Running a Poker Site: Two Months In

It’s been nearly two months since we opened the doors here at Run It Once Poker. After the years of development of our poker app, which dragged on, these past several weeks felt like they went by in an instant. There’s never been a moment to sit and catch our collective breath, so the days have really flown by.

I have to say, while it’s difficult and stressful most of the time, it’s a lot more fun and interesting than it was before launch! There are so many potential areas to focus on, so much data to analyze, and we can now get quick feedback/results on any decision we make.

A lot of people have been asking me how it’s going so far. I did provide somewhat of an answer on twitter:


I’ve also been saying in forums, Discord, and on podcasts that it’s generally going well and that I’m happy with the launch. That’s true, but to be entirely honest, it’s really hard to evaluate how things are going on the whole.

Not only are there a number of positives and negatives, but so much of my focus is forward-looking. I don’t think about how things are going so much as I think of areas that I most want to improve and how to go about it. And while doing so, I constantly oscillate between feeling excited and optimistic about our future, and feeling sad and frustrated that we are still far away from doing everything we want to do – still so far from perfection.

Even objectively, I’m not sure what I should be comparing our launch to. My expectations, referenced in the aforementioned tweet, are the best I could come up with – and those expectations were not much beyond gut feelings.

I’m going to do my best to share how things have been and what I’ve been thinking about, breaking things into smaller chunks. There isn’t so much a theme or an announcement to this post, like there were in each of my previous pre-launch posts. This is just an attempt to remain transparent and to answer the question that, seemingly, very many of you are curious about.

Traffic & Liquidity

The biggest aspect of how things are going is also the most visible – our traffic.

We’ve averaged 100 simultaneous cash players (seats) since launch. That means we regularly have peaks of 200 or more players during the high traffic hours and may have only a few tables running during the low traffic hours. For reference, this appears to be similar cash traffic levels to Pokerstars New Jersey over that time period and roughly 1/4 to 1/5 the size of Unibet or MPN.

What does all this mean as far as how we’re doing? I don’t know – what do you think? 😀

Given that we’re in beta, that we’ve got limited offerings and some bugs to work out, no MTTs or SNGs, several deposit options and licenses for more markets coming in the future – I feel okay about our start, and I feel good about our chances to grow this number significantly in the coming year.

I have been disappointed by the traffic in our higher stakes games (NL500-NL2k). As a player, I’d have jumped at the chance to figure out a game with some slight variations (mainly Splash the Pot) faster than my opponents, and I expected that a lot of mid-high stakes players would feel the same way.

Unfortunately, those games haven’t been running as much as I’d hoped. I think that I underestimated how many people wouldn’t want to bother with the process of verifying their accounts and making large deposits. It seems that many people run into issues with payment providers, which our support team can usually solve quickly, but I’m sure that many don’t bother to email support and simply give up when the process gets a little bit annoying. I don’t blame them – I may have done the same.

what I want most from our revenue is the ability to sustain, and then grow, our poker site into everything I’ve dreamt for it

With traffic in general, there’s a catch 22 we’re dealing with now, which is that many players want to play on Run It Once, but they’re waiting for more players to join first. If they’d all just join at the same time, they’d be happy (hey, why don’t you all try that?!).

I have spoken with countless players through social media, email, text, on Discord, and on forums, who’ve said that they are ready to move most or all of their play to Run It Once Poker as soon as we offer the stakes they normally play, or as soon as their game is running regularly. I’m sure that this is true for many other players who I haven’t heard from, too.

Not only do players need liquidity to make the move, but changing habits takes time. If I’m used to playing 50NL on PokerStars, I’m used to the player pool, I’m used to the software, I’ve got my account verified, I’ve got my money deposited and my deposit method saved, maybe I’m used to playing with a HUD and/or a seating script. It’s no small effort to try something new, and to do so before there are consistent games for me to play is an even bigger ask.

I feel like there is a series of tipping points, one at each game-type and stake (though they’re somewhat connected), where we reach a satisfactory level of liquidity for all these players. I believe that at that point, we’ll see some dominos fall.

