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Taking a Gamble

Annabel Camilleri is in the process of getting her very own start-up company off the ground. The project in question is an online lottery website for the Nigerian market. While this may sound extremely niche, she dishes the details on how her past career moves led her to make this move and how it feels to be working with family.

You’re currently in the process of setting up an online lottery/jackpot website. Can you tell me more about this and what it entails?

It’s been a very ambitious project for my team since the company itself is a start-up. It has meant working with software developers, payment providers, regulators, marketing agencies and many other stakeholders. The challenge is in bringing all the elements together at the same time and in harmony.

We are close to launching now, but it has taken months of intensive work to really firm up our strategy and then translate that into an operable reality. All this while trying to bring together a team that gels and works well together in multiple locations.

How did you get into it? Have you worked in betting before or is this your first venture?

This was a project conceived by my father and his business partner, who were both already involved in the lottery industry in Malta. I kept my eyes and ears open as they explored the prospects of this project, and felt that my career background gave me the right skills to get involved. So I spoke up and asked!

Sometimes I think it was a bonkers move for someone who has never involved in the industry before, besides buying the odd lottery ticket.

How do you think your previous work experience is helping you in your new business?

My career background is in Education and PR & Marketing. Even though these have nothing to do with gaming or lotteries, my knowledge of getting projects and start-ups off the ground is what has given me the ability to take this on. I believe that business know-how is something that you can only really acquire through experience.

Industry-specific knowledge can be learnt on the job. There’s a Richard Branson quote I really prescribe to and it goes like this: “If someone offers you an amazing opportunity and you’re not sure you can do it, say yes – then learn how to do it later.”

I understand your dad is currently your business partner. Is it difficult to work with family?

I’d have to say that working with dad is my biggest challenge on this project. He has always inspired me and I admire his achievements. He has always been my hero. However, working together completely re-imagines the parameters of our relationship. Who I am at work and who I am with my family have always been very different sides of myself. But I think we are both learning to adapt as we go along.

Your website caters exclusively to the Nigerian market. How does Nigeria compare to Malta?

Initially, the prospect of doing business in Nigeria was a cause for concern for me personally. However, I have now come to love it. Being an ex-British colony, I find business practices to be not all that different to Malta. The Nigerians take business seriously, and their corporate and professional structures reflect this.
In our industry, there is a lot of know-how. Regulators are already savvy, but looking to emulate the likes of the MGA to create a more robust industry.

From a social perspective, the expat community and middle-class Nigerians lead a similar life to what we do here. Lagos is not short of great places to eat and hang out. But there is a major divide between those that can and those that can’t. would say the rich/poor divide was the biggest shocker for me. Having said that, Nigerians, in general, are happy people and I feel really comfortable there.

Starting a business is no easy feat. I can imagine there’s a lot of additional work involved as opposed to working a regular 9 to 5. Do you find yourself working long hours?

Well, yes, as we get closer to our operational launch date, it is becoming more intense. But I am also aware of my limitations. When I just become too tired to concentrate properly, I would rather stop than make bad judgments. It’s less a question of hours and more about being switched on to the project 24/7, even though I might not be actively working at my desk. It is harder to switch off from work and I find myself waking up with some idea or point to discuss. So, I jot down a note on my phone and try to get back to sleep.

What do you get up to in your time off?

Ha… this is a good question. At the moment, I try to do anything that distracts my mind from work even if just for an hour. I love my workout classes at the gym. But I’m finding it very hard to hold down a routine right now. Especially since the project launch has coincided with a house move. So right now, my free time is mostly taken up with packing boxes. If you asked me this at a normal time I’d say cooking, gym and Face Timing my niece in the UK.

Other than getting your business off the ground, do you have any other goals/aspirations for the future? A career change for example or anything else in the works?

Buying a new house. Although I’ve sold up, I’ve put a new purchase on hold until the business is up and running. It’s a major decision so I want to be fully focused on it when I do find the dream house.

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