Career 180: The biz of giving NYers an ‘Escape’

For those who want a break from the usual workplace bonding activities, whether they include surviving a full-day seminar together or recovering at a happy hour, Brad Albright is offering an alternative. He is the founder and a managing partner at Escape Entertainment, an upscale live gaming centerin which teams of people work together to beat the challenges. It opened in Herald Square in mid-June. Before immersing himself in this venture, Albright, 49, had a career in banking until 1998, was the CEO of several venture-backed tech companies, and then worked in the field of renewable energy until late 2014. He hails from the Upper West Side.

How did you first get interested in live gaming?

I became aware of the popularity of the genre in Asia through some friends and former colleagues. And as they started to describe the phenomenon to me, it resonated because of past experiences working with large companies, running smaller companies, and thinking about the value of opportunities for social interaction out of the ordinary course of business.

How is escape entertainment good for the workplace?

It fosters an environment where [people] can let their guards down and have fun and work together in ways that are different from the way they ordinarily work together in their office environments, and that’s through people developing tighter bonds. 

Can you describe the games at Escape Entertainment?

We have a few different themes and game styles, but what’s common is that each is designed to really appeal to the different talents and experiences and inclinations of members of the group. And through that, one might not know that someone has a certain skill that might not be on display in the workplace.

How did you go about starting your new company?

I commenced a very rigorous due diligence process which included my traveling to Asia and Europe to see some operations there and get a feel for the marketplace in those geographies, as well as looking at the state of this industry in the U.S.

How did you fund your company and how have your profits been?

We’ve funded the business ourselves; we did not raise third-party capital. We’ve only been open for a few weeks but the reaction, or the reception that we’ve gotten has been fantastic. And we are pouring our [earnings] back into the business.

What kind of marketing have you done?

A wide array of things. We have a very active online marketing program where we try to very clearly answer exactly the kinds of questions that you’re asking. We have a very strong community outreach program where we’re interacting with businesses in New York City.

Were there unexpected challenges in starting Escape Entertainment?

I guess one of the unexpected challenges was the time it took to find the kind of location that we wanted in the city. We wanted to be in a prime area so as to be in access, to be conveniently-located for a significant portion of our customer base, and the real estate market in New York City is very competitive so that took a great deal of time and a lot of expense to get what we wanted. But certainly it was worth it.

What is your goal for the company?

We intend to open other locations in New York City, we have locations in mind in other parts of the country in North America and we’re also looking at expansion overseas. So right now our focus is on getting our flagship, our first location up and running as successfully as can be and shortly on the heels of doing that we’re going to be opening subsequent locations. San Francisco is a city that’s on our radar very much.

In what ways did your career in banking prepare you for this venture?

It probably comes down to two considerations: The first of which is, having worked with many, many companies in different capacities, I’ve had the opportunity to evaluate markets and consider what the possibilities are in a given market, is one way. And the other is just working with different companies [that are in different stages] of sorts and learning how to build new organizations — how to build a team, how to manage a team and how to get everyone to focus on getting things done.

Any advice for readers considering a Career 180?

My advice would be, take a good hard look at the opportunities and challenges associated with that idea. Be careful in the analysis of what it takes to be successful. And if in following that process, one’s enthusiasm is the same or greater, then it’s very invigorating and satisfying to start a new business. Involving other people as sounding boards and advisors is always a good thing to do.