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Conversations with Heather Chandler

Today we’d like to introduce you to Heather Chandler.

Hi Heather, it’s an honor to have you on the platform. Thanks for taking the time to share your story with us – to start maybe you can share some of your backstory with our readers?
In the Spring of 2018, I was trying to figure out what to do next. I’d spent 25 years working in video game production at a number of studios, including Activision, Electronic Arts, and Epic Games. I’d just wrapped up a three-year stint as Senior Producer on Fortnite and was trying to decide what to tackle next. Another video game? Something else?

My husband was in the same boat. He’d written screenplays for video games at Sony and Ubisoft, authored novels, and designed tabletop role-playing games. We wanted a new challenge.

One of our friends suggested that we should open an escape room. My husband played them with his buddies every weekend and loved them. But we’d never considered it as a business opportunity.

After doing some research, we decided to go for it. A new kind of game experience! Instead of a game controller and a monitor, we’d offer a real-world game experience, one you played with your own two hands, in a room full of friends and family. And instead of working for faceless corporations, we’d be working for ourselves. So we opened Whole Brain Escape.

Can you talk to us a bit about the challenges and lessons you’ve learned along the way. Looking back would you say it’s been easy or smooth in retrospect?
The first challenge was creating the gameplay. My husband had worked in video game design but had never designed an escape room, and this project was unlike anything he’d created before.

For me, the business was a complete change of pace: instead of managing a multi-million dollar project and hundreds of veteran game developers, I was running a small business and managing a half-dozen employees who worked part-time. The process was rewarding, but it was unfamiliar territory, and I had to learn a lot very quickly – including HR, marketing, sales, accounting, and all the other things that come with running a business.

Then Covid-19 hit, and I had to shutter my business for most of a year.

I shifted priorities to socially-distanced outdoor puzzle adventures. I partnered up with the Department of Parks and Recreation, the Downtown Business Association, and local neighborhoods to offer these outdoor puzzle experiences to the community.

I also worked on a couple of new video games. In between, I built relationships with other business owners and helped them find ways to pivot their services and attain their goals. We all have to support each to make it through tough times.

Finally, I was able to re-open my business in late 2020. In many ways, I had to go back to square one in terms of marketing, community outreach, and hiring.

Thanks – so what else should our readers know about your work and what you’re currently focused on?
Whole Brain Escape creates opportunities for people to connect, have fun together, and create memories. Work together with friends, family, and co-workers to solve puzzles and riddles using clues, strategy, and cooperation. Originally started in 2019 as a physical escape room in Apex, NC, with four adventures to choose from – Bustin’ Out of the Eighties, Escape the Supervillain’s Lair, Seekers of the Mystic Orb, and Mystery of the Mad Scientist, we’ve now extended our offerings into board games, outside activities, and virtual team-building experiences. Players are encouraged to put down their devices and connect with each other.

Is there any advice you’d like to share with our readers who might just be starting out?
Networking is crucial! You need to find a network who can help and support you as an entrepreneur. Check out your local small business center (SBC), and explore the Launch WakeCounty programs. Consider joining your local Chamber of Commerce.

Also, remember that Networking isn’t just one sided. As you meet new people, find out about them, what their goals are, and find ways to help them!

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