Launching a new online poker site is no easy task. But that’s the scenario poker player Phil Galfond faced when he launched Run It Once Poker almost a year ago.
In a Jan. 6 Twitter video, Galfond discussed the company’s future. Run Ir Once focused on software in 2019 and now hopes to increase its player pool. The video included a direct appeal to PokerStars cash game players.
The direct appeal to poach Stars players offered a glimpse into the company’s new efforts at growth. RIO is offering several bonuses for new players. Galfond spoke recently with PokerScout about the company and its future.
A look at Run It Once after its first year
Building a player pool and marketing a new online platform is a herculean task. After a beta launch in February, there were some bumps along the way. Galfond says it was a long road to get to the launch point.
That first week went well in terms of traffic, but Galfond admits the software wasn’t as ready as his team hoped. RIO struggled to sustain traffic through the first half of the year because of that. Things improved through the second half of 2019, he says.
“Our software is much stronger now, and we have new updates coming soon with a number of exciting additions,” Galfond says. “The story lately has been more about getting those players who had a bad start with us back to see all the progress we’ve made.”
The site added to its Legends rewards program in November, which helped. Galfond expects traffic to continue growing with the platform and rewards improvements.
Poker promotions and unique features
As a player himself, Galfond hoped to build RIO with unique features to solve some problems the industry faces. He notes that most industry standards were created 15 years ago. A few RIO features include:
- Table Alias and Dynamic Avatar systems – This ties in with the site’s no-HUD policy and protects casual players from feeling preyed upon. It also brings a sense of live poker with avatars that change based on a player’s style at the table.
- Splash the Pot rewards program – This offers up to 75% rakeback with 30% going to the table in random pots. Galfond believes this adds an exciting element to the game while also serving as a bot deterrent.
- Legends rewards program – This new program offers generous rewards for high-volume players and us still accessible and fun for casual players.
“In total, I believe we’re giving out higher rewards than anyone by a nice margin,” Galfond says.
“This is another thing that we do to set ourselves apart – I make myself accessible to the community and explain exactly why we’ve made the decisions we have for our poker site and what we’re hoping to accomplish.”
Marketing the Run It Once poker brand
Creating unique features and top-notch software is one thing, attracting players is another. The site isn’t among the PokerScout worldwide traffic leaders, but Galfond is hoping to get closer. Some of its recent promotional efforts might help.
What are some challenges to finding space in the online poker market?
“We have an advantage given that the RIO brand is well known and trusted, which is a challenge for many other new sites – getting seen and being trusted,” Galfond says. “Even with that advantage, the most difficult thing for a new site in a crowded market like this is getting liquidity.
“Having a large player pool makes your product better – the availability of games and stakes at all hours of the day is something that players want, and therefore leads to more players playing.”
It’s a catch-22 for poker sites – the need for a regular group of players to get more players.
“You could have the absolute best software and policies, but if you don’t have players in your games,” Galfond says, “then your product can’t compete with the big guys when it comes to game selection for your players.”
In the first year, almost all RIO marketing was word of mouth. Galfond didn’t feel the product was ready for traditional marketing.
The company has also used its StreamR program as a promotional vehicle. The program offers additional rakeback to players who stream their play on RIO. The site also has an active Discord community of players.
“One big challenge has been that people assume because the RIO brand is associated with expert poker training that our games must be terrible, which is not at all the case,” Galfond says. “Our ambassadors, especially our streamRs, shed some light on that truth.”
Chasing PokerStars players and growing the player pool
Galfond made some waves with his new video directly appealing to PokerStars players. What’s the goal and what does RIO offer them?
— Phil Galfond (@PhilGalfond) January 6, 2020
“The primary goal is simply to grow our traffic, which I think we’re seeing is working so far over an extremely limited sample,” Galfond said shortly after the effort began.
That includes double Legends rewards for three weeks, followed by 1.5X rewards for five more weeks. Galfond notes that Splash the Pot and Legends give most players between 40-75% rakeback. That could even be higher through short-handed play multipliers.
“The Legends reward multiplier means that reasonably high-volume players will likely be playing near rake-free to start their journey at RIO Poker,” he says.
New players receive free lifetime access to RIO Training’s “From The Ground Up” course and up to three months of RIO Essential membership.
Every site needs casual and recreational players. Galfond sees RIO’s efforts as a way to keep recreational players in the game and working on their skills. Building a thriving player pool is the focus, not necessarily higher-limit players.
“Through these resources and policies that can protect losing players, we’re hoping to give these players a much better poker experience,” he says. “We’re primarily targeting recreational players, but of course, all players are welcome.
“I don’t think RIO reaches a lot of pure beginners – the type who see a PokerStars ad on TV and play poker for the first time. But I think we do very well attracting recreational players who are already involved in poker. This is a more knowledgeable, sophisticated category of recreational player, who loves the game but doesn’t play it primarily to earn money.”
The efforts have created an ecosystem focused more on sophisticated recreational players than professionals. Galfond sees professional players as less likely to join a new site. Many don’t want to adjust to new software, he says, or leave consistent stakes on sites they’re used to.
“The players who love what we’re doing and who love poker but don’t depend on it for income,” he says, “those are the players who more often jump to Run It Once without hesitation.”
The future of online poker
As a poker player and proprietor of popular training and online poker sites, where does Galfond see the industry? Bringing in more players is obviously important to the health of the industry.
But Galfond also believes in having regular poker players involved in the process is critical.
“I think the future of online poker will be much brighter if there are more poker sites led by poker players,” he says. “Poker players understand the challenges facing the industry, of which there are many.
“I believe they can come up with creative solutions better than anyone. RIO isn’t the only poker site led by a team of people who truly care about online poker, but there aren’t that many others in my opinion.”