‘MOLLY’S GAME’ – Why the entrepreneur in you must read this book .

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I teach Strategic Management ( Competitive Strategy in Poker ) at the Indian Institute of Management- Kozhikode.  I know, really cool. However, with so many grading assignments and other pending tasks, reading a book  has become a luxury.

Recently, I treated myself to a book that i had been wanting to read for quite some time. It is sort of a poker biography of poker entrepreneur and author, Molly Bloom – her introduction to the world of high stakes business folks, running high stakes cash games under the radar, and the inevitable fall from grace.

 Okay, this is not a book where hands would be discussed.

It is more about the business of LIVE poker. Molly’s reference to her talented brothers and how she felt she’d come up short was unexpected and kind of endearing. The folks in Bloom’s life, with the exception of one Hollywood star, are spoken about with fondness. Whether they are aggressive business folks, superstars, law enforcement or game staff, I finished the book coming to like these inhabitants of the poker world.

Bloom’s book gives us a sense of what makes for a high-society poker game – comforts, ease, action, proximity and glamour of every bit of the experience – from playing to collections. Just as she builds a unique poker experience and starts counting out her first big profits, the reader begins to wonder how long the good time would last. Bloom rolls with the punches, taking her game from coast to coast, somehow making an equally good show of it irrespective of the location. Be they Hollywood celebrities or Wall Street biggies, they co-occupy rarefied felts with the other rich and wealthy.

The business and competitive (not in poker, but the business of running a poker game) aspects that struck me are: first, how a rank outsider – Bloom – finds a niche for herself; second, how she goes about making this niche profitable; third, how or what defends this profitable spot; and finally, what might drive the heavy handedness of law enforcement. Let me elaborate.

How the astute business woman navigates the high testosterone world of the poker business is fascinating in itself. While men dominate this world, their alpha-male territory defense instincts and how all that testosterone overdose may be an entrepreneurial opportunity is fascinating to read. A powerful man bossing the game is nothing to be fearful of, just as far as you can find at least other power thirsty man – seems to be Bloom’s mantra. It made me wonder if I could use sections of the book as reading material for an entrepreneurship class.

Bloom’s CRM (customer relationship management) is fascinating. Fulfilling the silliest of customer desires goes a long way in the poker business, it appears. She recollects fascinating experiences that had her scurrying around so that the boss wouldn’t throw a fit. While painful in itself, in this helter-skelter she makes friends and gets a shot at love. Like a professional wrestler, she turns and throws the collections problem with the promise of the next, even better, even sexier, game.

Bloom’s careful documentation of her players and their needs creates a database which would take a potential rival many years to emulate. This gives her a shot at running this profitable business for a longer time. In her book lie fascinating secrets of how a poker business ticks. It takes 9 to have a game, but for Bloom any 9 wouldn’t just do. A careful selection of the 9 players is important for the experience to be fun, profitable, less of a collections headache, and a source of repeat business. Again, as you read the book, these poker business insights jump at you.

Notwithstanding the plethora of evidence of poker being a skill game, poker in general and live poker in particular, is exposed to the vicissitudes of the legal system and its enforcement. In the US, those like Bloom who run the game may sometimes find themselves in prison, a choice of cooperating or long prison sentences ahead of them.

Having taken the former way out, Bloom has had the opportunity to tell her story. It is a fascinating one. Not only poker lovers – anybody with interest in service businesses, entrepreneurship, or a woman navigating ‘a man’s world’ of poker would find this book good to read. 

Write to me in the comments below and we can discuss the book at length using the business management lens further.

-Deepak Dhayanithy, Assistant Professor, Straegic Management, Indian Institute of Management- Kozhikode