Joe is a Co-Founder & Poker Player
Joe Garafalo, Co-Founder of Mosaic, talks about his passion for playing poker, how it is more a numbers game than gambling, how it applies to starting/running a business, and much more!
• Getting into poker
• Similarities of playing poker to running a business
• Why your hobbies are important regardless of whether they relate to your career or not
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Welcome to episode 527 of What’s Your “And”? This is John Garrett. And each Wednesday, I interview a professional who, just like me, is known for a hobby, or a passion, or an interest outside of work. And to put it in another way, it’s encouraging people to find their “and”, those things above and beyond your technical skills, the things that actually differentiates you when you’re at work.
And if you like what the show is about, be sure to check out the award-winning book on Amazon, Indigo, Barnes & Noble, Bookshop, Audible, and a few other websites. All of the links are at whatsyourand.com. The book goes more in-depth with the research behind why these outside of work passions are so crucial to your corporate culture. And I can’t say how much it means that everyone’s reading it, and listening to it, and writing such nice reviews on Amazon, and more importantly, changing the cultures where they work because of it.
And please don’t forget to hit subscribe to the podcast so you don’t miss any of the future episodes. I love sharing such interesting stories each and every week. And this week is no different with my guest, Joe Garafalo. He’s the co-founder of Mosaic out of San Diego. And now, he’s with me here today. Joe, thanks so much for taking time to be with me on What’s Your “And”?
Joe: Thanks, John. Excited to be here. I appreciate you having me on.
John: Yeah, this is gonna be a blast, but I have 17 rapid-fire questions. Get to know Joe right out of the gate here. So you’re buckled in, seatbelt ready?
Joe: Let’s do it.
John: All right, here we go. I like that. I like that. Easy one. Favorite color.
John: Nice. Mine too. We can keep going. No, I’m just teasing. How about a least favorite color?
Joe: Least favorite color? Orange.
John: Oh, that’s a popular one or a popular to be least popular, I guess. How about are you more talk or text?
Joe: More text.
John: Yeah, okay. All right. How about a favorite actor or an actress?
Joe: Favorite actor, probably Brad Pitt. Actress, Jennifer Lawrence.
John: Oh, okay. Yeah. I thought you were gonna say Angelina Jolie just to make it really awkward. How about— Oh this is a good one— Least favorite vegetable.
Joe: Least favorite vegetable, cauliflower.
John: Solid answer right there. Yeah, absolutely. How about Sudoku or Crossword when it comes to puzzles?
John: Crossword, okay. How about a favorite animal? Any animal at all.
John: Leopard. Okay.
Joe: Yeah. Big fan of the big cats.
John: Nice. Very cool. That’s awesome. How about Star Wars or Star Trek?
Joe: Star Wars all the way.
John: Okay. Yeah, me too.
Joe: Big fan. Bigger fan of Lord of the Rings though.
John: Oh, okay. I’ll accept that. Absolutely. Definitely. That’s another great one. How about your computer? More of a PC or a Mac?
Joe: I’m a Mac all the way to the dark side.
John: Oh, okay. All right. How about your toilet paper roll, over or under?
John: Over. Yeah. People are really passionate about that one. It’s funny to me. Both sides of it are equally passionate, which makes me laugh. I’m a huge ice cream fan. So do you get ice cream in a cup or a cone?
Joe: Ooh, I do both. I like both. It just depends on, you know, the circumstances. If I can pull off a cone, I’ll do a cone. But if I’m on the go or moving, I’ll do a cup.
John: Yeah, yeah. Or if you can sweet talk ’em in a cup, but the cone on top, that’s the magic right there ’cause I still need the calories from the sugar or the waffle coat. That’s for sure.
Joe: I’m more of like a wafer guy on the cone versus like the waffle.
John: Oh, the old school.
John: Okay. Nice. Okay. How about a favorite Disney character?
Joe: Oh man, there’s so many good ones.
