to the sector by providing human resource support, mergers and acquisitions expertise, as well as business-to-business referrals, and business consultancy to, principally, companies in the remote gaming industry. Moreover, in just four years, the firm has grown from a two-man operation to an 18-strong team, spread across five countries: Malta, Bulgaria, Spain, Greece and, even, Mexico.
Necessity is, indeed, the mother of invention, and in Exacta’s case, the spur which pushed the company to internationalise. “Four months after we had opened shop, COVID-19 was declared a pandemic, and, at the time, we scratched our heads wondering what to do. Anthony is the type who keeps pushing the envelope; he said, ‘let’s not worry, let’s keep going and we’ll look outside of Malta’. So, that’s what we did, and now our business is geared towards the international market, more than the local,” Christopher says.
As a result, the firm’s “staff is located in those places where we need them most, in other words, where our clients and human resources are based. Therefore, it’s market-driven, as we have a mix of staff working remotely or on site; for instance, in Bulgaria, due to the growth of our operation there, we actually had to open a physical office,” Christopher asserts. The majority of the firm’s clients are in the US, across Europe, and stretch as far as Australia and some countries in Africa.
“Most of our partners are not the larger iGaming operators, but we specialise in helping start-ups and mid-sized companies that may not have dedicated human resource or business support teams, in-house,” the founder continues, adding that, while a good 90 per cent of their business comes from the remote gaming industry, Exacta nonetheless services some tech firms, keen to take advantage of their services. The founder does not see these trends shifting over the next few years. “Actually, I see us becoming even more international, although I expect our specialisation to remain firmly within the iGaming sector,” he continues.
And Exacta’s targeted attitude has been paying dividends for their clients, with the firm boasting a high recruitment success rate. “We’ve developed an active approach to searching for the right candidates for specific positions, so we don’t just wait for people to apply for jobs, and then send their CVs to our clients. Instead, our people – and this is why we have so many on our team – are constantly scanning social media, using their personal networks, going to conferences and so on, basically getting out there and getting to know the right people, so when the time is right, we’re able to match the opportunity to the right person.”
This can be a game-changer for those seeking employment, for Exacta’s clientele – SMEs in the iGaming sector – offer experiences which bigger firms are sometimes not able to. “When you’re working for a smaller company, like a start-up, you can really make a difference, and you can add value to the business. This can be exciting for many people – and it can be a strong reason for some to change jobs. Yes, it can be risky, but, normally, these risks are compensated for with a better package and a larger carrot, such as bonuses or equity shares,” Christopher explains. Despite this, larger firms also approach Exacta for help in recruiting certain high-profile roles. For instance, the firm was involved in the appointment of Glitnor Group’s new Chief Executive Officer, Richard Brown.
However, finding the right people here in Malta – even for firms based locally – can often be challenging. “Hiring locally has always been a bit of a problem, but it’s become worse after COVID-19. Firstly, this is because many foreign workers have gone back to their home countries and are now working remotely, so it’s very hard to get them back if our client wants them to work here, on the island. And I don’t see remote working waning in popularity anytime soon,” he says. Moreover, the island has changed over the past few years. “I must admit that Malta was an easier sell a few years ago. Now, it’s harder, with the higher cost of living and rising rents. Most would also need to share an apartment, so quality of life has decreased.”
Motivation factors have, therefore, shifted. “I remember those days when companies used to offer 1K more in salary, a gym membership and a cooked meal, but good candidates are often not enticed by these offerings anymore. Typically, today, applicants would be more interested in the company culture, in the project itself and in how exciting it is. Of course, at the end of the day, money still talks but it is not the only or primary factor. A more important consideration is the reputation of the company,” Christopher attests.
Roles, however, are becoming more specialised, as companies move into crypto, compliance, influencer marketing, AI, and data analytics, a shift which stands in stark contrast to the emphasis on numbers needed in the sector just a few years ago. “Before, we had a situation where we were trying to recruit many people in customer support; even small companies were recruiting dozens of staff in these roles. But this is changing, and opportunities are becoming more niche, and more technologically driven,” Christopher states.
In tandem, Exacta is moving with the times and ensuring it has the capabilities to fulfil this need. Moreover, the firm, over the past two years, has been expanding its services into the mergers and acquisitions space, recruiting Irish native, Mark O’Sullivan, to head the emerging department in 2021, bringing with him knowledge acquired through his years at KPMG, where he “learnt the ropes” to the trade.
“Exacta specialises in the iGaming space, even when it comes to M&A, but we’re also getting into the video games industry and other tech niches, although at this point the latter only represent maybe 10 per cent of the business,” Mark says, going on to explain how he has built up the networks to help accomplish Exacta Solutions’ ambitions. “I’ve been to plenty of conferences, and met many of the key industry figures. As specialists, we’re able to be nimble, and institute lean processes. Exacta is an agile agency, and we make sure we work with good, trustworthy clients.”
As M&A advisors, Exacta has access to investors and buyers, Mark attests. “We’ve got transaction experience and connections to the key decision-makers, so, people come to us to raise investment or to sell their company, when they need to contact the right people. Our black book is indispensable. It’s what we live and die by. Once the contact is made, we get more involved than some other brokers, and we get into the nitty gritty of negotiations, supporting due diligence and lending our industry expertise. It, of course, takes a lot of effort, a lot of time, a few too many late nights pitching,” Mark laughs, adding that “as with any good broker, we need to be in the right place at the right time.”
Through their ability to react swiftly, the team at Exacta are “quick onto projects; we have a lot of triangulation points, so if someone comes to us and asks us what we think they can sell their company for, we have the experience to give them a realistic view of what they can achieve. We also have the edge in the industry’s regulatory compliance space, and we like to get into it all on the granular level,” he continues. This is evidenced by the firm’s support to Neccton’s owners in their recent sale to the Tier 1 industry supplier in OpenBet, which is owned by Endeavor (NYSE: EDR).
We offer the full service: we help our clients develop intriguing pitch decks, realistic financial models and aid them in building data rooms, in which we place all the documentation about that company including employee contracts, financial statements and so on, so that there is absolute and full transparency,” Mark attests.
Looking ahead, Christopher explains the firm’s drive towards further international growth, both in terms of onboarding new clients from across the globe, in the recruitment space, as well as identifying M&A opportunities. “It’s a tough job,” Christopher smiles, “but extremely rewarding and, who knows, we might end up on the next big international M&A project.”
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