Driving Disruption: Adrian Vella Of Tipico On The Innovative Approaches They Are Taking To Disrupt Their Industries

An Interview With Cynthia Corsetti

Dedication to Employees: Those who are wary to work in this industry have their concerns answered due to our excellent culture and values. We are BuiltIn Best Place to Work three years running.

In an age where industries evolve at lightning speed, there exists a special breed of C-suite executives who are not just navigating the changes, but driving them. These are the pioneers who think outside the box, championing novel strategies that shatter the status quo and set new industry standards. Their approach fosters innovation, spurs growth, and leads to disruptive change that redefines their sectors. In this interview series, we are talking to disruptive C-suite executives to share their experiences, insights, and the secrets behind the innovative approaches they are taking to disrupt their industries. As part of this series, we had the pleasure of interviewing Adrian Vella.

Adrian Vella is an accomplished executive with over 15 years of experience in the sports betting industry. As the Chief Executive Officer at Tipico North America, Adrian has played a pivotal role in the company’s launch, growth, and success in the US market. Adrian joined Tipico as Head of Data and BI before being promoted to CEO to lead the company’s expansion into the Unites States as its first US-based employee. Under his leadership, Tipico North America has grown as a completely standalone business in the US with over 200 employees and a presence in 4 states in just over 4 years. Adrian is a visionary leader with a passion for using data to drive business success, and his expertise has been critical in helping Tipico become a leader in the sports betting industry.

Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series. Before we dive into our discussion about disruption, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you share with us the backstory about what brought you to your specific career path?

My journey to this point has been driven by a blend of curiosity, risk-taking, and resilience. Coming from Malta, a small island nation, I always aimed to cast a wider net. I’ve lived across Europe, absorbing diverse cultures and business practices. In 2014, I joined Tipico, drawn by the opportunity to grow a leading sports betting platform. The landmark 2018 U.S. Supreme Court decision opened a gateway to introduce Tipico’s European excellence to the burgeoning U.S. market, a challenge I embraced wholeheartedly.

What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?

Tipico is a leading global sports betting and iGaming operator. Our roots stem from Germany, but we have been making waves in the U.S. market since we expanded here in 2020. Tipico stands out most notably through our combination of transparency, user experience, and technology. Our Fair Play Pledge is a testament to that. This is a holistic initiative that rewards, educates, and protects customers, which no other company in our industry is doing under one umbrella. It’s our pledge to the customer for safety and clarity, cutting through the noise of vague promises with concrete, customer-centric offerings that show the customer exactly what they’re getting with every bet that they make. The customer’s trust is our most valuable asset.

You are a successful business leader. Which three character traits do you think were most instrumental to your success? Can you please share a story or example for each?

The first trait that has driven my success is communication and interpersonal skills. In this industry, and the business landscape as a whole, it is essential to be personable, to provide that sense of trust when you talk, to be able to communicate clearly, to build relationships and read the room and the people with whom you work the closest. These skills are essential when dealing with everyone from top shareholders to entry-level employees.

Secondly, you need to have drive. Your commitment to the cause or strategy needs to be relentless. Otherwise, you won’t have the energy to really dedicate time and effort to a task or a problem at hand. When you exhibit drive, it allows you to learn, fail and try again, a process that shows character to the employees who will see the effort you put into things and commit to your cause.

Lastly, business leaders need to showcase the ability to step back and see the bigger picture. Too often, we get stuck in the weeds of day-to-day routines and problems, especially when we’re overwhelmed by to-dos. It’s always rejuvenating to be able to step back, take time to see the bigger picture, rekindle that purpose and what has led you to this point.

Leadership often entails making difficult decisions or hard choices between two apparently good paths. Can you share a story with us about a hard decision or choice you had to make as a leader? I’m curious to understand how these challenges have shaped your leadership.

Leadership demands making tough choices that align with core values, even if they contravene prevailing trends. One such decision was our strategic entry into the U.S. market, where we prioritized building all our technology from scratch and establishing long-term loyalty with our target customer over rapid expansion. This approach was not without its risks, but it has shaped a sustainable path for our brand.

Ok, thank you for that. Let’s now jump to the primary focus of our interview. Let’s begin with a basic definition so that all of us are on the same page. In the context of a business, what exactly is “Disruption”?

Disruption is the catalyst that compels industries to evolve. It’s about altering the status quo by introducing new methodologies, technologies, or practices that fundamentally change how we operate and deliver value to our customers.

How do you perceive the role of ‘disruption’ within your industry, and how have you personally embraced it? Is it a necessity, a strategy, or something else entirely in your view?

Sports betting has woven itself into the fabric of the sports experience in so many ways. It’s become commonplace for teams across all major leagues to have an official sports betting partner. Ten years ago, pro teams would not have touched these partnerships with a ten-foot pole. This symbiosis has disrupted the traditional sports business model, creating new revenue streams, engaging fans in new ways, and enriching the spectator experience with an added layer of excitement and investment in the outcomes of games.