John: I guess now Star Wars is part of that too, I guess. It’s all of them.
Joe: I’ll go— I think this is a Disney character in some controversy recently, but maybe Captain Jack Sparrow.
John: Oh yeah, okay. There you go. Right. Well, the character, not the person that voiced the character. There you go. Or acted the character. Yeah, that is a fun character actually. Jack Sparrow is awesome. What’s a typical breakfast?
Joe: Typical breakfast, black coffee.
John: Oh nice. Okay. Just going straight at it. Bam!
Joe: It’s a rocket fuel.
John: There you go. There you go. How about a favorite number?
Joe: The #4 has always been near and dear to my heart. Grew up a big hockey guy. New Jersey Devil’s fan. A guy named Scott Stevens was the captain for a long time.
John: Oh, yeah.
Joe: Yeah, he wore #4. I’ve been wearing it ever since.
John: Nice. As good a reason as any. Just a fun one. Balance sheet or income statement.
Joe: Income statement all the way.
John: Right. Right. Balance sheet is not paying the rent. It’s like here we go.
Joe: The balance sheet is decidedly unsexy.
John: Right. That might be the best line ever set on this podcast ever. And we are 527 episodes in. That’s impressive. That’s awesome. All right, we got two more. When it comes to books, audio version, e-Book, or real book?
Joe: Oh, man, I’m not an audio book guy. I would love like a real book, but just it’s easier to do e-Books these days.
John: Yeah. Plus, you can carry hundreds of them with you in your device.
Joe: Exactly. I do have a signed copy of the book Zero to One by Peter Thiel, which is probably my prized book possession.
John: Yeah. I mean, that leads right into the last question of what’s the favorite thing you have or the favorite thing you own?
Joe: Can it be my dog?
John: Yeah! Absolutely. It can be whatever you want.
Joe: She’s definitely the light of my life.
John: That’s very cool. And what kind of dog is it?
Joe: She’s a Cavapoo, so half Cavalier and half mini poodle.
John: Oh, wow. Nice. And Coconut sounds like an appropriate name. That’s very cool. Well, let’s talk poker and how did you get started. Was it mostly when you were younger or did you have like that really crazy cool aunt that liked playing like Tatcha poker or something?
Joe: Yeah. So in the early days, my grandpa actually taught me the game and we used to play with like my grandpa, my uncles. And instead of chips, we used to use like pretzel rods—
John: Oh, yeah!
Joe: …as chips. And then I think I really got into it around I think it was like 2002-2003 when Chris Moneymaker won the World Series of Poker and ESPN started playing the World Series of Poker on TV. And I think like in high school then, all of our friends kind of like got the poker bug. So we would have a ton of games in high school. And then after playing a lot in high school, we went over to college, went to college in New York City. So it’s hard to find a poker game. So transitioned to the online world. Back then, Full Tilt poker was kind of like the leader in the space. So I played a lot there and got really lucky. Won a really big tournament. It was like a 5-dollar buy-in. One of those like 10,000 people would buy in. It was over a couple different days and that money helped me buy my first car in college. And ever since then,—
John: That’s awesome.
Joe: …I was addicted.
John: Yeah. ‘Cause then it’s like “What?! I’m up now forever.” You know?
John: Everything is house money. That’s awesome, man. That’s so cool. I mean, 10,000 people to win that is pretty awesome. I mean, is it a lot of bluffing or is it a lot of like just getting good cards or— I’m sure that there’s a strategy to a lot of it, I guess. If you’re not getting the cards, do you ride it out sometimes or how does that work?
Joe: Yeah, I think it’s like well-timed aggression is kind of the key. But I mean, to win a poker tournament like that, you’ve gotta get lucky. Right? Anyone who says differently is kind of lying. You need the cards to run in your favor. So a little bit of luck can’t hurt. I’d rather be lucky than good any day of the week.
