As one of the world’s few self-made women billionaires, 54-year-old Jenny Just is no stranger to the world of finance — or the way it caters to men. “The biggest challenge to overcome is the expectation that women aren’t capable around money,” Just says. “I have a co-founder who’s a man, and it’s always been the case that the first dialogue usually goes to him. That wasn’t new 25 years ago, and it’s not new today.”
Just began her career as an options trader in Chicago. Then, in 1997, she co-founded options trading firm Peak6 Capital Management, which went on to start or buy numerous companies, including esports franchise Evil Geniuses. Just is also an investor in Apex Fintech Solutions.
But Just’s most recent endeavor stands apart. Poker Power, the workshop co-founded with Just’s 16-year-old daughter Julia, empowers women by teaching them to play Texas Hold ’em.
Ahead of this year’s Women’s Equality Day, Just sat down with Entrepreneur to discuss her journey to Poker Power’s founding and how the card game played by more than 100 million people around the world (96% of them men) teaches women the skills they need to win in the boardroom and beyond.
“It was like lightning in a bottle.”
It all began in 2019 when Julia, a talented athlete, lost a tennis match. Just’s husband was frustrated, saying their daughter might as well have been hitting balls with her teacher because she wasn’t strategizing based on her opponent’s skills and gameplay. “She needs to learn how to play poker,” he said.
That comment stuck with Just. She wondered, Should we teach our 14-year-old daughter to play poker?
“It was bugging me because if we asked the same question about a boy, it wouldn’t be a question,” Just explains. “Either one, they would already know how to play, or two, we would expect they’d eventually learn. But it’s totally abnormal to talk about a 14-year-old girl playing poker.”
They decided to get a group of girls together to learn (their mothers expressed an interest in learning too). Once the lessons began, the results were almost immediate.
“From lesson one to lesson four, it was like the skies had opened,” Just says. “It was like lightning in a bottle: In lesson one, the girls were all kind of whispering, not quite sure how to make a decision — if someone lost her chip, someone else would offer her chip. And by lesson four, they were sitting up tall, barely peeking at their cards. Nobody was going to take the chips — I was dumbfounded.”
Inspired by the real change in her daughter, Just wanted to introduce other groups of girls to poker. She enlisted the help of a Chicago public school teacher and poker player to design the curriculum, and it wasn’t long before the project expanded to 17 different clubs across three states — but that was just the beginning.
Today, 25 teachers lead Poker Power workshops, which are open to women of different ages and backgrounds. The company teams up with women’s programs, educational institutions and corporations to host them, counting Bucknell University, Kellogg, Morningstar and White & Case among some of its many partners.
“If I’m not aggressive, the likelihood I win the poker hand or negotiation goes way down.”
The best hand in poker wins less than 20% of the time, Just says, making the game one of skill.
“It’s teaching [women] to think about strategy, risk and capital allocation,” Just explains.
“It gives you practice around decision-making — you are the sole decision-maker at a poker table. Assuming you want to win and have all of the chips at the end, you have to figure out how to do that.”
Of course, having all of the chips extends beyond the poker table: proving your point in a meeting, for example, or negotiating a higher salary. According to Just, whatever the situation might be, you have to own it — exactly as you’d own your poker hand — if you want to be successful.
“I have to be aggressive,” Just says. “If I’m not aggressive, the likelihood I win the poker hand or negotiation goes way down.”
Just acknowledges that for many women, who tend to be more risk-averse than men, the idea of poker and its inherent risk “can be a real hurdle to get over.” But Just stresses that worst-case, playing the game is fun, and best-case, it teaches these game-changing business and life skills.
“Men aren’t playing for these skills — they’re just getting them inherently,” she says.
“Of course I want to look at my biggest opportunities, but I also want to look at my biggest risks.”
Just has been involved with many companies throughout her career, but building one with her daughter has been a new experience — one that’s introduced her to a new perspective.
“I get the whole truth and nothing but the truth,” Just says. “It is great to have the brutal honesty and to open my eyes to the perspective of someone much younger than I am, and of a different generation than I am, so I get a reality check pretty quickly. Her gut on what will or won’t work is excellent, and it gives me the most confidence that [poker] can work, because I’ve seen her benefit from it.”
According to Just, working with people who tell it like it is is invaluable, ensuring things run efficiently. That helps Just not only determine her biggest opportunities, but also her biggest risks, which her daughter has been “excellent in strategizing around.”
One recent such move? Just’s daughter has encouraged her mom to step into the spotlight a bit more. The billionaire founder hasn’t done many interviews in the past, calling herself “not a very public person.”
But Just says that compound experience is like compound interest: The more time it has to accumulate, the more powerful it becomes.
“When we talk about women taking risks, it’s not about taking bigger risks,” Just says. “It’s just taking more risks sooner, and what poker allows you to do is take those risks in a bite-sized way. Poker Power is creating a safe environment for women to practice doing that.”
This content was originally published here.