Especially in such a crowded market, where regulation differs on a state-by-state level, disruption is a necessity in every sense of the word. Our disruptive strategy has been to connect with customers on a hyperlocal level. We believe that by understanding and embedding ourselves within local sports cultures, we’re not just another betting platform; we become part of the community, enhancing the local sports fan’s experience. This approach, in addition to the Fair Play Pledge, is how we’ve gone against the grain and established a niche within the industry.

Disruptive ideas often meet resistance. Could you describe a time when you faced significant pushback for a disruptive idea? How did you navigate the opposition, and what advice would you give to others in a similar situation?

Disruptive ideas indeed often meet resistance. Reflecting on my experiences, I have faced significant pushback numerous times. In many instances, it was not so much pushback as it was a challenge to move the business or its people out of their comfort zones.

To handle such situations, my approach has been to start small, introducing changes that have little impact or require minimal investment to begin building trust. This could take the form of a Proof of Concept (POC) or a Minimum Viable Product (MVP).

I have learned that it’s crucial to put in the work and consider every angle, which in turn, instills confidence in the approach. Additionally, I always strive to articulate the benefits of an idea for all parties involved. Ideally, an idea should offer tangible value to every person it affects, making the transition more palatable and the new direction more exciting.

What are your “Five Innovative Approaches We Are Using To Disrupt Our Industry”?

1. Fair Play Pledge: Our commitment to safety and clarity has turned the industry’s traditional way of thinking on its head.

2. Data-Driven Product Development: We utilize data not just to create odds, but to create a responsive and personalized betting experience.

3. Hyperlocal Marketing: By tailoring our presence to fit local cultures and communities, we establish a unique connection with our users.

4. Greenfield Technology: Developing our technology in-house allows us to quickly adapt and innovate our platform to serve customer needs better.

5. Dedication to Employees: Those who are wary to work in this industry have their concerns answered due to our excellent culture and values. We are BuiltIn Best Place to Work three years running.

Looking back at your career, in what ways has being disruptive defined or redefined your path? What surprises have you encountered along the way?

Looking back, embracing disruption has been pivotal in shaping both the trajectory of my career and the evolution of Tipico. It’s pushed us to constantly innovate, especially with our approach to customer experience and our hyperlocal marketing strategy.

The speed at which the online gambling industry has grown in the United States is a surprise that very few could have seen coming ten years ago, but we have responded to it effectively to meet the pace at which the market is moving.

Beyond professional accomplishments, how has embracing disruption affected you on a personal level?

Personally, disruption has instilled in me a habit of lifelong learning and adaptability. The constant change keeps me intellectually curious and professionally agile. It’s a mindset that spills over into personal growth, teaching me to welcome and embrace change in all aspects of life.

In your role as a C-suite leader, driving innovation and embracing disruption, what thoughts or concerns keep you awake at night? How do these reflections guide your decisions and leadership?

The weight of promoting responsible gambling is a profound responsibility. The considerations of how we can innovate within the industry while ensuring the well-being of our customers is a balance that is always at the forefront of my mind.

The industry’s potential to impact individuals both positively and negatively is a significant concern that influences my approach to leadership and decision-making. It’s essential that we not only comply with regulatory standards but also strive to set new benchmarks for responsible gambling.

This is where our Fair Play Pledge comes into play, reflecting our commitment to this cause. It ensures that we’re not just providing a service but also safeguarding our users by equipping them with tools and knowledge to make informed decisions.

You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

That’s an interesting question. If given the opportunity to create a movement that could yield widespread benefit, I feel deeply inspired by two significant passions of mine. The first is nature; I hold a profound desire to weave more nature into our day-to-day lives. This movement would be centered on introducing more greenery into urban spaces — be it cities, motorways, or public areas — and advocating for greener housing solutions. I want to promote more sustainable and eco-friendly lifestyles.

My other passion lies in the preservation of history, particularly in the context of property and architecture. Coming from a country that is a melting pot of diverse cultures, I’ve witnessed with a heavy heart as unchecked development slowly erodes the very essence that makes my home country unique. My movement would focus on protecting and preserving the historical integrity of architecture and sites, ensuring that progress and heritage can coexist.

How can our readers further follow your work online?

Tipico Sportsbook operates in Colorado, Iowa, New Jersey, and Ohio, so readers in these states can download the Tipico Sportsbook app on their iOS or Android phone or tablet. The same goes for our Tipico Casino app in New Jersey.

You can read more about Tipico and the Fair Play Pledge at www.tipico.com/us and www.tipico.com/us/fair-play-pledge.

Thank you for the time you spent sharing these fantastic insights. We wish you only continued success in your great work!

About the Interviewer: Cynthia Corsetti is an esteemed executive coach with over two decades in corporate leadership and 11 years in executive coaching. Author of the upcoming book, “Dark Drivers,” she guides high-performing professionals and Fortune 500 firms to recognize and manage underlying influences affecting their leadership. Beyond individual coaching, Cynthia offers a 6-month executive transition program and partners with organizations to nurture the next wave of leadership excellence.