John: Right. Right. Yeah. And then when you know you got the good hand, then you go all in. And like you said, the timed aggression, that’s exactly how it is. And that’s awesome. So do you have like some favorite memories? I’m sure playing with the pretzel sticks has gotta be one of the cool ones. I mean, that’s super fun.
Joe: Oh, yeah, I’ve definitely taken some fun poker trips with friends to Vegas or to the East coast. I was up to Connecticut where we just— We’d go there and we play poker for 72 hours straight. Just drink coffee and just play for hours.
John: That’s cool.
Joe: There was like a really poor memory though. Like one day in college towards my senior year, there was this event called Black Friday. And Black Friday is when like the Department of Justice shut down all the online poker sites and like everything just turned off.
Joe: It was like a big heartbreaking day. So definitely took more of a hiatus in poker when you couldn’t play online anymore and then kind of transitioned to “Hey, let’s still be a student in the game. Let’s read a lot of poker books. That way, I can at least stay in touch with the thing that I love.” And you know, during that hiatus of no online poker— It’s slowly coming back state by state, which has been really cool to see. I hope California does it soon. But I did pick up this book by Annie Duke. And if you don’t know Annie Duke, she’s one of the best poker players in the world. She’s super smart, really, really bright.
I think she’s like an Ivy League grad, but she wrote this book called Thinking in Bets. And she just talks about how there’s so much similarity to life and to business that there is to a poker game. And that really resonated with me ’cause it’s like my two passions, business and poker kind of converging. And I’ve seen so much similarity to starting the company and running the company to actually like being at a poker table playing in this high stakes game.
John: Yeah. And I was gonna ask like how much does this translate over? Because I mean, it’s a muscle group that you’re exercising outside of work. But then when you get to work and that opportunity arises maybe for the timed aggression or whatever, that sort of mentality, then it’s like “Well, I’m ready to go ’cause I’ve been doing this outside of work for days, and weeks, and years type of thing. So what do you feel like it does translate over?
Joe: Oh, man, there’s so many different points, I think. So the first thing, right, is when we were starting a company and I run a startup. We’re about 100 employees. We’ve raised close to 50 million in a venture-backed capital.
John: Congrats, man. That’s awesome.
Joe: Appreciate it. It’s not easy. It’s definitely not easy. In poker, you’re allotted this stack of chips. And those chips are your war chest. And just like in business, your cash balance is your war chest, and you have to allocate those chips for that capital the same way that you allocate chips to a poker hand. And a lot of times, you’re putting chips into the middle of the table. You’re allocating capital to the business on experiments, things that you’ve never done before that you’re hoping yield results.
But the key to being a good poker player is like folding and cutting your losses when things aren’t going your way. So how you manage your chip stack and how you place your bets on different experiments that you’re hoping will yield good results goes a long way. So that chip management and like cash management definitely see some similarities there.
John: That’s such a perfect analogy really when you think about it. You know, that’s exactly it. And at no point in college did anyone tell you “Hey, go learn how to play poker ’cause it will make you better at starting your business and running your business.” But it clearly does. That’s a cool byproduct. And another big thing in like the tournaments that we talked about earlier, 10,000 people, it’s patience. Right? It’s like you have to be patient. So poker teaches you patience. It teaches you how you need to make this stack of chips or stack of cash in business go a long way. And you can go a long way if you’re patient, but we also talked a little bit earlier about like the time aggression. Right?
So in poker, when you see the opportunity, you have to kind of attack it aggressively. And you know, there’s a saying in poker, “When you go all in, all your chips are in the middle of the table. And if this doesn’t work, then you’re out.” I think the same is true in business. Like if you see a market opportunity, you gotta go out there and seize it. ‘Cause if it’s not you, it’s gonna be somebody else. So the timed aggression and then like putting your chips all in, going after something you learn when to do it and when not to do it pretty quickly.
