- Aug 03 • 3 months ago
Inside the Mind and Life of Raphael Arnold, NetRefer’s Founder & CEO
2021 marks the 15th anniversary of NetRefer in business and what a way to celebrate! NetRefer and its CEO and founder, Raphael Arnold, have been awarded the ACQ5 Gamechangers of 2021 in the International Category – the Niche Performance Marketing Software Provider of the Year (Gaming) Award and Gamechanger of the Year Award, respectively. We seized this occasion to sit down with Raphael and gain an insider’s perspective into NetRefer, first-hand from the man behind the team who started it all.
My inspiration derives from always wanting to improve things, leaving things in a better state than I found them. So, a lot of it revolves around efficiency, adding value, and making sure that there’s an equitable and fair environment to operate in.
Well, let’s say I’m slightly different… A lot goofier and fun as opposed to when I’m working, where I tend to be in a more serious mindset. Having kids, aged 10, 8 and 5, keeps me fun-loving and young. When I’m away from work, I’m pretty much always with my family, having fun and enjoying family life. That’s not to say I don’t have my serious moments too, but undoubtably I’m in a more relaxed state.
The same thing I was doing before NetRefer – helping businesses be better, do better, function better. I’ve always had a passion for business, especially as it relates to marketing and sales. I was captivated by TV adverts from a very young age, I remember memorising all the wording, jingles, practically everything. I’ve always understood that marketing is a key component to any business. Marketing drives sales, sales generate revenue, and revenue drives business. So, I would definitely still be operating in the same realm, helping businesses achieve success and profitability.
When I was getting started in iGaming in 1998, I was involved in developing and launching one of the first major affiliate programs in our industry, which I knew was going to be a thing of the future. After that, wherever I went, most Heads of Affiliates, Marketing and Finance in iGaming kept asking me to build them an affiliate program. I thought it would be a great opportunity to build a standardised product that is useful and valuable to businesses, and so NetRefer was born.
Regarding NetRefer’s longevity, we’ve always had a purpose to operate in a clear, fair and trusted manner. We enjoyed many successes and zero-to-hero stories, and if we made mistakes, we owned up to them and fixed them. We were always honest about the situation with our stakeholders, clients and employees. It’s really just about being in it for the long haul, and not trying to prioritise profit over people.
I wouldn’t call it a story but rather a very funny incident. Early on, we were invited to attend an affiliate summit conference in New York – somehow, we had gotten involved and we were there to present an award. Most of the attendees and presenters were obviously American, and the guy presenting in his American accent, introduced me and said; ‘Raphael Arnold from ‘NETREEFER!’ The funniest thing is that I thought “so much for all our branding efforts”, which immediately got me thinking and so I registered the name ‘NETREEFER’.
To make things worse, the name stuck. A lot of people were referring to our company as ‘NETREEFER’, and I thought that at some point in the future, we should really get into the cannabis business! Well who knows, maybe one day.
It’s simple – the secret is patience. Everything goes through cycles, there is a momentum to things, and time is a great leveller. Having the right insight and instinct to read and understand timing is vital and that’s where patience comes in. Sometimes, we’re all tempted to jump ahead of ourselves, but as always, things take time.
I think that when you start something, you have to make sure you see it through. You can’t swim half way and then decide you’re not going to make it till the end – giving up should never be an option. It’s about going the full mile and embracing all the challenges along the way. More often than not, when you think you’re about to break through, that’s when the biggest challenges appear.
Beyond that, good intentions, backed up by strong values and ethics are equally important when doing business. And, one of the most important things in business is believing in people – professionally and personally. One must always keep in mind that business is all about people; it’s people who come to work, not robots. This is true for our own employees but it also extends itself to the community we deliver our products and services to. It’s important to know that these individuals are the living fabric of our business network and their livelihoods are on the line – this reminds us of the importance of our work.
So, there’s a lot that goes into this formula, but patience is the one that ranks the highest for me.
Distributive Computing was something that definitely caught our attention. We were early adopters of it. We’ve now seen that morph into Blockchain and other cloud applications. We’re intrigued by how it allows for immutability, trustworthiness, and accountability. We see Blockchain being a great enabler to simplify our business operations further. Our business rests a lot on agreements between parties, involving revenue sharing. So, any technology that enables clear, fair and trusted contracts is always very attractive. This is why Blockchain, and what it enables, will be very important in our future.
When we first started, digital marketing was already happening but not to the same degree it is today. The global digital transformation really hadn’t picked up back then. So, it was very unusual for businesses around us to be adopting and implementing comprehensive digital strategies.
In our early days, we were way ahead of the curve – in a way I can say that we were actually involved in defining that curve, together with the rest of the world obviously, not just on our own, but I like to think that we left a dent on how it all evolved. Today we’re seeing how digital marketing is becoming prolific and pervasive – a part of every company’s DNA, whether they do business online or they’re a brick-and-mortar company. We’re now seeing this convergence and this confluence happening at quite a rapid pace.
The biggest enabler has been mobility i.e., mobile phones. The minute they came into the picture, they magnified reach a million-fold and opportunities flourished. So, that was certainly a major catalyst. Access to technology and information, which once seemed exclusive and very limited, has now become something that’s an integral part of our day to day lives – both business and personal.
CLEAR implies transparency, and knowing you’re getting what is agreed upon.
