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Sharks of the business (and poker) worlds

Sharks of the business (and poker) worlds

One of the most important lessons is knowing when to cut one’s losses and move on

May 26, 2017: It’s sometimes said that playing poker is a lot like running a business. One’s opponents have their own products and services or cards, in the case of poker, that are in direct competition with one’s own. There’s a finite pot on the table and a finite number of customers in the marketplace. One company’s or one player’s gain is almost always directly equivalent to another’s loss. While being a good poker player doesn’t mean that one would be a good business executive and being a successful CEO doesn’t automatically tip one to win the World Series of Poker, many of the lessons are transferable and there are quite a few business people who also play poker, be it as novice or card shark.

Inside.com is an online distributor of news. Users subscribe and Inside.com sends out a newsletter with information on specific topics likes the auto industry, real estate, politics, technology, and nearly anything else. Founder Jason Calacanis is no greenhorn to start-ups. His first company, Weblogs Inc, was sold to AOL in 2005 for some 25m USD. Calacanis’s skill in business can also be seen at the poker table. He’s said himself that in some of his first games he lost thousands, but over a poker career earned it all back tenfold. He might have started out as something of “fish”, as poker hub 888poker calls a pushover in poker, but it didn’t last long.

South African entrepreneur David O. Sacks has worked for several companies, including a stint as CEO at Zenefits and another as COO at PayPal, but is probably best known as founder and CEO of freemium social networking service Yammer. And of course he plays poker. In both business and poker, he often affects a damn-the-torpedoes demeanour, definitely playing as a shark according to 888poker's guide to poker player types. In a 2011 interview with Inc Magazine, he equated running start-ups with playing poker by saying that one has to be able to take risks by making decisions with incomplete information — not always an easy skill, but one that his track record in the marketplace and at the table seems to demonstrate.

Now, better known for her tenure at Do Something Inc, a company that encourages youth to become involved in social projects, Nancy Lublin is an avid poker player and is very much of the opinion that many of her business skills were learned from poker. She says that one of the most important lessons is knowing when to cut one’s losses and move on. That might not sound like shark talk, but choosing her battles both in business and poker allowed her to succeed in highly competitive sectors. 

The overlap between the worlds of poker and business and the people who inhabit them both show that the skills needed for poker — quick decision-making, competitiveness, and stoic acceptance of the situation — complement the professional work thoroughly. And with the World Series of Poker about to start, we’ll soon see if the winner hails from a business background or a WSOP champ will take their winnings and break into business.


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