Cranium co-creator, Seattle entrepreneur Richard Tait dies after COVID

Richard Tait, co-creator of the hit party game Cranium and a well-regarded Seattle entrepreneur, has died from complications of COVID-19. He was 58.

Known as the “Grand Poobah” in the Cranium offices, Tait, a native of Scotland, led the company until its 2008 sale to Hasbro for $77.5 million in 2008. Cranium was named Game of the Year five times by The Toy Association while Tait led the company.

Tait loved to find and celebrate the “special something” that made each person shine, said Amy Paron, Tait’s fiancee.

“Even if you just met him for 15 minutes, you’re gonna feel connected to him,” Paron said Monday.

That goal, to bring out the best in everyone, formed the backbone of Cranium, the board game Tait co-created. At work, his meticulous planning and unrelenting drive helped him turn ideas into real-life products and succeed as an entrepreneur.

While he loved seeing his ideas come to life, he treasured even more the time he spent with friends and family, Paron said. Outside the office, he pushed his children to dream big, and did some dreaming of his own. He and Paron created a vision board in their living room, covering it with sticky notes that contained vacation ideas and life goals, such as buying a second home.

He didn’t have nearly enough time for all those dreams.

Tait died July 25 in his Bainbridge Island home from “continued pulmonary complications of COVID-19,” according to a family statement posted on his LinkedIn page.

His family remembers him as the force who brought people together.

“He was a fantastic storyteller,” said his older son, Finn Tait. “If he were alive in the medieval times, he’d have been a bard.”

Finn Tait remembers how even though his father wasn’t a big reader, he used to make up bedtime stories for him and his siblings, called “The Adventures of Thomas Potter Mole,” about a mole detective.

Paron, who met Tait seven years ago, said there have been Thanksgiving dinners with her family where the entire room of 20 people would fall silent, listening to Tait tell stories.

“Whether everybody’s listening, or even if he’s just talking one-on-one or with two people,” Paron said, “he just knew how to connect and make you feel so special.”

Paron said her 14-year-old daughter, Bella, would often talk with Tait about what she wanted to be when she grew up. Each time she’d have a new dream job and a plan to get there.

It was his combination of storytelling and careful planning, Finn Tait said, that made his father a successful entrepreneur.

Tait spent 10 years at Microsoft on projects ranging from operating systems to CD-ROM programs, according to his LinkedIn profile. He recruited now-CEO Satya Nadella in the early 1990s and was Nadella’s first boss.

In 1998, he left Microsoft to work on Cranium full time with fellow Microsoft executive Whit Alexander. The game launched later that year and soon became a sensation.

Adam Tratt, a colleague from Tait’s early Cranium days, recalls Tait came to him one day with a “crude prototype of a board game” in a shoebox and asked for his feedback. Tratt told him at best, it was a cool new board game, and at worst, a grab bag of multiple games that people had already played. That didn’t stop Tait.

“What Richard saw in that box was something bigger,” Tratt said. He wanted to bring people together and build connections, just like he did through storytelling, and give people the “opportunity to celebrate their special sauce.”

Tait’s next ventures included startup incubator BoomBoom Brands and the sports beverage company Golazo. He was entrepreneur in residence at Starbucks and helped launch a line of health-conscious products in their stores. In the last four years, Tait was a partner in Valor Siren Ventures, a venture capital firm based in Seattle.

Finn Tait said many of his father’s friends didn’t believe the man when he said he hoped to retire in the next six years. Paron didn’t quite believe it either — retirement was a wall in Tait’s path and he didn’t seem to want to think about what he’d do once he got over it. After years of planning out what he’d do after he left the working world, Tait seemed content to live in the moment and take life as it came.

“I always expected him to work until he died, but I had always hoped that he would retire,” Finn Tait said. “I’m happy that he was able to do work that he found really fulfilling, but at the same time, I wish that I’d gotten to know him when he hit that retirement — if that ever happened.”

Besides Paron, her daughter Bella and Finn Tait, survivors include daughter Remy Tait and son Deacon Tait.

A memorial will be announced later.