GPWA Times Magazine - Issue 33 - October 2015

Innovation is a requirement for survival, and you have to pick your spots! When did PocketFives launch? Can you describe your role in the planning and launch process? Who else was involved with the project at that time? I was a fa- natical poker player and enthusiast back in the early boom days. I started playing regularly online in 2003 and had some modest success as a part-time player while pursuing my master’s degree. Soon after that, I moved in with a friend named Cal Spears who was just as into poker as I was, and the two of us spent many days and nights glued to our computer screens or grinding live in Tunica, Mississippi. We ended up deciding, along with one other friend named Riley Bryant, to try to build a website to rank and legitimize the best online poker players. There were so many fans of online poker dispersed through- out the various poker sites, but it was in- credibly difficult to find any aggregated information about those players. Even basic information like real names was very difficult to come by. We set out to tell the world these players’ stories. The site launched in 2005, and my primary roles in getting us to our launch were to manage the player rankings and act as the editor- in-chief for the site’s content. How did you come up with the name “PocketFives”? What was the genesis of the name? Why not “PocketAces”? We spent several weeks going through various names. A lot of the ones we con- sidered were just based on available do- main names, and they were pretty ge- neric. Things like “ ” and “ .” These domains might have been good for SEO — some- thing we knew absolutely nothing about at the time, by the way — but they weren’t really good for building a brand. We ulti- mately chose the name of a hand that has some history and mythology, something we all liked. For more on this, see here: How long did it take for you to start earning money? Not long at all. We were very lucky about the state of the industry when we got in. We weren’t expecting to earn money quickly, nor did we really have a plan for how to earn money. We knew almost nothing about affiliate deals going into our launch. We set up basic af- filiate accounts with a few sites and put up a few basic reviews and banners, and we were shocked when we were already making some money after only a month or two. What were your initial goals for PocketFives? Has that mission changed in any way since the site was founded? As I alluded to earlier, our goal was to shed light on the individuals behind the online poker screen names. We wanted to tell their stories to the world, and we believed they wanted their stories told as well. This goal was validated by how many of the top players joined our site within the first six months or so. The mission has changed somewhat, but the basic idea is still the same. We want to celebrate the identities and ac- complishments of the best online poker players. Now we focus a lot more on local rankings and local communi- ties, since the market has become so fragmented geographically. How has the site evolved in terms of staffing? How do you divide up the work on such a large site? And what are your primary responsibilities? P5s currently has a pretty small staff, and for the most part it always has. We currently have five full-time or almost full-time people and then a number of contractors who mostly contribute content. It’s always been a challenge to get everything done with such a small team, but the core people we have are extremely dedicat- ed and adaptive. That goes a long way. My primary responsibilities these days are oversight in a number of areas and business development. PocketFives is one of the largest poker communities in the world, with a very active forum. How long did it take to develop that community? How hard is it to manage? We got in at the right time, when online poker was really starting to explode around the beginning of 2005. The type of site we built allowed our com- munity to grow pretty quickly. Our cen- tral product was our player rankings, and that provided plenty of conversational fodder. Our forums were the natural place for people to air their disagreements and opinions, or to make their own personal case. Back then there weren’t any sites tracking performance, so it wasn’t as easy to refute when someone said they had a 200% ROI. People spent countless hours debating that kind of stuff in the forums. We also had a ton of content that made for fun conversation. It was just a good time to start a venture like this. Management of forums and community has always provided challenges. When things are going fine and we’re simply bystanders in the conversation, it’s pretty easy. You just kind of moderate disputes and make sure they don’t get too out of hand or inflammatory. You certainly want a civil environment where newcomers have a chance to feel welcome. On the other hand, you don’t want to curtail ex- pression too much. It’s a nice balancing act when you can keep things somewhat clean but still allow people to say what they want to say. The biggest challenges we’ve faced over the years have usually been when the crit- icism is directed at us. Reddit has certain- ly been dealing with this lately in a very big and public way. It’s not easy when your community turns against you. The GPWA AFFILIATE INTERVIEW SERIES pocketfives Adam Small GPWA Affiliate Interview Series