Whether we reach some of these tipping points through natural growth, marketing efforts, bug fixes and improvements, the addition of payment methods, or not until we’ve made major changes like adding tournaments, we’ll have to wait and see.

The way I look at it (when I’m not stressing about one thing or the other) is that we have so many improvements coming, and even if the impact of each individually is small, they will add up, and we’ll eventually reach the tipping points we need to.

Money

Another way to quantify how we’re doing with traffic is to look at things financially. Again, I’m not sure what targets are worth citing, but the most obvious one is a breakeven point.

Like most new businesses, we’re not breaking even day to day just yet. I’m not going to go into more detail than that, but I will speak a bit to my attitude about it.

As mentioned above, I’m very confident in how we’ll do once we have our “final” product. (Final is in quotes because we’ll always plan on adding new things over time)

My feeling about our revenue is much like the feeling I had for most of my career as a poker player – I wasn’t concerned about getting rich for the sake of getting rich. I wanted to play bigger, compete on bigger stages, and to do so with a comfortable bankroll.

Do I care about making money at all? Yes, of course. Do I hope Run It Once Poker becomes a wildly successful business? Yeah, that would be awesome.

But what I want most from our revenue is the ability to sustain, and then grow, our poker site into everything I’ve dreamt for it. I want to be able to develop faster, to market more aggressively, and to take more risks with our ideas.

Though I’m confident about the future, reaching that future is still far from a sure thing. That is my focus. That’s what occupies my mind throughout my days – getting Run It Once Poker from here to there.

If we don’t grow at all from this point, we won’t be able to make that happen. That, for me, would be absolutely devastating.

So, to sum up my feelings on how traffic has been: I’m pleased, optimistic, terrified, stressed, and focused!

Game Quality

The number one concern from the community in the years leading up to our launch hasn’t actually been talked about much since. This is, of course, the question, “Aren’t the games at Run It Once going to just be full of pros?”

I gave game quality a 7/10 compared to my expectations, but my expectations were much, much higher than the community’s.

Before we invested our first penny into Run It Once Poker, we took a deep dive into trying to predict the makeup of our player pool in a situation where we launched with limited marketing spend.

there’s a catch 22 we’re dealing with now, which is that many players want to play on Run It Once, but they’re waiting for more players to join first

Long story short, our analysis concluded was that the average person reading this post, the average person who knows about the Run It Once brand or has followed my career, is not a pro poker player – not even close.

From what I’ve seen so far, the games have actually seemed great. I think part of the reason that they’ve been better than I expected is that the pros are less likely than recreational players to move their play over to a new site, with new software, new rules, and “the unknown.”

Another reason is that through Splash The Pot, Dynamic Avatars, and the speed and feel of the software, I believe we’ve made the game more enjoyable, and that leads to players having more fun and taking the game a little less seriously. And I believe that people who are having more fun are coming back to redeposit more often.

There are also policies that contribute, as we always intended. The 6-table cap improves the makeup of our player pools. With no seat scripting, shortstacking, and no HUDs, there are some groups of pros that our games simply don’t appeal to.

Now, obviously, I’m incentivized to tell you that the games are good, so please don’t take my word for it. Ask people who have played, watch some streams and observe the action – don’t risk your own money because my biased perception says that the games are high quality.

But I can tell you that among other things, I’ve been asking players, and I’ve been watching streams, and I’ve been very happy with how the games seem to be.

Software

As anyone who’s followed our journey knows, software has been our biggest hurdle. We have been delayed again and again, and we’ve launched with under a third of the platform we were hoping to launch with.

Overall, I’ve been pleased with how the software has performed and how the community has responded compared to my expectations, but unlike game quality, this is an area I was pessimistic about – so adjust your perception accordingly.

As an online pro for well over a decade, I’m very picky about online poker software. Not only that, but as I’ve spent some time involved in my businesses, I’ve developed a passion for design and UX.

From my perspective, there is massive room for improvement for every poker platform on the market, so you can begin to imagine how many improvements I’d like to see in our platform, which is still in beta.

