May 11, 2022

What I Learned…As a Professional Poker Player, with Coegi’s Ryan Green

Ryan Green is vice president of marketing and innovation at Missouri-based marketing agency Coegi. 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 was like to trade chips for throws.

Hi Ryan! We know you as a marketer, but I heard you’ve spent time in a world where the stakes are higher?

I spent six and a half years as a professional poker player in my twenties. I dropped out of college after my bankroll was enough to play full time. I was driven 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 came easily to me at first. I read a book given to me by a good friend who was successful, having won over a million dollars playing poker on the Internet before he turned 21. I learned by watching him in his early years and understanding his thought process.

When internet poker became popular in the mid-2000s, there were a lot of bad players, so the games were soft and easy to beat. They became more difficult as the pool of players became more proficient. I had to do more and more studies to improve my game in order to keep the same profit margin.

Poker players must become experts in reading people, not to mention strategy. What did you take from the chart table to the boardroom?

Poker is a great way to look at complex factors, which I come back to when trying to ground myself before making a major decision. It combines quantitative analysis with emotional and psychological disciplines.

At a poker table, there are 10 people you need to report to, just as there are many different parties to consider when thinking about marketing challenges. Each side will have different skills, motivations, mindsets, and bargaining power when looking at the same hand or situation. This translates well into digital marketing, which requires looking at various KPIs to understand campaign results. Mixing quantitative and qualitative data is a useful lens for assessing multivariate challenges.

Can’t hurt the negotiations…

Well, I don’t have to have a straight face in most meetings anymore. Most of the time, I look for partnerships that benefit all parties, and no longer see things as a zero-sum game. In marketing, we never want to be manipulative with customers, like in poker, but rather strive to be honest and forthright. I really only go back to the poker mindset to tap into that mental framework for big decisions.

One of the most important life lessons I learned from poker was how to handle immense pressure at an early age. I still use the breathing and concentration techniques that I learned back in the days before giving important presentations, for example. Being able to get into the right competitive and focused mindset is a life lesson that I will continue to use.

What about the next generation of marketers – should they try poker if they get the chance?

Poker is a tough way to make a living. It requires you to be fully immersed to be the best; think of Beth in The Queen’s Gambit. You have to be the best to do it. You can’t just 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 the results and methodically evaluate complex decisions, which can be beneficial for people who tend to make emotional decisions.

Poker trains you to eliminate bias (recency, 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 on this mental framework.

And what’s your advice for everyone else (those of us who don’t have the skills or constitution for high-level poker)?

My advice to someone who wants to get into digital marketing is to first distinguish whether you prefer to be a specialist or a generalist. Do you like having a complete 360° understanding? If so, do beginner level courses and learn as much as you can in a wide space. On the other hand, if you like to dive deep into one or two disciplines, find what interests you the most and learn all you can about those topics. With data science or programming in particular, this can be very valuable and both are in demand.