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Joonas Karhu interview, from grinder to CEO

1,404 Views on 18/3/24

Joonas Karhu interview

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In this interview, we talked with Joonas Karhu, who used what he learned at the poker table to carve his way to becoming the CEO of the popular UK iGaming affiliate Bojoko.com.

Can you start by telling a little about yourself and your journey from poker to CEO?

I am originally from and currently living in Finland, but I have also spent time living in Malta. I have always been interested in online poker, and I started my amateur journey back in 2005. This was the time when I really got into the game and pushed myself to become a better player. I played actively for five years and was a tournament grinder.

My interest in poker eventually led me to a broader interest in gambling, which in turn led me to work for Veikkaus (RAY at the time), the Finnish gambling monopoly, as a croupier. I had bigger plans, though, and after finishing my Bachelor's degree in Business, I started as a project manager at an online gambling operator.

Working in several industry positions, I got a good view of the online gambling market. In 2017, I co-founded Bojoko.com, and I am so proud to have been part of its continued success.

What was your game?

My game was mostly 9-person table tournaments. The best were the slow, deep-stack major tournaments where you could really take your time and calculate the risks. The games where you could build momentum with smart plays and the risks involved were big.

I also played some smaller cash games, though those were never my go-to games.

If you had to sum it up to one thing, what was the most important lesson you learned from your time as a tournament grinder?

The biggest lesson was to learn how to handle pressure. In poker, just as in business, you often face high-stakes decisions that must be made under intense pressure and with limited information.

This ability to remain calm and collected, to not get rattled by the highs and lows, has been the cornerstone of not just surviving but thriving in both arenas. It's a skill that takes time to develop but, once honed, is incredibly powerful, enabling you to face challenges head-on and lead your team confidently in any situation.

What are some unexpected skills you gained from online poker that have proven invaluable in your role as CEO?

One of the most unexpected yet invaluable skills I transferred from my time as an online poker player to my role as CEO is a nuanced understanding of statistical analysis. In poker, success often comes down to the ability to quickly and accurately assess the odds of various outcomes based on incomplete information.

This skill has been incredibly beneficial in the business world, especially when it comes to making data-driven decisions. Whether it's analyzing market trends or evaluating the potential of different marketing strategies, the ability to understand complex data sets has given me a significant edge.

Another skill that's proven to be unexpectedly valuable is emotional resilience. The high-stakes nature of online poker, where the swings between wins and losses can be drastic and sudden, taught me not to get too emotionally invested in the short-term outcomes.

Poker is all about reading your opponents. Has this come up in your current role?

Reading people is directly translatable to the business world, especially in negotiations and managing team dynamics. It may not be about bluffing and finding their tells, but rather understanding their motivations, strengths, and weaknesses.

This can be extremely helpful, no matter what the situation is. Reading between the lines and adjusting your approach based on the other party's reactions is a skill worth learning. The ability to empathize and anticipate reactions leads to more successful outcomes.

Similarly, when managing a team, being attuned to each team member's psychological well-being and motivational drivers is crucial. Recognizing signs of stress, dissatisfaction, or disengagement allows for timely intervention, potentially preventing larger issues. Moreover, understanding what motivates each individual enables me to tailor my leadership approach to meet their needs, thereby fostering a more productive and harmonious work environment.

How has your background in poker influenced the culture you've built within your company?

Everything you do and experience in life will have an impact on the culture you create. When you work for someone, you quickly see things you would and wouldn't do based on their actions and leadership. From poker tables, you pick up ways of reading the data, assessing statistical information, and understanding people.

I have been fortunate to grow up in a Finnish corporate landscape, which is very flat compared to others. What this means is that the distance between the highest and the lowest person in the company is very short. This was natural to me, so it became a big part of the work culture at Bojoko. Here, anyone can have a chat with the CEO and there is no need for a rigid chain of command.

For us, this has worked well and helps our staff feel seen.

Do you have any tips or advice for those looking into making the same transition?

Leverage your unique skills, no matter where they come from. The principles of strategic thinking, risk management, and psychological insight are valuable in any field, not just traditional business paths


Blizzy PokerVIP

Blizzy is a PokerVIP member and friend of the website who would like to keep his real identity anonymous. He's not a professional poker player, but loves to gamble and play recreationally. We've made an agreement with Blizzy where he's allo ... Read More


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