Can learning to play poker be a game-changer for women? Erin Lydon, Managing Director at Poker Power, explains how learning to play helps women make courageous wealth decisions.
This transcript has been generated by an AI tool. Please excuse any typos.
00:06 - 00:15
Welcome to Women and Wealth. I'm Beata Kirr, co-head of investment strategies at Bernstein, and this show aims to educate and inspire women to make the right choices for their wealth.
00:23 - 01:06
Well, hello, everybody. I'm excited to be with you today and with my guest, Erin Lydon, who is the managing director at Broker Power. Erin, story is fascinating and a little bit different from our traditional topics here at Women and Wealth, but very relevant. Erin joined what was a fledgling startup really at the outset of the pandemic in a field where she had no firsthand knowledge. So with that whole setup already, Erin, is interesting because obviously that may sound risky, but not actually when you get to know her. And today, Erin has helped build a community of female poker players that now spans over 40 countries and includes all but two U.S. states.
01:07 - 01:27
So how did Erin become a poker promoter despite never having played a single hand of the game? And why does she consider learning poker really a game changing skill for women? That's what we're going to talk about today on a new and exciting episode of Women and World. So, Erin, thank you so much for joining us and welcome to the show.
01:28 - 01:29
Thank you. Delighted to be here.
01:30 - 02:00
I'm really excited to talk about your story, to talk about poker, to talk about the skills of poker and how they apply to women in particular. And I have to say, when we first met, we were introduced a couple of years ago, I thought poker. Okay. I have this mental image of a bunch of guys with cigars, a smoky room, a total man cave. I have to admit, my husband has won some poker tournaments and is a really quantitative guy, so I do see that risk taking and that element of it.
02:01 - 02:35
But generally speaking, poker and women are not two images that I've historically put together, and it turns out that my own biases and views are pretty supported by the fact, because I think some statistics recently showed in 2021, women made up about 4% of the main event fields at the World Series of Poker. So it's been a rough go for women. It's certainly not an even playing field, but I think the game is changing and I think the conversation is changing.
02:36 - 02:53
So I'm really excited about the work you've done and to hear about the story. Poker Power with you today. I'd love for you to just set the table for us today before we dive in and tell us a bit about this organization called Poker Power. What is it and why was it launched?
02:54 - 03:46
Thank you, Beata. You are absolutely right with your image and stereotypes of the game of poker as it's traditionally thought of. Our goal, actually our mission is that we are put on the table and bring the skills and the strategy of the game to a million women. And we do that by a virtual curriculum where we're going to teach them how to play the game. But more importantly, it's about thinking like a poker player and strategizing like a poker player and allocating capital like a poker player. All skills that we need towards leadership and professional development. So what we've really done is we've gamified leadership skills to accelerate careers and to break barriers. And we feel really, really strongly that women aren't given opportunities to practice these key skills that can accelerate their careers. And you can do that every single day when you're sitting at a poker table.
03:46 - 04:07
Gamifying leadership skills. I'm going to have to come back to this theme, as I've heard about gamifying skills, being a growing field in general, really for all kinds of training and development, and of course, that the younger generations are so used to gamifying their life. I love that analogy. I want to dig a little bit deeper into this concept of what you mean by gamify.
04:07 - 04:24
But in the intro for you and in your bio, I have to admit your personal story is really fascinating too. So maybe we could go back to talk about how it is that you got involved in this organization around poker and you yourself had never played poker.
04:25 - 04:39
That's so true. I used to be embarrassed to admit that I had never sat at a poker table, and here I was running a poker company. But the truth is, is that in many, many ways, I was exactly the right person to take over this business because I had.
04:39 - 04:39
04:39 - 05:06
. At the table and I held all the negative stereotypes, all the intimidation, all the trepidation to sit down and play. I didn't feel it was a table that I blog, that my background is that I sit. I came out of business school, I was at Kellogg and I started on Wall Street and very quickly I was surrounded by poker. Now, it's very much a pastime when you're working in financial services. I was never invited to sit at those tables. And as it turned out, many others.
05:07 - 05:43
I, through the years, have stayed very close to a company called Pete six. It's a Chicago fintech, an investment firm. And I know the founders, Matt and Jenny, Matt Altizer and Jerry Jess and had worked at a number of their businesses over the years, including EA Sports as well as a few others. And Jenny came to me was in 2019 and she told me about her idea for poker power. And at the time we were really focused on working with the younger generation. So teenagers and college women with the thought being that if we could give them the skills of poker, it would give them a really a step up for that first.
05:43 - 05:44
. Rung on the ladder.
