Our next interviewed affiliate, well, super-affiliate is Phil Fraser, who many of you probably already know personally. Phil is the owner of the biggest online bingo review site on this planet and possibly this universe. WhichBingo.co.uk is the leader of the bingo market and they recently created their first TV ad that airs in the UK. Phil is a role model to follow in this industry, look up to and strive to become at least 90% as succesful as he and his business is.
EEG: Firstly we would like to thank you for this opportunity, we are really interested and I’m sure that all our readers are going to read this with huge interest.
Tell us a bit about yourself, we want to know who Phil Fraser really is. Where were you born? What was the key idea of developing these skills that got you so far in the industry?
The real Phil Fraser? I was born in Birmingham but my parents moved to Leeds when I was very young, so Leeds has always been my home. After three years at University in Leicester I spent 6 years in London before moving back to Leeds. Apart from one year as a trainee accountant my career before I got into the online gaming industry was in advertising; both selling advertising space and in advertising agencies. All of these roles contributed to the skillset that allowed me to launch my own business. My first role in online gaming was with William Hill where I launched their first online casino (on Cryptologic software) back in 2000. It was whilst I was with William Hill that I came across online bingo.
EEG: As far as we know, WhichBingo.co.uk is UK’s leading online bingo review site? Is this correct or is it a marketing scheme to bring all the new players…just kidding, we know about your website and love the idea and congratulate you for its developments over the years. Could you share with us how you got started with this project? What was the key idea behind it?
Whilst at William Hill we looked at getting into online bingo. This was at a time when there were only around a dozen sites in the market, and all in the grey US market. William Hill, unsurprisingly, decided that it was too early to get into the market, as well as legally unclear. However I felt that there was indeed an opportunity and left the company with the plan to raise funding to launch my own pay-to-play bingo site. Unfortunately my timing was wrong (I was too early in the UK and the dotcom bubble had just burst) and couldn’t raise the funds. However, as part of my market research, I had launched WhichBingo.com to gather player information. I added a few affiliate banners to the site and almost by accident, the business was born. At that time, back in 2000/2001 there were only a few, small bingo portals, all US-facing. We took all the best bits from each portal and put them into ours, meaning that from day one we were always the portal cumulatively with the best features. We also made our USP that we would list every single bingo site, meaning we were always the biggest directory. The first six years of the business was US-facing. When UIGEA happened, we re-focused onto the UK market and launched WhichBingo UK.
EEG: I’ve just read the article in the iGB Magazine about the re-design, congrats for the achieved work. Has it made the right and desired impact?
The redesign was driven both by user habits (ie increased mobile and tablet visits) and by Google (our site needing to be as Google-friendly as possible). In both cases we believe that we have hit these targets. The proof is in the pudding as we say in the UK and our traffic stats are now showing record levels, whilst our SERPS continue to be market-leading and improving, so we must have done something right!
EEG: In terms of ranking and quality, we can say that your website is well positioned in the industry and we like the idea of the Awards. Could you tell us how did this idea pop up? It’s really unique.
The WhichBingo Awards started life back in 2003 as simply a ‘Site of the Year’ award, was aimed at the US market and took place in December each year. To be honest I don’t remember where the idea came from. Three years later we launched the UK version of the vote. Over the years the vote developed and we added additional categories including ‘Best TV ad’ and ‘Best Promotion’.
In 2014 we took the decision to make huge improvements to the vote; we renamed it as the ‘WhichBingo Awards’, we added more categories, added a nominations round, moved the vote to May and for the first time held an awards evening where we presented trophies to all of the winners. The night was a huge success and confirmed our position as the online bingo industry’s leading awards. This year we have taken it a step further by adding a judging panel to the very important award of ‘Most Socially Responsible Bingo Operator’. The panel includes industry experts in this field from the Senet Group, GamCare and Bet Buddy. All of the details on the awards can be found at http://www.whichbingo.co.uk/awards/, as well as a video of the 2014 awards night.
EEG: WhichBingo.co.uk now has over 9,500 real player reviews. Was it hard to find players that are willing to share their experience?
