Ten Things Poker Taught Me About Being an Entrepreneur (Part 3/3)

This is the third and final part of a series on the 10 most valuable entrepreneur lessons I learned from playing poker on a semi-professional level. If you haven’t read the first and second parts yet, do it!  

8: Notice Subtleties

Poker is filled with an enormous amount of subtleties. The way someone sits when they discover they have a big hand, the way they release chips when betting, or a chatty player suddenly becoming silent are some glaringly obvious tells.  There’s a constant stream of tiny bits of information available to those paying attention.  I’ve often bluffed large pots simply because I noticed a small change in the speed at which a player is betting.  I’ve laid down huge hands, ostensibly ones I ‘could not get away from’, because of the way my opponent suddenly looked at me.  Noticing things like this are invaluable to playing poker at a high level.

Startup Application: Pay attention to your team, your investors, the press and what other startups are doing.  Current conditions are often the largest lagging indicator of reality. Start noticing the small things and taking note of them.  Are there leading indicators within the current conditions that most people don’t recognize?  Start noticing these subtleties and you will be much better positioned than most.

9: Look Strong when Weak and Look Weak when Strong

A great trait of a good poker player is the ability to extract as much value as possible when opportunities present themselves.  When you act and look confident and strong, your opponents will generally believe you.  The same goes for looking weak.  Opponents will give you less credit when you act hesitant or timid.  By seeming weak, when you’re truly strong, you’re able to extract more money from your opponents than you’d otherwise be able to.

Startup Application: The applications for this are a bit different for startups. It’s always important to give your team the perception of confidence, even when you aren’t. Its not always easy to do, but the risk of bringing the team’s morale down is far too risky. If you find that you need to vent or need moral support, make sure you have a co-founder. Sharing the burden, pressures and roller-coaster of emotions will be vital.  It is not your team’s job to share it with you.  When it comes to looking weak while strong… this can be utilized with competitors. It might prove to be more advantageous to allow your competitors to underestimate you.  Be careful about what you divulge and how you do it.

10: Harness your Emotions

Poker is a constant roller-coaster of emotions.  There is nothing more emotionally damaging than doing everything right and still losing a large pot or tournament.  This results in extreme highs and lows.  How you deal with them will make or break you as a player. I have never seen a player go on ‘Tilt’ and have it end well.  Again, you can potentially play perfect poker and still lose.  There is always an element of luck with games, poker is no exception. Understanding the odds, remaining disciplined, and stepping aside for a few hands after bad beats is critical.

Startup Application: Your startup will challenge you emotionally more than anything previous.  There will be highs, and there will be extreme lows. How you handle them will directly contribute to your success or failure. And don’t think you can’t mishandle highs. Becoming overly confident, cocky, or aggressive can often be the demise of startups, just like poker players.  Are you feeling on top of the world because TechCrunch just dubbed you the next big thing?  Don’t let it go to your head, get back to work and stay humble. The same is true for lows. If you can’t dust yourself off, admit you messed up, and try something differently… you’re in the wrong profession.

In closing… I tell people I’m a first time entrepreneur.  In a sense, I am. I’ve never run a company and I arguably have no idea what I’m doing. On paper, dubbing me as underwhelming would be an understatement.

However, I don’t really feel that’s accurate.  Poker taught me some hard lessons.  It humbled me many times.  But I kept pushing forward and eventually, I became quite versed in the game.  I would never be so arrogant to say I mastered it.  It continued to teach me new things, about myself and about life, for the entire time I played. But I learned how to consistently come out on top and I know it’s helped me as an entrepreneur.

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