05:44 - 06:15
Now, what happened is, like she described this vision, and I do have to say that the Jenni is truly brilliant. She sees solutions to problems that many of us haven't even started to contemplate. But she told me about teaching girls poker, and I said, That's really the dumbest idea I've ever heard of. Now, I've known Jenny a long time, so I can say that. And she laughed and she said, Okay, great. She came back a few weeks later and she said, Well, if it's so dumb, then you go ahead and run it and make it successful. And so that's what we've been doing for the past couple of years.
06:16 - 06:50
But the impetus for poker power was actually Jenny's daughter, and she is a tennis player and she's a very good tennis player. But she had had a bad match and her dad walked to the kitchen and walked past his wife and said she should learn poker. And Jenny, in her her brilliant way, thought about it for a couple of weeks and then said, Should I really teach my 14 year old to play poker? And the irony in this is that they have three older sons, all of whom already knew how to play the game, and it had never dawned on them that they would bring the same skills and strategies to their only daughter.
06:50 - 07:28
Fast forward February 2020. I joined the business and I think I'm going to be working with a company where we teach real poker to real women sitting in boardrooms and kitchens and living rooms and classrooms. And in fact, what happened is three weeks later, the world shut down. And we had a very short window. We had about three months to figure out how to pivot the business model and the delivery model to continue teaching poker. But in a virtual world and it's hard to remember back to when we all didn't know how to share screen and we weren't comfortable with the videos in our homes and the cameras and all of that.
07:29 - 07:54
We worked very, very hard with a dedicated team of women at Poker Power to scale the business through a virtual curriculum. And so by September of that year, we had started our corporate program, which is really the flagship offering of super power, is we partner with companies across the US and now across the world, and we teach women professional development through the games and the strategies of poker.
07:54 - 08:14
It's fascinating and the timing of COVID and the pivot that you had to make and coming back to the initial origin story of the company, can you go back to that moment in their kitchen? And why was it that her husband felt that poker would be valuable for their daughter after losing this tennis match? What was the connection there?
08:14 - 08:42
Now, what it really came down to is that he when he watched her play, you realise that she wasn't thinking about her opponent. So she was playing the game and she was hitting the ball, but she wasn't anticipating and more importantly strategizing what her opponent was going to do back. So her opponent was sitting and we just were watching the French Open. So her opponent was hitting maybe a long shot back in a corner and her daughter wasn't anticipating what was going to happen next and thinking a few steps ahead.
08:43 - 09:38
Poker players do that all the time. And Matt knew that, you know, there's a lot of poker that happens at peak six. It's at its core. It's a trading it's a trading firm. And so poker is very familiar and the skills and strategies are very familiar. And when Matt said that, it really was a light bulb moment. Now the light bulb moment that happened next, which is a great part of the story, is that when you're going to teach 14 year olds how to play poker, you have to ask mum and Dad first. And so when Jenny did that, all the mum said, okay, sure, but if it's so good for my daughter, then I want to learn too. And that was really a moment where we said, Wait, there are all these women out there that are curious about this game, have never been invited to play, might be a bit intimidated. And this isn't just about teaching young girls. This is about teaching women across the globe how they can empower themselves through the game of poker.
09:38 - 09:49
So that makes a lot of sense. It's like chess or the art of war, right at work, just thinking about not only your motivations and intentions, but a couple of steps ahead. I think that's fascinating.
09:50 - 10:06
And so with the company now, a couple of years later, let's say in a post-COVID world, I think you're back to virtual and in-person options, getting to know poker power a little bit more. Where do you see the organization in five years and ten years? What's the goal?
10:07 - 10:53
So our mission is a million women and that's a big number. But we truly feel individually, every single person, every single young girl who bonds with us matters. And the impact that we are having in teaching one by one by one is extraordinary. And there's this multiplier effect when you learn poker is you don't play poker by yourself. Poker is a social game. And it's really, really fun to sit at a table, whether it's online or in person. And so you share the game with others. And that's one of the best ways that people power has grown is through that referral network. So if we're working with an individual or we're working with a family or most of our customers are not corporate customers, they are sharing the story and the fun that they're having as well as the empowerment that they're getting with others.
10:53 - 11:15
And so, as I said, you know, we're now in 40 countries and growing every day. We have a 12 part curriculum. Each lesson is one hour. So it's very bite size, very digestible. You can fit it into your Zoom calendar every day. And we work on a weekly cadence. So over the course of three months, you would have completed all 12 lessons.
