October 21, 2012

Turning a Hobby into a Side Hustle

What's your Shtick?

I have seen and learned so many things during my time here in Valencia, Spain. Last night, my roommate from Sicily invited me to a small celebration dinner for her friend's wedding. I was introduced to two gentlemen from Italy.
During the small talk, the redundant question, "What are you doing here in Valencia?" surfaced. After I explained European Project Semester and my work with a large frit and glaze and raw materials company, I volleyed back the same question.
I was shocked by the answer. They said for work and explained that they play poker for a job, that in Italy one of them, Mattia Del Dosso, was one of the best.
In fact, after this dinner the were going to go play. One of the benefits being you can play whenever, they said.
The original plan was to go to a disco, Umbracle. While aesthetically pleasing and modern, the club scene has never been my natural habitat. So I asked Mattia if I could tag along and watch the duo play poker.
My imagination was filled with scenes of a small, smoked filled room in some back alley apartment with grizzled old Spanish men smoking fat cigars trying to coax the dumb American into joining the table.
After getting out of the taxi, we arrived at an average looking apartment complex. The foyer was much nicer with (mimicked) marble, large glass panes, and polished hand rails. The elevator was large, shiny, and new (Most places the elevators are tiny, slow, rickety and old).
The ascent begins. My excitement peaking. The elevator opens to reveal large wooden doors to the flat entrances  The climax. The door opening. I expect my lungs to be filled with second-hand cigar smoke.

Confusion. This place is empty and well lit. There are moving boxes scattered throughout. The apartment was very large though. I glanced around to see two large computer screens (30 inches+) set up on a nice large desk with large mousepads. My heart jumped. I nerded out.

Through the broken English and Spanish it slowly began to dawn on me. As we sat down and they fired up their top notch PC's I realized these two guys play online poker for a living!

From here on out, it got really technical and detailed but the main gist is Mattia started playing online poker 5 years ago because well hey, he likes to play poker. The best difference from "gambling" at a table to the online version is that you have the ability to play 5, 7, 10, or more tables at one time allowing for a more rapid rate of play and more rapid rate of winning money. There are several online communities and forums surrounding these online poker websites. Similar to Starcraft or World of Warcraft, Final Fantasy XI, Sudoku, chess, etc. there are strategy sections for players to help each other. As the community grew, the good players started coaching newer players on tactics to game the system.

From what I gathered, there are mods you can use to change the layout to make gameplay more efficient and easier on the eyes. As well as archiving mods that record other players percentage of folds, raises, etc. This helps you know whats going on in one glance while playing several tables.

Details aside, the story turned into Mattia doesnt really play this way much anymore. He coaches new players for a fee and is a partner on a website, VincoPoker. He also has videos, etc. He coaches using Skype and his website.

I didnt find any of this interesting until I found out how much money per year Mattia earns. He beat around the bush a little because in this type of work there is no average or typical income because of all the variables. Like a Doctor, I kept pressing until it hurt. Mattia revealed he makes just under $200,000 a year. but earns around $70,000-$120,000. Like any small Business Owner, he has to pay health insurance, retirement funding, wages, fees, losses, etc.

(this section will be edited later when I have access to certain material.)
It will pertain to how Mattia will give a player a test and see the skills of this player. if the player is good enough they will place him into a certain skill range giving this player $1,500 to play with. Of course, there are laws preventing them from any contracts so sometimes the players take the money and run.
The deal is, if you take the money, and lose its no problem and you don't owe anything back, but if you win you split 50-50. This is because you have invested nothing to get free coaching and free money. In fact, if you learn faster and win more the split increases. You pay back 40% or 20% while keeping 80% of the winnings from free money. The ratios ended up being incredibly similar to sales ratios. They explained that even though 2-3 people will take the money, 5-7 will lose it all, if just one of the players they do this for ends up winning, it pays for the losses and a profit is still made.

This was so intriguing to me. This entire set up. How you can go from playing poker in your free time to being a partner in one of the largest online poker websites in Italy. How old is Mattia? He was born in 1988. He's 25 years old and makes more money in an hour than I make in a week.

It's an interesting way to turn a hobby into a full time job you enjoy. Mattia's story is special and I haven't had enough time to figure it all out, but it proves that there's always a market, there's always someone else who needs help. Becoming a master in your hobby is one way to make money from it.