How far can you take the idea of charity? Is it morally correct to save people if the consequence is that others have to suffer?
Great.com is a casino marketing company where all profits will go to charity. In this episode, Emil Ekvardt is challenging the founder of Great, Erik Bergman, with thoughts and ethically challenging questions.
[00:00:00] How far can you take the idea of charity? Is it morally correct to save people if the consequences of that action is that others have to suffer? We think this is a very important question. And the reason for that is that I’m here with Erik Bergman. He’s the founder of Great dot com and also the founder of Catena Media, a big online marketing company for Casino. Almost like a TripAdvisor for Kesena. And that company went from zero to 300 employees in just five years. Today, it’s value to three hundred million dollars. And even though that is a fantastic journey, the consequences of that, of course, is that a lot of people have gotten into gambling and gambling have many consequences for our society. I would get into that more. But first, I want to welcome Erik into this conversation. Hey, buddy, how you doing?
[00:01:07] Hey, buddy. I’m getting a bit nervous, to be honest. Good. And that was a nervous laughter. You know, one of these. You you’re doing in movies. I can sense. I’m good and excited about this topic. It feels good to talk about it and to challenge the philosophical aspect of this idea. And the moral aspect. And see if am I really on point with this or is this just something I make up excuses for in my head? So it’s it’s good to be here. And I’m here with Emily, the host of this podcast, my friend, since many years. Unfortunately, one of the best person is that asking tough questions that I know, which makes this a bit uncomfortable. And also the first person who joined me into this venture of great a couple of years ago. So good to be here. And good to have you here, buddy.
[00:02:04] Mm hmm. This is the last time you will hear my comforting voice. Well, we want to achieve here and this episode is that I will ask tough questions to Erik. So all the questions I will ask today, Erik is not prepared for and the purposes that we want to stress test the idea. OFGREAT So to give some background, Erik, what is the idea of great and what we’re aiming to achieve before I begin?
[00:02:32] So the idea with great is to create a money machine more or less, and a machine that will generate a lot of money that can be given to charity and specifically the environment, which we believe is the most urgent matter. We have the climate crisis and we’re gonna do that by building a casino marketing company that generates this profits. So that’s that’s the dilemma here. Is it morally correct to to build a casino marketing company for the sake of the environment?
[00:03:11] Gotcha. And.
[00:03:14] If you’re ready to get into it, yes, it really isn’t gonna get.
[00:03:18] Mm hmm. So let’s just start there. Start with the big question. Gambling is creating problems. We discussed in episode four of this podcast. If it’s a responsible thing to do and did that episode, we came to the conclusion that thanks to what you have done in Catena Media there, assault is likely that someone has committed suicide. Thanks to your actions. And not only that can happen, it can breed tear families apart. It can create very difficult financial situations for people that are have psyches that are susceptible to getting addicted to gambling.
[00:04:00] Still, would you say this is a morally correct thing to do?
[00:04:06] So that gives some context to what you just said. Through my previous business. I probably been involved with a million, if not millions of people getting into Chessie in one way or another by giving them bonuses, offers, educations, what not people that might not have played otherwise. Obviously, that’s not something that I can know. And it might be the case that one of these people have committed suicide where they wouldn’t have done it if it wasn’t for see an offer. Once again, it’s not something I can know. But more importantly, I cannot know that that’s not the case.
[00:04:50] I never thought much about this before that episode we did in January or whatever it was, and you asked me that question, do you think that someone has committed suicide? And I felt like. Yeah, that’s mathematically quite likely. And going back to the moral question then. So let’s let’s give some let’s back up a little bit and give a little bit more background of why I’m in casino, why I got here and take it from there. So I got into the gambling industry when I was 16 by playing poker in my physics class. That’s how it started. And I felt completely, madly in love with the game of poker. And I started playing online. I started playing professionally. And I got really good at it. And that’s how I got into marketing at first for poker. Then for bingo and then for casino and.
[00:05:50] I got very, very successful in this before I even started contemplating what am I doing even when playing poker is like when winning someone else’s money, you actually can see somebody if you’re playing like you can actually see the other person losing to you. And that could be both an.
[00:06:08] A joyful and a suffering experience depending on how the other person reacted. The danger of marketing is that I don’t. Online, I don’t even see the other person. I have no idea what the consequences are.
[00:06:22] And if I could go back in time and talk to 16 year old Erik and say, hey, get another interest, then.
[00:06:30] Then I would do that. But that’s how it started.
[00:06:35] Would you really do that, though, because you have been so successful with this company and have given you financial freedom? I’m not convinced that you really mean that.
[00:06:49] Let’s go into that feeling a little bit. I guess it depends what I’m allowed to tell Erik.
