Part two of the article exploring Bernadette Jiwa’s blog post entitled 21 Questions for Creators and Innovators, from the perspective of a founder of an online poker room.
No messing about. My fingers can’t handle the pounding.
Please read Part 1 before continuing.
11. What’s your minimal viable product?
I first heard the term Minimal Viable Product (MVP) when reading The Lean Startup by Eric Riess, and I believe it’s a good idea if you’re launching it to a community ready to accept it.
The latest online poker room fuelled by cryptocurrency, CoinPoker, is using the MVP method to attract custom. Their competitor, VirtuePoker, is preferring to wait until their product is spick and span. PokerStars launched an MVP when they created Power Up.
The purpose of an MVP is to see if the product works. Does it deliver the value we said it would? There needs to be a feedback mechanism in place so the team can improve the MVP, or pivot (drop it and move in a new direction) if needed. This is where a community comes in handy because that’s where most of the feedback will come from.
I believe Phil Galfond and the team at RunItOnce are in a great position to leverage their community to produce an MVP in the shape of bare bones online poker room, perhaps focusing on NLHE cash games; collate feedback, improve, rinse, repeat.
12. Who do you need to involve or get behind the project?
Throughout this two-part article, I have impressed the importance of focusing on customer value above profit, but you still need the financial backing required to launch an online poker room.
It’s not imperative, but always helpful, if your financial backers understand the game of poker. Fortunately, there’s a lot of money floating around the poker community, and a lot of people who love the game, looking for wise ways to invest, and to be part of something more significant than the experience at the table.
So you need the money men and women.
But most importantly of all, you need a community, and this doesn’t cost money. What it does cost is time and presence. If you can grow a community from the ground up; one that believes in the mission of your brand, and trusts you, then there is every chance your product becomes a success.
Take Bernadette Jiwa, the inspiration behind this post, as an example. I am a member of Jiwa’s tribe. I eagerly look forward to every blog post. I know if I ask her for advice she will respond. Once, she sent me a free book as a gift to help me out of a muddle. Jiwa never sells me anything, and yet I buy everything she has to sell.
13. How much time do you need?
I’m an ‘All-In’ type of guy.
If I’m working on a project as important as an online poker room, then I am dedicating a large chunk of my time to the project. I will sleep, take care of my health, but all other plans are off the table.
I was alarmed when I heard that RunItOnce had launched the Daily Fantasy Sports (DFS) product, Draftboard. I thought, “Aren’t they supposed to be launching an online poker room?”
So it was a relief to read that Galfond had a minimal role in the project.
One important factor to consider when considering the time you can spend on a given project is integrity. It’s vital for the development of trust that you do things when you say you will do them. If you aren’t scheduling your time correctly and you make promises you can’t keep, such as launch dates that are continually delayed, then that trust starts to degrade, and your integrity will be in the limelight.
14. How will you test your idea?
You can test your idea in two ways.
If you fill your company with people who love poker, then you can do a lot of testing in-house.
If you’re looking for a more extensive playground, then we are right back to the community, again. Select a core group of community members you trust, and who have the requisite skills you need to provide tip-top feedback, and let them loose on an MVP, and be prepared to evolve.
15. Who can you trust to give you objective feedback?
We’re back to the community again.
If you have done the hard graft and created a community who believes in your brand’s mission, then you have a ready-made firing squad who you trust will not go easy on you, but won’t kill you at the same time.
16. What are the likely challenges you could face?
I believe one of the hardest challenges an online poker room faces is differentiation. If you look at the current landscape, there is a sameness to it. The partypoker MILLIONS brand that is currently relaxing PokerStars’ stranglehold on the competition is not born out of an enlightened way of doing things. It’s almost as if they’ve gone back to basics: huge guarantees, huge first prize, great location, great structure, great playing experience where you feel taken care of.
But is it different?
Full Tilt’s Rush Poker was different.
Winamax Expresso Poker was different.
But then everyone else copies.
PokerStars Power Up is the latest differentiation that I’m sure will one day become the norm for online poker rooms.
You can’t please everyone, and online poker rooms try to do this. Instead, maybe there is room for more niche like online poker rooms that do a great job providing value in one area of the game, like an Omaha only site or a Mixed Games only site?
17. How can you mitigate against or learn from them?
There needs to be transparency about your brand. Not only does it cultivate trust, but it allows you to open up the door for people to walk in and help you.
You mitigate the challenges by discussing them with your community. In doing so, they can provide you with a risk assessment. You can also learn from the mistakes made by competitors, which is something I’m sure Phil Galfond and the team at RunItOnce are currently figuring out.
18. What circumstances would make you quit?
Ultimately, it comes down to money.
At some point in your gameplan, your trust in the faith of providing a product for the people has to bear fruit. You need to find a way of putting people’s wants and needs first, that also provides you with a long-term profit.
Conversely, creating a product you think a poker player will like, instead of understanding how a poker player feels about an online poker site and making that, will eventually lead you to quit because it won’t work.
Finally, PokerStars, and Full Tilt before them had the very best software in the business. Yes, you will put up with anything if there is value (financially) in playing on a site, but playability has to be a top priority if you want to stop your community members shifting to the competition.
19.What does success look like?
Success would be a community of people who believe the product is theirs; that they are part of the framework; that they helped build it, and feel a part of the brand vision.
20. If this idea succeeds what’s your next step?
You have to keep your ear to the ground. You need to be in the conversation with your community constantly. In doing so, you will be ready to pivot when needed. PokerStars created Power Up because the community is falling in love with esports. There is a desire to have a more immersive experience than poker.
Technology also changes things, especially advancements in artificial intelligence (AI), augmented reality (AR), and virtual reality (VR). Cryptocurrencies is another change that online poker rooms must be spending time and resources figuring out if their community will (a) want to move in this direction, or (b) be forced to.
21.If not this, then what?
Phil Galfond proved that you could create the most successful online poker training site in the world, and then take on a more significant challenge that will advance the value for his community.
RunItOne won’t be a standalone online poker room. The architecture of the training site will become a part of the online poker room. It makes senses, to help your community play better, so their experience is more satisfying.
PokerStars is showing with Power Up that sooner rather than later poker will be forced to evolve. Technology is moving at such a fast rate; it won’t be too long before the thought of sitting down to play a game of cards, will seem positively Stegasaurus like when it comes the myriad of possible ways of spending the hard-earned budget you set aside for entertainment.
Read Part 1 here.