01.10.2021 14:00

How playing Poker can help as an entrepreneur

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Do you think that a hobby can help you in your entrepreneur journey? We do. We believe that sport, music, traveling and other activities can help you develop skills that happen to be useful in entrepreneurship.

Today, I want to show you how playing poker can help as an entrepreneur. I will do so by studying my personal case study. Indeed, I want to show you how my past of a poker player (Texas Hold’Em to be accurate) helps us as a co-founder and CEO?

Are poker players good profiles to build and manage startups or live the entrepreneur journey? 
We are going to present in this article a little bit of my story with this game that I discovered in 2003, which was my passion as well as a source of income while studying. Most importantly, we will explain the skills that poker brought us, were added to our 'entrepreneurial DNA' and that help us as an entrepreneur (Don’t worry, we are not going to tell you our life) and could help you too.

Ability to learn quickly

When I started playing Poker, I had not any knowledge about the game. I had to quickly look for resources in order to progress quickly. So, I quickly found forums for players looking to improve and I participated in countless tournaments in order to practice (No better way to learn than practicing: this is true for anything).

Ability to learn quickly learningI was playing twice weekly in Grosvenor tournaments as well as participating in “home” tournaments with friends, classmates or colleagues. This allowed me to meet other players with the same will to progress. 
There is nothing better to improve in an area (In this case it was poker, but this is true for anything) than exchanging with a group of people with the same goal and passion as you, no matter the field.

This helped me a lot in poker and I reproduce the same pattern with startups as soon as I started. The world of startups is moving extremely fast and being able to learn quickly is extremely important, especially with what we do at Growth Hackers. There are new tools and tactics every single day. This is exciting but the ability to learn fast is crucial.

Quick learning is one of the main characteristics of successful entrepreneurs and I have to admit that playing poker taught me that.

Decision making

Some of you may have seen players, playing in tournaments with dozens if not hundreds of tables. Let’s be honest, I was not a champion and was not participating to world-class tournaments but the tournaments I participated were pretty decent. 
If you ever played poker, you know that making decisions is a big part of the game (Bet, call, fold…) and if you don’t make the right decision, you can be out quickly. Making decisions can also cause a lot of stress and poker made me learn to control it. Having the ability to take tough decisions is part of the anatomy of an entrepreneur.

As a CEO of Growth Hackers and by helping startups on a daily basis, I am faced with decisions every day. Poker taught me to take decisions and take them fast.

Making decisions with incomplete information

Making decisions incomplete information toughIn poker, we know our cards and the community cards. The goal is to make the best decision possible with the information available. You will take into account other factors such as your position in the table, the opponent's style of play, if you already know how your opponents play, the number of chips you have left... 
More information you have, the better your decision. But, in poker, you will never have 100% of the information (If you have 100%, it’s too late). Indeed, you don’t know the cards of your opponent and you don’t the next cards that will be handed out by the dealer.

I live the same as an entrepreneur and you probably do too. It’s not possible to wait for the perfect solution or to have all the information at your disposition to take a decision. You must be able to gather the maximum information (Target & competition analysis, market opportunity, channels available, potential customers’ behavior…) and try your best to make the right choice. This is what entrepreneurship is about and why risks are involved: you don’t have all the data but you still need to take decisions.

Money management

With Poker, you need to be careful at what kind of tables you play. You don’t want to gamble more than you actually can play. If you have a few hundred dollars on your bank account, don’t play tournaments with an entry fee of 100 or 200 dollars. Go to a tournament with an entry fee of 5, 10 or 20 dollars for example. Playing too much will give you more stress, you won’t be as good and is too risky. 
This made me learn how to manage my money and use it intelligently to grow without taking risks that could lead me to personal bankruptcy.

This is the same for startups. A lot of startups are bootstrapped and need to manage their money well. Money management problems is one of the main reasons why startups fail and by mastering it you make it more likely to succeed. Even if your startup is funded, it’s important to know how to manage your investment and not spending more than you need. Many startups get funded and then go to bankruptcy because of poor money management (Check 101 of the biggest, costliest startup failures of all time).

Understanding the concept of long-term

In Poker, the importance of long-term is crucial. There is no need to win 50 hands and at one point making a bad decision and losing it all. When playing at poker, you need to think long-term and not focusing only on short-term. Risk-taking is definitely part of poker but you need to calculate the risks you take. A poker game or tournament will last hours (If it’s not days).

Understanding this concept is very important for an entrepreneur. You cannot only think short-term for your startup by looking for explosive growth. You also need to have a long-term strategy and think about the sustainability of your business. For instance, you don’t only want to focus on acquiring new customers, you also want to retain them. You don’t want your startup to be successful for 1 year and then fail. You want it to still be here in 5 years and more.

Mental strength

By playing poker, you will have ups and down. Maybe at the beginning of the game, you will win a lot of hands and be chip leader and 15 minutes after, you might lose it all. Or you might be good at several tournaments in a row and then having some bad periods where you never get far. When you have ups, everything is perfect and this makes the down periods even worse.

This happens all the time in the startup world. You will have fast pace periods and some periods where you think everything goes wrong. This is why resilience is the biggest indicator for your startup success. Entrepreneurship is not a flat ride.