Player reviews have been part of the site since its inception. Whilst peer reviews in all sorts of markets are now very in vogue it was always an important part of the site from day one. As mentioned, we list every single site in the market (there are currently 422 in the UK alone) and because of this a player can read, or write, reviews on any site they wish to. I don’t think any other bingo portal offers this feature across every single site in the market. We list sites even if we are not affiliates of them. Finding bingo players to talk about the game they love isn’t difficult !!!
EEG: We noticed that you are giving away an Apple watch to a lucky player. We’ve entered the contest as well. It is a good idea to give extra gifts to your players. Have you had good feedback on other past giveaways? Any hilarious stories?
Bingo players love competitions, and in fact, it was one of the things they asked for more of when we did some customer research. In our early years we gave away funded accounts and branded goodies from bingo sites, but we have now improved this to bigger and better items. Our sister site FreeBingo.co.uk gives away huge amounts of prizes every day (see http://www.freebingo.co.uk/blog/2015/04/march-winners/ and http://www.freebingo.co.uk/prizes/). One year on FreeBingo, we ran a ‘Christmas Hamper’ competition and, as luck had it, the winner lived not too far away from our offices so we actually delivered the prize to them. When we got there we asked for some photos which the winner was happy to have taken. Unfortunately the winner’s husband was wearing just a vest at the time and didn’t change for our photos…… and let’s just say he wasn’t a male model!!!
EEG: As the UK’s biggest bingo affiliate website, you’ve recently run your first TV ad on UK television. How fun is that? Does it give you a great feeling of achievement? I’ve just watched it and it’s really professional, we are going to add it so the readers know what we are talking about. Was is hard to achieve this perfect TV ad?
Coming from a background in advertising I knew that the key to a great advert was a great brief. We spent a lot of time writing, re-writing and crafting the brief. We also undertook customer research to find out more about our site visitors and their thinking about our site. We ran a pitch and had a number of advertising agencies put ideas to us before we made the decision on who to go with. Once we had made the decision, the process involved a lot of backwards and forwards and we were allowed to input our ideas. We even attended the production day when we recorded the voice-overs, which was fun. We’re very pleased with what we ended up with and the whole team were all sat at home, very excited, watching our TVs at 6.04am in the morning when the ad first appeared. It was a great feeling to see our brand on TV, and even better when a few days later I received a call from my father saying that he had just seen it whilst watching a programme!
You can watch the TV ad here:
Our favourite programmes are the ones that send us the biggest cheques!! But seriously our favourites are the programmes and Affiliate Managers that communicate with us; they send updated content (without us asking for it!), they keep us informed about new promotions, they respond when we ask for information and most importantly they are open to new ideas whether that be promotions that we might suggest or different commercial terms. As the market leader we are always looking at new ideas but some Affiliate Managers are restricted in their thinking and simply are not open to anything other than rev share/CPA and banners. The good Affilliate Managers also make time to meet us, whether that be at a conference or simply a one-on-one meeting.
EEG: As for now the readers have probably made an idea of who Phil Fraser and WhichBingo.co.uk are all about and they certainly they will be looking to contact you. Where can they contact you?
I can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org. And you can also find me on Twitter (@mr_online_bingo), on LinkedIn (http://www.linkedin.com/in/philfraser) and G+ at https://plus.google.com/+PhilFraser/. I’m also active on GPWA and to a lesser extent CAP.
EEG: Alright, here comes the fun part….favourite food, where would you like to travel in Eastern Europe, some part of the region maybe that you haven’t visited yet and favourite destination around the world.
My favorite food will depend on my mood, but usually a Chinese or Indian. However I do like ‘fine dining’ and love visiting upmarket restaurants. My wife and I recently ate at a restaurant in Leeds called ‘The man behind the Curtain’ which had the most exquisite 12 course tasting menu.
Apparently my mother’s side of family comes from Poland so it would be nice to visit the town where my roots are from. We haven’t yet visited Auschwitz and will do at some point, as should everybody. I’d love to visit the major capitals like Moscow, Budapest, Warsaw for their culture and history. As a Leeds United fan I’d be happy to visit ANY town in Eastern Europe for a Champions League or Europa League game but that is a looooonnnng way off at the moment!