Though not every user is as picky as I am, I know how important the user interface is to online poker enthusiasts.

Leading up to launch, I worried about the reaction from the community. I feared that people would focus on what we were missing and what wasn’t working properly, and that many would not be able to see past those things and through to the positives of our software.

Beyond our known issues, I worried how people would react to some of the intentional differences in our software. It’s very hard to please everyone, after all, and we made some changes to things that have become more or less industry-standard.

Fortunately, there’s been a lot of positive feedback and a lot of understanding from those who have run into hiccups. The negative feedback we have seen has almost exclusively been about things we’re already working to fix. While I assure you that every imperfection stresses me out tremendously, I can be objective and see the positive: there have been very few surprise issues and we’ve designed our software in a way that people seemed to really like.

That’s what occupies my mind throughout my days – getting Run It Once Poker from here to there.

Beyond perception, I also worried that our software might perform worse than we expected once unleashed upon the widespread market.

Fortunately (or unfortunately, I guess you could say), users have experienced about as many bugs and issues as I thought they would. We do have a very small subset of users who run into issues regularly, but we’ve been working to improve that.

Within our first few days, we had a few server crashes, all diagnosed and resolved by our team. Improvements to stability were made quickly, and for the most part, we’ve been running smoothly since (knock on wood).

We released an update on February 21st which went really well. I knew we had fixed a couple of large bugs and made some UI improvements, but I wasn’t expecting so much improvement for a small group players who’d experienced lag and frequent crashing. Many of them reported that those issues had been completely resolved.

We have a larger update coming soon, which I hope will be an even bigger step in the right direction.

Our primary focus since (before) launch has been on bug fixes, but we are reaching a point where we can start putting more resources towards new features and offerings. As I mentioned before, I won’t be sharing many details about big changes until we’re close to releasing them, as I don’t want to make promises we aren’t guaranteed to keep, but I may share some very general updates about our roadmap from time to time.

Marketing and Promotions

So far, the majority of marketing we’ve done has been through our streamR program. This is another area that outperformed my expectations. I was excited and optimistic about the streamR program, but I didn’t expect so many streamers (and so many high quality ones at that) to hop on board right away.

I was expecting maybe 40 interested streamRs in the first couple months, but we’ve approved 284 streamR applications so far. I think that once others see how easily some of these streamRs are earning 50+% extra rakeback, we’ll continue to get more people signing up.

I’ve especially enjoyed watching a few people who started streaming because of our program and have already seen some success. In addition to our three players who reached Level 3 status and received 100% rakeback (ddandis, TheFan83 and komododragonjesus), the most obvious success story (in more ways than one) is PLO streamR NutRaisin, who, in addition to qualifying for 75% rakeback after his first month ever of streaming, won nearly 100 buyins at the tables!

I’m hopeful that we’ll see streamRs like him continue to emerge and that, one day, some might end up becoming top 10 streamers on Twitch.

Outside of the streamR program and some smaller paid marketing efforts, we’ve focused some spend on Super Splash promotions – time periods where we increase the splash frequencies (and/or amounts) at a given game and stake. To this point, we’ve done these selectively, mostly in an effort to get some games running that hadn’t yet been running much.

So far, I’d say they’ve been a success. We saw increases in traffic to games that weren’t played as much, increases in deposits, and a non-negligible increase in play at those stakes after the promotions ended.

Super Splash this Wednesday!

We’ll eventually run Super Splashes at every stake. The reason we haven’t rolled these out in the way we initially intended (quicker, frequent promos) is that the software isn’t ready. We need to be able to quickly turn them on/off and to have indicators in our lobby that they’re going on. As of now, people won’t notice unless they read our announcements via email, social media, forums, or Discord.

Speaking of Discord, our other major type of promotion has been, well… not even ours!

The extremely generous Discord member who goes by Ghil Phalfond (cute name) has given out over €10,000 of his own money to our other Discord members!!! He’s worked with us to help execute his promotions and get the word out, but this is not our money – it’s his.

