What Poker Can Teach Us About Being Successful in Business

by James on April 25, 2011

Being in business isn’t hard. Sell something your customers need. Bring in more money than you send out.

Having a successful business is a lot harder. Being successful means you have to do everything that much better than your competition. You need a positioning that’s, unique, competitive and motivating. This is hard.

To be successful in business you need to understand what the category requires, you need to “sell something your customers want,” but this isn’t enough. Even if you do it very well, this won’t differentiate you, it won’t make your business the category leader, it won’t lead to high margins and growth.

It’s table stakes.

When I took over Red8 Interactive a little more than a year ago, the company was in this position. It had been in business for ten years, providing interactive development for ad agencies, interactive agencies and web design firms. It had had seen ups and downs, some successes and some failures. Red8 was a classic undifferentiated company competing on price. They did good work and had some really good people in place, in my previous position running the interactive group in a San Francisco agency they had been my vendor for 5 years, but the company didn’t stand for anything. In a post Seth Godin wrote, Improving the Trains, he captured the essence of Red8′s challenge; “(You) can’t get rounder than round.”

Read the Table

Take a hard look at your business. Carefully and honestly identify what the table stakes are in your marketplace. Then figure out how your business can up the ante.

Look hard at your customers and carefully consider the customer’s point of view. Understand their problems and challenges objectively and subjectively. Go beyond the obvious. Of course price and quality are important.

The first thing I did when I took over the company’s day-to-day management was go out and talk to customers and potential customers. I wasn’t there to sell them. I went with eyes and ears open, to hear and understand what they had to say. I already had a pretty good idea what I would hear, I  had been a customer for a long time, but I wanted to know if my experience was unique or reflected a real opportunity.

I learned that, from the customers point of view, high quality code is table stakes. There are lots of places a marketer can find competent developers. But being easy to work with isn’t easy to find. And this is what they were really looking for.

Up the Ante

For Red8 to be a successful business the winning hand was clear. It wasn’t writing better code at a lower price. High quality code is a table stakes. The opportunity was to be the easy to work with.

We’ve been striving to achieve this for more than a year now. It hasn’t been easy, we still have a long way to go, but it’s definitely the right path.

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