My two favourite destinations are Hillside Beach Club in Fethiye in Turkey (heaven on earth – check it out) and Nerja in Spain where we own a property.
EEG: Where wouldn’t you want to travel in Eastern Europe?
Probably anywhere that has civil unrest going on at the time. Having said that we went to Egypt on holiday in the immediate aftermath of the Arab Spring!
EEG: What is your opinion about EEG(Eastern European Gaming – eegaming.org)?
I have to say that I wasn’t aware of EEG until recently but having taken a look around the site it looks very informative and professional. It’s well laid out and is user-friendly. If we were to ever expand into Eastern Europe it would definitely be my first port of call.
EEG: Thank you for this opportunity and have a great one!
Why BLUE MIND brings calm and distruptive thinking to the gambling industry?
In the ever evolving and fast-growing gambling industry, not only C-level but all employees are overexposed to visual and mind stress, facing challenging projects in a short time, suffering the overstimulation caused by desktop screens and multiple screens. So, how to mitigate the frantic days while working in the gambling industry? BtoBet chose to have its head office in Malta not only for the favorable gambling legislation, but also for the therapeutic power of water which, when in close proximity, has been proven to transmit calm and connectivity between people, to increase innovation and insight. Living and working in Malta, surrounded by the Mediterranean Sea, is undoubtedly a big plus.
Since ancient times, humans have ascribed healing and transformational properties to water. In early Rome, baths were an important part of cultural life, a place where citizens went to find relaxation and to connect with others in a calming setting. Rivers have long been seen as sacred places, and in a number of different spiritual contexts, water has symbolized rebirth, spiritual cleansing and salvation.
Today, we still turn to water for a sense of calm and clarity. Our affinity to water is even reflected in the near-universal attraction to the colour blue. The marine biologist Wallace J. Nichols believes that we all have a “blue mind”; water can heal the mind and the body, and helps to tap into a calmer and creative state of being.
In this regard, Sabrina Solda’ CMO of BtoBet expressed her vision about “blue mind”.
To discover more, read the entire blog here:
“Finding the blue mind is important to improve the quality of our lives. It brings 3 main benefits to human beings: first of all, contact with water allows us to give our brains a rest from our everyday stressing life, constantly bombarded with sensory stimuli, whether from our devices, home, office and expos. This is especially true in our hectic sportsbook and gambling industry. How many of you are feeling the same? Monitoring player’s actions, betting odds, accepting risks, fixing player’s requests, watching new gaming content, being in conferences surrounded by the sound of slots and visual overstimulation, not to mention the virtual reality games.”
She personally admitted: “When my brain definitely needs downtime, being surrounded by water gives my brain and my senses a rest from overstimulation. The sound of water is far simpler than the sound of voices or the sound of music or the sound of a city. And the visual input is simplified, too.”
Sabrina added: “Secondly, when you have that simplified, quieter ‘blue’ space, your brain is better at a different set of processes, in fact water can induce a meditative state. Though we may not be conscious of it, water could be inducing a mildly meditative state of calm focus and gentle awareness. In fact, being in a mindful state — in which the brain is relaxed but focused —the mind and body benefits include lower stress levels, relief from mild anxiety, pain and depression, improved mental clarity and focus, and better sleep quality. The third benefit of the proximity to water is that it can inspire us to be more compassionate and connected with the rest of the world around us and more creative. In the restful, contemplative state associated with observing or interacting with water, it’s common to experience feelings of awe which creates a strong connection to something beyond ourselves, to the vastness of nature. This feeling of awe can increase our capacity for connection and empathy.”
Sabrina also underlined:
“If you are not as lucky as I am, that I chose and managed to live and work by the sea, do not despair! Also hopping in the shower can be a great way to trigger ideas when our brains are in a creative rut. In our always-busy, screen-saturated lives, we don’t give our minds much of a chance to rest and wander freely. We need to activate a default network to let the best insights and ideas come up instead of leaving them stuck while sitting at our computers, desperately searching for the solution. Unquestionably, since I have been living in Malta, my BLUE MIND DEVELOPED, quickly and constantly.”
