Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Interview: How a Poker Membership Site Made $100,000 in its First Week

On the 27th of March, 2010, I received an email from a guy named Billy Murphy, who basically just wanted to say that he really liked ViperChill and the content I was posting. Three days later I was at a friends house and he got to talking about some of the membership sites he uses for training. Since he’s a professional poker player the site in question was indeed a poker site, named BlueFirePoker. The name sounded very familiar, and after a quick check on my phone, I realised it was the site Billy owned.

Fast-forward to two weeks ago, and Billy let me in on some of the sites details, and also let me know about a new site he’s starting up. I jumped at the chance to ask him some questions, but with his claim of making $100,000 in one week, I was slightly worried the interview wouldn’t be good enough to post. After all, I assumed a huge amount of money must have been spent in order for that to happen, and it’s not exactly something all ViperChill readers can replicate. How wrong I was.

I like to see myself as someone who thinks a little outside of the box, but some of Billy’s answers really had me scribbling down notes and ideas for my own projects. This is a long interview, but I don’t think you’re going to read anything better in the IM space today. This man is very, very smart. You’ll see..

The first thing I guess everyone will want to know is, how did you get so much traffic to a new website, so quickly? How can other people try to achieve similar results?

Great question. In short, value.

The number one thing people fail to realize is you don’t need a lot of internet marketing gimmicks if you truly offer a great product or service. The goal with BlueFirePoker has always been to offer the highest quality poker training videos on the market. We launched with a very small team of pros, but each pro was an extremely good player, and extremely good coach. So, people knew who they were when we launched, and knew they could learn a lot from them.

There was no pre-launch marketing, there were no affiliates, no email lists, no PPC campaigns… nothing.

I spent $0 on marketing, and our first day we received 8,853 hits (and the launch didn’t happen until later in the morning, so this was probably only the first 12-13 hours or so).

How?

We offered more value than anything else that was out there. So, the value of the product worked as its own marketing. People spread the word like crazy because they knew it was something that could help them, and help others.

These are players that you can’t get access to for one on one coaching. They either won’t do it because they spend most of their time playing, or it’s too expensive for players. The players can get coaching by watching videos from our players for a sign up fee ($100), and $30/month. If they were trying to get one on one coaching, it might cost them several hundred dollars per hour, if not over $1,000/hr depending on the player.

For a poker player looking to make more money, paying the substantially lower price for videos is a no brainer. That’s why the product basically markets itself. Because it’s the craziest value ever. Learn from some of the best poker players in the world, for $30/month.

So as soon as the launch happened, people started talking about it. I went out of my way to not say anything about what we were doing before the launch, and asked all of our pros to do the same. This goes against all the internet marketing rules, and I’m not sure if it was optimal. However, because no one heard about it, I think it caused some excitement in the poker community the day of, that might not have happened to the same affect if everyone already knew it was coming out. I think sometimes pre-marketing can take some things away from a launch. By the time it launches, the excitement people had could have died down quite a bit. Sometimes products people were interested in finally come out, and you have to re-sell them to get them excited about it. When we launched, it was more like, “Wait, what!? Holy shit these guys are training people to play!???” Followed by a massive amount of signups.

Besides the word of mouth marketing, a lot of my focus was on viral marketing. One of the things that helped us a lot was a challenge I proposed to President Obama shortly after launch. There was a lot of politics/debate going on about whether poker should be regulated, or whether it should be outlawed. The main argument was around whether poker was a game of luck, or a game of skill.

Amazingly there’s a lot of people who don’t understand that poker is a huge skill game. There’s plenty of short term luck in poker, but in the long run, the good players win the money. The only people who think it’s luck are the people who lose, and don’t understand why they’re losing.

I wanted to help bring attention to the situation. So I offered the President $1,000,000 to play against one of our pros. If he could beat them, the money would go to any charity he wanted. If he lost, he owed us $1. I also extended the offer to any member of Congress. The goal being, to show that it was obviously a game of skill. If not, people would have gladly accepted a 50/50 chance at a million bucks. I got a couple calls from representatives of people in Congress about the possibility of setting up a match, but ultimately nothing happened. I didn’t expect it to, because they were never going to beat our pros.