[00:07:00] If I could go back and say, hey, Erik, get into up programming instead, I would do that because then it would be the same possibility of reaching financial success or the opportunity of changing things. And I would prefer today to develop really bad ass up and have 15 years of world class experience doing that. However, if I could just go back in time and say, don’t do poker, find something else. Then I don’t think I would do that because the probability of Erik doing something that wouldn’t put me in a position like this where I can actually have the opportunity of influencing in so many ways have the financial freedom and the quality of life that I have. No, then I wouldn’t tell him that. So it depends on what I’m allowed to say.
[00:07:53] So let me put it this way you can’t know for sure that you have been responsible that someone have killed himself. Of course. But we can’t know for sure that thanks to your ask actions, you have exposed people to a risk you have likely cause maybe family’s to break up, put someone in very difficult financial situations, maybe for the rest of their lives. How do you feel about that today? And what kind of responsibility for you do feel for what you had done before?
[00:08:28] I can’t really take that in. To be honest, I feel that my my defense mechanism in this is. I wouldn’t say denial. I’m not saying that I’m denying those consequences, but I think they’re too abstract for me to get in in touch with it.
[00:08:50] Personally, I believe that if what I’m doing makes a bigger positive impact, the negative impact. I think it’s the morally correct thing to do, which is kind of the general question of this episode, and I’m not sure if that’s something I truly passionately believe in or if it’s an excuse I’m making up for myself to deal with these consequences. But I don’t struggle sleeping at night. I don’t go around thinking about this. I don’t feel bad in any way. Well, any way is a strong word, but I don’t feel bad about this. I know I passionately look into the future of building a new company like this where the ambition of making a much more positive change than making a negative impact.
[00:09:46] So all in all.
[00:09:50] No, I don’t feel bad, which I. Maybe should.
[00:09:54] Are you aware of how big the gambling addiction problem is globally or in Sweden where you come from? Have you talked to people that have been affected? Have you been speaking to their families?
[00:10:09] Not to their families. I’ve been speaking to gambling addicted people and heard their stories. And.
[00:10:22] Once again, I can feel the suffering, I can feel that I’m a part of it.
[00:10:29] At the same time, I can see the positive impact of. Making a difference. So if we go back in to the intention of this project and intention of pretty much my entire financial situation is that I want to make a positive impact for the world. I want to help people in poverty and even more urgently helping to prevent the climate crisis and. Even if I. Picture a worse case scenario in front of me, I picture someone suffering, I picture a father committing suicide. In one frame of the picture and then I see. The opportunity of helping thousands or the opportunity of changing the climate or whatever can be done to those consequences. Well, the first thing is triggers for me is actually fear. It’s a scary picture to see in front of me and. At the same time, I feel that my obligation to. To go through with this and to do whatever I can to help the thousands, even on the expense of the one.
[00:12:00] And do you think you have moral right to make that decision? To choose to cause suffering to those those people that would be affected.
[00:12:17] Not sure if the right is the right word. I think I have the obligation to. And if I. I. There isn’t a way where I can not, in a sense. So regardless how we choose to live, our lives were impacting others. If I’m choosing to be in a cabin far, far away and just eat tuna accounts for the rest of my life, I’ve still impacted some fishermen and I still impacted the fishing industry. I’ve still impacted a lot of weight. So there is not a way for me where I can choose not to impact others lives. And the bigger impact you want to have of the world, positive or negative for that matter, the bigger impact you’re going to have on people. So. I wouldn’t look at it as like the moral aspect of making that decision. I would say that there is no other way. And if I were to build a highway instead, let’s say I want to build highway for people to be able to drive quicker between Starcom and Kupferberg or whatnot. There would be negative consequences from that. It would destroy the environment in one way or another. It would kill people because people would be driving drunk and not being able to handle it. More people would die if there is a road there than if it’s not.
[00:13:41] At the same time, most people driving would get faster to their destination and hopefully be able to spend more time with people they care about or whatever it is they’re doing.
[00:13:51] So, yeah. So what are you gonna do with great to help those people that get negatively affected?
[00:14:00] Not sure we will do anything, to be honest, it depends on where we.
[00:14:06] Where we see the financial means of it so soft, leaving those people high and dry in a difficult situation.
[00:14:15] Yes. So that’s the way I see it, is where. Where does it make sense to make a difference? And where can we. Limit the most suffering with the least amount of money. And by that I mean, let’s say we have in one situation, we have a person suffering from a gambling addiction in Sweden. Living in Stockholm with all the expenses and everything that that relates to. And that person would need help. Let’s say they would need psychotherapy. They would need help to get out of their depths and whatnot. Let’s say a total cost of twenty five thousand dollars or something like that to help one person, one family, for that matter, with a cost like this. And if we were to use the same twenty five thousand dollars in a country where they’re suffering from extreme poverty, that would mean clean water for five villages by drilling five wells and. If I’m taking the decision of helping the gambling addicted person at the same time, I’m making a decision of not helping the five villages, and to me the moral, morally correct thing would be. Leave that gambling addicted person high and dry in whatever situation they’re in. Even if I put them there and go with the five wells for their families and children who don’t have clean water.
