It is quite impressive to discover how different the world looks like from outside and from inside the office of Global Poker Index CEO Alex Dreyfus. From the big windows of his room, the world looks like a lovely place, especially as the city of Gzira, in Malta, is just as calm as it could be.
A handful of colourful fishing boats slowly move over the blue waters of the Marsamxett harbour, a consumed amusement park quietly rests on the ground of Manoel island, and Valletta makes sure that nothing changes overlooking this Mediterranean paradise from the top of its elegant and severe limestone buildings.
Inside, however, it’s a whole different story. Because if one was to judge Dreyfus’ life by the amount of papers, handwritten notes, and printed documents that cover just about every inch of his office, it would appear that the man has no life, as it would probably take an entire life to process the amount of information that lay around him.
To discuss the way the GPI has developed in 2014 and to unveil some of the challenges that will keep the company busy during 2015, Dreyfus opened the doors of his office to PokerNews and announced the GPI’s ultimate goal: to become the Associated Press of poker.
PokerNews: If there’s something we are sure about, it is that 2014 has been a very intense year at the GPI. You have launched countless new projects, and at the same time shaped the company in a way that only few years ago would have been almost unthinkable. What’s your take on the past 12 months? Are you satisfied with what you have achieved?
Dreyfus: One year ago, in December 2013, I wrote a blog post about the expectations I had for 2014, so I guess it would be fair to use that to evaluate how we did during the past 12 months.
The first goal I have listed in there said that I wanted people "to hear much more about our initiatives, our partnerships, and our ambitions," and I think I can say that we have done that.
Then, another important objective was to make ourselves become "a significant voice for the poker industry, a voice that will have legitimacy to talk to the mainstream media and sports media." Here, too, I think that we have managed to achieve what we wanted.
Also, we wanted to start to bring poker outside the poker world and make it interesting to non-poker players. Honestly, when I look at partnerships like the ones we have signed with CineSport and other mainstream media, I think we went in the right direction.
Another goal was to reward excellence and promote poker as a sport, and, well, I can tell you that we have definitely tried to do our best to get this done.
But the blog post you have mentioned includes a lot of other goals as well. Did everything go as good as the points you just mentioned?
No, not everything. Part of our mission was to work in a way that would make poker players to feel more like stakeholders than customers in the poker industry. We wanted players to feel more represented, and here I have to say I don't think I have managed to get there yet. But, hopefully, we will get better at this in 2015.
We also wanted to establish the GPI ID as a standard in the industry, but this, unfortunately, did not happen either.
Something else that didn't go as well as I wanted was our presence at the 2014 World Series of Poker (WSOP). We are still not as strong as we should be in the United States. This is a fact, and we are all working hard to change it.
Right now, in the US we work with the World Poker Tour, with the Deepstack Poker Tour and with many others, but we don't work with the WSOP, and this is obviously a fail. But I haven't given up on getting something on with them — instead, I am very confident for 2015.
Overall, I would say that 2014 has been a good year for the GPI. A good, but frustrating one.
How was it frustrating?
Everything takes time and obviously also a lot of money. The monetization of our model is very far away, and let’s just say that our work follows a long-term plan. In the end, I am the one who is financing everything. I don’t want to say that it is painful, but sometimes — especially at the end of the month — I do think that maybe I should focus on different priorities.
Let's face it, we do not make money, and I knew it would have been like this since day one. The good thing is that everyone knows about it, so I don’t need to hide anything.
Yet, it’s all about our long-term planning. When a shareholder has money, you can afford to ask yourself, "Why should I try to make money every month and spend a lot of time to do it, when I can afford to work for the long term and aim at a much bigger goal?".
It's a bit like in poker, if you want an analogy. As long as you have a good amount of chips in your stack, you don’t really feel the need to play aggressive. You focus on building your victory.
I am not too sure about that. If you take poker tournaments, the blinds go up and the chips go away a lot faster than the prudent ones imagine.
Yes, that’s true. Once the blinds go up, I need to start to think differently — and this is going to be my focus in 2015. I remember reading somewhere that a good entrepreneur is the one who knows how to adjust and modify his strategy. This is exactly what I am trying to do now.
Yet, let’s not forget that the GPI as we know it today exists only for two and a half years, and I am honestly happy about what we have achieved so far. I don't think we could have achieved more during this time.
Are you saying that there isn’t anything that you would do differently if you were given the opportunity to do so?
No, I am not saying that. I am talking about the way we have worked hard to earn recognition, which is something that we needed and that one can't buy. Looking back, I think that the great work that we have done until now is really what helped us to get what we wanted.
