We had the good fortune of connecting with Athan Slotkin and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Athan, what role has risk played in your life or career?
Asymmetric bets don’t come around so often, especially ones with potentially large returns. As a CEO, your job is to make positive expected value (EV) bets, and then ‘numb’ yourself to the outcome so you can be rational about it. If you keep making positive EV bets – both the small ones and the larger ones – they will compound to a better outcome, especially over the long-haul. So it’s not ‘risks’ ever; it’s calculations, where you know the probabilities and expected value, even if roughly, and make the decisions to go ahead based on your analysis (whether formal or otherwise). Poker taught me the foundation of this. In poker, you have you routinely place large bets with imperfect information. And even more so, you have to be comfortable that sometimes..even if you make a perfectly optimal decision..you’re going to lose. And that cannot impact your play after. Poker is therefore the lens through which I look at all business decisions. As a result, I always like taking risks..calculated ones as you can tell. Where this becomes a bit trickier is in larger decisions. There is a concept/option in poker called ‘Run it Once.’ The converse option is you get to run it several times. If you have a positive outcome you usually want to limit the volatility of the outcome. You want to ideally get to the statistical long run. You want to run the same scenario multiple times. I’m not a corporate citizen myself (anymore), but when deciding whether to take a new job, you have a decision just like this. Imperfect information as much as you can try to learn, and when you have enough information you have to make the better ‘EV’ play. This includes compensation, culture, lifestyle, industry, team. This same premise applies for entrepreneurs. As an entrepreneur you’re likely not scared of failing after you’ve been through several rodeos, but you still only have a finite amount of time. Therefore, you have to decide which of your many excellent business ideas you have to place your bet on (invest your time in). Ultimately, that’s the way I think of my decisions, every day. I do the analysis and then I do the best I can do, and yes I certainly will push as hard as I can to affect the outcome. But the rest is out of my hands. I’m comfortable with that.
What should our readers know about your business?
I help entrepreneurs gain strategic clarity or look good when developing their business or presenting their business to investors. 70% of my clients are concept-stage companies; the rest are more developed. In all cases, I use the same overly analytical approach and treat the business like it’s my own business. When I don’t have an answer or need support, my team is always there to enhance the product. Outside of this I also have my own businesses (20-25% of my time) and teach poker to approximately three students at a time (~5% of my time).
Let’s say your best friend was visiting the area and you wanted to show them the best time ever. Where would you take them? Give us a little itinerary – say it was a week long trip, where would you eat, drink, visit, hang out, etc.
I normally stay within a mile radius of Santa Monica; I love it there. I also love heading to Chinatown for good hidden eats, plus I miss me a good Nightshade meal. 🙂 That place is exceptional. Under non-Covid times, I’m normally traveling ~2x per month. The Shoutout series is all about recognizing that our success and where we are in life is at least somewhat thanks to the efforts, support, mentorship, love and encouragement of others. So is there someone that you want to dedicate your shoutout to?
My father, who taught me poker at age 5. And all the opponents who ever ‘bad beat’ me along the way. 🙂