Crime documentaries, podcasts, and TV shows are all the rage right now. As the audience, we get to spin our wheels and chat amongst friends & families to try and solve the mystery unfolding in front of us. It’s entertaining and bit a scary, really the perfect mix of things to get wrapped up in. Ryan Hogan, CEO of Hunt a Killer, took this intrigue and created a new form of storytelling by creating interactive entertainment where participants can be characters in their very own murder mystery stories. The journey of this business wasn’t necessarily a straight line to success though — keep reading to learn how they found a niche and how they maintain quality.
The Story of Hunt A Killer
Founded in early 2016, Hunt A Killer started as an annual interactive thriller event at Camp Ramblewood, MD. Participants would work in teams to solve a weekend-long murder mystery. Although the event did see some initial success, co-founders Ryan Hogan and Derrick Smith realized that their dream of revolutionizing the entertainment industry could not come to fruition through just hosting a once-a-year event.
By taking notice of the growing popularity in subscription boxes they realized there was an opportunity to make their dream into something tangible. In October 2016, they pivoted the business model to start delivering captivating, immersive mystery tales right to your doorstep through objects, letters, and clues from a fictional serial killer. From there, the Hunt A Killer Membership was born. But starting over was not easy — during those first few months, Derrick would hand-pack all of the packages himself and ship them out right from his basement, which is not really a one person job, but as all entrepreneurs know, you do what you gotta’ do.
But fortunately for Derrick the company has grown and a lot has changed since then. Starting with just 47 members, the company now hosts over 100k active members. Hunt A Killer now employs over 40 people in both part time and full time roles and has partners from all over the world.
Ryan and Ramon discussed the many ways businesses can get a customer's attention, and with so many channels available for marketing, many companies can have their message lost if they spend time and money on the wrong platform. Ryan said that they use two core channels to drive awareness and marketing: Facebook advertising and retargeting plus podcast advertising. And the key to continue reaching people with the right message? Shift the message constantly. Ryan is a big fan of listening to what customers say, and then giving them what they want. The team built a Facebook community that grew to over 100k people and they use the feedback and comments to help shape the product they deliver.
Learning how people talk about the experience they have and where people find value in the product — that’s the key. You have to make a long-term shift where you’re comfortable using new talking points in your marketing. Test copy and creative constantly.” - Ryan Hogan
Ship your product, get the feedback, implement the changes, repeat — that’s how Ryan speaks about this ongoing cycle of change. It’s not complicated if you listen to your customers, in fact, most of the time they are pretty direct when it comes to telling you what they want.
Find Your Messaging
When it comes to breaking into mass markets, Ryan and his team moved away from some of the original messaging and shifted the conversations to being about spending quality time with people in your life. Which, now more than ever, is a strong message that needs to be heard. With the majority of families in quarantine over the last few months, playing games and finding new ways to bond was on everyone’s minds. Hunt A Killer does just that — while not a typical board game, it’s interactive enough so that it’s hard to ever get bored of it. In fact, their demand has increased since COVID-19 hit the US since everyone is home and looking for an escape into a new universe.
Hunt A Killer didn’t always tip top messaging though, and Ryan says that’s ok — as long as you learn from it. Ryan said that many businesses, especially entrepreneurs who start a company, cling onto their idea a bit too strongly. Ryan actually coaches and mentors business owners, so he hears first-hand some of the issues they are facing. He suggests moving away from this idea that your concept can’t change, but rather see the initial concept as a vehicle to move forward with. The well known saying, “If you build it, they will come,” is not always true. You need to figure out what the market wants before executing anything in your business.
The Hunt A Killer team has also discovered that keeping all operations in-house, including packaging, customer service, and product development, has ensured a better customer reaction and overall experience. If a manufacturer of one of their products does have to be outsourced, they prefer everything to be shipped directly to them so they can fully inspect it and in some cases put it together. And since so many of their customer service questions involve inquiries about the mystery, having those team members in-house as well ensures the customer service reps are fully up-to-speed on the stories.