Fox News aired the story, and that really helped give us a lot of buzz…

After that, everyone was talking about us again. It helped to create a second wave of publicity for us. We had just launched. and now all of the sudden we were on national news, fighting to bring attention to issues that if addressed, could help the poker community a lot. The community really got behind us and saw we were going to be making a lot of noise in the industry.

Because people were enjoying the service so much, all of the marketing kept compounding. It’d be substantially different if we were offering a mediocre product and I was generating publicity just to try and get some quick traffic to the site. That wasn’t the case, so the immediate benefits I’d bring in from viral marketing, also brought a lot of long term benefits. All of the people using the service who heard about us through the promotion, realized the service was good and they kept spreading the word.

Why aren’t others achieving the same results?

Here’s how I would launch a business if I wanted to be like most internet marketers:

Step 1: Offer a shitty product
Step 2: Spam the shit out of everyone I know
Step 3: Contact other spammers to see if they will spam the shit out of everyone they know too so we can both make more money
Step 4: Work on sales pages, PPC, and other shit that is irrelevant long term if you have a shitty product
Step 5: Launch, capture as many sales as possible
Step 6: Watch the traffic die, and close the business down
Step 7: Find a new shitty product to promote, and repeat

Here is how I launch a product:

Step 1: Figure out a way to create ridiculous value in whatever space I’m going into, and offer that
Step 2: Launch, and get people talking about how great your product is
Step 3: Launch viral marketing campaign to continue the growth of your reach, which also multiples the word of mouth marketing

The difference is, my ‘step 1′ might take months. BlueFirePoker actually took probably closer to a year to launch. The first few months I was putting together a team of pros I wanted to have on board. Then, getting our website done took 9 months (yes, seriously… be wary of companies despite their ratings on Elance ;) ).

Someone else’s ‘step 1′ might take 5 minutes. That’s where the difference comes in. They’re focusing on the wrong variables of what’s going to make their business succeed. They’re actually working on the exact opposite of what they should be working on. They spend all of their time convincing people they need to buy their shit, rather than creating a product that no one would need convincing to buy.

So, in much shorter words… put out shit that’s so good people have to buy it. Let people do most of your marketing for you. Then accelerate everything with viral marketing.

Some people assume it’s just luck. It’s not just BlueFirePoker I’ve done this with. For a recent example, I’m using the same approach with Forever Jobless and have gone from ‘guy no one knew’ to extremely fast blog growth with over 500 subscribers in just over a week. It’s not an accident.

If you put all your time around creating something nothing else on the market can match, that IS your marketing. It’s going to be almost all the marketing you need.

Were you a poker fan before launching the site or were you well versed in marketing and decided to enter the poker niche?

I played poker professionally for 3-4 years before I decided to start the poker business. I was tired of playing poker, and wanted a new challenge. That was my first internet business but I had done other small businesses/investments before. I had studied business/marketing for years, and had always been very entrepreneurial minded, but had never done an online business.

$100,000 for your first week is obviously a fantastic result. How did earnings continue to play out? Is the income from the website stable or does it fluctuate a lot…

That was our biggest week ever. We’ve had some other spikes after some of the viral marketing promotions I’ve done, but that was by far our biggest week. Earnings have been good. It’s unlike a lot of the ‘internet marketer’ businesses where they have a big launch, make a bunch of money and then sales fall off a cliff. We’ve had consistent sales the whole time we’ve been in business. I don’t think we’ll ever have a week like we did that first week again though. Overall it’s been relatively stable, although in the last year or two it’s declined because the whole poker economy is in a pretty crappy state right now.

How are the laws regarding the restrictions of US players online affecting your business?

A lot. Basically, a lot of the sites that served US players have stopped allowing US players to play, or have shut down. So, it’s much harder for a lot of people to be able to play. Therefore, a lot of people who were playing poker a lot have moved on to other things, and don’t have the need for poker training anymore.

We cater to a lot of professional poker players, or semi-pro players, so a lot of our subscribers who lived in the US have either moved on to a different line of work, or moved out of the country.