11:15 - 12:09
And what we've also built is the community, because that's that's really the important part with poker power, is we have all of these women now who know how to play the game and they come together in what we call our daily community games. And these are just practice. There is never any money that transacts at poker power. We do not gamble. It's all about using the skills and strategies and practicing them. And so the women come together in these daily games and they compete. And I will tell you that in two years I have been at the top of the leaderboard twice, and which I'm really proud of because we have some very good women in our group. But you get a lot of bragging rights by playing with us and you feel like all that study, all that hard work and all that practice has really paid off. And so as our community continues to grow, we will work with more companies. We have a higher ed program, we have a school program, and we have some exciting global programs that we're working on.
12:10 - 12:39
What's very exciting and I can imagine, too, that Kobe might have been one of the best thing that could have happened to poker power as people thought about how to connect with others and what kinds of hobbies they may want to take on at different points in their life. It's not only for the benefits of negotiations and risk taking and leadership, but for, like you said, community building and connectivity. Perhaps it's the mahjong or bridge table of the future for women's groups really around the world. So it's so interesting.
12:39 - 13:14
. I want to take a closer look at the curriculum. You talked about this 12 step program in these byte sizes. And I thought it might be good if we could go deeper into one of that, really make it more tangible. And one of the most relevant skills that I think that applies to really everybody, whether they're working at home or working in a corporate setting, you will always need to improve your negotiating skills. You're always negotiating whether it's with yourself or with others and purchases in various situations in life.
13:14 - 13:26
So I wanted to take a little bit of a deeper dive into your lesson around negotiation. So can you tell us what some of the key takeaways would be and how you get to them through the game of poker?
13:26 - 13:47
Sure. So as you said, we have these 12 lessons. The first lesson is actually courage, because it takes a lot of courage to come and learn poker and to sit down at the table. And but from there, we go through everything from resilience and discipline. And being bold aggression at a poker table is a very positive thing, and it's important to have that skill to win.
13:47 - 14:27
But we also do teach negotiation. And the way to think about it, if you're not familiar with poker, is that with every round, with every hand that you're playing, the players need to agree on a price to see the next card. When I say price, it means you're putting chips into the pot and you're going to put value behind what your game placements are. When you do that, you are either going to be telling a narrative of strength or a narrative of weakness. Now, step away from the poker table for a moment and think about that. When you are negotiating, you are doing exactly the same thing. You're trying to get to a negotiated agreement and you're also always telling a story as you're getting there.
14:27 - 15:11
Now with poker. One of the things that fascinated me early on of not being never, never, truly never having played the game, is that it was described to me as there are three levels of thinking in poker, and I think these most clearly correlate to being good at negotiation. So in the first level, all you're thinking about is what do I have? What are my two whole cards? So those are your two private cards that no one sees and I'm going to raise or am I going to fold? So you're either going to continue playing or you're going to go out of that hand. That's very much. Like when you're asking for a promotion and you're only thinking about how it's going to benefit you. You're describing the things that you need rather than thinking about the other side.
15:12 - 15:39
So that's the most basic level poker. And we all start there in the way that we process information. Level two is you start to think, What do I have and what do I think my opponents may have? And importantly, what may they have that could beat me. That's shifting the perspective and starting to see the other side. It's a really critical skill in poker is that you can start to see the possibilities and yes, the probabilities of what else is going to come out on the board.
15:40 - 16:08
So that's level two, level three, which is where the top poker players, the very best negotiators, this is where they live. Level three is if you're thinking, what do I have? What do I think my opponents may have and what do I think my opponents think that I have? And so it is this complex, ever changing thought process that enables you to play very, very strategically. That's what's so fascinating to me.
16:08 - 16:41
. Poker is that it is a game of cards. It is a game of people. And what we like to say in poker power is you play the player, not just the cards. And then when you think about that negotiation, you're each bringing different strengths to the table. But what you're really doing is trying to be perceptive and figure each other out the best. And the winning poker players and the winning negotiators have those emotional intelligence skills. They're able to read the tells, and they're certainly able to do the analysis to decide which hands to play and which ones to fold.
16:41 - 16:52
That is really tangible. I'm already processing and thinking about all those takeaways, learning about your opponent and the next steps. It's really cool. Thank you for that deeper dive.
16:52 - 17:48
So maybe we'll come back to the bigger picture. I'm having flashbacks to an earlier episode and a terrific conversation that I had had on the show with a woman named Patty Hart, who is profiled in Fortune's Top 50 Most Powerful Women in its inaugural episode. As she was at that time, the CEO of IGT. And of course, that was an industry, the gaming industry, certainly at the time that she rose to leadership ranks, that was totally male dominated. And she talked about trade shows where scantily clad women would be serving alcohol. That was the vibe. That was the content. That was really what drew people in many ways to this trade shows and how she had this idea to change it to espresso and make it a cafe instead of a nightclub scene. And that was just one way. She really made her mark in an extraordinary way in this industry. She was truly a pioneer.
