I have played tens of thousands of poker hands. I also played professionally for a couple of years in a row back in 2005 – 2006.
That’s me on Day 2 of the World Series of Poker $10,000 Main Event in 2006.
My usual game of choice is No-Limit Texas Hold’em, the so called Cadillac of poker. It provides the ultimate in risk vs reward. At any point in a hand, you can bet all of the money in front of you. This leads to some stressful decisions on an almost routine basis. All of those thousands of hands and an intimate knowledge of the odds involved in the game provide me with data to tap into when faced with those decisions.
Being a successful poker player requires a healthy disregard for money and the ability to make sound decisions under extreme pressure.
This clip that I shared in my answer to the Quora question, What are some famous poker matches ever played?, is a great example of utilizing that past experience and knowledge:
That is one of the most incredible hands I’ve ever seen and neither player even had a single pair! Phil Ivey is arguably the best poker player in the World and has a database in his brain of hundred of thousands of hands played at the highest levels and stakes that exist. He uses his vast experience in situations like the one in the clip to make the bold decision to go all-in, crippling his opponent. He went on to win the tournament and over $1M shortly after this hand.
So, how does this relate to startups?
As all startup founders can attest to, running a startup company can be incredibly stressful. Too often, startup founders make the decision to pursue an idea for a product without knowing if anyone actually wants it or will even bother to try it, let alone pay for it. In other words, they go all-in before the hand is even dealt to them. Sometimes they get lucky and are able to create a successful product, but the odds are similar to hitting a jackpot on one of the slots on the main casino floor.
By utilizing lean startup methodologies, startup founders can determine if their idea is valid using data as their guide. If you’re a startup founder and you’re not familiar with the lean startup, stop reading this and go read Eric Ries’ book The Lean Startup right now. If you’re a startup founder who is familiar with the lean startup, go pickup/download a copy of Running Lean, by Ash Maurya instead. It is an essential how-to guide for founders who want to stick to lean methodologies in their company. The lean canvas, case studies, and example problem/solution interviews have proved invaluable to many founders.
Startups are highly volatile, especially in the early stages, so remaining focused on a goal and collecting as much data as possible is crucial. The lean startup mantra is build-measure-learn. If done diligently, there will come a time when it becomes obvious whether or not you’re onto something. Imagine how much easier things like funding raising, or even bootstrapping, would be if you could point to data that proves you’re on the right track. If the moment is right, you won’t be afraid to confidently push your proverbial chips into the pot and go all-in.
For an excellent account of what it’s like to play poker for a living, read this great Quora answer from Michael Shinzaki.
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