Editor’s note: The following is part of Startland News’ ongoing coverage of the impact of Coronavirus (COVID-19) on Kansas City’s entrepreneur community, as well as how innovation is helping to drive a new normal in the ecosystem. Click here to follow related stories as they develop.
Five years into its journey, Swell Spark has become a perpetual startup engine — and pandemic pivots like the recent launch of a Zoom-hosted escape room continue to prove it, said Matt Baysinger.
“I think the reaction has been a pretty unanimous sense of excitement to be able to do something fun, quirky, out-of-the-box, and with friends all over the globe,” said Baysinger, co-founder of Swell Spark.
The company has spent much of the past 10 weeks trying to understand the best ways to pivot operations for its catalog of consumer-facing brands, which includes Blade & Timber, Choir Bar, Breakout KC, Epic Aloha, and the just-launched Sinkers at Home.
“With Blade & Timber, we were able to partner with J. Rieger & Co. to distribute hand sanitizer. We launched Sinkers at Home even though Sinkers Lounge doesn’t have a completed brick-and-mortar space just yet — but we hadn’t done much with the Breakout brand,” he said, noting inspiration from its event-based Get Out Games mobile escape room helped the company make its latest shift — a virtual version of its Runaway Railcar room.
“Strangely enough, Runaway Railcar was one of our most technologically integrated rooms in our escape room portfolio. This room normally runs standalone as part of Get Out Games, which is the world’s largest mobile escape room that takes up a full semi-trailer,” Baysinger explained.
Overhauling the escape room into a Zoom-friendly experience required it be mostly stripped of its high-tech components to make sure the room offers the best digital experience possible, he detailed. In the virtual version, Breakout KC staff — better known as game guides — navigate customers through their journey to save a runaway railcar from a disastrous meeting with Union Station.
Click here to book a one-hour slot in the escape room for $54 (up to six players).
“The reaction has been purely joyful. I think our staff is excited to be able to participate alongside the guests and help control a super fun environment,” he said. “It’s certainly different, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. We have some of the best team members on earth who have shown an incredible connection with the escape room community.”
The virtual experience has also helped area businesses find a way to engage in team building activity while working remotely, Baysinger added.
“People are still allowed to have fun, and we are privileged to be able to provide such a fun experience to folks all over the metro and all over the world,” he said.
As the city slowly begins to reopen, Baysinger said, he’s confident the virtual addition to Breakout KC’s lineup will outlast the pandemic — expanding the company’s reach indefinitely.
“We are cautiously optimistic about opening very soon. More than likely, Breakout KC will be the first of our brands that we are able to get open, and that is largely because all of our guests are in private rooms at all times,” he said.
“We have some extra hurdles to jump over with our other brands, but our biggest priority is to ensure that we are opening with good information, and that we are doing so in a manner that is safe and fun for our staff and our guests.”
Swell Spark will formally announce its plans to reopen when the company is confident it can be done safely, Baysinger said.
“I certainly don’t want to say we are thriving by any stretch of the imagination; it’s been an incredibly challenging season in many ways. That said, I think our team is built to move quickly and effectively, and I think we have been able to prove that time and time again during the pandemic,” he said.