17:49 - 18:17
But it does make me think about poker again, back to the stereotypes and the biases that we entered in, but also the fact that show it is a tough world for women. So now that you have so many women in this community, what are your observations then about how you're helping women really overcome these negative stereotypes and get interested in the game, not just in poker power community, but truly stepping to the table in the casinos, I suppose.
18:17 - 19:15
Yeah, it's such a great observation, Dara, because, you know, I've worked in a lot of I think I've only worked in male dominated industries, honestly, you know, whether it was on Wall Street and then in e-sports and then a couple other startups. And, you know, I actually have a TEDTalk, which is about equal pay for equal work. And when I think back to making that talk, I had some really great solutions at the time, but the solution I didn't offer was poker because I didn't know about it yet. And I really do think that the power of poker is that it brings together all the skills, all the strategies that anyone needs to reach whatever success that they are looking for. And in the male dominated spaces, particularly, whether it's the poker table or it's, you know, any other industry, women need to find a voice. Women need to have courage. Women need to show aggression when it's calculated and appropriate, and they need to take risks. And all of those things get practice through the game, play poker.
19:16 - 19:58
And even though we play without any real money transacting, I will tell you that when we teach women that they're going to raise, which means are going to stay in the hand and they're going to put chips into the pot, we have two rules and many rules of poker power, but the rule that we teach on day one is that there's no lengthy. And what no limiting means is that you don't just get to match the that that just happens before you or the raise that just happens for you when you land. You're just putting enough into the pot to see the next card. That is a very weak move to make in poker because what you're you're telegraphing to everyone at the table is that you don't have those two pocket aces in your hand. You don't have a strong hand.
19:59 - 20:37
And as soon as you do that, perceptions are being developed about you. We don't want women to be limping in, not at the poker table and certainly not at the negotiation table and the boardroom tables and the interview tables. And that's a skill you have to practice, because when we have our women not limp, we also on the other hand, we say, you're going to have to raise three times. Our three times with your chips is a big part of chips. And we're going to ask you to push that into the center of the table. Even though we're doing it, you know, in a poker app, virtually, you still feel the sense of, I am pushing all this value into the pot and I might lose it.
20:38 - 21:08
That is another skill that women need to practice, is being aggressive with their bets on the poker table. It's a fantastic place to get to do that. And the way we do it, it's know it's very safe. It's all women. We're very encouraging. Our teachers are holding your hand through the whole experience. It's a very interactive class that you are in. All of that enables you to start to build the confidence, but more importantly probably is the confidence, because if you can do it at the poker table, you can do it at all the tables where you sit.
21:09 - 21:26
Don't limp in. Ladies and listeners, that is the core of the show for sure. I don't know if limping in is actually an official poker term and must be. Shows you how little I know about poker. But I think that obviously speaks volumes about the confidence topic.
21:26 - 21:51
And I think there's another connection to I'd love for you to come back to Erin. Not only is it the confidence and the risk taking and the negotiating skills, but I've often talked about how money is a taboo topic for women and related to that, of course, gambling. Money. Risk taking. What has poker done to really connect the dots around confidence with money? Do you feel like there's a connection there, too?
21:51 - 22:14
Absolutely. And I'm actually going to quote someone who's a dear friend of poker power. Her name is Mark Cook and she's the former president of Nuveen. And Margot grew up playing poker. And it is quite unusual to find women who have played poker their whole lives. But Margot grew up in a family where there was card playing and she learned the game from a young age. And when you ask her today, what did you get out of poker?
22:14 - 23:03
? The very first thing that she says is that it taught her to not be afraid of money. I think that is such a critical, critical skill, a critical way to perceive the world is not being afraid of money. And what that means in a poker table is that you are making those aggressive bets you're not living in. But what it means in real life is that you have the courage, you have the confidence to go in and ask for that raise, to seek that promotion when you're given your bonus to say that's not enough. This is the number that I deserve. And here are the reasons why. If you do that at the poker table over and over and you're going to win and you're going to fail, happens all the time. You know, many, many poker players lose a lot of hands. That's going to build the resilience to try again, reset your strategy, go back and ask for more.
