June 2021 marks five years since Andrew and Katie decided to take the path of ‘doing what you love’ and began a business creating immersive escape room experiences. Our very first game was just a two day run, as part of the Reading Fringe Festival 2016, and hosted less than 50 players. Five years later and more than 30,000 people have been sent back in time, guided by 21 different Experience Makers.
In this blog we take a look at five things we’ve loved and explain what’s to come for the next five years of TimeTrap.
It may sound a bit cheesy but the reason we started TimeTrap was to provide Reading with something tangible, exciting and different – something that would make memories through the power of moments. We recently wrote a blog about this over on our sister company – Imaginarium Design’s – blog. One of our favourite examples of this was when, shortly after opening our venue on Friar Street in 2017, we had a multi-generational team visit to celebrate the 70th birthday of their matriarch. The grandparents in particular were not sure what to expect, but upon finishing the room, this lovely lady exclaimed that it was ‘the best thing she had ever done!’ Although upon consideration she might have thought of a few other moments in her 70 years that surpassed it, this infectious enthusiasm is exactly why we do what we do, and put so much into it! And we have remembered her for over four years.
When we started TimeTrap we joined a small industry in its infancy. At the time we were running our first experience in the Purple Turtle in July 2016 there were less than 100 venues in the UK, compared to over 500 today. We have met some amazing people across the industry both in the UK and internationally, many of whom we consider friends. It is a giving community where negative competitiveness is low and positive collaboration is high. We can’t think of another where business owners work together so much to improve the industry as a whole. James, the owner of Deadlocked Reading, can even be seen acting in our Pudding Lane experience.
Building a Team
One of the things Andrew said he would measure success against was when we were not only able to support ourselves but others too. When we were able to hire our first Experience Makers at the end of 2017 it felt like a big moment. Since then some have come and gone and others have stayed with us for coming up to 4 years. What has been evident in every single person that has donned a TimeTrap lab coat is a dedication to providing a great customer experience and a genuine care about the TimeTrap brand. Our team make the experience what it is and we couldn’t be more proud of them.
The Build Process
This can certainly be a love/hate relationship depending on what stage we are at but, ultimately, the design and build of a new experience is one of the most exciting periods. From choosing the next theme and developing the storyline to piecing together the puzzles and designing the sets, every stage is so much fun and everyone plays their part. Over the last five years we have enjoyed learning the quirks of escape room building and improving our processes each time. We are now building our ninth full-length game and trying to incorporate unique aspects that we have loved discovering or dreaming up throughout our time in the escape room world.
Being Your Own Boss
We had both wanted to work for ourselves at some stage in our lives and knew from our brief experiences of working for larger corporations that we wanted the freedom and flexibility it could bring. We didn’t know we’d start a business straight out of University, but everything fell into place and we were able to. The biggest pro is being able to make decisions and enact change quickly without having to go through corporate layers.
On the opposite side of the coin, being your own boss can be incredibly tough. During the first couple of years we worked far too many 16-hour days which was becoming unhealthy. Even though there is still rarely a day where no work is done, building a great team has helped lift the burden and spread the load. Running a small business is difficult but, with the right people in place, can be made a lot easier. At the five year stage, although we still work hard, we are able to have a work-life balance.
What’s next for TimeTrap?
So what will the next five years bring..?
Reading is our home; it’s where TimeTrap has been from the beginning and we have always been proud of our roots. Even though neither of us are from the town (Andrew is from South Wales and Katie from Kent), we moved here for University almost 10 years ago and have stuck around ever since. We’ve even recently bought our first house in the area so we’re here to stay!
For the last two years we’ve have been actively searching for a new venue in the town so that we can grow and develop. We’re quite picky and have high standards so it’s proving hard to find the perfect place for everything we have planned. Reading has some of the best escape room experiences in the UK and our long term goal is to keep improving and surpassing to raise the standards even higher.
We’re also keen to bring TimeTrap to other towns so we can welcome more people to take part in unforgettable experiences. We’ve built up a team who we think are some of the best in the business and it would be a shame to only be able to showcase this in one location. To this end we also launched our sister company, Imaginarium Design, in the autumn, to cater for our projects building creations for external organisations and clients and will continue to grow this throughout 2021 and onwards.
It’s always interesting looking back at where you’ve come from but also equally exciting to look at where you are going. Uncertain times have made it harder than ever to plan for the future but what we do know is that we will keep trying to make moments in an industry we love, with a team we are proud of, guided by creative decisions, not just financial ones.