This is a question I’ve thought a lot about almost since the very beginning of Startup Poker 2.0 more than eight years ago.  I have heard it from many, many women.

To be clear, the essence of the question is not “why should I come play a game with other founders?”  The essence of the question I hear is “why should I come play a game with a bunch of guys?”

Here’s a tweet recently directed my way:

@bcrimmins as a female tech startup founder, what are the benefits of joining startup haven which is predom male?

poker-sd-sept-2013-28cIn the early days, there were an average of zero women at Poker 2.0 events.  According to a report by the Kaufman Foundation, somewhere less than 5% of growth startups are lead by women founders — 3% is often quoted by informed writers on the topic.  So it’s not a huge surprise that I just hadn’t met many women way back in 2006 when when the Seattle tech community was less connected and I was less active in the community.

Over the past six years or so I’ve met many women founders and many of them are now fans of Poker 2.0.  We’ve also had many women place in the money and several in the top spot.  I’m delighted by this but also disappointed because there is still a dearth of women regulars.  But for the record, most Poker 2.0 events these days have at least some women in attendance… and they win!  In fact, per capita, they win more often than the men do!  See pics below for proof.

2014-03-06 22.37.20Since this is not a post about the reasons I want more women to come to Poker 2.0 events (and I do), I’ll stick to why I think they should want to come.  It starts with math.

If it’s true that only 3% – 5% of growth startups are lead by women founders, then somewhere between 95% and 97% of growth startup founders are men.  If you have different data you like better, just plug those numbers in — I’m gonna guess those numbers are not going to be wildly different.  In my experience, many of the best things that will happen for your early stage startup will come from people you know.  And the very best source of help is current and former founders.  Ergo, all founders ought to want to get to know more founders.

Experienced founders understand the difficulties of building a startup better than just about anyone (experienced investors are a great resource as well.)  As such, they are in a position to offer help that others just aren’t.  Not only do they understand the problems better, many have also developed powerful networks of their own that they can bring to 2014-04-24 22.28.39bear on your behalf.

Experienced founders are also willing to offer that help in a way that others are not.  They struggled themselves and they got help; the good ones want to give back by helping others.

Startup Poker 2.0 is all about connecting startup founders, execs and investors.  As such, it’s a pretty damn good place to meet founders who could help you… and whom you should be trying to help if you can.  Compared to other opportunities to expand a founders network, Startup Poker 2.0 is about as good as it gets.

As a woman, why would you want to isolate yourself from up to 97% of the people that can help you?  

What looks like luck often plays a role in the success of startups.  One of my favorite entrepreneurial aphorisms is “it’s the job of a founder to expand the luck surface area of her startup.”  Is there a better, more efficient way to do that than getting together and building relationships with a few dozen other founders and investors every month?  If there is, please tell me — I want a piece of that.

Then there’s the question of the game — it’s poker after all.  Isn’t that a guy thing?  Tell that to Vanessa Selbst, Jennifer Harman, Kathy Liebert, Annie Duke, Annette Obrestad, Vanessa Rousso and the rest of the dozens of top women poker pros.  Just the top 10 women players have earned more than $30M… and that’s just their official tournament winnings.  There’s no telling how much more they took off of men who underestimated their talent.  In the end, there is nothing about the game of poker that gives men a natural advantage over women.

“But it’s gambling… isn’t that illegal or immoral?”  No and no.  Yeah, there’s a small amount of cash on the line.  But Poker 2.0 events are extremely low stakes on purpose.  In fact, since Poker 2.0 events are free to attend and you get a free dinner and free drinks, the $10 buy-in is pretty much the best networking bargain you’re likely to find.

image.pngSo yes, it’s poker.  But it’s just a frickin’ card game.  It could be bridge; it could be Gin Rummy; it could be Go Fish.  But the dynamics and flow of a poker game happen to make it a great game to connect with people.

mel-gordon.jpgThe action is simple and doesn’t require a great deal of concentration (except when you’re in a big pot with a big hand).   There’s plenty of quiet time between hands and between betting rounds to converse — if you’re playing good poker you should be folding most of your hands anyway so playing well actually makes you a better conversationalist.  There’s also the occasional crescendo of action that fills the room with cheers and gets everyone at the table to their feet; a shared experience that breaks any ice that might not have fully thawed.

Learning the basics of poker is also SUPER easy.  It takes much less time, effort and expense to learn poker than most other networking activities.  One hour playing for free online and you’ll know everything you need to know to come play at a Poker 2.0 event.  Because Startup Poker 2.0 is a friendly game by design, it’s actually the best way to learn to play the game and a great way to improve your game.

It takes months (usually years) of practice and thousands of dollars of equipment, greens fees and lessons to get good enough at golf to keep up with the rest of your foursome.  And even then, you only get to spend quality time with three other people at a time.

Final TableHow about wine?  What does it take to learn enough about wine not to feel like an idiot around your oenophile colleagues?

What other activities are there that can regularly bring 40 startup folks together around a common activity and build meaningful relationships?  As I said before, if there is then I want a piece of that.

In the mean time, ladies, please consider yourselves welcome at the Poker 2.0 tables.  You can apply for the invitee list here: http://rjc3.co/startuphaveapp/

Hope to see you soon!

Bob