Falling at the Second Hurdle

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Why Opening a Second Escape Room can be Even More Challenging Then the First
(though this applies to just about any second venture)

A few months after opening Midnight on the Bayou we began work on our second escape game—working title: Deadly Head-to-Head Escape Room of Fatal Death!

“This should be easy,” I thought. “We didn’t ‘Fall at the First Hurdle’; we’re now experienced professionals. Piece of cake.” Cut to six months later. Room #2 still isn’t open. Why was it taking so long? Instead of just sitting here feeling guilty I decided to think about the process, and if there might be concrete reasons our second foray wasn’t easy peasy lemon squeezy.

The novelty has worn off.  Venturing into the unknown as we opened our first escape room was terrifying, but also thrilling.  It was a series of firsts:  What criteria do you use when interviewing a contractor?  What’s the appropriate attire for a city council meeting?  How do you install a magnetic lock that only has instructions in Chinese without shocking yourself too many times?  We bonded over the terror of the unknown, and high-fived each other at even minor successes.  Now, doing it all a second time we know what to expect.  Novelty becomes drudgery.

Fear of failure.  Yes, that fear was there when started on our first venture.  But now we have a successful business.  There’s an urge to simply rest on one’s laurels.  “Look, we did that neat thing that we did!  Let’s just sit back and admire it for…ever.”  And escape rooms present a unique challenge—bad reviews for one game will keep people away, even if another game at the same location has received glowing reviews.  It’s hard to put oneself out there again knowing that a misstep can undo everything already achieved.

Time!  When we opened our first escape room, we were not currently operating an escape room!  The simple fact is there are only so many hours in a day.  And on top of that, developing an escape game requires a certain amount of creative energy.  As does operating an existing escape room.  Even though all the scripts have been written, the puzzles developed, the characters fleshed out for our first escape game, there’s still the day-to-day creative exercises of live-hosting an escape room, writing original web content, finding new ways to market the business, etc. etc.

So, acknowledging that beginning second venture can pose some unique challenges, what do we do about it?

The New New.  Sure, a lot of tasks involved in opening a second venture will be repetition of what’s gone before, but there will also be an opportunity to try new things.  So, try them!  Even though you know that solution B solves problem A, maybe solution C would work even better?  Yes, it involves taking some risks but, honestly, if you weren’t a risk-taker you wouldn’t be operating your own business.  A second venture is an opportunity to make improvements on the first—to learn from both your successes and mistakes.

But it’s New for You!  Even trying some different approaches, you’ll be going over a lot of the same ground opening a second escape room (or bagel shop, or what have you).  But not everyone you’ll be working with will have done it before.  That carpenter or scenic painter or programmer you’re interviewing may be generally experienced in his or her area, but new to your particular business.  Let their thrill of the unknown be contagious.  Let their excitement drive you.

External Motivation.  The benefit, and problem, of operating your own business is that there’s no one leaning over your shoulder telling you what to do; giving you deadlines; yelling at you J. Jonah Jameson style if you fall behind.  So create some external motivation by making appointments with people outside of your business—even if it’s low-stakes like an interview with a contractor, or lunch with computer-programmer friend who can tell you about the benefits of Unix—putting yourself on someone else’s schedule gives you at least a semblance of a schedule.

Hire an Olympic Hurdler.  Even though there may be completely justifiable reasons for finding a second venture difficult, it doesn’t mean everyone will feel that way (certainly not the person who came up with the “Falling at the First Hurdle” expression…).  Try to get someone on your team who doesn’t do the deer-in-headlights, self-doubt thing when presented with a challenge, but who instead is all about charging forward and getting a project done as fast as humanly possible.  (Those people are out there, I swear!  I’m lucky in that my brother, our company CEO, is one of them.)

Now, obviously I’m no expert—being in the midst of a slow second-venture myself—but it seems possible that with a few changes in approach, the second hurdle doesn’t have to become a high-jump.

 

When not hosting Red Lantern’s Midnight on the Bayou, creative director Roy Davis can be found procrastinating on the opening of a second escape room by writing blog posts.