Value is a word that is very important to me both in my personal life and my business. If I am going to take the easy route through life then I am going to have to learn to understand what people value, and provide it for them. If I want to take a much tougher route through life then I just ignore what people value and instead try to impress my own values upon them.
In order for value to exist there needs to be producers and customers. Customers determine what they value, and the producers produce it. From the customers point of view this is the sole function of the producer. Organizations like PokerStars, World Poker Tour (WPT), World Series of Poker (WSOP), PartyPoker and European Poker Tour (EPT) are producers in the world of online gambling, and the players are their customers. The players determine what they value and the poker operators produce it.
It’s a simple philosophy that has been in operation for decades, and so it pained me to see that the poker world had not grasped this fact when I joined the circus back in 2009. Instead of the poker players determining value, the tour operators and online poker rooms created their perception of value and tried to sell it to the world.
So why does this happen?
As with most things in life the reason is financial. The immediate needs, wants and desires of the money men supersede any notion of what value may look like from the perspective of the customer. It’s symptomatic of the great quote from Henry Ford: ‘People can have the Model T in any color – so long as it’s black.’
This view only takes you so far. Sooner or later someone is going to wake up, smell the value and start delivering; and when it does the money men will be looking for a new job as their mindless, unsubstantiated short term view is slowly eroded in favor of a more value-laden long term strategy.
In 2009, I would travel the length and breadth of the earth to work at poker tours that were being held in venues that were decided by moneymen and not poker players. The live poker tournament operators were selling products just like Henry Ford was selling cars. Ford would never have tried to sell someone a horse, so why were poker tours trying to sell stops at some of the most difficult places to get to in the world?
It’s not just the live poker tours that are blind to the value of the customer; the online world is no different. The Launch of Ultimate Poker stuttered as a result of a host of software glitches, player options and aesthetics that the customer did not view as value. The news on the grapevine is that PartyPoker are currently experiencing the same issue.
Rob Yong, the owner of Dusk till Dawn (DTD), has recently declared that he will quit poker if his Online Club Cash Games offering is not a success.
“When you honestly feel like you cannot take a business any further, no matter how fond you are of that business, you have to walk away and not look back. That time comes for me when something I fundamentally believe in doesn’t work out, it means I am out of touch with the customers and need to move on”. Said Yong.
This is the kind of flawed thinking that I am talking about, albeit Yong is desperately trying to do the right thing with the introduction of the Online Club Cash Games. He mentions the words ‘something that I fundamentally believe in’ and it’s this point that I want to pressure. Yong’s fundamental beliefs are irrelevant in this situation. If the customers value Online Club Cash Games then they will succeed; if they don’t then Yong will walk.
In the above example, I sincerely hope that Yong has not created a product that he believes in, and is now trying to sell. Instead, I hope he has spoken to his customers, taken a look at his business from inside the trenches, and created a product that customers value.
Another example of a failure to understand this business principle is the argument over the ‘first card off the deck rule’ that has been implemented in most major tours at the bequest of the Tournament Directors Association (TDA). It is quite apparent from the feedback that this is not a rule that the players believe is necessary to protect the integrity of the game.
The TDA are acting in the role of the producer, and the players are once again the customers. Once again the pair are poles apart as the TDA has created a product that their customer doesn’t want to buy. Why on earth haven’t the TDA created a forum to talk to the customers to understand value before acting?
I could go on and on. I could talk about blind structures, pay out distribution, types of games, food breaks, final table hokey-pokey and a whole host of other products that poker’s producers have created without first ascertaining what their customers value.
Fortunately, things are improving, but it’s sad to see that it’s complaints that are driving change and not the foresight of the men and women paid handsomely to understand such things. PokerStars are once again the flag bearers when it comes to understanding value. The decision to implement a player’s council is long overdue, and changes to their live and online offerings are being implemented in line with customer value.
Value…five simple letters that can lead to the destruction or delirium of a poker business. Which one are you choosing?