[00:15:54] And what would you like to say to that? Gambling addicted person. If he was here right now.
[00:16:06] I would like to listen. I don’t think I would like to say anything. I would like to listen to their stories. And. Try and understand. What problems got them there?
[00:16:25] And then I would say that I’m very sad for you going through this. I’m very sad that. I’m not helping you. And at the same time, I feel that I can’t help you without. Sacrificing other people or other causes that I care deeply about.
[00:16:46] Mm hmm.
[00:16:48] When you were building Catena, how much of that process was out of ego reasons? Would you say?
[00:16:57] Define ego reasons.
[00:16:59] You’re doing it to boost your own self image.
[00:17:07] Not much, to be honest, I built I founded Catena out of passion. It was just a fun playground where online marketing just happened to be the toy with me and my childhood friend and founded the company. And we just wanted to build things we could. Might as well been in a building, a sand castle. I don’t think that. Ego. Was even on the map when it started. It came from the pure joy of creating something. And over the course of building the company to where it became. Ego was probably a part of it. In some places, but it was more passion. And once again, obligation and. Performance pressure I put on myself. I think so I. I had very high expectations of myself and where this would be. And I don’t think I really stopped to think of either what’s the consequences of my actions or what would the consequences actually be if I slow down? So I rushed very quickly, putting a lot of pressure on myself and I. I’d been blaming our investors and people around me and managers for this pressure. Like, yeah, it’s their fault that I pushed myself that hard. And I realized that’s probably bullshit. I pushed myself that hard and. I don’t really know why my behavioral pattern is that I have to deliver results to kind of feel that I’m worthy of something. So to sum that up, to answer your question very little, it was ego driven, a lot more was joy and some kind of performance anxiety.
[00:19:15] You’re obviously excited about business creating things. You have learned many valuable skill sets, tragic journey. So why don’t you use that in another industry that would add value to the world? Let’s say you were creating that app that would positively influence millions of people instead of negatively influencing them. Like in the gambling space.
[00:19:40] I’ve been in the gambling space for about 15 years and I’ve been part of building one of the most successful businesses in the gambling space. And I know this industry inside and out. I know the people here. I have a reputation here. And if I’m starting in this industry, I would say that there is a 99 percent chance I will succeed and I don’t know other industries. So if I’m trying something else, there is. I mean, the number that is all being thrown out there is that nine out of 10 startups fail. And even if I would with my track record, with my finances, have a lot better odds. Let’s say one out of two tries would fail. Then I see it as.
[00:20:31] A big moral.
[00:20:34] Well, here, because more morally challenging for me to choose another industry, even though that industry itself might make it easier to have a. Positive impact in some way, or at least give me a better reputation, because right now I I get looked at like a villain, even though I’m trying to be a hero. And if I were to build an app and give a hundred percent of the profits away, it would be a very easy to look at me as a hero. But when doing this, it’s not. And I feel I can’t take the risk of having a 50 50 fail rate just because of that. My moral ego angle wanting to be a hero. So if I. I believe that I both have a much, much higher success rate doing this and much, much bigger probability of actually generating billions of dollars in profits over the next 50 years in this industry than in any other industry. So it’s. And if I want to use those billions of dollars to make an impact to save the environment or to drill wells or whatever it is. Then I can’t take a 50/50 shot of switching industries. It’s to me that’s irresponsible.
[00:21:52] Do you feel like you’re doing the most that you can to be responsible?
[00:21:59] No, definitely not. What more could you be doing?
[00:22:10] I could think more about these things. I could spend more time talking to people. I could look for more. Cautious decisions. I could push myself even harder than I do and. At the same time, just saying these things out loud.
[00:22:31] Hearing myself knowing the way I interact with life, knowing how serious that take things.
[00:22:39] I don’t think I would be able to last for 50 years building a business if I did that. So in the short term, yes, I could definitely be more responsible with expenses, with the choices of industries, with marketing campaigns, but over the course of time of building something for 50 years, which is my long term vision with this. I don’t think that I would be able to pull it off if I pushed myself harder than I do.
[00:23:12] So you made about 50 million euros from Catena? Yes. How much of that do you think? It’s morally correct to keep yourself compared to give away to. And do something good in return.