Commenting on her decision to live in Malta, she concluded:
“Walking by the sea to go to BtoBet headquarters every morning, and contemplating the blue colour of the magnificent Mediterranean Sea, brings me the “Eureka” moment — the insight or solution “feels like it drops out of the sea and into my head.”
BtoBet is a pioneer in new technologies for iGaming operators and the betting industry by using technological intelligence as its main base for its products. It offers unique, customisable, secure and flexible cloud based systems delivering unprecedented capabilities to drive sportsbook and iGaming business. BtoBet has offices in Macedonia, Italy and Malta. The Technical team of the company is in Skopie and has an ever-growing team of developers. BtoBet’s dynamic Sportsbook team operates from Rome, whilst Malta hosts the commercial and marketing centre.
Ebbe Groes: Interview for EEGaming
EEGaming: First, let me thank you for doing this interview. It means a lot to have such a highly ranked professional’s interview among our list of persons we have interviewed during our period of existence. I know the year is not over yet, however looking back at 2016, what were the key developments for you and EveryMatrix?
Ebbe Groes: You’re most welcome, I am happy to respond to your questions and to be able to reflect upon our company’s evolution.
From a commercial point of view, from the start of the year our number of clients grew by more than 30 new and established operators, which is a sign that we can serve large operators on the market with the same success.
We’ve been working hard behind the scenes to re-write all our main products; the sports, casino and payments solutions are almost ready to showcase and some of the new modules are already live. Rewriting a large complex application is very time-consuming and can be a bit frustrating at times since you have to maintain the old application as well. 2016 was a year like that, but we’re now close to completion, gearing up sales and seeing the results starting to appear commercially as well. I’m a firm believer in continuous re-investment into software and pretty proud of where we’re going at the moment.
Some early results? Well, our sportsbook solution is now able to deliver more than 25,000 live events per month. Our casino product has kept its top position in the industry as the best casino platform with 4,000 games and constantly new features added.
2016 also brought the biggest brand yet signed by EveryMatrix, one I hope to announce before ICE. But stay tuned! We’ve expanded our sales team, both with product specialists within casino and sports, and with a new Commercial Director. We made great efforts to bring account managers closer to sales team members and make sure things move faster for our clients.
EEGaming: Are the current laws and regulations which have been implemented and somehow forced on software providers helping business or are they slowing it down?
Ebbe Groes: First thing to notice is that legislations differ quite a lot, both in terms of financial and technical requirements. There’s an obvious and legitimate desire to create tax revenues from our sector which we should respect – along with desires to improve players’ protection. So overall we welcome this development. It will overall help grow the market and ensure a level playing field.
I am also happy and appreciative for some of the technical requirements imposed upon us from various regulators as they can serve to reduce fraud, chargebacks and other maladies of our industry.
This doesn’t mean that things can’t be improved and my largest concerns would be the failure to properly protect license holders against competition from non-licensed providers and the occasional countries putting up massive back taxes or entry fees, essentially pushing some companies towards remaining in the grey zone.
EEGaming: A company of the size of EveryMatrix can’t stand still for too long, it must bring new technology and innovations. What are the little secrets that help EveryMatrix in innovating yet again?
Ebbe Groes: It’s not only that we can’t stand still for too long, but we cannot afford to do that.
In the online gaming industry change is constant and every major player is aware that technology and innovation are necessary elements for any company that wants to advance.
Our approach to technological innovation has been influenced by our clients’ demands and requirements, so using the latest technology in bringing the best products into the market comes as a natural element in delivering better services for players.
So, that would be our little secret: Listen to your clients and recognize the great suggestions that will help proper further growth. This way, the right kind of demanding client can help you for years to come and one should actively seek such clients, even at the expense of others that might bring higher revenues in the short term.