Roughly 1/3rd of our members were from the US, so we took a big hit once the government started getting involved.

How much money did you invest to get the site up and running to its current state?

I put $16,000 into the initial website. I hired a company from India, so if the site had been built here the same way it would have been about 3-4x as much. Although looking back, obviously the opportunity cost of taking so long to launch was a substantial amount of money lost.

I think you can get it built for much cheaper with all the different out of the box solutions out there now. They started working on it in 2008, and there weren’t as many good options. There were some, but they either didn’t have it how I wanted it, or I didn’t know of them.

Which countries do the majority of your user base come from?

We get a huge mix from all over. US is still the number 1 traffic source for us by a large margin even with all of the hurdles for US players.

To give you an idea of how diversified our traffic is: 23 different countries account for at least 1% of our traffic.

The UK, Canada, Germany and France are some of the big ones besides the US.

We talked a few years ago when a friend – who I’ve personally witness make close to $1m from online poker – said your website was the best resource for training videos. The field for membership sites are extremely competitive, especially in poker, so how did you help differentiate your site from the competition?

Quality over quantity. There were a lot of poker training sites out in 2009. There wasn’t one of them specializing in very high quality content. The sites were signing well known players, and would barely have them release any videos. So, their members would sign up to watch these guys, and rarely get to see any of their content. It was easy to see that who people were signing up for, and what the sites were delivering were two totally different things.

Wherever you have people complaining about something, it probably means there’s a gap somewhere in the market. The gap was quality.

I wanted to specialize when we started out, so I put together a very small team of 5-6 pros, who only played one form of poker — cash games. The guys were all extremely high quality players and teachers in their games, and I knew if we launched with the team we had, we would instantly have by far the best cash game training team out of any of the competitors on the market.

I was less focused on having our guys put out a massive amount of videos, and more on them putting out incredibly helpful videos.

So, while our competitors often had 30-50 pros, sometimes more, we only had 5 for a long time, and focused on just making sure our content was better than anyone else.

People wanted extremely high quality videos, and weren’t getting them to the degree they wanted. So, we offered it.

As time went on, we expanded towards other games such as multi-table tournaments, and sit and go’s, which are single table tournaments. We’ve tried to offer the highest quality content in whichever games we’ve expanded to.

That’s been the main way we’ve differentiated from the rest of the market. Quality.

What is one thing most aspiring entrepreneurs are doing wrong that is holding them back?

They view risk incorrectly. They make all of their decisions based on trying not to lose – which is often the suboptimal strategy if your goal is to win. For example, instead of creating a monster business that will help them achieve their goals, they try to create little mini sites so they don’t risk anything.

If they have big goals, they guarantee themselves NOT to hit their goals, because they’re so emotionally caught up in not taking risks. The “risks” are actually less risky for them but because of the emotional response most people have to decision making, they often fail to realize this. Their emotions tell them to fear the downside, as opposed to listening to their logic which would tell them to also factor in the upside.

If they take the “risk” and succeed, they can accomplish a big goal. If they don’t, they may avoid “risk” in their mind, but they also avoid any chance of real success. Avoiding a road that could lead to success, just to avoid risk, is how most people make their decisions.

That’s a lot riskier in my opinion.

You’ve just launched a blog — http://foreverjobless.com/ — how did that come about? Do you have plans to enter other industries with membership sites based on the success you’ve had?

I wouldn’t mind doing a membership site again at some point. I like the membership model, because if done right it can be extremely good for your business, and your customers. For your customers, they don’t have to keep looking for new things that they want/need each month, they’ll already have it. For you and your business, you don’t have to re-sell people each month. They’re already there, and already paying you every month, so sales stay very consistent each month as long as your offering is good. It’s also substantially more passive than other businesses, assuming you’re doing it right.

There’s one niche in particular I’ve thought a lot about going into for a membership site, but haven’t gotten inspired enough to make the time commitment it would take yet.