John: Yeah. Like the phrase, burn the boats. It’s like “Well, there’s no alternative. Like this is it. We gotta make this work.” And then, you know, you’re not sorta half leaning in. It’s like “No, we’re all in on this, let’s make this happen” type of thing.
Joe: I love that phrase. I love it.
John: Yeah. Because it’s good alliteration too. It’s a lot of Bs in there and all that, so it’s nice. So is poker something that comes up in conversation at work?
Joe: Maybe between me and my co-founders a little bit, but probably not in normal conversation with other employees.
John: Well, yeah. Or if you find out someone else does like poker, then magic happens.
John: ‘Cause some people just in their head think “Oh, well, people are gonna judge or people are gonna whatever.” Whatever their “and” is. And we’re not in sixth grade anymore. It’s like “No, no, now it’s cool. Like everything’s cool. As long as it’s not illegal or super taboo, you know, then it’s awesome.”
Joe: Exactly. And poker tends to have sort of a negative connotation with some people ’cause they consider it to be gambling, but I think there is just so much math that is rooted in the game that if you play the math and you play the odds right over a long time horizon, you win. And you’re not playing against the house, right? You’re playing against other people. So the things that you accumulate, the things that you pick up on are things that you can use to your advantage. And if you think about it, I lead our sales and marketing team over at Mosaic. And marketing was relatively new to me because before that, I was a finance guy. You and I were just talking we both cut our teeth at the big four. So marketing was this entire new world.
And the same way that you have to market your business, the product, your team, you have to market yourself at the poker table as well. If you’re too loose and you’re playing too many pots, people are gonna try to chase you ’cause they can assume the hands that you’re playing are probably not the greatest strength. Right? The same goes for marketing and business. It’s like where are you gonna put your chips? When are you gonna put your chips in? Are you establishing thought leadership? Are you just saying things that aren’t true? Are you representing hands that you don’t actually have? Those are a lot of similarities in how that works. Same goes for kind of like pricing.
John: Yeah. I mean, it’s just amazing how much just that mindset and that mentality just helps out. That’s really cool. And I guess how much do you feel like it matters that people have a hobby that work around you now at Mosaic, but even before and throughout your career? How much does it matter that people have these outside of work hobbies or interests? Or is it more like “Eh, do whatever you’re gonna do and like we don’t need to know about ’em” sort of thing or like where do you guys at like out of Mosaic— Are there ways that people share or is that a thing?
Joe: I think everybody’s got their hobbies, right? I think whether or not you can find how those hobbies relate to your everyday career, maybe it’s a different story. Like we have a bunch of employees over at Mosaic that are like big advocates of barbecue and smoking. I’m sure we can find some— Like I’m sure the patience thing is true. Like to make a good brisket, you need hours. You can’t like rush it.
John: Yeah. Right?
Joe: For sure. But I think those hobbies are important, right? Like to stay sharp, to avoid burnout, to find passion outside of work.
John: I totally agree and it’s cool to hear that like you know what some of those things are that light people up, you know. ‘Cause I would imagine that the conversation at work is a lot more fun when it involves some of those things on occasion than just all work all the time sort of thing like you said with the burnout and especially in the last 2 years. I mean, whew, I mean that’s been heavy.
Joe: It’s been heavy for everyone for sure. And even to this day. So I’ve been leading our marketing team for about 2-1/2 to 3 years now. We have a Friday retro where we just talk about how we did over the last week.
We still start that session with icebreakers every Friday just to hear like “Hey, what are you guys up to?” What’s going on in our personal lives. That way, we can kind of stay in tune. We’ve got some big fans of Disney characters as well. I’m gonna ask him what he thinks about my Jack Sparrow comment earlier.
John: Right? Yeah. I mean, it’s just the things that like light up our soul almost. And you can just see it in their eyes and in their tone of voice. And they’re animated and like all these things about the person and then, you know, you ask them about the work product and it’s very monotone. Sometimes it’s exciting and sometimes it’s animated, but not every time. But every single time somebody’s talking about poker or smoking meat, that’s awesome. Like every time, it’s awesome type of thing. And if you can harness that energy in the work setting, then magic.