While big parts of our product development are fueled by visionary product developers in EveryMatrix, I can point to a couple of areas from our last couple of years that would not have been nearly as good without demanding and knowledgeable clients.
One is the huge role of API driven development. We’re today probably the most advanced provider in the world when it comes to what you can build yourself around an EveryMatrix solution. We can split up the products and modules allowing clients to add, in-house or from others, exactly what they need, typically around user experience with front end and CRM as the key areas.
The other is our Asian-focused agent management system, which keeps being improved at a quite impressive speed on the back of client requests.
EEGaming: Are there any standards that you follow in order to access new markets?
Ebbe Groes: In general, we’re blessed with being quite flexible in our approach, being privately held, able to invest when we wish without having to keep to certain profit targets, and owned by management.
When it comes to new markets, be it in terms of products or geographies, we seek to only enter when we believe that we can make a difference and be a key player. This is one reason we’re not targeting Africa and the Americas in 2016 and probably 2017 as well. Doing Europe and Asia is quite sufficient. Each area comes with its own demands and we can’t be the best everywhere, yet.
EEGaming: What about expansion? There is definitely a plan for that, but tell us, what are the important steps and what are the things that need to be avoided?
Ebbe Groes: We’ve by and large grown organically. Fast but without (large) mergers and acquisitions. This gives a quite harmonious organization, a staff that I’m proud of working with and whom I truly feel buy into our company’s vision and goals.
Still, as we’ve grown it’s become harder to maintain the entrepreneurial spirit of the past. Key people don’t scale, including myself and my co-founder Stian Hornsletten, and that forces more thinking into organization. Of course, hiring smartly into middle management is one way but we believe it is not enough.
In 2016 we took the quite radical decision to aim for splitting up our company in virtual sub-companies, each with their own management team. So, a CEO, CTO, COO, head of sales, account manager, support for our sports product, OddsMatrix. This management team can focus fully on their product, technically, operationally, commercially, aiming to make it – stand alone – the best it can be, taking control and competing against the best in the business. We did the same for Casino, for Payments and the other solutions.
It’s still early, but overall I feel it was a move that is paying off handsomely – and will do so even more as we progress and gain experience with this. I think the only other alternative would have been to give up some of the business areas and focus purely on one or two products, as for instance Evolution and Kambi are doing.
I believe this split into verticals is what will allow us to yet again double and re-double our size, both in terms of revenues and even to handle well the continuous growth of staff.
EEGaming: Do you have any products that will soon be released?
Ebbe Groes: We have more than one, I’m happy to say. But if I should mention our biggest investment, biggest gamble even, it’s our new payments company MoneyMatrix.
MoneyMatrix is a brand-new payment processing platform that encompasses new technologies and security protocols to keep customer financial details safe. The new payment solution is PCI DSS Level 1 Compliant, including full control of transactions, better risk management and detailed reporting. It’s built upon a combination of our own experience and that of the highly competent people we brought on board for this. MoneyMatrix will hold a payment service provider licence from the Malta Financial Service Authority which allows us to contract for payments alone large clients within and outside the gaming industry, fully detached technically and commercially from our platform, sports, and casino business. It’s a strong team, a remarkable product and I personally can’t wait for the ICE 2017 unveiling!
EEGaming: How’s the feedback regarding the current products?
Ebbe Groes: Feedback for a software company can be measured in signed deals and volumes going through the platform. With that measuring stick, we are happy. I like our industry for many reasons. One of them is that there’s a quite good correlation between quality and success. Hype doesn’t last for too long, the actors are too smart, too well-informed for that.
But hey, industry appreciation is nice too. So, we’re glad to notice a series of positive signals from the industry, such as securing White Label Partner of the Year at the EGR B2B Awards 2016 in London and “Best Sports betting software provider based on Open Business Relationship” and “Best casino software provider based on Open Business Relationship” awards at CEEGC 2016 in Budapest.
EEGaming: If you could choose one celebrity to promote any of your products, who would you choose and why?
