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Meet Javi Kalback of Portsmouth Escape Room

Today we’d like to introduce you to Javi Kalback.

Javi, can you briefly walk us through your story – how you started and how you got to where you are today.
I had always wanted to bring my favorite computer game to real life, escape-the-room adventures. Without knowing this was even “a thing” yet, I started investigating and working towards possibly opening a live adventure game in NH, just to learn there already were real-life escape rooms all over the world! Perhaps my dream was not so crazy after all? At that point, there were no other escape rooms yet in NH, MA or ME… by the time I opened one in NH and one in ME had beat me to it, but we were the first to open in the Seacoast area.

For those not familiar with the concept, an escape room is a live adventure game in which you must find clues and solve puzzles to unravel the mystery and “escape the room”. It’s a fun activity for all ages. If you like being challenged to think outside the box and solve problems in a fun, immersive environment, then escape rooms are for you!

After a year of research, game design, real estate searching, and building permits and zoning roadblocks, the Portsmouth Escape Room opened its doors in April 2016 with one room, Westower’s Study. Since then, thousands of players have visited us, and we now have 4 different game rooms. Our hundreds of 5 stars reviews speak for themselves, and our escape games appeal to first-timers and hardcore enthusiasts alike.

All our games are designed and built in-house by me, and I own and run 100% of the business (we are not a franchise). I have an amazing team that is passionate about providing the best escape experience and incredible customer service every-single-time. We have grown a great deal in the past two years, and we now have 10 employees on payroll as we have games running 7 days a week. We do families and friends during weekends and although not technically open, we reserve week days for private events and corporate team building.

Has it been a smooth road?
Oh I wish! The first main roadblocks were to find a suitable (safe) environment for the business. With Portsmouth being such an old city, it was very difficult to find commercial real estate that could accommodate large groups of people in a way that was deemed safe by the building inspection and fire Marshall (sprinklers, egresses, etc.).

Coming up with theme ideas and random puzzles is the easy part, making them a coherent game that everyone (different ages, skills, backgrounds, etc.) can enjoy and that can be played by 10 people at once, it’s not that trivial! But I love it and it does not feel like work to me.

Identifying, hiring and training the right people is not easy. We know have a “formula”, but it took us a little while to learn what type of skills are needed to be a successful game master. Managing our growing team is not that simple either. We went from “just me” to a couple of employees” pretty quickly and now we are 10!

So, let’s switch gears a bit and go into the Portsmouth Escape Room story. Tell us more about the business.
The Portsmouth Escape Room offers escape game adventures that can be played “just for fun” by families and groups of friends, and as a team building activity to exercise communication, leadership and out-of-the-box thinking for corporate teams, sports teams, church groups, etc.

As a company I am most proud of providing a fun environment for people to disconnect from technology and enjoy one hour of puzzle solving with other (real) people, physically and mentally present, doing something together. It’s a way of sharing an experience and building special moments with friends, family, co-workers and even strangers. We need more of that in our busy, technology-driven, everything-done-remotely-over-the-phone life.

I am also proud of how much people enjoy our games and how excited and proud they feel after completing the rooms. A lot of people don’t really expect to enjoy it (kids dragged by their parents or husbands just trying the new type of date night) and they are just pleasantly surprised of how much they liked it. This is not just for gamers or puzzle-lovers, it is truly for everyone. The games are carefully designed to cater to all types of interests, skills, ages, etc. and you can just tell by our amazing 5 stars reviews all over the internet!

How do you think the industry will change over the next decade?
Escape Rooms are popping up all over the place. We went to having to travel hours to even be able to find an escape room, to several in the same town within a mile radius. A lot of people are trying to copy the successful businesses thinking it’s an easy make-lots-of-money-quickly type of business (spoiler alert, it is not). Because of this, there are lot of not-so-great escape rooms opening and trying to trick customers into thinking they are the established one. Once they cannot get the number of customers they expected, they resort to tactics such as discounted online coupons that hurt not only them but also the other escape rooms in the area by offering discounted tickets and only getting 25% of the full price. This is a very common issue that is happening not only in large metro areas but also at the local small-town level.

Larger, more established companies are also getting into the industry (for example Disney or Dave and Busters). It is evident small individually owned escape rooms will not be able to compete with this player and ultimately will be bought out or forced to close.

Pricing:

  • Tickets are currently $28 per person
  • Private games during weekdays (team building) start at $280 per game room (up to 10 people)

Contact Info:

Getting in touch: BostonVoyager is built on recommendations from the community; it’s how we uncover hidden gems, so if you know someone who deserves recognition please let us know here.

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