Joe: For sure. And a lot of the roles that we have at the company are creative roles, right? So we’re talking about software engineers, we’re talking about marketers, we’re talking about product designers. So I think the hobbies and the influences outside of work help them kind of bring their best selves and most creative selves to the work product.
John: I love that. Talk about people having stigmas. I mean, I did comedy and everybody thinks they know what a standup comedian is, and what it’s like, and what standup comedy is. And you don’t. You know, it can be anything. I mean, there’s clean as well as super dirty. And no, not all of them are what you think they’re supposed to be, the comedians, you know, offstage or whatever. But that creative side of me did give me a total unplug from the accounting work that I was doing during the day when I still had the day job. You know? And so, it’s just so important to just like take your mind off of the work for even just a little bit to come back fresh. I feel like so many people just hammer away at the billable hour or at the hours in general. And it’s like that doesn’t always equal best product at the end. So it’s encouraging to hear that a founder, someone like you is also thinking that way, that I’m not crazy I guess.
Joe: No, definitely not crazy. I mean, even if poker’s not your thing, it’s like maybe you’re a competitive runner and you’re again ready for the marathon training and competing, trying to beat not only other folks in the field, but like your personal best or trying to get under a certain number of hours in the marathon. Those things go a long way to like continuing to build your competitive drive in the workplace. Not only so you can beat the competition, but also so that like you can bring your best self to the office and continue to push yourself and grow and advance your career.
John: Yeah. Plus, those runners, man, I mean, they have that inner fortitude when like the going gets tough. It’s like “Yeah, no, we’re only on like mile 17. We’ve got plenty more in us.” And you’re like “I’m going to home.” Like crazy.
Joe: My legs hurt, I can’t breathe, but you keep pushing.
John: Right? And they just power through and I’m like “Oh, God bless you guys.” No, but that’s such a great point. And different people have different expertise, if you will, from their “ands” that they are able to bring to the table. And knowing what their “and” is means that now I can tap into your expertise a little bit more and let you light it up as well, which is cool. Do you have any words of encouragement to people listening that maybe feel like I’ve got “and”, but no one’s gonna care ’cause it has nothing to do with my job?
Joe: I think I would encourage everybody to find their “and”, right? Like you have a long life to live. There’s many things, many career choices that you’re gonna have. And what you do, who you are at the end of it is the product of all the experiences that you’ve had. So you never know when those things are gonna come up. And learning new skills and how those skills that you’ve learned translate to other things, you’d be shocked to see some of the connections that get formed.
John: Yeah, no, and I love that too of where you said, you know, you’re gonna have several different careers, but that “and” is gonna be with you forever. I mean that poker was with you from college, to big four, to other jobs, to now mosaic, so that’s never changed. Now, you’re in marketing. It’s like still poker. Like you’re not doing the accounting. You’re not doing the finance, but still the poker is there. And that’s sort of the eye of the hurricane I guess, if you will, where everything else is just swirling around and changing, and that’s just steady.
Joe: And it’s not even business, right? Like in a poker game, everybody has imperfect information. And you’re doing your best to make the best decisions with the imperfect information that you have. So for me, poker can apply not only to business, just everyday life and everyday decisions. It’s like how do you weigh the consequences, or the risks, or the cause and the effect of the things that you’re gonna do. And you can’t always know the answer. Right? Annie Duke’s book, she talks a lot about kind of separating the outcome from the decision. And I think that principle alone can like stay with a person through life.
John: Yeah, that’s pretty deep right there. Yeah. Not being outcome based but just if you gave it your best, well, then that’s what you can actually focus on. Sometimes the outcome is out of your control.
