Editor’s note: Startland News selected the top Kansas City firms to spotlight for its annual Startups to Watch list. The following is one of 2018’s companies. To view the full, ranked list of Startups to Watch, click here.
It’s time to put down the phone and pick up an axe, said Swell Spark co-founder Ryan Henrich.
When his company launched its axe-throwing concept, Blade & Timber, in early November, Kansas City customers were skeptical, he said.
“In the beginning, we had a lot of people who were like, ‘That’s stupid. I could do that in my backyard.’ And we said, ‘But you don’t. So come in and do it with your friends,'” Henrich recalled.
Customers listened, and a new interactive experience was ignited for Swell Spark, which already had made a name for itself locally as Breakout KC, a purveyor of high-end escape room experiences.
The brainchild of high school friends Henrich and co-founder Matt Baysinger, the Breakout and Get Out brands have grown to include markets in Missouri, Kansas, Nebraska and Hawaii.
“We’ve always been goofballs and found new ways to hang out with each other,” Henrich said. “We were never the kind of dudes who got together to play video games. It was always something over the top and totally ridiculous.”
Now, as Swell Spark, the company is evolving into a pipeline for even more experience-based entertainment concepts, he said.
“We’d always talked about how Kansas City is boring, and if you wanted to hang out with friends, you had to either go to the movies or just go to a bar and drink,” he said. “I love beer as much as the next guy, but I would rather do something around drinking beer, instead of just drinking beer.”
Blade & Timber, for example, offers an activity-based, curated environment where customers can share an experience — facing one another instead of facing their phones, Henrich said. And, yes, it soon will include beer.
“It all culminates when you’re walking away from the experience. Are you looking at your phones? Or are you talking about that experience with each other?” he said. “We want to be the focus of their conversation.”
Kansas City has served as a great test market for both the escape room and axe throwing concepts, Henrich said. Based in the West Bottoms, the Blade & Timber space already is being expanded with the company forecasting 30,000 to 40,000 customers in 2018, he said.
“We know Kansas City better than any of the other markets that we’re in, but people are starved for interactive experiences,” Henrich said. “And we feel like, if it’s successful in Kansas City, we can make it successful anywhere.”