For some time I have been struck by the similarities between two of my passions: poker and startups. Some elements they share include patient persistence, mental discipline, controlled aggression, managed risk, subtle strategies, refined intuitions, mental jousting, serious mathematics, personal style and, of course, the thrill of the win.
Some lessons from poker that entrepreneurs would do well to heed:
Bluffing is a tactic, not a strategy. While sometimes you must “fake it before you make it”, you better have something worthwhile to “make” or you’re in for trouble.
Play your game but know your competition… and adapt. There are some tables you just shouldn’t sit down at. Pick your battles and beat your competition where it makes sense to do so.
Be decisive, but not capricious. Decisive doesn’t mean making fast decisions. There’s a big difference between making timely, thoughtful, justifiably confident decisions and making fast decisions — but don’t take too long either. Also, understand the limits of the information you have and when don’t have all you wish you had, resort to your experience and intuitions and get on with it.
Know when to hold ’em, know when to fold ’em, when to walk away… and when to run. This is a hard one for a lot of entrepreneurs — giving up is hard to do! We’ve internalized many of the aphorisms that we hope are true: “If you follow your passion you’ll be successful”… unless your idea sucks. “Your persistence will pay off”… except when it doesn’t, and sometimes it just won’t. “Anything is possible if you try hard enough”… except when it’s not possible. The ability to see past your passion for the possibility of success to the probability is a huge challenge. This is one area where married entrepreneurs have an advantage — their wives harbor far fewer delusions.