Back in June, Cardplayer Lifestyle published an announcement heralding the launch of Unshuffled.io, a new online poker platform for home games. Over the last few months, I’ve come to know the company’s founder, Jake Hershfield, a bit better. He’s a driven, dedicated guy, fully devoted to making the company and the product as great as they can be.
I’ve consulted for the company a bit and am on board as a strategic advisor. I personally believe that Unshuffled.io caters to a particular need and niche of poker player, and that the potential for success is excellent.
As often the case in start-ups and tech companies, the founder’s vision plays an integral role in the path that will be charted. For that reason, I thought it would be intriguing to ask Jake a battery of questions about himself, Unshuffled’s development, and where he sees the company headed towards the future. I hope you all enjoy our discussion.
Who is Jake Hershfield?
I live in San Francisco but originally from San Diego. I went to Stanford University where I studied Product Design and then spent the next ~6 years working in tech as a product manager. I come from a family of entrepreneurs, my dad started his own business and right around the time I started Unshuffled my older sister started a canned wine company called Just Enough Wines. When my dad approached me with the idea of starting an online company, I thought this is my chance to join the family and become an entrepreneur!
— Unshuffled Poker (@Unshuffled10) August 3, 2021
What is it that you love most about the game of poker, and how did you first get introduced to the game?
Well if I am being completely honest, I LOVE sports, betting, and competition and I feel like poker is a perfect combination of the three. Going a step further though, I am a super social guy and love spending time with my friends. I think playing poker is an incredible way to spend time with people you love because it usually takes a long time and, while you are technically trying to beat everyone else, there is always a ton of down time where you can catch up, hear about how people are doing, and just socialize. I definitely would characterize myself as a recreational player – I have a ton of appreciation for the pros, but I don’t have it me to stay quiet and focused for 3 hours let alone 20 minutes!
What first gave you the inspiration to create the Unshuffled online poker platform?
It was back in March of 2020 when COVID was really getting bad. I was living at home for a few weeks before making the move out to San Diego and one night my Dad and his friends were playing poker online. It took them 40 minutes just to start playing, and when I walked in to see how he was doing, I discovered that they weren’t even playing on a poker site! My dad and his friends hate playing Hold’em, they prefer weird guts games and Omaha variants with wild cards – so they were using a playing cards site and my dad had built a complicated excel model to track their bets.
Needless to say, there was clearly a gap that wasn’t being filled, and when my dad and I did some research, we couldn’t really find a solution for the mixed home games market. Fast forward a year and change and here we are!
There are lots of online poker sites out there. In what ways is Unshuffled unique and how would you most accurately distinguish your platform from the others?
It is a SUPER crowded space – Our biggest differentiator is the offering of mixed games and being able to actually build your own games. Every group has a different version of a specific game, and on Unshuffled you can build those games so you don’t have to settle for something you wouldn’t otherwise play.
On top of that, we have video and audio integration and we’re web based so you don’t have to download anything. We also found that a lot of the other sites really lean into the casino feel with their design, so we took a different approach and tried to keep the style and brand very minimalistic and make the focus be the poker experience.
Unshuffled integrates audio and video so you can actually see your opponents while playing against them online, lending to a more social atmosphere. What has the feedback been thus far from your players on this particular feature?
People LOVE being able to play with video and audio. Before Unshuffled, most of our users were playing on a poker site in one window, and had a Zoom meeting running in another. I wish I could say the real reason they love the video and audio is because it helps them read their opponents bluffs and better position themselves in each hand, but in reality I think it is purely because our users, like me, are playing to be with their friends and socialize. It just makes life a lot more convenient when it all happens together.
This is why we believe video and audio is so important for online home games. Loving this all in moment and the reaction that comes with it! pic.twitter.com/EJHBMHFIxd
— Unshuffled Poker (@Unshuffled10) July 31, 2021
Beyond wanting Unshuffled to achieve numerous measures of success, what is it that drives you and gives you satisfaction about your day-to-day work building Unshuffled.io?