However, it is not enough and we still have a lot to do — especially in the United States. During 2015, we are going to focus a lot on the US, and I believe that events like the American Poker Awards and the 2015 Global Poker Conference will be two important steps in the right direction.
Also during 2015, we will announce a number of new partnerships in the US that will help us to pursue our mission to "sportify poker" and promote the game through new channels.
Let's stay on 2014 for now, was it more of a good one or more of a frustrating one?
Well, if I think about what we have done in 2014, of course I would say that we had a great year, even if sometimes I think people wrote a little bit too much about the GPI (laughs).
Personally, I have to say that some of those optimistic stories about the future of the GPI and about our initiatives created a lot of pressure for me. I have the feeling that if I don’t succeed, I will not be able to go out in the streets anymore.
I wouldn't blame it all on the media, though. You did start a significant PR machine to promote the GPI’s initiatives, didn't you?
That's correct, I also have a lot of pressure because of the kind of communication that I'm doing, but I believe that perception creates reality. I think that the more we say something, the more we make it happen. I really believe in this.
Let me just mention one downside of this theory: expectations.
Yes, that's a real downside, and a slightly scary one. Sometimes I think I probably personify a little bit too much of the GPI, but I believe this is the only way for me to make things work.
What scares me is that I actually cannot fail, because if I fail I will feel horrible both as an entrepreneur and a person. But, you know, as an entrepreneur, it's my duty to take risks. And seeing that I am spending my money, I have all the freedom I need.
You see, during our first year of activities, we started with the rankings and we have built something remarkable there. Then, in 2014, we have tried to become an authority and to launch some new interesting projects.
In 2015, it is going to be a lot more about working with sports marketing agencies to promote poker as a sport and at the same time to run two strategic products like the Global Poker Masters and the Global Poker League.
These will really complete the whole package, the story that we have been trying to write so far. These last projects are the pieces that I was missing to complete the GPI puzzle. Once these ones will be ready, we will finally get the possibility to monetize our work.
Monetization aside, do you think you could set some goals for the year that is about to start? Something that we will look at in December 2015 to see if things went according to your plans or not?
One of our principles during 2015 will be that if "content is king," as they say, then "distribution is queen." Right now we are offering some videos to MSN.com and AOL.com, and through those we try to bring poker closer to a non-poker audience.
We want this content to be distributed on different websites, and we are going to work with many more to make sure that poker reaches a much greater audience than it does today. This is what I want to do, and this is one of my priorities.
My second goal relates to the launch of the Global Poker League. I truly believe that a project like this one could really change the way we know poker today.
The success of this event and of the Global Poker Masters could really help us to finally sportify poker. These will be two events fully owned by the GPI, they will not have any form of gambling connected to them, and they will really bring poker into the sports world.
Third, I want to connect and convince sports marketing companies to jump into what the GPI does.
Now that you have mentioned that, during 2014 the industry has discussed a lot about your mission to "sportify poker" and, despite your great efforts, I am still not sure that it’s something you can really put only on the GPI's shoulders. What’s your plan for 2015? Is there anything the industry can do to help you to achieve this ambitious goal?
This mission will definitely continue in 2015 and, yes, I need the participation of the industry to turn it into a success.
I need players to recognize that what we do makes sense and that to have a company that tries to deal with poker from a different perspective is actually good for the game. I also need them to help us to promote the rankings, to become ambassadors of their own game through us.
Online-wise, I don’t think I need much from the poker rooms. Perhaps, some of them could jump in some of the events we organize such as the European Poker Awards, the American Poker Awards, or the two poker conferences we will have in Miami and Malta and sponsor them. At the same time, I would like brick-and-mortar casinos to start using the GPI as a recognized authority and to promote poker as a unified industry. Personally, I think they could also invest some money into our sites and use them to give visibility to their events.
As for the industry media, I don't think I can expect much more than what I get already. We, as the GPI, have a very good relationship with most of the poker media, and I am sure we all understand that what we do is good for each other. We do not compete with each other, and this is because I am not trying to turn the GPI into yet another poker media. I simply believe that GPI could be the one with the authority and legitimacy needed to talk to a non-poker audience and therefore bring the game closer to a new audience.
The more you say that, the more I get the impression that you plan to turn the GPI into some kind of Associated Press (AP) of the poker world, as you mentioned — ready to provide poker-related news to mainstream media.
Well, that's exactly what I would like to achieve. In my business plan, it is literally written that one of the GPI’s objectives "is not to become a poker media, but to legitimate the distribution of poker news and poker content like AP and Reuters do. We want to bring poker to people, and not people to poker." This is our goal.