CVAR CEO Mark Epstein with Molly Bloom at Inman Connect.
A devastating crash ended Molly Bloom’s stint with the U.S. Ski Team. She graduated from college, moved to Los Angeles, quickly got fired from a waitressing job, and then began working for a real estate developer who introduced her to the world of exclusive, high-stakes underground poker games.
She made $3,000 in tips the first night and was hooked. She built a business bringing in millions every year from the deep pockets of the celebrities, business moguls and dubious characters who gathered at her table. The FBI eventually caught up with her, and she was convicted of running an illegal gambling operation, losing everything but keeping her freedom.
Her story appears in her 2014 memoir, Molly’s Game, and a 2017 movie of the same name starring Jessica Chastain, written and directed by Aaron Sorkin.
In her talk on the main stage at Inman Connect Las Vegas, she recounted her involvement in the largest high-stakes poker game in the world, as well as her fall from grace. Many of the lessons she learned apply to every agent’s career.
1. Figure out your clients’ motivations
It’s Marketing 101, but it’s worth repeating: Figure out what’s motivating your clients. Bloom began figuring out what it was that brought “masters of the universe” actors like Ben Affleck, Toby McGuire and Leonardo DiCaprio to the table. Over time, she realized it was about the stories they could tell.
2. Recognize the size of the opportunity
Once she figured that out, Bloom saw the potential for growing the game into a major business, and she poured her entire being into expanding that business.
3. Delve into your niche
As a former skier and essentially a kid away from her middle-class home, she was out of her element. Add celebs and billionaires to the mix, and you have a seriously intimidating situation.
So what did she do? She turned to Google to learn everything poker. She found out what songs poker players liked to listen to, what they liked to eat, all the jargon and poker rules and more.
4. Invest in your own business
As the game grew, knowing her clients were looking for a great story, she made sure there were players at the table that the other players couldn’t resist, like Alex Rodriguez.
The poker players got starry eyed when A-Rod walked into the room, Bloom recalled in her book. In her talk she mentioned that to make sure she rostered the table properly, she started staking (putting up money for him to play) a professional athlete, though she didn’t mention whether it was A-Rod. But taking that risk led to a big win for her business.
5. Be your clients’ concierge
Bloom needed players to sit (sometimes till dawn) to keep the game going. So she made sure that she took care of their every need, she recalled in her memoir.
She made herself invaluable by handling even the smallest requests. For instance, if Toby McGuire needed a reservation at the most exclusive restaurant in L.A., she picked up the phone.
“Everyone likes to feel heard, seen and remembered, they like to feel special,” Bloom said onstage at ICLV.
6. Build your network
She was able to pick up the phone and tend to players’ every whim because she had spent a lot of time networking with hostesses, concierges, gallery owners, night club owners, etc. It was also through these connections that she was able to recruit new players.
7. Be willing to rebuild
Eventually, a prominent player (and famous actor. Hint: Think Spiderman!) took her game away.
She had options: quit, or rebuild.
She decided to move the game from L.A. to New York City, and that’s where she built the largest game in the world, and also where it met its demise.
8. Focus on the positive
Rather than get stuck on her failures, she picked up and entrenched herself in the Wall Street lifestyle. Wherever big-time players matriculated, she would be.
As long as you have the best product in town, people will come back, Bloom said.
9. Don’t let greed take over
As the game grew in New York, so did Bloom’s greed, and that’s where she says she started making bad decisions.
She focused on her bottom line rather than sustainability and started taking a rake on the game (a percentage of the winnings)—it was this turn that piqued the FBI’s interest.
10. Be comfortable in the decisions you make
When you’re successful, everyone wants a piece of the pie. For Bloom, this meant that both the Russian and Italian mob came calling.
When the FBI arrested her, they offered her a deal in which if she became an informant, she’d get to keep her millions and not serve jail time. If not, she’d lose everything and likely face up to 10 years in jail.
She opted to risk it all. And she basically lost everything.
When those nagging feelings of self-doubt creep in, meditate and ruminate on the positive in your life.
11. When things don’t go as expected, don’t give up. Pivot.
Even after all the legal trouble, Bloom wanted to tell her story and find another way to create a career. She wrote her memoir and shopped her story straight to Aaron Sorkin, who has given us the riveting film titled the same as the book, Molly’s Game.