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    GPWA Dan is offline Former Staff Member
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    Default Affiliate Interview Series | Adam Small - pocketfives

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    Age: 34

    Hometown: Charleston, W.V.

    Living in: Atlanta, Ga.

    Favorite Food: Southern BBQ

    Must Read Book: Catís Cradle by Kurt Vonnegut

    Site: PocketFives.com

    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 pretty fanatical 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 masterís 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 throughout the various poker sites, but it was incredibly 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 playersí 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 siteís content.

    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 werenít 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 affiliate 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 our 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 accomplishments of the best online poker players. Now we focus a lot more on local rankings and local communities, 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 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. Itís always been a challenge to get everything done with such a small team, but the core people we have are extremely dedicated 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 community to grow pretty quickly. Our central 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 werenít any sites tracking performance, so it wasnít 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 weíre simply bystanders in the conversation, itís pretty easy. You just kind of moderate disputes and make sure they donít 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 donít want to curtail expression too much. Itís 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 weíve faced over the years have usually been when the criticism is directed at us. Reddit has certainly been dealing with this lately in a very big and public way. Itís not easy when your community turns against you. The only way to really navigate this kind of situation to a lasting resolution is to face the criticism head-on and try to win people over to your point of view. The bigger and more diverse you get, the harder that becomes.

    PocketFives used to have a podcast that ran for more than six years, but hasn't broadcast an episode in more than three years. What was the reason behind the decision to drop the podcast? Any plans to bring it back? What advice do you have for affiliates who are thinking about doing their own podcast?

    Our decision was more about numbers than anything else. There was a fair amount of cost to make the shows, and we just werenít seeing either of the two key metrics that would make it worthwhile ó revenue and traffic. The English-only podcast became an especially difficult business model in the postĖBlack Friday poker world. We will likely bring back audio or video content in regulated U.S. markets at some point. It can be great content if done correctly.

    Obviously the UIGEA and Black Friday had a huge impact on the online poker community, especially in the United States. How did PocketFives adapt to survive those two developments?

    The UIGEA was a wound that never fully healed for the offshore U.S. online poker industry. Black Friday, however, was the nail in the coffin. Itís important to differentiate between those two events, while also understanding the relationship between them. The UIGEA left open a lot of opportunity for poker businesses in the U.S. Black Friday did not. Affiliates and industry-dependent sites that were U.S.-heavy before Black Friday saw their revenues obliterated overnight.

    My partners and I had actually sold the site years earlier and only reacquired it after Black Friday, so we brought kind of a fresh perspective to running the site. Weíre werenít using high revenue numbers as our baseline like a lot of existing affiliates. Thus it wasnít too hard a decision for us to turn away the potential for revenue from offshore U.S.-facing poker sites. In doing so, we gave up what wouldíve been about half our revenues at the time and couldíve grown to a much higher percentage today. But our business feels stable and legitimate when weíre not connected to those sites, and I like our long-term prospects much better based on our choice. Weíre positioned to do well in current and future regulated markets in the U.S. and elsewhere. In the meantime, weíve just had to be careful about spending and do our best to stay afloat with non-U.S. revenue and revenue from the states that have legalized online poker.

    The online poker affiliate market has changed dramatically in the last decade, and not just in the United States. How hard has it been to survive those changes?

    Itís been tough. The biggest change, in my opinion, is the competition. Most of our major competitors now operate very intelligently compared to the early years. We canít expect to be the only ones innovating in the space. Innovation is a requirement for survival these days. Itís particularly difficult to compete in, say, Finland, when thereís a Finland-based community thatís built in the Finnish language and run by people on the ground in that country who can organize live events and who have personal relationships with so many of the players. Itís very, very difficult to be big all over the world these days. You have to, at times, pick your spots.

    What are your thoughts on PokerStars' recent announcement that affiliates will only earn commission on players sent to the site for two years, rather than for life, including players who signed up on the site before that change in terms and conditions?

    On the one hand, Iím not surprised. It makes sense for them to not pay millions of dollars a year to affiliates in 2015 who signed up a bunch of players in 2004 and hardly do anything anymore. On the other hand, I donít see why any affiliate would work with them under these terms. Rev share deals are all about volume. You sign up hundreds of players in hopes that over time a few of them become high-volume grinders and make steady commissions for the affiliate. A two-year cap takes away just about any incentive I can think of for someone to work on a rev share deal in this particular industry. Speaking for us, unless weíre getting CPA or a flat marketing spend, weíre not going to promote anyone more than a token amount. We just donít trust the sites (and didnít before, either) to honor lifetime revenue sharing deals and to keep terms the same. We do, however, continue to have a positive relationship with PokerStars and work with them in certain capacities.

    Describe your work environment. Do you work from home or in an office? If you work from home, how often do you get to see and interact with other people in the industry?

    Right now Iím sitting in a coffee shop in Norcross, Georgia. I have a co-working space that I go to sometimes, and sometimes I work from home. Thatís gotten harder since we started having kids a couple years ago, so I usually try to get out at least a few hours a day.

