Before launching a business, entrepreneurs often hone their skills and gather life experience that can help make their businesses successful. Those experiences can come from school, working for others, or some more unconventional sources. For Jeff Ma, many of the lessons he learned that helped him succeed in his many startup ventures came from his days playing blackjack.
It certainly seems like an unconventional source for business knowledge. But Ma wasn’t just a casual blackjack player either. As part of the MIT Blackjack Team from 1993 through 2001, Ma won about $2 million. The team used sophisticated card counting techniques that were perfectly legal, but still got them banned from casinos due to their constant winning. Their story was even adapted into Ben Mezrich’s book “Bringing Down the House” and the film “21.”
Since his days at the casino table, Ma has launched three startups that he eventually sold to the likes of Yahoo, Virgin and Twitter. The serial entrepreneur recently spoke with Inc about the links between his days counting cards and his career as a serial entrepreneur.
On the surface, it might not seem like the skills from one would transfer to the other. But Ma said that blackjack taught him a lot about teamwork, gathering data, and problem solving. Ma told Inc:
“When people ask me what I miss the most from those days, it’s not the rush or gambling, it’s really the camaraderie. I miss the feeling of when the team went into a casino and tried to beat the house. That is why I love working in startups. It’s the same feeling — you get a group of people together and try to tackle a big problem. You’re trying to work together to build something, make money, and win. That’s essentially what blackjack is.”
Experience and knowledge are key to running successful businesses. But that knowledge and experience can come from anywhere. There is no one correct path to success. So to be truly successful, you need to pay attention to the lessons you can gain from a variety of sources. You never know when you will learn something that might be invaluable to your future business journey.
Blackjack photo by Shutterstock