What I learned from Dan Bilzerian about stacking the odds in your favor

I’m not in Instagram and know little about what’s going on there. So the first time I heard of Dan Bilzerian’s book The Setup was when he was a guest Logan Paul’s podcast which I also had discovered just recently. (YouTube is another ecosystem I know next to nothing about.)

One of my favorite genre are non-fiction stories that allow me to get glimpses into worlds I know nothing about. For example, I loved this recent story that educated me on the existence of a strange community of “extreme travellers”.

So after listening to the pod with Dan, I thought his book would be similar but for the world of Instagram influencers.

Also I think the name The Setup is really cool. It subtly suggests that Dan has figured out something that allows him to succeed and it wasn’t purely accidentally.

Unfortunately, The Setup didn’t really deliver on either of these promises. Overall, it’s a 5/10 for me.

I mean, don’t get me wrong. It’s not a bad book. It’s quite entertaining for the most part.

But it could’ve been so much better.

Dan claims that he wrote the book himself and after reading it I have no doubts this is true. While it’s cool that he tried, he’s just not a good storyteller or particularly clear thinker. With the help of a good ghostwriter or editor, the book could’ve been incredible.

Great writers can turn even the most mundane things or occurrences into incredibly fascinating stories. So with the kind of material Dan has at his hands…

Bad writers, on the other hand, usually turn the most incredibly occurrences into kind of boring stories. And frankly, this is what Dan did.

The only reason why it’s not complete garbage is that Dan’s life story is incredible.

He’s from a rich family but had a kind of troubled childhood since his father went to jail for fraud and he get kicked out from several schools. After high school, he joins the military since he thinks it would be cool to tell people he’s a Navy SEAL.

But he never makes it past basic training. He claims injuries played a big role but he also admits that he wasn’t liked by the instructors.

Then he goes to college where he discovers drugs, girls, and poker. Dan is not a particularly good poker player but quickly learns what really matters is getting into right kind of games.

Instead of playing against the best players, you want to play against the richest players. This is where the real money is made.

Hence he cultivates his image as a rich trust fund kid. Thanks to this image he’s regularly invited to good games. He’s perceived as an entertaining character and other players are not scared of his poker skills.

Now whether he just played the role of a rich trust fund kid or really was one is up for debate. He claims that he made all his money playing poker and in the beginning faked it till he made it. Given his father’s level of wealth this seems very hard to believe. But of course this would make his story much less cool.

Anyway, at some point he decides to become famous, creates an Instagram account, hires a photographer, and the rest is history.

At this point the stories become quite repetitive and even Dan himself seems kind of bored by them. They all follow the same pattern: Went there. Did some drugs. Had a few one night stands. Went back home.

But the stories from the first half of the book are quite fun. And one cool idea Dan had was to include comments by people that appear in his stories who confirm that this really happened.

So much for the stories. Let’s talk about the “the setup”.

Despite the name of the book, Dan doesn’t talk much about it. Only in the epilogue he explains briefly: “The setup is strategy, the act of stacking the odds in your favor. Life is a game. Like any game, you must have a good strategy to win. The implementation of that strategy is called the setup, and it paves the road to success.” 

One example from his high school days he gives is that when he stayed in his family’s house in a beach town where they also owned a boat, meeting girls became almost effortless. Most people in such a town are there to have fun and have little else to do. Hence if you mention casually that you’ll go for a cruise on your boat later today most will be happy to join. If your goal is to meet girls, investing in this kind of setup (house in beach town + boat) is a much smarter choice than memorising hundreds of pickup scripts.

Later (even though he doesn’t spell it out explicitly) his setup consists of a house in the Hollywood hills where he hosts poker games and his image as a rich trust fund kid.

But for whatever reason, Dan not even once explains his setup at any point after that. For example, he always only briefly mentions mysterious “promoters” that bring girls to his parties.

Also his Instagram account obviously plays an important role. But he never explains how he got it off the ground and how he operates it.

Now I do think that the general idea of focusing on and investing in your setup is a really solid one. It definitely also applies if you have other goals in life than Dan Bilzerian.

But Dan missed out on a great opportunity to write the definite book on the topic. Someone else will definitely do it and it’ll be awesome.

Written on March 4, 2022

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