    I enjoy personal interaction very much, and I try to get to at least a few industry events per year. There are also people based locally in the Atlanta area who I sometimes meet for lunch or coffee. I do it as much as I can, given the limitations of my location.

    What traits do you look for in an affiliate manager? How about in an affiliate program?

    The affiliate managers I really like are the ones who can see the bigger picture beyond their own department. These managers, and the corporate managers they work under, need to understand that thereís more to marketing than click-through traffic. We expect to be compensated, or at the very least helped out, when we invest our time, money and opportunity cost on promoting something for an operator. If theyíre completely put off by the idea of making any kind of investment that isnít directly related to real-money conversions, weíll probably have a hard time working together. They need to be able to look at a website with reach and understand that thereís more value to promotion than simply converting new sign-ups. If their department heads or corporate management havenít figured that out yet, they usually arenít our partners.

    Whatís your preferred method of communication with affiliate managers?

    I donít deal with them directly for the most part, but generally we communicate via phone or e-mail. I enjoy very much when we have the opportunity to get together in person at a conference or other industry event.

    What prompted you to join the GPWA? How has it helped you?

    GPWA has been an industry staple for years, and Iíve thought membership was important for a long time. I think it reinforces us as a legitimate, productive member of the industry community.

    What do you like about the industry?

    I like that there are a lot of different people and companies we can work with, and that they donít all have the same tired ideas. Sometimes thereís a lull, but in general, if one company doesnít like something weíre doing there are plenty of others who do.

    If you could change one thing about the industry, what would it be and why?

    Iíd like to see affiliates held accountable when they act in ways that damage the industry. Whether that damage is to credibility, liquidity or whatever else, affiliates are generally only held accountable to very major and direct violations ó and even sometimes in those cases a blind eye is turned. Companies that have tried to follow the rules and be good partners to the industry have rarely been rewarded in whatís been a generally cutthroat atmosphere for player acquisition.

    What do your family and friends think of your work as an affiliate?

    For the most part, they have no idea what any of it means! But most of them think itís pretty cool that weíve built a community around poker.

    Do you gamble online? If so, what do you play?

    Not anymore ó the only sites available to me in Georgia are ones I wouldnít play on.

    How long do you give yourself to answer e-mail? What e-mail tips can you offer?

    Iím terrible at e-mail, and I mostly hate it. Sometimes I let weeks pass, which isnít really defensible. I just donít like it as a means of conversation. I think itís way too easy to spit out a bunch of ideas or spend all day going back and forth on e-mail without actually doing anything productive. My best e-mail tip is to spend as little of your day as possible doing it, and to also turn off Twitter and Facebook and (any other distractions) for most of your work day. If you canít find ways to fill up the time with actual work, you arenít trying hard enough. Iím not at all saying Iíve followed this advice consistently. But I still know itís the best way to be productive.

    How do you manage your to-do lists? Do you use any special software to help you out?

    Pretty simple: I just use Apple Sticky Notes.

    How much time do you devote to SEO and/or social networking in order to drive more traffic to your site?

    I donít personally do much of that.

    Whatís the most difficult thing about running your site?

    Adapting to the times. We have to stay on top of current trends and innovate accordingly. Sometimes that means uncomfortable and speculative investment. But we believe in our site.

    Whatís the best thing about running your site?

    I love when Iím at a poker event wearing a P5s shirt or hat and someone tells me they are on the site all the time. I love it even more when it happens in a non-poker setting. Recently, my wife and kids were with me at a restaurant at the Mall of Georgia and our waiter was a member of the site. My wife teased me the rest of the day about how proud I looked after the waiter talked about what a great site we had. I just love knowing that weíve created something people enjoy.

    What do you do to stay in shape Ė both physically and mentally?

    I go to the gym and swim a fair amount and play a lot of tennis. I love tennis and have played my whole life, and I find it to be the perfect combination of competition and fitness. Iím able to brush off a lot of my daytime concerns when Iím on the court. I always feel refreshed later, even when Iím exhausted. Nowadays I do a bit less of that because I havenít had the time lately, but Iíve more than made up for it by spending time with my two sons. I can never stay too stressed out about anything with work when I get to come home to them. Theyíre the best medicine for just about anything.

    If someone were visiting you, whatís the one place youíd definitely take them to see?

    Atlantaís kind of boring, and it very much depends on the person. But my preference, all else being equal, would be to go to the water park or Six Flags or to see a live sports event.

    When you need to get as far away from work as possible, where do you go?

    Tennis is great for that.

    Whatís your favorite vacation spot?

    Manuel Antonio, Costa Rica. We go often, and itís hard to beat. Europe is pretty great too, just a lot more expensive and harder to get to. Especially with the kids!

    Whatís your all-time favorite movie?

    Almost Famous. High Fidelity is a close second. But I like a lot of movies ...

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    Great interview. I just visited your site and am very impressed by the massive amounts of content it contains.
    Sweet Bet - Reviews of reputable online casinos, poker sites, sportsbooks & bingo halls
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    Nice interview, thank you for sharing!

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