What Poker and Mindfulness Teaches You About Succeeding as a SaaS Startup

May 24, 2022
Poker dealer shuffling poker cards depicting knowledge and skill of poker

Great poker players and successful SaaS founders both know big wins come from being present when the stakes are high.

We’ve all heard it before; the trite expressions that reference poker as a metaphor for business. Most are practical in theory, but other than football, poker is among the most overused cliches in the software startups. 

Keep your cards close to your chest, go all-in, play the odds—we’ve all heard them thrown around a million times, and quite frankly, even those of us that are in the business of servicing poker establishments can’t help but roll our eyes. 

What misses the mark with all these overused poker cliches is that there is one simple truth of poker found in all great players and great business leaders in SaaS: being mindful and present in every aspect of the game. 

This may seem too left field as we enter zen buddhism territory, but being mindful in every move made, every bet placed, every precise calculation taken, is the most important overarching philosophy that these two share. SaaS is among the fastest moving and competitive product categories in 2022. Similarly, poker players have never faced more competition and talent than what’s circulating in the game right now. For both, staying clear-headed and present is a requisite for survival.  

To get more specific, here’s what solid poker players and great SaaS leaders both get right in regard to mindfulness at the proverbial poker table of life:

Determining the odds of success dispassionately 

When competing with opponents of varying skill sets and different levels of experience, it can be easy to blindly ignore the advantages that others have over you. Great poker players and SaaS founders alike can see the lay of the land and anticipate the moves necessary to win a wide range of hands. Both resist succumbing to bias, and are able to remove ego from the equation to see the objective odds of success in front of them. 

This objective analysis comes easily to those who know how to step outside of fear and greed. Mindful consideration of the present and a dispassionate acceptance of the current scenario is what makes a player decisive and swift in the face of tough decisions. Experience is key, and making difficult choices in times where complexity is rampant only becomes easier when you know how to calm the mind and engage with the present reality neutrally. 

The SaaS world hinges on unforeseen variables affected by a multitude of components. New technologies that close doors for one industry may open a door for another. Shifting geopolitical landscapes may diminish market share, or increase the ability to offer services previously unseen. Different ways of offering value can offer product insights, or derail infrastructural security. Those skilled at succeeding know that mindfulness and neutrality are the best tools to overcome obstacles.  

In our industry—casino management software—we have battled with all of the above; at times winning big, and at others failing miserably. Learning how to navigate murky waters and calculate odds dispassionately has become a constant practice that requires vigilance and presence. The idea of getting lucky, or only being vaguely familiar with what we’re doing rarely plays. Humility and preparation always reign supreme. 

Poker Aces with brain mapping technology

Studying the game increases skill, and therefore luck

Research and development are crucial before pulling the trigger on a software solution. Bringing innovation to a market can only occur if you have studied your industry and competition with great intention.

If building operational software for casinos has taught us anything, it’s that studying our industry’s challenges always reveals more problems to solve than when we first started. Not unlike poker, the process of mastery reveals much of  the game’s challenges, constantly highlighting what you don’t know. Great poker players educate themselves and prepare for challenges knowing that increasing skill will always reveal more opportunities to take advantage of luck.

Being a student of an industry, as much as a leader is critical. The lessons of the legends, both in poker and in SaaS, are signposts that remind us all to study our craft. Mindful awareness of the connection to a community acts like a tattoo on the psyche, reminding one to study and learn from those that have had previous success. Know your weaknesses and relentlessly build your skills. 

The real win happens in the long term

Great SaaS ideas are brought to fruition to reduce pain and solve complex problems. Software products rarely have a straight line to success. Theoretically, a good business model could take years to develop before sustainability and scalability come into play. Similarly, great poker players know that honing the craft takes years. Nothing won in the short term can build a foundation that goes forward for decades to come. Commitment to the long term goal is all that matters. 

Acknowledging the emotions presented by thoughts of impatience and scarcity, and sitting with those feelings without acting, is what separates the good from the great.  Erratic decision making patterns have been the death blow to many great startups and talented poker players. The real wins come with incremental growth over years, slowly cultivating patience and a personal playbook of success. 

Awareness of the strength gained from the daily work grind, or incremental skill increases hand-by-hand at the poker table, is what creates the big wins. Playing to win the long game is what really matters, and those that yield to the mindful tranquility of daily practice cash in the biggest.     

Women with poker chip winnings

Understanding the value of perspective to reshape any scenario

As any good poker player will tell you, chasing your losses is like chaining yourself to an anchor headed to the bottom of an ocean of destitution. The inability to understand the principle of sunk costs can always be attributed to an overinflated sense of self-importance that diminishes creative foresight. 

Perspective is arguably the most powerful weapon in life’s psychological quiver of cognitive arrows. Learning to stock this arsenal affords leaders in SaaS the ability to pivot when necessary, be creative, and utilize resources in ways no one thought possible.

Poker is no different. It takes a mature and shrewd player to know how to reform perspective on the fly. Fairness is no friend to the game of poker, or those that participate in it. Smart plays don’t always guarantee a good result, and just like in life, the poker tables can be unusually cruel and heartbreaking at times. Reshaping perspective is a battle, but one that affords the ability to always win the war. 

Walking away from a game keeps you sane

Business in the software space isn’t a zero-sum game with limits and rules. In life, you have to fumble around in the dark to find answers that may not exist. Poker doesn’t offer a well-packaged allusion to every scenario, and great players and SaaS leaders both know when to protect their psyche by stepping away from the game—temporarily or permanently. 

A calm, collected awareness of your limits is essential to competing at the highest level, and knowing which game to invest in is crucial.  No matter how talented you are, without discipline and self-awareness, you’ll implode. It takes a well centered player to know when to fold and when to risk it all.