The following is a short piece I wrote for a discussion group. It is targeted for folks in the escape room community, but I feel the greater message holds true for entrepreneurs of all stripes:
If I may offer some unsolicited advice on how to run your business: Don’t be afraid to find a niche. Don’t be afraid to ignore perfectly sound advice when it doesn’t “fit”.
I’ve been doing this longer than most everyone in the world. When we started, we got most of our room content from thrift stores. As we started to grow and our resources increased, we had a very clear set of obvious choices. Our rooms needed to have higher material quality, we needed to get more customers, etc.
As Puzzle Break continued to grow, we naturally fell into a niche of huge rooms, huge numbers of players, some awesome gadgetry, but also some stone-age puzzles, and a pretty hard difficulty level tempered by in-room monitors to enhance the experience.
As time passes and the industry continues to grow, our choices have grown less obvious. Where do we focus our efforts? What type of experience are we trying to curate? What audience are we trying to cater to?
Reading about some of the wonderful things some folks here have created, it has proven all-too-tempting to try and do it all. Be everything to everyone. And let me tell you, it’s a trap. Barring unlimited time and resources (and apologies for wasting your time if you’ve got unlimited time and resources): you please some of the people all of the time, you can please all of the people some of the time, but you can’t please all of the people all of the time.
Here’s some of the areas you can focus on (not a comprehensive list by any stretch):
You can focus on newbies.
You can focus on puzzle vets.
You can focus on the folks in between.
You can focus on old people.
You can focus on young people.
You can focus on millennials.
You can focus on making extremely tech-heavy rooms.
You can focus on making familiar low-tech puzzles.
You can focus on making Hollywood-caliber set décor.
You can focus on an extremely lean budget.
You can focus on small rooms for 2-4 players.
You can focus on large rooms for 12+ players.
You can focus on medium rooms 6-8 players.
You can focus on tourists.
You can focus on locals.
You can focus on corporate clients.
You can focus on bargain-seekers.
You can focus on heavy story.
You can focus on a strictly objective-driven experience.
You can focus on shorter experiences.
You can focus on longer experiences.
You can focus on rooms designed to run for years.
You can focus on rooms designed to run for weeks.
You can focus on the physical aspect of the experience.
You can focus on the mental aspect of the experience.
What you *cannot* do is “all of the above”. Time and again I see rooms and discussions where people fall into a trap of trying to do everything at once with muddled results.
All that said, don’t *not* do something if it’s a good idea and a good fit, but: There is absolutely no shame in saying “no” to something that is a good idea for someone else, but not you.
It’s a very good point, applicable to all industries.
I do worry about the influence that TripAdvisor (and companies with similar review systems) have here. When escape rooms are lumped together, and most reviews are by first timers, almost anything that is "niche" is likely to cause you to tumble down the rankings. The difference in star ratings between a room that is good and a room that is amazing might be an average of 0.1 out of 5 or even less. Filling your niche and being excellent might mean you get a slightly higher average score – great -, but if in the process you turn off some people then their lower reviews are likely to have a far greater negative effect.
I want rooms that are polarising. I write a blog precisely to try to steer people to the right rooms. If I was a business owner, though, I’d be very, very reticent about trying to cater towards a specific niche unless I was certain I could make the people booking very, very aware of what to expect.
That’s a very real concern, and I’d go even further. People, in general, have no idea what they want. Even with full information, folks might think they prefer an experience of style X and end up having an awful time due to their unknown preference for style Y.