'The Locker Room' is an article series which will give you a behind the scenes look into who we are and how we're working at Unibet.
The online poker industry has been struggling a bit in recent years, with many of the largest networks experiencing a decline in traffic. At Unibet it's been a whole other story since the launch of our own client and network. The traffic has consistently been increasing since the launch in 2014, and we're proud to say that we're the fastest growing licensed poker network in the industry.
We've reached out to David, who's just been appointed the new Head of Poker, and had a chat with him about his new job, poker at Unibet in general as well as what the future might hold.
Tell us a little about yourself, what’s your background and how did you find your way into the Unibet Poker team?
I’m 34 years old, originally from London. I watched Late Night Poker on TV in 1999 and immediately caught the bug. Myself and friends started playing weekly home games and unfortunately I’m ultra-competitive, so I decided I just had to be better than them. Training materials were limited at that time but I feel that I have quite a sponge-like approach to learning from experience and just played as much as I could.
The games online were very soft in those days and after a year or so playing online I was earning more money from poker than my regular job. I had no major life responsibilities so decided to quit my job and try my hand as a professional player. I ran hot in the first year, took shots at higher stakes aggressively (with terrible bankroll management) and was soon playing NL1000. I played full time for another 8 years and eventually stopped in 2010 as the games had become tougher and I felt burnt out from playing so much. I still had a huge passion for poker and wanted to stay in the industry so I started a staking company. In 2014 I stumbled across Andrew’s post in the original Unibet thread on 2+2 and what Unibet were trying to do really resonated with me. I successfully applied for the role of Poker Marketing Manager and have been loving life here since!
How’s your transition to the new role as head of poker been?
In between my first role and this new role I was working as Marketing Strategy Team Lead for Bingo, Poker and New Products and still have some work and responsibilities to handover before starting officially as Head of Poker on July 1st. A lot of the original poker team from 2014 are still here and as much as I enjoyed working on other products, I’m really happy to be coming back to work solely on poker and with the same group of people.
What does a normal day look like for you working at Unibet Poker, and what’s the best part of your job?
A normal day is extremely busy now because we’ve been ambitious as a team and might have been guilty of taking on too many new projects at times. No two days look the same because we’re a small team who work with a lot of developers, ambassadors, external consultants, freelancers and centralised teams within Unibet. Unibet encourages it’s employees to find a good work/life balance but it’s easy to take your work home with you sometimes because you enjoy it so much. I have to tell new members in our team to try not to do that too much, as tempting as it might be.
Do you still find some time for playing poker outside of work?
As much as I can – if I go too long without playing then I’ll take some holiday and play non-stop for three days. I prefer to play live now but sadly don’t make enough time to do it as often as I like.
When is the last time you cashed in a tournament?
In live tournaments it’s a LONG time ago! When I was playing professionally I only played online cash games, except for a small spurt playing live tournaments. As such I only have TWO Hendon mob cashes, eight years apart! Now I play a mix of online tournaments and PLO cash games and according to Sharkscope I last played and cashed on 8th May.
How did the decision to create a completely new concept for a poker platform come about and what’s the philosophy behind?
At that point (2012/2013) new poker players were losing their money and interest in the game so quickly that it was no longer economical for Unibet to even spend money advertising for poker players. A drastic choice was offered – either Unibet takes a risk and does something completely different or just stops offering poker altogether. The poker team that was formed in 2013/14 was essentially a group of poker players from different backgrounds who were frustrated with the direction the industry was headed in and who had a shared vision for how a poker site should look and act.
What has been the biggest challenges for your team, since you made the decision that we should create our own poker software and network?
Getting our message out to players has been difficult at times although that’s getting easier as we gain momentum. Building a poker site from scratch is no easy task from a development point of view and I think Relax have done wonders as what was originally a very small dev team. Poker is only a small part of Unibets business (around 3%) and it sometimes takes some persuading to convince someone else who works at the company that they should spend more than 3% of their time helping us in poker J
The second edition of the poker client was released December last year, how do you feel the new versions has been received by our players? Has it been the success you hoped for?
It has been a success because we now have a very solid foundation to move forwards with. There have been a lot of teething issues with the new software – the optimist in me hoped that it would work perfectly from the start and we would be building a lot of exciting new promotions and gametypes by now but we’ve had to spend a lot of time bug-fixing so far this year. Realistically that was always going to be the case and the feedback I get now is that people are generally really happy with the client. We built a lot of anticipation with the new client and it’s a shame that we haven’t been able to deliver a lot of new features since then. However, I feel very confident that we’re in a position now where we can really be ambitious with the client in the next 12 months.
How do you create a poker product which caters to as many players as possible, and what’s the process like for creating and implementing new ideas? (would be great if we could tie in the Idea Exchange into the answer and mention that we’ve used some of the ideas posted by the members)
I think the main factor is listening to feedback from players. I think we do a good job of coming up with new ideas and looking at things from as many angles as possible but it’s vital to actually ask players what they would like us to build. We can’t play on the client ourselves (only a test environment) so places like the Idea Exchange are invaluable. A lot of features we’ve added over the past three years have come directly from players on places like the community site and ‘By Players, For Players’ is definitely a fitting motto for Unibet Poker.
Considering how big a success the 50k GTD milestone tournament was – if we forget about the add-on issue – will such a tournament become a more regular thing?
Yes, we’re going to be revamping the tournament schedule later this year. We weren’t sure if the tournament would overlay and the fact that the prizepool reached €65k despite the add-on issue showed that there is a lot of demand from our players for tournaments like this. We won’t be able to offer prizepools beyond that immediately but we can certainly be more competitive and I think that’s vital if we want to attract more players to the site.
Can you tell us anything about the next exciting thing that’s going to happen for Unibet Poker? Will we see a new game type added in the near future?
I can’t go into too much detail but NLO (No Limit Omaha) Banzai will be added on 3rd July, a completely new promotion type in September and a new MTT schedule planned for Sept/Oct. We’re spending a lot of time brainstorming in the next few weeks and would like be innovative when adding to the client in the coming twelve months.
What does the future hold for Unibet Poker?
We know that we still have areas to improve upon and will keep striving to be better. However, I really believe in what we’re doing here and would be surprised if we’re not competing with the biggest sites in years to come. We’re going to be producing a lot of unique poker content over the course of the year and are trying to reach a wider and wider audience, both inside and outside of poker. We also have a huge company in Unibet behind us, so I’m confident :)
If you've got any questions for @DavidP_Unibet, simply write a comment below. He's away on vacation till Monday, and as I'm sure you can understand, he's a busy man these days, so he might not reply straight away :)