Ryan Green is Vice President of Marketing and Innovation at Coegi Marketing Agency, based in Missouri. What you won’t necessarily see on his resume is that he spent most of his twenties as a professional (and successful) poker player. We sat down with him to find out what it’s like to swap chips for matches.
Hi Ryan! We know you as a marketer, but I heard you’ve spent some time in a higher-risk world?
I spent six and a half years as a professional poker player in my twenties. I left college after my credit was enough to play full time. I was motivated by financial independence and being my own boss. What 21 year old wouldn’t want that? It was very exciting and entrepreneurial in many ways.
Have you always been a poker player?
Poker was very natural and it came to me easily at first. I read a book given to me by a good friend that was successful, making over a million dollars playing online poker before he was 21. I learned from observing him in his early years and understanding his way of thinking.
When online poker became popular in the mid-2000s, there were a lot of bad players, so the games were easy and easy to beat. They became more difficult as the player pool became more efficient. I had to do more and more study to improve my game to keep the same profit margin.
Poker players have to become experts at reading people, not to mention strategy. What did you take with you from the card table to the conference room?
Poker is a great way to examine complex factors, which I return to when I try to undo myself before making an important decision. It combines quantitative analysis along with emotional and psychological disciplines.
At the poker table, there are 10 people you need to count, just as there are many different sides to consider when considering marketing challenges. Each party will have different skill sets, motivations, mindsets, and negotiating power when looking at the same hand or position. This translates well to digital marketing, which requires looking at different KPIs to understand the results of the campaign. Blending quantitative and qualitative data is a useful lens for assessing multivariate challenges.
It doesn’t hurt the negotiation…
Well, you don’t have to carry your poker face in most meetings anymore. Most of the time, I look for partnerships that benefit all parties, and I no longer evaluate things as a zero-sum game. In marketing, we never want to manipulate customers, as in poker, but rather strive to be honest and forthright. I go back to the poker mindset just to tap into that frame of mind to make important decisions.
One of the most important life lessons I learned through poker was how to deal with tremendous pressure at a young age. I still use the breathing and focus techniques I acquired back then before giving important presentations, for example. Being able to get into the right competitive and focused mindset is a lifelong lesson I will continue to use.
What about the next generation of marketers – should they try poker if they get the chance?
Poker is a hard way to make a living. It requires you to be completely immersed to be the best; Think of Beth at the Queen’s Gambit. You have to be the best to make it happen. You simply cannot be above average.
So I wouldn’t recommend this to most people in their twenties, but it can be a decent side hustle or a fun pastime. However, studying the game allows you to detach from outcomes and systematically evaluate complex decisions, which can be useful for people who tend to make emotional decisions.
Poker trains you to let go of biases (modesty and negativity) and gives you a framework to make smarter, more rational decisions under pressure. Poker is even used in some MBA programs to educate business students about this frame of mind.
And what is your advice to anyone else (those who are not blessed with the skills or constitution of high-level poker)?
My advice to someone who wants to get started in digital marketing is to differentiate first if you prefer to be a specialist or a generalist. Do you want to have a complete 360 degree understanding? If so, get an internship for beginners and learn as much as you can in a wide space. On the flip side, if you want to dive deep into one or two majors, find what interests you most and learn all you can about these topics. With data science or programming in particular, this can be very valuable and both are required.