Welcome to the next part in our Diverge series, where we tell the stories of four Rochester entrepreneurs who left long careers and took significant risks to pursue their entrepreneurial dreams. This week, we tell the story of Ryan and Jackie Steiner, the chiropractor and massage therapist behind UNRAVELED Escape Room.
This series was made possible through a partnership with Rochester Home Infusion, the only home infusion provider in southeastern Minnesota.
Rochester entrepreneurs and husband and wife team Ryan and Jackie Steiner had always owned their own business. Five years ago, Ryan opened a chiropractic firm in the city, focused on auto injury. He met his future wife, Jackie, during a search for a massage and rehabilitation specialist for the practice.
“We’ve been on our own, being entrepreneurs ever since,” Ryan explained.
Although the Steiners were their own bosses, running the chiropractic business was a major financial struggle; they were grinding just to make ends meet, even shopping at the local food bank for several months. The market in Rochester was too saturated for another chiropractic practice. “And unless you’re number one or number two, it’s a struggle,” Ryan said.
A career change for the Steiners came out of necessity. They both loved their careers, but they just were not happy where they were in life compared to where they expected to be. After five years of struggling, the couple was at their breaking point and knew it was time for a drastic change to improve their quality of life.
“It was awful. But our mindset, I believe, was what carried us through,” Ryan explained. “We’ve always been very positive people and always believed that we were going to do well.”
The pair had previously been exposed to an emerging entertainment concept called an escape room during a business trip.
“We always wanted to do something like [an escape room]. And it just stayed as an idea in our minds and we didn’t act on it until the struggle of where we were at in our other profession was really hitting home,” Jackie related.
The pair identified an immense opportunity in Rochester for a different type of entertainment, something apart from the handful of bars, movie theaters, and bowling alleys that currently serve the community’s needs.
Last year, the Steiners spent their honeymoon driving from Minnesota to California for eighteen days in their van- even sleeping in the car to save money- while they researched top escape rooms along the way and germinated ideas for their own endeavor. They listened to hours of motivational and entrepreneurial CDs a la Tony Robbins, Darren Hardy, and Jim Rohn to pump them up about their own idea.
“That was truly the highlight of our whole honeymoon,” Jackie said. “It was so powerful.”
Encouraged by their trip, the newlyweds opened their own escape room business, UNRAVELED Escape Room, in Rochester on December 1, 2016.
For those readers who have never visited an escape room, here’s the low down.
An escape room is a sixty-minute challenge where a group of four to ten players get locked in a themed room and have to find hidden clues, solve puzzles, and “escape” within one hour. UNRAVELED Escape Room currently has three themed concepts including ‘Escape from Alcatraz’, ‘Spirits of the Asylum’, and the newly opened ‘CSI: Rochester’.
After the honeymoon, the Steiners had high expectations for what they could accomplish with their escape room business. From September until the business opened in December, they scouted out locations, developed the name, worked on the business plan, and embarked on a guerrilla-style promotional campaign.
“We did a lot of footwork in the beginning marketing this place because we had…no funds to market with really. So, it was all leg work,” Jackie explained.
The newlyweds spent many days last year, including Christmas and New Year’s Eve, placing fliers on cars all over Rochester. At the time, Jackie was pregnant with their daughter, with her stomach so big she could barely reach the cars’ windshields.
“It was make it or break it for sure,” Ryan said.
With all their prep work, planning, and marketing, the couple had high expectations for UNRAVELED Escape Room when its doors first opened, believing that the operation would take off immediately.
“It didn’t happen like that,” Ryan explained. “That was just the biggest dagger to the heart. …It just felt like, man, did we really take a misstep here? Did we just pour tons of money into something that is just going to flop and we’re going to lose everything? You know, we took a huge gamble.”
The biggest challenge the Steiners faced was building momentum with UNRAVELED Escape Room. But they didn’t have to wait too long. After about six months the concept was gaining steam.
“So really we have quite a lot to be grateful for,” Jackie said.
For others seeking to become entrepreneurs or looking to be more fulfilled with their work, Ryan advised just making slow, steady progress.
“If you’re waiting for the time to be right and you’re waiting for all your ideas to be perfect before you launch your business, you’ll never launch your business,” he explained.
Having the right mindset is also essential when embarking on a new career or entrepreneurial endeavor.
“You have to really believe in what you’re about to do,” Jackie advised. “And then don’t second guess yourself.”