With all things IRL on pause during the pandemic, it didn’t take long for Brad Nierenberg to realize his Old Town, Alexandria-based event company Redpeg would likely be unable to hold its annual in-person charity poker event in February.
The solution? Hold the Chance for Life event virtually, of course. But the CEO found that existing poker platforms weren’t designed with charitable events in mind.
“I found out all them were really designed not for events — they were designed for poker players to play in a tournament to win tens of thousands of dollars,” Nierenberg told Technical.ly. “It wasn’t geared towards customers for an event experience, and none of them had video and audio.”
So six months prior to his event, Nierenberg teamed up with Nicholas Clark, the creator of app Poker in Place, to scale what he had developed and create Poker 501, an online platform for poker events.
The virtual gaming software, built in TypeScript, React, Firestore and Node with WebRT integration, simulates regular gameplay, without the actual gambling. Players are broken into groups of eight people but can switch groups throughout the game. Participants can also stay in the game just to watch, and everyone can tune in to watch the grand finale at the end of the night with the last table standing. The platform makes money when orgs pay to host events, and players pay to play.
In addition to Chance for Life, which this year raised $1.5 million for children’s cancer research with 490 attendees from 19 different states, Redpeg held a virtual poker event for the global leadership org YPO. Nierenberg said the event was so successful that it led to Poker 501 events with hundreds of CEOs all along the East Coast, Canada and the Caribbean.
“What we found is that member-based organizations need something like this desperately,” he said. “They’re searching for those points to connect with their membership. It’s critical.”
On top of its event fundraising success, Nierenberg said the platform had additional benefits for his own company. After he began working on the platform last summer, the CEO tested it out on his own staff a few times a week to monitor its success and found that it was a big asset for company culture.
“It created a level playing field. It didn’t matter if you were a VP or you’re a coordinator, you were always sitting at the same table and competing with each other and that’s sort of fun,” Nierenberg said. “It gleans conversation not about work, but just allowed that water cooler talk that didn’t exist that was was missing in my organization’s space.”
Nierenberg said that the type of conversations found in the poker games create the “special fabric” that allows employees to connect, which can help in the workplace by establishing greater empathy.
“The social experiences at work allow you to know the person behind the person, and that’s where friendships are created,” he said. “That’s where connectivity and understanding of who that person is and what they’re going through in their personal life that allows you to be more sensitive when you’re working with them.”
Following the success of February’s event, Nierenberg and Clark are hoping to embed more social media aspects into the platform so people can share videos (and flex their wins). He’d also like to make it more automated so anyone can use it without the need for a moderator or announcer.
Right now, individuals can join and play for free for the first hour, but afterwards the site will ask for a $5.00 donation from each player. But the creators hope to set it up so people can do larger, over-50-person events at a lower cost without the need for Redpeg to step in. Chance for Life is the beneficiary if you’re playing casually, but any charity can hold an event and raise money through the platform.
Once the platform becomes automated, Nierenberg said it will be an ongoing revenue stream for the charity.
“I’m hoping people see this as a different type of poker platform,” Nierenberg said. “It’s a platform for good, everybody that goes there, we’re helping save kids lives and that’s what it really is.”-30-