As PokerStars Lee Jones tows the party line and delivers the same corporate feedback albeit in a different form of communication, I wonder if PokerStars are creating a product without asking the users if its what they want?
PokerStars has a problem.
I don’t trust them.
How many people feel the same way?
Once upon a time, there was a young entrepreneur called Nick Woodman. He had created his first online business with the help of $4m of other people’s money. He experienced the boom. He experienced the bust. He needed a new idea.
Woodman decided to go on an extended five-month surfing trip in the hope that a new idea would rise as fast as the bends. It came pretty quickly. While surfing, he was overawed by the beauty of the waves and wanted a way of filming them, his fellow surfers and himself.
The idea for the GoPro camera was born.
What started out as a $3 wrist held camera used to film surfers, turned into a 2014 IPO that valued the company at $2.96 billion. The heart of Woodman’s team is the same today as it was when they were going from trade show to trade show trying to sell their initial product. Today, the camera is being used in military operations, surgery and national geographic filming expeditions.
So why was Woodman able to create a $2.96 billion business as a one man band operating in a multi-billion dollar business arena? What happened to Sony? Where was Panasonic? Why didn’t JVC see this coming?
The truth is, they all did. They knew the need was out there. Today, they are selling cameras based on the nuts and bolts of a GoPro. The difference between these corporate giants, and Woodman, is that one was too big and cumbersome, and the other was nimble and quick.
There was a time when everyone loved PokerStars. They were the benchmark when it came to customer service. Isai Scheinberg was the swift and nimble Woodman. Their success based on a passion for creating an online poker room for the players. All that has changed.
Lee Jones of PokerStars recently sat down with Sarah Herring of PokerNews to talk about the recent changes to the PokerStars VIP structure at the European Poker Tour (EPT) Festival in Prague. His words carefully chosen, there was an eerie familiarity to them. There were times when Jones looked right into the camera in a show of utter sincerity, but it couldn’t penetrate this hardened veneer that now protects me from more lies.
“We care a lot about what our players think and feel about us.” Said Jones.
I think this is probably true within some quarters of PokerStars, but not in all areas of Amaya. The responsibility for northward trending EBITDA, and smiling happy shareholders, will always come first now PokerStars are a public company. It has made them slow to respond to the desire of their market, currently being experienced in the form of piss poor communication.
“It’s no excuse, but we are living in a brave new world now,” Said Jones, “We used to be a private company, and now we are a public company. We have brand new management, stakeholders, stockholders and financial regulators.”
Unless a corporate entity creates their business around the needs of their customers, the situation PokerStars finds themselves in will happen to all. It might happen to GoPro.
Tony Hsieh is the founder of Zappos, an online shoe and clothing company that was bought by Amazon for $1.2 billion in 2009. Before creating Zappos Hsieh was the founder of another online company called LinkExchange. Hsieh regularly writes about how great it was to work at LinkExchnage – in the beginning. He loved the culture that had organically grown from the outset. Then they got bigger; hired more people. One day he came to work and realised he no longer knew the names of a lot of the people. The culture he cherished so much had vanished, eaten alive by this corporate monster driven by the need to make more money.
Microsoft acquired LinkExchange in 1998. Hsieh left soon after to form a different company built on solid foundations of company culture that served the needs of their customers first and foremost. Zappos was born.
What do PokerStars customers want?
I have never seen any corporate literature that shows their customers have asked for the kind of ecosystem they are creating. The only voices we hear are from the professional poker players. We are not privy to the voices of the recreational players. Are their opinions being canvassed?
I am a recreational poker player. I play on PokerStars. My opinion on the type of community and ecosystem I want to be a part of remains in my mind. Nobody has asked me to share it with them. Until they do this, there is a real danger that they will build something nobody wants.
PokerStars is dead.
The company culture that inspired trust and helped create a generation of professional online grinders has leaked into the ether like steam from a kettle.
In its place stands Amaya.
Oh man, what I wouldn’t give to fix an invisible GoPro on the head of Eric Hollreiser and watch the footwork inside the inner sanctum. Look at the battle lines drawn up. Watch the curators of culture cringe as the monolithic money machine that towers above them, eyes glaring, hands them another story to sell.
Poker needs a Nick Woodman.
I wonder where he or she is?