When I first started Unshuffled I was really driven by the success of the company (how many users could we get, how much money could we make, etc.). However, when we first launched in January of 2021 and I started talking to users for feedback, I realized that our product was actually bringing a lot of joy to these groups who weren’t getting together anymore because of COVID.
Don’t get me wrong, that other stuff is still super important, but I feel really motivated to bring people together in what feels like a remote world. If we can help keep these groups and weekly poker games going through our software, then we are doing something right.
How long did it take you to get to the “minimum viable product” stage with functional software from when you first conceived the idea?
It took us about 5 months to launch our first version of Unshuffled, and then another 3 months to find what I’d call initial product market fit, but we are constantly asking users for feedback and making changes. It is truly a never-ending process of shipping features, getting feedback, making changes, and shipping new features. It’s one of the things that I think makes Unshuffled so great – we talk so much to our users that most of the product and it’s functionality is derived from them!
Because Unshuffled offers players the possibility to create an essentially unlimited number of different poker game variants, each with its own rules and quirks, I imagine you probably faced some uniquely challenging hurdles during the software development stage. Without getting too technical, can you share some of those with us?
By far the biggest challenge we faced when we first started building Unshuffled was building enough flexibility and customization for player to make any game, while still making the experience user friendly and intuitive. There are A LOT of poker variations that people play – just think of all the different standard games and the interactions and mechanics of them. You’ve got all the classic community card games, you have Stud games and Draw games, there are all the low games and the different variations of low games like Razz, 2-7, 8 or better, etc. (you see my point).
We still have a lot of work to do on this specific point. Right now, the custom-built games require the dealer to move the game forward, but in a future world these games will become semi-automatic or even fully automatic.
At Unshuffled, we let our players build ANY game they want with our custom template builder! What’s your favorite untraditional poker game?
— Unshuffled Poker (@Unshuffled10) July 9, 2021
From your Twitter updates, It seems like Unshuffled is still evolving. What are the latest enhancements you can share with us, and what else are you working on to improve the product even further?
We are ALWAYS building new features, and we have some super exciting stuff coming through the end of the year. One area we’d really like to improve on is our ability to provide users with active games all the time – so were working on some ways to build a bigger player pool and always have a game to play. We’re also looking to add Multi Table Tournaments (MTT’s) and the ability to host MTT’s – something a lot of our users are itching for.
Just came out with a HUGE product update focused entirely on gameplay performance. Let us know what you think!
Up next: landing page performance, player liquidity, and daily challenges
— Unshuffled Poker (@Unshuffled10) September 15, 2021
Something I am super excited about is our challenge series that we’ll be launching soon – it’s going to be a pretty new way to play poker, but I can’t divulge exactly how it will work until it actually launches.
Lastly, we are always adding new auto games to Unshuffled. You can bet that over the coming months, we’ll continue to add to our large list of mixed games that players can play without having to fuss with dealing cards and selecting winners.
Finally, we all know that it’s tough getting a start-up off the ground, and even the greatest of ideas need a little extra push sometimes. For those who’ve now been exposed to Unshuffled and want to get involved or help boost your company’s profile, what sort of assistance or support would you be specifically receptive to getting at this stage?
There are a few things that make a big difference for us. First and foremost, create an account and give it a try with your friends for your next home game! The best way for us to grow is through word of mouth and through positive user experience. Post about it on social media and share it with your networks – we’re small and really trying to get our name out there.
The other super valuable thing for us is feedback. We have a ticket form on our website and whether its feedback about a bug, or idea for a new game – I want to hear it! Customer experience and feedback is what will make Unshuffled successful, so give it a try and let me know what works, what doesn’t work, and what ideas you might have, and I’ll respond to you personally.
Lastly, if you have a group or a team that you work with that you think would benefit from mixing up you standard weekly Zoom happy hour from time to time – I encourage you to give Unshuffled a try. Meeting new friends/coworkers on a Zoom call can sometimes be awkward, but having the game to play really helps break the ice and provide a collective goal to work towards throughout the event. Feel free to send me a note through our support field as well if you have questions about getting your team started with an event and I’d be happy to help with a demo!