How We Built a Digital Poker Set
Hi! Who are you and what business did you start?
My name is Tobias Oliver Eberhard and I’m the co-founder and CEO of EasyPoker. EasyPoker is the digital substitute for your traditional silver case poker set. The app lets you host poker games without the need for poker chips or playing cards.
This means you can now have your next “poker night” with friends on the beach, at the bar, around the campfire or when stuck at the airport – anytime, anywhere.
What is your personal story and how did you come up with the idea?
Growing up on a small farm in Denmark, I learned to have an entrepreneurial mindset from a young age. With no allowances, I had to make my own money for video games etc. I used our farming equipment to wash cars and mow lawns around the neighbourhood on the weekends, and I collected recycling bottles and returned them for the profit.
I really enjoyed making a profit – not that I was a money-crazed kid – but the feeling of pushing yourself extra hard and seeing results that would not have been there otherwise was kind of a drug to me. And it still is today.
Years later I developed an interest in producing videos. In the years of 2006-2007, I learned that YouTube had a Partner Program that allowed users to monetise videos, so naturally, I found that very interesting. I slowly realized that search-optimizing videos made a huge difference when being discovered on YouTube.
It was a lot of hard work optimizing all my videos, but the results were overwhelming. At the end optimizing and spotting trends slowly became more interesting to me than producing the actual video.
Some years later I graduated from Film School. During school, I had finally realized that producing videos and movies was not my passion. Instead, I had been building websites and doing online marketing for companies. Some of these companies were building software, which was really fascinating to me. The idea of just needing a laptop to do all your work was inspiring. This left me with a mindset of wanting to solve problems with the software.
I had the idea for EasyPoker after a camping trip with my friends. We wanted to play poker but had forgotten to bring a poker set. We ended up breaking matches in half and rolling balls of paper to use as chips. That night planted a seed in my mind that slowly grew into an idea and later a digital product.
I pitched the idea of a “digital poker set” to three of my former classmates that were into poker and they were all excited about the idea.
Before starting any development we created a non-functional prototype which we showed around the poker community. We got a lot of feedback that pointed us in the right direction. We then started posting images and videos of the prototype to see how the market would react.
The concept quickly gained a lot of attention and followers that let to email signups for the prototype, which helped us validate the market and interest for the product – before spending any time on development.
What challenges did you face when creating your product/service?
Our main challenge was a lack of technical knowledge when it came to online game development. I had been programming websites and smaller, pretty basic projects for a couple of years but I had no experience in the game industry myself.
On top of that, we quickly realized just how difficult multiplayer gaming actually was. We needed to find a talented backend developer who could help. We had no money so a technical co-founder would be ideal. But it was really hard to find a technical person who wanted to be a co-founder. After about 4-5 months we ended up hiring a developer that later on offered to join the company as a co-founder.
Financing has also been an obstacle. Every time we went to ‘pitch events’ or were in contact with an investor they would tell us we were too early in development. And we seemed to stay “too early” no matter how far we got. This has luckily changed today.
Another big obstacle has been to enter the poker market with a new concept. Every time we told people we were creating a poker app they would just lose interest, as there are hundreds of poker apps already in the market – some of them with millions of users. So potential investors and users would just “zone out” before even getting to the part that made EasyPoker unique.
Our prototype really helped catching people’s attention as they could see how different we were to the existing products on the market.
Who is your target market?
We target casual poker players. The millions of men and women who play poker a couple of times a year on special occasions. We want them to play more poker by making it easily accessible and quick to facilitate. 400.000.000 people across the world view themselves as casual or experienced poker players.
Our app is of course also catering to experienced and professional poker players but it is designed to be easy to use for the causal player.
How do you market your business and which approaches have been the most successful?
‘In-app growth hacks’ for ASO have been most successful for us so far. We have been doing mostly unpaid marketing on social media and SEO optimizing our website.
Since you launched, what has worked in not only attracting but retaining customers?
We have been working hard on customer service ever since we launched. We have listened to- and analyzed all user feedback, and then implemented it, meaning users can actually see that we listen. Because of this we have users casually texting and emailing us about poker. We also try and keep a relatively personally touch on all our marketing and relationship management. We really want to build this app, not only for, but with our users – and I think the users pick up on that.
It’s no secret that retention is a constant struggle for apps. We added a level system with rewards that have helped retaining users on our platform. Adding app updates every week with new functionality also helps retention.
But, basically, creating a product that solves a genuine problem is the best retention strategy there is.
What kind of culture exists in your company, and how did you establish it?
We have actually not been thinking much about our company culture. We just work hard and try to have fun while doing it.
Passion is the best driver, and our entire team is dedicated and excited to be working on this project. It’s one of those start-ups where everybody lives and breathes the mission and would rather be at the office than anywhere else. We do our best for this to shine through to our users as well, and I think they can tell that this is a shared mission.
What software, services or tools do you use within your business?
We use a Danish accounting system called Dinero. It’s really easy to use and helps doing our taxes at VAT on time.
What are the most important lessons have you learned on your business journey?
If we could start all over again, I would go all-in from the beginning. I would build a functional prototype and release it ASAP to get early feedback. After that, I would sell shares to an investor and make sure that my co-founders and I could do full time with pay from day 1.
I would definitely not waste so much time going slow and being insecure about my product. I spent a lot of time worrying about what other people would think about me and the product. Comparing yourself to other people is poison, especially if it makes you feel bad about your own dreams and goals. Listen to your data and feedback from relevant people in the field. And remember, you never get ahead by just following in other people’s footsteps.
What is your favourite aspect of being an entrepreneur?
Definitely the freedom and being able to build something bigger than yourself and watch it grow. I once read a quote that said something along the lines of “you need to build your own dreams – if not, someone else will hire you to build theirs”. That really stuck with me and motivates me to work even harder on rough days.
What is your LEAST favourite aspect of being an entrepreneur?
Having to deal with rejection almost daily – especially in the early stages. Whether it’s investors, users, potential business partners etc. you have to get used to rejection almost 99% of the time. It can be really demotivating to an entrepreneur when people don’t believe in you or your vision.
The constant pressure of barely making a living while still working 80+ hours a week is also something that have been hard on me personally.
What books, podcasts or other resources have inspired and influenced your business journey?
I listen to podcasts daily. Mostly Danish podcasts about entrepreneurs and their journey to become a success or failure. They motivate me to keep going and work hard. My favourite part about the podcasts is that they often focus on problem-solving using real-life cases.
The book “How to Build a Billion Dollar App” also helped me get inspired to think big and globally when building EasyPoker.
Where do you see your business 2-3 years from now?
In 2-3 years EasyPoker will be synonym with live poker as we deliver the best experience possible. Using digital chips and cards for your physical poker game will have become the new norm, both as a result of the international COVID-19 crisis and because of convenience.
EasyPoker will have an office in the US to attract the best talent possible. Our user base and revenue will keep growing.