Joe: Exactly. And it’s math, right? So I think the interest in math from high school days keep the interest in finding ways to use math in different games. And the odds are in your favor, but sometimes those 30%, 20% chances do come true, in which case you made the right decision. It wasn’t the outcome that you wanted. But if you keep making the right decisions, you’ll eventually get those outcomes.
John: Right. Exactly. No, that’s awesome, man. Well, this has been super fun. I feel like before we wrap it up though, I peppered you with so many questions at the beginning that it might be fair if I turn the tables and make this the first episode of The Joe Garafalo Podcast. So if you want to ask me any questions, I’m all yours. Fire away. Whatever you want to ask, I’m all yours.
Joe: Yeah, it sounds like one of your “ands” is comedy. How has comedy come back to help you throughout like all the different careers that you have? And I know at least three, right? You had the accounting job and the big four. You’ve had the podcast host and comedians. I’m curious how comedies continued to help you advance you.
John: So I started it when I was at PWC. We were at a training in LA. There were five of us that rented a car from the hotel and went to the improv in Hollywood to see— Whose Line Is It Anyway would tape during the day or in the evening. And then they would come down and do 45 minutes uncensored in the middle of a 3-hour standup show of a bunch of comedians doing 15- to 20-minute sets. Yeah. And so, I think in PWC days and in my accounting. I mean, it just always gave me a puzzle to be working on and just figuring out even just like how humans think and how they work, but also just a sense of humor about things. Like if you’re not laughing, you’re crying, so let’s laugh.
I mean, just the lens that I see the world through is just different than other people because I see absurdities, or incongruencies, or things that are humorous that not everybody does. And then as a comedian, it’s your job to then paint the picture for strangers so they see what you’re seeing. And so, it made me a better communicator for sure, and it gave me an identity. I mean, the whole What’s Your “And”? started because 12 years after I left my first PWC office, someone I never met— ’cause he was in the tax department and I’m one of the coolest CPAs that doesn’t know how taxes work— he remembered me and told the meeting planner “Oh, I know John Garrett. That’s the guy who did comedy at night at this huge conference.” And I’m like “I don’t even know who you are.”
And I feel like we all deserve to be remembered 12 years later. And it’s not gonna be for the work, or the number of hours, or the whatever. You know, it’s gonna be for who you are as a person. And a lot of times, we don’t let the human side out and companies don’t even care about the human side or even know there’s a human side that’s there, you know. So it’s really helped me to be confident when I’m on stage speaking, a lot of keynotes at conferences, a lot of addressing partner groups or C-suites. Look, I’ve done a Friday night late show in New York City, so I’m not scared of any group of executives for a second. It’s just I don’t care. You know, I’ve auditioned for Last Comic Standing, I’ve done all kinds of high intense shows and a lot of pressure, so I got this. So it is certainly a skill that, similar to poker, plays out in a lot of different ways for sure.
John: Plus, I mean, it’s just fun to laugh, so—
Joe: Oh, yeah.
John: …that’s always good.
Joe: Yeah. If you ever need a new career, I’m sure you’d be a killer sales rep if you can make people laugh.
John: Right? That’s true actually. Who knows? Yeah. It’s like whatever. “But John said—” “Oh, he’s a comedian. Mosaic doesn’t actually do that. It doesn’t cook your dinner also.” It’s like “What? Who told you that?” That’s funny. That’s awesome, man. Very cool. Well, I appreciate you taking time to be a part of What’s Your “And”? and really appreciate it, Joe. Thanks.
Joe: Awesome, John. Well, thanks again for having me. It was fun to be here.
John: Totally. And everybody listening, if you wanna see some pictures of Joe outside of work or maybe connect with them on social media, be sure to go to whatsyourand.com. Everything’s there. And while you’re on the page, please click that big button. Do the anonymous research survey about corporate culture and don’t forget to read the book. So thanks again for subscribing on Apple Podcasts or whatever app you use and for sharing this with your friends so they get the message that we’re all trying to spread. That who you are is so much more than what you.