Case Study: Popular Poker Thought Leader 'Chicago Joey'
|Oct 18||Public post|| 1|
Rachel Thinks Series
Joe Ingram (Twitter @joeingram1) is a highly popular and well regarded voice in the poker industry. He goes by “Chicago Joey” or “Papi” or simply “Joey” to his many fans. He is best known for his unique style of covering topics and events in the poker world.
Joey (as I prefer to call him; feels more friendly) does very long, extended interviews with popular characters in poker. He leans toward an investigative style. Over the years, it is quite clear that he spends a lot of time on understanding his audience.
It is also immediately obvious that the man behind the videos takes great pride in nurturing and growing his main social media channels or vehicles in the right way. No matter how many years a person spends trying to grow a meaningful presence on social media (or the Internet more broadly), you cannot get to his level of reach and influence without dedication, commitment, and (above all) tremendous skills.
I thought about Joey when thinking through the differences between: Features, Products, and Platforms. At the individual level, I think most people do not think twice about the topic of product form factors and architecture.
In technology, strategists are consumed by the similarities and differences among the three types of value delivery. So, I thought it would be quite interesting to apply the concepts to someone many readers can relate to. If you are not familiar with Joey or poker, you can just swap out his name for your favorite thought leader in another domain/industry. Or, perhaps you can even swap yourself into the case study.
Grounding on the Terms
Before we get into Joey, let’s briefly define each of the three ways a product can be delivered. By product, it is anything you make or create and sell or give away.
A product is anything that is created and packaged for someone to consume in order to derive or gain value. Within the product, there are features that trigger functionality to be able to deliver that value through consumption.
This tricks us into thinking that the product is at the bottom (starting point) of the hierarchy. In fact, however, the feature(s) are the lowest point in the hierarchy.
Above the feature rests the product. The smartphone is a good example. The camera functionality has multiple features. And, those features are part of the product (i.e., smartphone). In turn, the smartphone (product) can serve as both a standalone product or part of an overall, larger Apple ecosystem (platform).
When we use the camera (feature) to take a picture using the smartphone (product) and sync with iCloud (platform) we are effectively using the smartphone as a “feature” of the platform. This gives you a clearer sense of the hierarchy as one subsumes the other as you evolve from one to the other.
This leads us to the three (3) main characteristics of a true platform:
A platform must be extensible, modular, and interoperable.
Extensible means the platform does not just grow upward (e.g., more users). The platform must be flexible enough to add changes and new capabilities - sometimes by other systems (products or platforms). The base extends outward.
Modularity means the platform is constructed in such a way that people can consume parts of the whole without disrupting the totality of the platform. A crude example would be using a smartphone only for the camera and picture filtering app.
Interoperable means that the platform is able to exchange information and communicate with other systems in a seamless or smooth manner.
You can see right away why the dominant technology companies relish the idea of becoming or remaining a platform. It should be added that the most powerful platforms must have — in addition to the three traits listed above — two levers that enable dominance.
A dominant platform requires a high level of (a) seeding and (b) control or governance.
The seeding is referring to users while the control refers to the platform being core to the ecosystem that builds around it. The Windows platform has almost total control while the Linux platform has limited control. This is due to the presence or lack of control over the core. The seeding, of course, allows for fast growth (i.e., a packed restaurant attracts diners) but also makes it hard to move away to another competing platform.
Individual Level Platforms and Fractals
So, how is any of this relevant to the individual? Plenty. The company is but a fractal of the individual. Fractals are objects that look similar across an extended range of sizes. Think of snow flakes or networks of rivers. The shape at a large size or scale looks the same when you drill down or zoom into smaller and smaller sizes.
Many things that work at the company-level also work (or applies) at the unit or individual level. This is where the Joey examples come in.
The Product That Is Ready To Transform Into A Platform
Joey Ingrams online presence is a product waiting to become a pure platform. It is not yet a platform because it is a product within the (for example) YouTube platform. It is not a feature since the product has taken over the features.
If Joey’s product were merely a feature, we would just do something with it and stop there. Let’s say he creates and publishes a video on the topic of online bots cheating on a poker site. If I only go to his online property(-ies) for that kind of information, he is a feature as I would only derive value from that single feature.
However, I seek out his multiple properties for a variety of reasons. I consume news, tips, entertainment, gossip, investigative outings, and broad perspectives. Each of these “features” make Joey Ingram the “product” to satisfy the portion of my life that is interested in an industry (e.g., poker).
