As part of our amazing lineup of keynote speakers that includes Jonah Lehrer, author and entrepreneur Jeffrey Ma will be joining us on the first full day of Discovery Summit in Denver. Jeff is the inspiration for the movie 21 and the book Bringing Down the House, which are both about the famed MIT blackjack team who won millions in Las Vegas. Jeff is also the co-founder of Citizen Sports, a sports media company recently acquired by Yahoo!. And he is author of the 2010 book The House Advantage: Playing the Odds to Win Big in Business.
While I am, of course, looking forward to his speech at Discovery Summit, I'm also excited to watch Jeff's blackjack demonstration at the cocktail party later in the day. I invite you to meet us in Denver for Jeff's talk, other great speeches, JMP papers and posters, and special events.
You’ve given a lot of speeches or talks. Tell me about one you particularly enjoyed and what made it so memorable.
Actually, I enjoyed the speech I gave at SAS - PBLS [Premier Business Leadership Series] this past year. The SAS audience is typically very familiar with analytics so I can discuss themes in ways that I wouldn't be able to in a mainstream audience. In that speech, I presented some new work we did using Twitter data for sentiment analysis, and it was fun to see the SAS crowd's reaction.
You will be a keynote speaker at Discovery Summit, which focuses on analytics. How did you discover the importance of analytics?
My time at the blackjack tables gave me an introduction into analytics, but it was really my work in sports which made me realize how important analytics could be in helping people solve difficult business problems. The teams I worked with made so many decisions based on gut and intuition, so it was only natural that analytics could help them improve their decision making.
What kinds of books and blogs do you like to read and why? Do you have any recommendations?
I enjoy business books which tell a narrative. Michael Lewis, who has become a good friend, is one of my favorite authors. The Blind Side, Moneyball and The Big Short are tremendous reads. William Poundstone is probably next on my list of great authors. Fortune's Formula is his best book and almost reads as a prequel to my books Bringing Down the House and The House Advantage. I highly recommend it.
What are the big insights you hope readers take away from your book, The House Advantage?
In The House Advantage, I tried to write a book about analytics for people who would never otherwise read a book about analytics. The House Advantage is supposed to illustrate the power of analytics without getting too technical or sounding too high brow. I hope those who are not mathematically inclined will read it and understand the value of analytics, while also understanding that even for non-mathematicians, there are tremendous opportunities to both participate and benefit from analytics.
What are you busy working on these days?
Last April, I sold my company Citizen Sports to Yahoo!. Since then, I have been actively speaking and promoting The House Advantage. Recently, I have been evaluating analytics-focused projects in both the sports and social media verticals. I'd like to start a new company but don't quite have the idea yet that I want to run with.