When I think about all of the people who’ve supported and helped out Run It Once Poker, Ghil’s generosity puts him at the absolute top of that list. I’m blown away by it.

He’s told us that he plans to do more giveaways, so if you haven’t already joined our Discord server – don’t wait too long!

I think that once others see how easily some of these streamRs are earning 50+% extra rakeback, we’ll continue to get more people signing up.

On the topic of supporters and promotion, we’ve had some assists from Parker Talbot, who streamed RIO and made a video for us, from Fernando Habegger, who has talked about us on YouTube, showed up to chat on Discord, has hosted some RIO streamRs after some of his streams have ended, and has just started streaming on Run It Once Poker himself. RIO streamR Andreas Froehli, in addition to his streams, has made some awesome and complimentary YouTube videos about the site. There are more players I could mention, but I’ll bore you by the time I finish. None of these people asked for anything from us – they just seem to believe in what we’re trying to achieve and wanted to support us. Thank you to them and to everyone else out there who feels the same way!

We plan to increase our marketing efforts in the coming months after we’ve made some more software improvements. I’m hopeful that combined with everything else we’re working on, this pushes some more of our games over the edge into dependable liquidity territory.

Customer Support

We launched with a small team in many areas, and CS is certainly no exception. In addition to offering email support, we have a Discord server where users can hop on and get help with issues. or just chat and win Ghil Phalfond promo money!

In order to maximize coverage, which we felt was important, we’ve tagged in some of our Run It Once Training team to assist with Discord and occasional email support, but mainly, our small team in Malta has just been working extremely hard to deliver the level of customer service we set out to provide.

We’ve also had a lot of help on Discord from our players – specifically our Discord Moderators, who’ve been a tremendous help.

Since Feb 6th, we have received 3,568 emails. Our average response time was 1 hour 5 minutes. 50% have been handled within 8 minutes, with 75% handled within 30 minutes!

We have approved 2,816 withdrawals. Average time between player’s request and our handling/approval was 9 hours 46 minutes. Of course after approval there is a big difference in the time that it takes to be processed to the player, mostly depending on payment method (e-wallets instant; cards/banks somewhere between instant and 2-3 business days).

I’ve heard a lot of positive reactions from users about the way our team has assisted them, and I’m very proud of the work they’ve done!

Looking Ahead

While it’s been a pretty good launch, we’re certainly not at the levels that can allow us to ramp up marketing and development at the speeds I’d like to. We’ll still be working on both, of course, but we know that things won’t change overnight.

We’ve been working on our next software update since long before our last one, and it will include a number of additional improvements. We hope to launch it, after proper testing, in the coming week. As you may know, these dates rarely hold, so we’ll see!

We’re also (always) working hard on adding deposit and withdrawal options. Specifically, we’ve recently added Astropay, and we’re still pushing as much as we can on adding BTC deposits and withdrawals, as well as some popular options for Canada and Eastern Europe. We’re also trying our best to get approval from our regulators for P2P transfers.

On a longer-term scale, we’re working hard on some of the most requested features like resizeable tables, more customization options, and some changes to Splash the Pot.

We’ve also got some of our developers working towards adding SNGs, which will be the first major post-launch addition to Run It Once Poker. I don’t have a timeline for you yet, but if you play more, we’ll build them faster 🙂

I hope that all of you who’ve been playing are having fun. I appreciate our early adopters so, so much! I’m very excited to improve our platform for you in the coming weeks and months, and to hopefully bring in a lot more players and fill up those games!

I’m also excited for the next time I get to make a feature or game type announcement, but I need to remain patient and focused on the present!

Right now, we’re working towards more consistency and traffic so that those of you who are waiting for those things before jumping into the action can finally make that jump.

Thank you for your support, feedback, critiques, and ideas. Whether you’ve played on Run It Once, streamed your play, discussed our platform, or told your friends about us, you’re a part of this project, and hopefully, you’ll be part of the reason we grow into everything we’ve always wanted for online poker.

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