23:03 - 23:51
And so I have always said that women have to understand the numbers of the business. They have to know how money flows through a company. You don't necessarily need to unless but you have to understand how money is made, where it goes, how it's allocated, and who's making the decisions around that. And then you want to understand the language of money. You want to be in the conversations and in the flow of information in your company. And if you're just starting out, find a mentor, find a sponsor, someone who's going to help you understand how money flows through a business. And then as you're progressing, always stay tied to the money. That's one of the biggest things that I've said. And the mentors for many women now is stay tied to find a way to stay connected. That's where the decisions are.
23:51 - 23:57
Love it, love it. So poker power has made a ton of progress in the last couple of years.
23:57 - 24:04
What's next? You talked about your long term goals of a million women. Any short term exciting developments you're focused on at the firm?
24:04 - 24:48
You could probably do the math yourself, but you would quickly realize that our flagship offering is live poker classes, and so it's real women sitting across near a zoom screen or in-person live teachers. It's going to take us years and years, decades and decades to reach a million. So we had to come up with a different way to do that. And what we've done now is we partnered with a financial literacy app called Go. It's a really fun learn and earn app. It's targeted to Gen Z. But I will tell you that when I'm waiting in the pizza line to get pizza for my daughters, Alonzo, go playing poker for 5 minutes because what we've built is 14 poker 101 modules because we know most of the women that learn with us that 95% have never played the game.
24:48 - 25:12
So we have to start with the very basics and those can be practiced in this fun learn in earn app called Zo Go. That enables us to provide an on demand experience for poker power. So we give you the basics by also go. And then you can come to our live classes when you're ready and when you're ready to go and do a deeper dive. And then anyone is welcome to play in the games that we offer it within our community.
25:12 - 25:45
So a couple of other things that we're doing. So does one of them. But the next one, which is also exciting, is that we've just recently partnered with an organization called Global Giveback Circle, and what we are doing with them is we are bringing the power of poker to young women in East Africa. And this this really gets to the heart and the mission of poker power because we go back all the way to the beginning. We wanted to give young girls the power of poker through teaching them how to negotiate, how to take risks, how to be comfortable with money.
25:45 - 26:15
We are going to be delivering our curriculum over the course of the next couple of years to about 5000 teenagers in high schools across Kenya and Tanzania and a few other countries. We have partnered with this phenomenal organization called Global Giveback, and they bring professional development skills and career skills to these girls. So that's something I'm really, really proud of. Our teachers are so excited to get to teach these young girls. We're going to have a lot of exciting news coming around that shortly.
26:15 - 26:25
That's terrific. Congrats and all your success with Poker Power and I'll look forward to seeing the name and engaging in the game, perhaps myself going forward.
26:25 - 26:59
Erin, before we let you go, I want to close with our question that we asked all of our guests. This idea around investing with intention. We really talk about intentionality being so important for all investors and as. Actually women in terms of not being scared of the money relating to the money. And thinking about that differently as individuals. So I'm curious for you, what has that meant for you or perhaps harking back to your childhood, what money lessons did you hear as a youngster and how that translated to your day to day to day?
27:00 - 27:36
That's such a great question to ask. My comfort with money started very young, so I look back and I think I was very lucky is that my dad is the CFO. So there was always talk of money in my family. I remember him balancing the checkbook at the kitchen table. Who does that anymore? But he explained to me what he was doing and why he was doing it. I think I grew up with a real sense of earning a dollar. You know, I grew up in Maine. And I always like to say that when you grew up in New England, you have a really strong work ethic and you have great respect for the hard work it takes to earn a dollar. I've I've kept that my entire life.
27:37 - 28:03
And so when I think about the things that we are doing, both in my personal life, because I feel very tied to poker power, you know, I'm living and breathing poker power every single day. But when I hear the stories from those who have come to our community and have learned in our community, I know that we are making a positive impact and one that it's going to be generational. I really do believe that we can transform generations through the leadership skills that we're teaching.
28:03 - 28:30
And I will leave you with one other thought, which is another. We have quite a few sayings at poker power, but one of them is that if your hand is good enough to play, then it's good enough to raise. And think about that for a moment. If you have good cards, you ought to be raising those. Don't just limp into that pot. Don't just play it timidly. That should apply to every aspect of your life. Hands are good enough to play. You're good enough to raise.
28:31 - 28:58
I love it. What a great way to close, Erin. Thank you so much for your time with us today. And thank you for all your work at Poker Power. I'm excited about keeping tabs on the organization. And for all of you that are listening, they're free to look up poker power and perhaps engage in the game and in the community. It's really terrific what you're doing, and I love the parallels around comfort with money negotiating leadership and risk taking. So thanks again for joining us today, Erin.
28:59 - 29:01
My pleasure. Thanks for having me.
29:02 - 29:13
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29:13 - 29:16
PWI or find me Beata Kirr on LinkedIn.