When Erin Lydon was first approached about the concept of Poker Power, she had a very strong first reaction.
“Stupidest idea I’ve ever heard.”
Yet now she is president of the company and has been working there for three years. While she has certainly revisited her feelings about the organization, her initial skepticism actually helps her with her job. As she sees it, if someone as uninterested in poker can be won over by the company and what it offers, anyone can.
Poker as a vehicle for women to improve money management
For those unfamiliar, Poker Power is a group designed to empower women in business and their own personal decision-making through poker training. Lydon recalled how co-founder Jenny Just explained the concept to her.
“She was thinking what can we put into the hands of young women that’s going to better prepare them for success? Whether it’s in the workforce, whether that’s anywhere else in our lives, how do we get women to be more successful, especially around money? How do we get them comfortable with money, allocating money, investing money, thinking with the money brain?”
What Poker Power came up with is a program that taught the basics of poker play to groups of women. These in-person events were chugging right along until the pandemic forced the Poker Power team to rethink the approach. The end result was arguably better than the original product.
“I think we had three or four women teachers and we all just basically all got into a virtual room and started to brainstorm a curriculum,” Lydon recalled. “How would we teach women to play poker? How do we retain them class over class?”
Retention turned out to hardly be a problem at all, as the women they taught were eager for a sense of community during the early goings of COVID-19.
“That’s where we really came up with the virtual class ideas that we have 12 lessons and each of them is an hour. Half of that time you spend in the Zoom room learning and the other half you’re in breakout rooms with our teachers on an app and you’re playing you’re learning basically what you learned in the classroom and putting into action on the app’s game play.”
When the lesson was over, women hung around to commiserate with one another. Eventually, that evolved into a regular online game where women could sharpen their skills. While none of them were ready to go pro and hit Vegas, that was never really the intent.
Poker Power has pros on the team, but aim isn’t to make female poker pros
There are plenty of groups for women who aim to be avid poker players, such as the Women’s Poker Association and the LIPS tour. Poker Power never aimed to fill that space, but the group did need a certain amount of credibility from the poker world.
“You can’t just show up and say this is very well banked, but also the two women that are involved in this don’t know anything about the industry. And so we knew we had to connect with professional women.”
The group brought in a trio of poker pros, Melanie Weisner, Xuan Liu, and Jennifer Shahade. The trio helped shape the training and bring experiences from the poker world to Poker Power. They are also great examples of women whose lives are not dominated by playing poker.
Lydon noted that a lifestyle fully devoted to playing the game is probably not something that appeals to many women. Instead, Poker Power is about instilling a hobby that can help impart life lessons and a sense of confidence.
“I do think very, very few women think they’re actually going to be a professional or want that, but they would like to play at a charity event and they would like to come to Vegas and be able to go down and play at a table and not feel like they don’t belong there,” she said.
Poker needs to better understand what women want
“Women are generally so bad at carving out the ‘me time’. So poker has to be really compelling. You have to buy into our mission. This is gonna change your life. You’re gonna be more confident, a better negotiator, you’ll get your partner to take the trash out, whatever that solution is that’s gonna get you excited and that message, that’s what we have to figure out.”
How to make poker appealing to women isn’t just something PokerPower needs to figure out. The entire poker industry, even in times of growth, can’t seem to do much better than 5% of participants being women.
As Lydon admitted herself, initially poker wasn’t something she thought she would enjoy at all. However, she thinks if there were more varied representations of women in the game, it could make a big difference. And those stories don’t need to be about the big winners and high rollers.
“I think their stories have to be told. We have to tell the stories of regular women who decide to join this community and why did they do that? What are they getting from it?”
Assuming women want what men do from gambling remains a critical mistake many companies in the industry make when it comes to marketing. Lydon and Poker Power are proving that simply listening to what women are trying to accomplish and providing an opportunity to participate on their own terms is a winning formula.