[00:23:35] The way I think about money is that it’s a tool to make more money. No money invested in future results, I believe is always worth it. So if I invest in. In something that increases my life force, it will increase my my skill set, so my energy to actually create a big business or output in whatever way it is. And with that, I mean that if I buy very expensive food. But it’s the organic and best kind of food I can do that will be an investment in my health. If I have a personal trainer and I train with him or her regularly every week, that’s money that will boost my energy in the future. Same thing goes for my sources. Same thing goes for having a house or an apartment in a very good location. It saves me time to increase my quality of life and that in itself will bring higher value in the future. So not having an exact number of what’s morally correct to do that with, but if I believe that it will create a higher output in the future from making these decisions, then for me it’s the morally correct thing to do. However, if I’m buying an expensive watch, that’s not gonna influence my quality of life much.
[00:25:13] It’s not gonna influence my health. It’s it’s not going to do things for me. So I don’t buy an expensive watch if I’m flying business class. It might cost five times as much as a regular ticket.
[00:25:29] And it doesn’t really do that much for me. It makes me sit a little bit more comfortable for an hour or five or whatever.
[00:25:37] Then I don’t do that because I don’t feel that it’s a morally correct decision.
[00:25:42] Got it.
[00:25:45] When I think of a casino company in any kind, I think of it as a company that wants to make money for themselves and keep it. How can someone ever trust that? Great. Will it be any different? How can they know that money isn’t just going to secretly go into the pockets of someone?
[00:26:08] They can’t. No. There will always be ways where I theoretically could trick money outside of an organization if I wanted to. We will be as open and transparent as we can. At least I think we will. And it will be owned. So the biggest thing I would say is that everyone in the team buys into the idea of we’re doing this for the greater good. So if I started to take money off the table, it would be enough with one person in the team found that out and then everyone would find that out. And probably the entire team would leave because I’m a fraud. So that’s I think the most important thing is to realize that no one in the team would keep working with with the company. If if that happened, because this is the entire idea. So that’s one way of knowing that, OK, this is gonna stay safe.
[00:27:06] Another way is my intention is to put this in a foundation that once it start making profits, meaning that I don’t really own this. It’s like, for example, the Nobel Committee. It’s a foundation that gives away the Nobel Prize. And that was founded by Alfred Nobel, I don’t know, three hundred years ago or something. And it still runs under. Rules and regulations that were set back when he was alive and he says you need to donate money this and that. And no one can change that. Not even Alfred Nobel, if he was alive, would have been able to change that. So that’s the intention of putting it here in a in an entity that I don’t control. I don’t own this entity. Entity kind of owns itself. And you said bylaws for it, saying that all this money, all these profits should be donated this way. This way. And that’s the only thing that can be done with those money. So I can’t legally take them out. And that’s the second way of. Proving or making sure that this can be trusted. And third way of thinking of results, like if I wanted to make this to make money. I would say so and I would take 100 percent of the profits because it would be a lot easier than trying to build a charity and taking some ammonia of it for myself. So I have no. Personally, I have no incentives of doing that.
[00:28:42] We are coming up towards the end. And I’ll ask a final question and then you can take your time to wrap this up from your end. And that is someone that has been listening to this still feels in their stomach that this is not a good idea. What would you like to tell them?
[00:29:05] I understand. I think that this all goes down to the moral decision. Is it correct to harm others? Is it is it correct to harm one person if it means that you can improve the lives or for 100? And to me, that’s the only question that you need to think about here. If you believe that the morally correct thing is to to do good for the hundred on the expense of one, then I believe you would think this is a good idea. Does my Stein Fund, if you believe that is wrong. No one has the moral the moral right to inflict harm on anyone, even if it helps 100 people. Then I have full understanding for that philosophical view on this. I’m not trying to convince anyone that this is a good idea. I’m not trying to convince anyone to join me. I’m yost’s explaining where I’m coming from and how I see this.
[00:30:09] Any final words before we wrap this up.
[00:30:20] So I’m happy to to talk more about this with. With listeners who got questions, I think that this is a really tricky one. I feel very. Vulnerable in this topic at the same time as I feel a very strong conviction and. I have full respect for people who think that this is wrong. I I understand that. And at the same time, I really, really strongly feel that this is my moral conviction of building this project, because I feel in my core that this is my path in life and one my way of making a change.
[00:31:14] I normally end these episodes, the flavor of this conversation has been a little bit different. So instead, I would like to hand over the final word to you, Erik.
[00:31:24] This day.
[00:31:26] I think we’ll just wrap it up here and say thank you for this opportunity and explore this topic and we’ll see where the future takes us. We usually end here by asking for help and five star rating and stuff, but I’ll just not do that today. Doesn’t feel like that’s kind of an episode. So thank you for listening. And I hope you believe in me.