An analytical mind

Analytical mind person brain AnalyticsWhile you are playing poker, you obviously check your cards but that’s not it. You need to identify how your opponents play, you need to look carefully if they have any mimics or gesture, you need to analyze the chance you have to win a hand, check the position you are at the table, how many hands left before you get paid… There are many variables.

Making decisions based on data and behavioral analysis is something I've done for years thanks to poker. 
KPIs (Key Performance Indicators), data and analytics are key for your startup whether you use a growth hacking approach, an inbound marketing strategy or any other growth strategies. When working at a startup, having a strong knowledge of analytics, data, retention and more is vital. This is what the growth hacker job description clearly states: you need to have an analytical mind and be data-driven. Poker definitely helped me with this.

A culture of sharing

In the poker industry, there is a big sharing culture. There are many books, videos, blogs and forums where professional players share their tips and tricks to other players. This is also what I wanted to do when I wrote my theses about poker. 
Poker is a transparent environment where people are not afraid to share their secrets and stories.

Startups have the exact same state of mind with a lot of exchanges via blogs, videos, forums, podcasts, etc. This is why blogging and content marketing are so huge in the startup ecosystem. Entrepreneurs are not scared to share their experience with fellow entrepreneurs. This is what I try to do by sharing my experience today but also by regularly sharing tips.

Being guided by passion rather than money

Most of good poker players are driven by passion first, not money. Money comes after. If you are passionate about poker, you will want to learn more, practice more, play again and again whereas if you just play to make money, you will quickly get bored because you will find other ways to make money. If you are not passionate, you will get bored and frustrated making money this way. Indeed, as I explained previously, you will have ups and downs and if your goal is only to make money, I can tell you that you will get demoralized soon with poker.

This is the same with startups. The potential for success is so low that you better do something else if your goal is to make money and get rich! Passion is key if you want your startup to succeed. In my opinion, you will not succeed as an entrepreneur if you are not passionate by it. 
You should think of entrepreneurship as a journey where you learn a lot and do something that I am passionate about. Money might come but creating a startup is definitely not the easiest way to become rich. The percentage of people becoming rich by starting a startup is very low. But, the percentage of entrepreneurs achieving happiness by doing what they are passionate about is very high.

The reality of a startup is not as sexy as it looks from the outside. This is a lot of work, stress and you will quickly become disillusioned if your motives are making money quickly. 
If you make money being an entrepreneur, congratulations! But this will be the reward of a path that has already been rich in experiences and probably some failure(s). You need to enjoy the path rather than aiming for the destination.

Learn to fail

I don’t know any players who win all the time. At Poker, sometimes you win, sometimes you lose. If you are good, you will win more often than lose but you won’t win every single time.

Even if some entrepreneurs will succeed more than others (And you might be one of them), you need to prepared for the possibility that you may fail. According to different statistics, between 85% and 97% of startups fail, so be ready. Reaching for the stars is great but you have to be ready to fall.

Relentless growth and improvement

When playing poker, you usually start with free/cheap tables (Free tournament on Internet or tournaments with friends you can join for a very cheap entry fee = ‘Friendly tournament’). Then, while you’re learning, you will bet more and start to play against better players. Therefore, you need to improve your game, improve your tactics and learn from others to stay competitive.

This is the same with startups, it’s important to grow. What I mean by growing is learning along the way by A/B testing your marketing channels, get data or feedback from users, optimize your channels and product. So, you need to constantly grow your channels as well as growing and optimizing your product. This is not it; you also need to surround yourself with entrepreneurs that have more experience than you.

If you want to improve in poker, surround yourself with better players; if you want to become a better entrepreneur, surround yourself with better entrepreneurs. Continuous growth and improvement are for both poker and entrepreneurs.

Testing your assumptions

Testing assumptions ideasWhen playing poker, you need to analyze people’s behavior. You might think you have better cards than your opponent or that your opponent is bluffing. You can guess a behavior but you can never predict it or be 100% sure. In order to be sure, you need to test your opponent by for example making a small bet and learn from it.

If you follow my blog and my X page, you will see that I always insist on testing your assumptions. I always talk about testing rather predicting or guessing. You can have many ideas with your startup but if you don’t test them, you will never know whether they work.

So, how poker can help as an entrepreneur or during your startup journey?

Being a poker player for many years gave me a few skills that I didn’t know would be helpful later on. But thanks to poker, I learn quickly, I have the ability to make tough decisions, I can manage money, I am analytical, I focus on long-term not only short-term, I am eager to learn and of course I like taking risks. Poker definitely brought me a lot, the list is not exhaustive but the article would be too long otherwise. 
However, this is not the only hobby that can bring you valuable skills to become an entrepreneur. Indeed, a traveler or a top athlete also have many skills to become an entrepreneur. You can also learn business skills with philanthropy, yoga, dance, music or many other activities you may have.

I am not recommending to start playing poker now, especially if you are not passionate about it. I just wanted to show you how a hobby actually helped me as an entrepreneur and can help you. So, do not hesitate to spend your time with something you are passionate about. If you really love something, you will want to improve a lot in that field. You will become great at it and I guarantee you this passion will bring you unexpected benefits in the future. 
If you have a passion and this gave you useful skills as an entrepreneur, please share them.

Thank you!
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