FAIR defines exchanges. But FAIR also stands for Findable, Accessible, Interoperable and Reusable data. Data is the lifeblood of our business and many businesses today.
TRUSTED, as the word suggests, refers to being accountable. It’s present, it’s something that can be relied on, and it’s almost a de facto piece.
Today, we live in such a fast-paced, connected world – more than ever before, any transaction, agreement or contract we enter into, must be clear, fair and trusted. These core values underpin the way we see our business and personal interactions. They are embedded in everything we do and they reflect how we see ourselves operate on all levels – be it personal, within our company or within our relationships with our partners and clients. We always aim to operate in a clear, fair and trusted manner.
I couldn’t agree more. When I started NetRefer, it started with just a few people, and as we grew, we realised that doing this together, having this opportunity, meant more than just going to work every morning. It was about our personal and professional lives, all wrapped up in one.
Everybody’s success – be it on a personal or professional level – is very important to us and gives us the drive and inspiration to continue. It’s really the heart of any family to do things together: to have the wins and failures together, and to come out stronger. NetRefer has always been a family because we’ve stood together no matter what. When the chips were down, we stood together; when we were having successes, we enjoyed them together.
Everything about NetRefer is about this incredible group of people united on this journey; to keep on believing in each other and in a combined ideal, which strives to achieve the greater good.
So, I can say I have two families – I have my own personal family and the NetRefer family – and I’m so grateful for both.
It’s about values – there is nothing greater than knowing you are contributing to something greater than yourself. The most important aspect is that we’re all always lifting ourselves up – we’re all improving together.
Our company culture is about encapsulating cooperation, collaboration and communication, but most importantly, it’s about having fun. Life itself is to be taken seriously, but when you learn to have fun dealing with the serious stuff, everything changes, everything takes on a new dimension. So, it’s my belief that a good company culture is about people who work hard together – or better, who work smart together – and have fun doing so. What we do is important but also exciting and enjoyable.
From the very beginning, ever since our business was still taking its first baby steps, we saw ourselves as an extension of our clients and we became an integral part of their business. Our role is to understand their needs, uncover their business blockers, and translate those into solutions that enable them to achieve their targets and goals. For us, synergy is essential because the more we’re working in harmony with our clients and end-users, the more value we are able to deliver.
However, synergy goes beyond that – It’s not just about working well together and being complimentary, but also about working with people who share the same values.
The industry’s challenges go beyond the pandemic. The most significant impact the pandemic has had, however, was to rapidly accelerate global digital transformation. We see a lot of companies realising how important it is for them to have an online presence. The majority of businesses out there have understood how rapidly the landscape is changing and are now investing heavily in digitising their business in order to support that reality.
We’re also seeing that education has such a different perspective today, with kids learning online and having different mediums for them to learn from. It’s been a really exciting time to see technology play a very enabling role in such unprecedented times. New communication mediums are showing us what’s happening around us; and in turn helping us understand that we’re in this global pandemic together – no man is an island.
It definitely brought the “global village” perspective a lot more into focus. But it’s also brought a different, better focus on the local village – the importance of growing and supporting local businesses. So, while we understand that we’re all connected and we’re all part of this global village, we also understand that the best impact we can have is right where we are.
I’m confident this will bring a lot of changes going forward – socially, economically, hopefully, even spiritually, because we’ve had to question a number of things during this pandemic.
Keep it simple! I’m a perfectionist and I always try to see what’s coming next. I’d have tried to make things a bit simpler. So, simplicity but also patience – sometimes, it’s better not to force things or to interfere with certain things because ultimately, things tend to work themselves out and happen the way they’re meant to happen.
When I think about it I wouldn’t want to change anything really, with the one possible exception, letting go sooner when things are not working.
It’s hard to separate the two because NetRefer and my life are very closely intertwined. So, when I think about the future, I think about where we have come from, how many lives we have touched and the maturity our business has achieved after 15 years in operation – it’s the past, the solid foundations that we have built throughout this process, that are now starting to open up a different realm of opportunity for us.
With this, we’re seeing more possibilities for NetRefer to bring real value into other areas beyond our current reality – especially non-profit or other areas where we can help socially. I strongly believe that’s going to be part of our future. As always, we strive to leave an impact on the world – making it a better place than we found it; making the communities we’re part of stronger. And I’d say that both for myself and for NetRefer.
In the early days of the business, I always had to be the face of the company, constantly there on the frontline. Truth is that’s only part of the picture, not all of it.
There’s an entire team that has been pushing the company forward for all these years. So, as far as the ‘Fairness’ value goes, it shouldn’t be all about me. If I’m here today, having this interview, expressing myself and discussing the company’s ups and downs, it’s all because of these beautiful individuals for who, at some point or another, NetRefer became their home and purpose.
After last week’s part two-of-three of our second entry in the docuseries – Walk and Talk with Federico Russo – we’re back with the third installment at Ta’ Qali Basketball Pavilion. In this final part of our conversation, Federico starts with the present and looks to the future to reveal some very interesting initiatives the Human Resources Department has in the works for NetRefer employees. He touches upon three different performance-based rewarding plans that empower employees by giving them agency.
- Oct 15
Here, Federico takes us through NetRefer’s recruitment process, elaborating on the value of cultural diversity and the mutual bond established with each new recruit. Then, he transitions into the Company’s benefit package and team building incentives. He brings this part of the interview to a close by laying bare the Company’s tools and methodologies for continuous professional development of employees.
- Oct 13