A Short History of Startup Haven

The Really Short Version: Startup Haven started in Seattle in 2006 as a result of bringing founders, execs and investors together to learn to play the game of poker. Over the next 13 years (and counting) the group grew. It became clear that bringing the these people together to build relationships was special. As the group grew, we launched in more cities. As the group grew even more, we launched new programs to support them. We now have more than 2,300 members, seven city chapters and a growing list of members-only support programs ranging from networking, to recruiting, to fund raising support, to an accelerator program to member perks… and more. All of this venture-scale goodness has been made possible by the support of a full cast of founders, investors and sponsors who have generously contribute time and resources.

TL;DR

Hi, I’m Bob Crimmins. 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. Because virtually everyone I spent time with back then was either a startup founder, exec or investor, that’s who began showing up. Unexpectedly (and more importantly), I also discovered what looked to me like the most effective relationship building activity I’d ever seen.

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. At first, we were lucky to fill one table. But the event grew slowly month by month. Then it was two tables… then three… then four… then five… then a waiting list. Our regular Seattle events now draw between 50 and 70 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 some 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 began wondering about other ways we could add value to founders that had nothing to do with poker. We began experimenting with other events like Founders Dinner, Geeks on a Trail, Founder To Founder, as well as sponsoring other mission-aligned startup community organizations.

As of 2020, Startup Haven membership has grown from that very humble gang of 8 Seattle founders, execs and investors to more than 2,300 members in six cities. Beginning in 2019, Startup Haven launched new programs to leverage its critical mass to improve the lives of founders. Since all of these new program can support founders no matter what their home city, Startup Haven expanded it’s chapter model to include a ‘virtual chapter’, allowing founders from any city to join and to gain the benefit of being part of an extended network of serious, full time, venture-scale founders and an investors.

The newest Startup Haven programs include:

GroundWork Accelerator – helping pre-seed startups build cogent growth stories.

Vouch Recruiting – reducing the noise (and cost) of building an awesome team.

Investor Match – a no-nonsense approach to turn the tables on fund raising.

Member Advantage – exclusive and best-in-class perks and other financial opportunities.

… more to come.