In the long term, I will probably get involved in another membership site, because I like the model. There are definitely a lot of markets that have unfulfilled needs, that a membership site would work perfect for right now. They’re either not being offered, or they’re being offered, but offering a low quality product. If someone reading this wants to fill one of these markets, just spend a crazy amount of time doing whatever you have to do to put out the best service or product that could possibly be offered. If you do that, it will make it very hard for you to not be successful.

We are actually in the process of experimenting with a subscription-based business with one of our e-commerce stores. We just ran a little test the other day to see if there was interest, and we had some people sign up. So, we’ll do a beta launch and see how it goes. If it’s something we think we can grow into something a lot bigger, we’ll put more of our focus around that than the one-off sale side of the business for that store.

I’ve got my plate pretty full though. Along with BlueFirePoker, I also run a large number of niche e-commerce stores, along with now blogging at Forever Jobless. Right now I’d like to dedicate a decent amount of time to Forever Jobless. I’m really passionate about it.

As to the first part of the question, I started Forever Jobless because I felt there was a huge need in the ‘make money’ blog space –The fact that almost none of the ‘make money’ bloggers know how to make money — That’s a pretty glaring hole in the market.

Most people who know how to make money, don’t blog. Most people who blog, don’t know how to make money.

There’s a few exceptions, but for the most part, people are just regurgitating what they read. Then, they’re selling products to people. The only people that buy from them are people who aren’t aware they’re not learning from someone who knows how to make money. So, all of the people who don’t know any better are learning from people who don’t know how to make money, and then the process is being repeated. Those people are then starting up blogs, regurgitating what they’ve heard, and selling that information. So, there’s just a bunch of people out there who don’t know how to make money making a living teaching people how to make money. Pretty mind boggling.

ViperChill and Forever Jobless might be the only blogs in the ‘make money’ space without a bunch of banners all over the site trying to sell shit.

Why?

We don’t need to make a dime on the blogs to make a living. Most bloggers do.

That’s the flaw in the market.

There’s obviously nothing wrong with people selling things on their blogs. However, a lot of them NEED people to buy their shit to survive. That’s a flawed model if they’re teaching people how to make money, and if people don’t buy the stuff on their blog, they’re broke.

My motivations are different than most ‘make money’ bloggers. I enjoy helping people learn how to make money. It’s extremely fulfilling to have someone say that you’ve had some influence in helping them succeed. So far that’s been limited to a small number of people. I’d like to change that. Also, I’m doing it because I enjoy meeting other entrepreneurs, and it’s probably one of the most efficient ways to meet a huge number of entrepreneurs in a short amount of time. If people see the things you’re doing, and think it’s interesting, they’ll reach out. Without sharing what we’re doing, a lot of those people would never know who we are, and we’d never connect with them.

A lot of people are providing products or services because they want to make money off of them, not because they’re offering something of value. That’s where most people get things confused. Don’t go into blogging, or business, or anything else unless you plan to add value for people. If the reason you’re getting into something is just to try and make money, you’re doing it wrong. If instead, you’re getting into something because you think it can add value to people, you don’t have to worry about trying to make money with it, it will come because it’s something people need/want.

You didn’t launch OptinSkin because you heard other people were making money with plug ins and you wanted to too. You did it because you saw a gap in the market where you could add value. As a result of you adding a ton of value to the market, I’m sure that a lot of people bought it, and it brought you a good amount of money. I use OptiSkin on ForeverJobless.

Why?

Because it adds value to something I’m doing.

That’s how successful entrepreneurs go about things. They focus on what other people want, not what they want. Funny thing is when you focus on what other people want, you get what you want too.

Making money is an easy game if you do it the right way.

I just wanted to personally thank Billy for the awesome value he provided here, and have no doubt he’ll be sharing a lot more of it on his new site, Forever Jobless. I’m sure he’ll be checking out the comments here so feel free to ask some questions if you have any, and I hope you enjoyed the post!

P.S. No more 3 month gaps in posting. The next one is on Thursday :)

Source: http://www.viperchill.com/poker-membership/

Arthur F. Ryan Matthew K. Rose David C. Novak Daniel R. DiMicco Nicholas D. Chabraja

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