You might find it ironic that Nate Martin experienced break-out success by locking people in rooms. At 34, the creator of Puzzle Break is considered to be the founding father of escape rooms in America.
Escape rooms, physical adventure games in which a group of friends, coworkers, or strangers have an hour to solve puzzles in order to get out of a locked room, are popular in Eastern Europe and Asia. But they hadn’t caught on in the United States until Martin and his business partner, Dr. Lindsay Morse, created one in Seattle in 2013. Martin didn’t set out to create a multimillion-dollar company or become famous. “We wanted to create these raw, unadulterated fun experiences for as many humans as possible,” he says.
Martin conceived the idea to go out on his own a few years ago when he worked at Microsoft. One day he did some quick back-of-the-napkin math, and realized that after seven years there, he was still eight humans away from CEO. At that rate, he would have to live to 300 if he wanted to retire as chief executive. “I asked myself what I would need to do to simultaneously master my own destiny while making a positive impact on the ecosystem,” he says.
One hell of a go-getter, part of Martin’s drive comes from the Jewish values taught to him growing up. “The traditional cultural elements of valuing hard work and financial success, as cliché as it is, these are deeply ingrained values,” he says. “It’s how I was raised, and they inform a huge amount of what I do every single day.”
Martin’s entrepreneurial philosophy can be captured in four words: “Just go do it.” They’re words he wishes someone had told him long ago. “There’s no reason why you can’t start small and put your toes in the water and just do it.” He didn’t draw up formal business plans and get financial backing. “Folks read books, consult with lots of people, and create tons and tons of plans,” he says. “And they figure out a million reasons why they shouldn’t do something, and ignore the handful of awesome reasons why they should.”
Puzzle Break has exploded in popularity, expanding from its first location on Capitol Hill to a location on Long Island, on Royal Caribbean cruise ships, and to a 6,000-square-foot space in Belltown — one of the largest escape rooms in the world. Owning a business is a bumpy road, but for Martin it was worth venturing down. “It’s not the lifestyle for a lot of people. But for some people, it’s the only lifestyle.”