How do I consume those things? Joey on YouTube is a product. Joey on Instagram is a product. Joey on Twitter is a product. Joey on podcast players is a product. To have multiple products he needs multiple form factors for delivery and consumption. And, he has those multi-channels of distribution for selective consumption.
Why Isn’t Joey a Platform (Yet)?
Now, let’s go back and review one by one all of the necessary pieces to become a true platform.
Does Joey’s product have seeding? Absolutely. He has a very large fan base. It may seem small compared to celebrities or thought leaders in other much larger industries. But, on a relative basis, Joey has a significant following and loyal fan base.
Does Joey’s product have core control? I would argue that he has some degree of control or governance characteristics. A rogue or bad actor app developer would get kicked out of the entire Apple ecosystem or platform. But, the harmful person in Joey’s (product) community can only be fenced out to a degree but not entirely removed. So, there is some level of control but not enough for it to be thought of as “core control.”
Is Joey’s product extensible? So far, it is not extensible. The products feed one another but remain relative confined to a finite set of demographics largely centering on poker players. Of course, this was by design as he gave birth to his online brand and products via his passion for all things poker related.
His products can grow upward (more poker users) at the moment but does not extend into other domains. Therefore, it cannot expand the addressable market of content consumers. This presents a great future opportunity. The Joey (poker) product being extensible means that a newly added Joey product (general risk/cheating in mainstream public) will be a purely additive play .
Then, his product becomes closer to a platform by easily extending out the base East/West instead of just North.
Is Joey’s product modular? Actually, I think his products are modular in both function and purpose. It is possible to de-couple parts of the whole and consume those parts without struggle. There is plenty of opportunities here, as well. Right now, the modules are very similar or heavily skewed in one direction.
Modularity involves the ease with which categories are grouped and tailored. If I can take cheating investigations (category) and consume it through my podcast player (tailor the delivery), the modularity litmus test is met. Now, there has to be enough volume (content) and not just seeding (users) to make this a critical part of a platform. Again, a potential for massive future growth.
Finally, is Joey’s product interoperable? This one is a ‘no., not yet but shows some signs of it.’ At a human level, Joey is interoperable. He can seamlessly exchange data or information with another platform player or influencer. For example, Joey (poker and risk expert) and Nasim Taleb (statistician and risk analyst) getting their ‘platforms’ together to discuss the risks of sports betting legalization on the future of ticket prices for families.
As you can see, this cannot happen today because Joey’s product would get subsumed by Nasim’s larger product or platform. If Nasim is product then Joey becomes a feature within that product (book, podcast, article, speaking panel, etc.). If Nasim is a platform, Joey becomes a product within that platform (i.e., Joey loses control and the user traffic would go from Joey to Nasim). This occurs due to the nature of platform control and governance.
Opportunity Is Gigantic
If you have been paying close attention to this point, the conclusion I am drawing should be very clear. Joey is in an enviable position right now.
The pessimist would say that he is a big fish in a small pond. That he is a niche influencer. The pessimist would know nothing about how the interplay of products and platforms work in technology.
If you are ‘old school’ or do not understand technology strategy, you would see things through the prism of population, end user affinities, and content specialization. That is, you view the world through limitations.
If you believe in the concepts of flywheels, network effects, and platforms, you will view things through opportunities. You do not get limited by specialty scale (small) but start to view things through global-scale (massive) because it becomes clear that those who seed the platforms do most of the work once you enable them to do so.
Not all of us are lucky to have Joey’s fan base. But, it took endless hours and several years of near obsessive work for Joey to come this far. As he has stated many times, he never placed importance on the business aspects of what he was doing. I can only imagine the potential once he does.
Joey has always used his following to convert a fraction of them into affiliate earnings. In my opinion, he has done this very carefully and selectively because he kept his eye on the long game. If he were short sighted, he would have burned his seed before it can grow into what it is today. Soon, it may be time for his seeds to become affiliates for Joey’s platform. That is how the product becomes the platform.
But, we do not have to have Joey’s large online presence to apply the main tenets of this article. For any individual or group business, it is beneficial to draw out or map your strategy as a journey from: Feature to Product to Platform. You can do this with jobs/careers, podcasting, blogging, selling, and just about any other business endeavors - including poker. Some poker pros are a feature. Most are products. And a few are actually platforms.
Find and follow me on Twitter @rachelees69.