History of Startup Haven
The roots of Startup Haven began in 2006… around a poker table. In an effort to learn to play the game, I began inviting friends and colleagues to connect monthly to practice and help each other learn. If you and I were having a meeting back then (on just about any topic), there is a good chance I would have asked you if you had an interest in learning to play poker.
As I’d hoped and expected, I learned the basics of the game within a few months. Unexpectedly (and more importantly), I also discovered what looked to me like the most effective relationship building activity I’d ever seen. Because virtually everyone I spent time with back then was either a startup founder, exec or investor, that’s who began showing up.
Thus was born Startup Poker 2.o. With the blessing of spouses, the game would move from house to house. As the invitee list grew, the event out-grew our home-based venues (and the patience of our families) and so the event moved to a semi-permanent home — a large conference room at my own startup’s offices.
In the first year, we averaged 10 – 15 attendees each month in that humble conference room. But the event grew slowly month by month. At first, we were lucky to fill one table… then it was two tables… then three… then four… then five… then a waiting list. Our regular Seattle events now draw between 50 and 60 attendees and the venues move between startup-friendly co-working spaces, cool startup offices and iconic technology accelerator spaces.
From the beginning, it was clear that sitting around a poker table was an unusually effective way to build relationships as it had a leveling effect on the players — suddenly, the traditional barriers that existed between young or inexperienced or bootstrapping tech entrepreneurs, their successful serial entrepreneur counterparts, venture capitalists, investment bankers, private equity partners, etc. disappeared. Now they were just colleagues hanging out, playing poker and trash talking.
What also consistently happened was that important ideas were exchanged and valuable connections were made that could not have been made at virtually any other “networking” event. This was the revelation that lead to the vision of Startup Poker 2.0 as an “un-networking” event that could connect entrepreneurs with each other as well as the business and investment ecosystems that so many of them needed access to.
Part of the success of Startup Poker 2.0 was that it gave folks something to do that wasn’t classical networking. It’s no secret that many tech entrepreneurs are not natural networkers, except perhaps in situations where they are among their engineering peers. By engaging in a fun, mildly competitive activity with plenty of excitement and quiet moments to talk and get to know each other, poker helps create an esprit de corps that leads to meaningful relationships.
After a couple of years of running Startup Poker 2.0 events, we found that there were other effective ways to add value to founders that had nothing to do with poker. That was the impetus for creating Startup Haven and the organization that would host Poker 2.0 event and try to find other ways to support founders. We began experimenting with other events like Founders Dinner, Geeks on a Trail, Founder To Founder and sponsorship of other startup community events. We will continue to experiment with new ideas as we continually strive to improve the lives of founders.
As of 2018, Startup Haven membership has grown from a very humble 10 (yes, that’s were we started) Seattle founders, execs and investors to more than 1,600 in six cities.