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Jim VandeHei: 'Everything I know as CEO, I learned as a reporter'

"And everything I knew as a reporter, I learned from playing poker," says Axios CEO Jim VandeHei on Guy Raz's "How I Built This" podcast.  

"Poker is so much about fact pattern recognition. It's about knowing when to take a risk. It's knowing how to modulate emotion in complex and often tense situations and knowing that there's a decent probability you're going to lose. In that journey from poker table to journalist to CEO, I think those skill sets helped immensely."

And Jim's bets have a way of cashing in:

  • Politico reportedly sold for $1 billion in 2021, the political news site Jim co-founded and led as CEO.

  • Axios Media sold for $525 million in 2022, the news site Jim, Mike Allen, and Roy Schwartz co-founded. 

  • Now Axios HQ is their latest venture. 

"We're 18 months into [Axios], and I started to get phone calls the NBA, JPMorgan Chase, United Health Group. Their executives start calling us and saying almost identical things: 'Our executives all read Axios, but they won't read anything we write internally. Will you teach us to write?'

  • "Our initial reaction was, 'No, we're a media company. Go learn how to write somewhere else.' But the more we heard that from people, I remember Roy and I turning to each other saying, 'Man, usually a market whispers. This market is screaming.'

  • "We created a a sister company called Axios HQ, and the idea was to teach Smart Brevity to companies, but then we built an AI-powered technology that took all the learnings from the newsroom about how to write an engaging headline, how to pick the right visual to get people to pay attention, and we created a software that now you know hundreds of companies use... to communicate internally."

Hear more from Jim on how he "built it" — from a journalism career at The Wall Street Journal and The Washington Post to all three of the startups he's led, alongside other powerhouse co-founders and journalists. Listen to the episode on:

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