Ebbe Groes: Denise Coates, the Bet365 founder and chief exec, whom I respect immensely for the product, company, and results. EveryMatrix is a B2B company and I can’t think of anyone whose endorsement would carry more weight with decision makers in our industry. So, go home Messi and Murray, and give me Denis Coates for my celeb promoter!
Interview with Shona ODonnell
Since we keep getting newer audiences that don’t exactly know what the Berlin Affiliate Conference is about, we would like to ask you, who is this conference addressed to?
Shona ODonnell: Berlin Affiliate Conference (BAC2016) is the biggest autumn event for affiliates and introducing brokers in the online gambling and retail finance sectors. It is a great opportunity to meet with the industry, find out what is happening, learn new skills, develop new business relationships, expanded existing relationships and of course have a fun doing this as you meet with affiliates, operators and suppliers in this exciting and dynamic industry.
If you are an affiliate or an operator in this market you simply cannot afford to miss this event.
In 2015 you’ve moved from Barcelona to Berlin. What has changed in this period of time and what was the outcome of this move?
Shona ODonnell: Our move to Berlin was hugely positive and well received by the industry as a whole. The move was based on industry feedback that people wanted to go to a new city, you spoke and we listened. BAC 2015 was the biggest event we have ever hosted in the autumn and we expect it to be eclipsed this year as we see figures on registrations up 10% YoY.
What will 2016 edition offer us?
Shona ODonnell: An even bigger version of 2015! We have now outgrown the hall so we’ve had to be very creative with the space we have. We are just in the final stages of confirming our party venues and we ‘ll be announcing some exciting sponsors in the next week or two so keep your eyes on the BAC website.
We also have a number of new speakers that we haven’t seen at events before as we really want to offer our delegates something valuable to take home and apply to the businesses they work in.
Suppose I’m just a simple affiliate that wants to join this conference. How do I get in and what can I find inside?
Shona ODonnell: It’s really easy and it’s free for affiliates and introducing brokers, just register at http://www.igbaffiliate.com/events/berlinaffiliateconference/registration and we will confirm your affiliate status and send you your eticket via email. We make a promise that our iGB Affiliate events are free for affiliates and they only way we can do this is by checking each and every registration, so please understand if we ask you for a some more information to let you attend the event for free.
Once inside you’ll find all of the leading operators in the space, two conference rooms, two free bars (15.00-18.00), lots of activities happening on the different stands and lots of great give aways. If it’s your first time attending, do let us know and we’ll do the best to help you meet the right people as we know it can be overwhelming. It’s also really helpful to use the event app to booking the conference sessions you want to see and to book in those all-important meetings.
What can you tell us about the sponsors of this conference?
Shona ODonnell: We are delighted to welcome back our premium sponsors William Hill, 888.com, EGO.com and iAffiliates. In addition to this we have Buffalo Partners providing the free lunch for our delegates and we are very happy to welcome Media Skunk as our thought leader. Registration is sponsored by TipBet, NetHive are sponsoring the bar and WPN are back as welcome drinks sponsors to get things kicked off. We are extremely grateful to all of our amazing sponsors and exhibitors, of whom there are too many to mention here, we simply couldn’t do it without them.
What is the main subject that will dominate this year’s conference and why do you think it’s important?
Shona ODonnell: The conference has two central themes. We open on day one with a look at the German market and what has happened there in the last 12 months since we last visited. Then we have a focus on SEO as we know this is one of the most popular topics. I am very excited that we have Bastian Grimm speaking, he is an incredible SEO. In each session we will focus on one area of learning so that it provides practical solutions that will have a real impact. On day two we have a really interesting selection of presentations and panels all focused on innovation. I think it will provide real food for thought. In particular we have a dragons den session where new innovations will be showcases and questioned by both the moderator and the audience.
Any thoughts about the next year’s conference? Or better yet, where do you hope to get until next year’s conference?
Shona ODonnell: For next year’s event we are working on the space as the hall we are currently using is too small! So we are looking at where BAC can fit in 2017. But before that we have LAC which is our biggest event by far and this year promises to be very, very exciting indeed. LAC will be taking place in February and we expect it to grow significantly and provide even more business opportunities than ever before.
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