For most people, an unplanned layover on the other side of the world is a frustrating inconvenience. For Nicole Chan Loeb, however, it led to a transformative experience.
In 2015, while on a 24-hour layover in Istanbul, she visited one of the city’s escape rooms. She found the production value incredibly impressive and left the experience inspired. On the flight home, she designed an escape room of her own. “As soon as my husband and I landed home, before we even really fully recovered from jet lag, we were on the hunt for property that we could use to host our Boston escape room company,” Loeb said.
Let the games begin
That same year, they opened Trapology Boston, an immersive entertainment and escape game company in Boston. Loeb is the co-founder, Chief Marketing Officer and former lead game designer. Her husband, Jason Loeb, serves as CEO. Trapology Boston offers elaborate, interactive experiences for friends, families and co-workers.
There are six escape rooms, each one with its own storyline. In The Drunk Tank, for instance, players must figure out what happened the night before to land them in prison. In The Retreat, a peaceful camping trip goes horribly wrong. Trapology also offers a virtual escape room, Outdoor Escape Adventures that take place on the streets of Boston and a space-themed at-home game.
For Loeb, the unconventional career choice had unconventional beginnings. The daughter of immigrants from Hong Kong, Loeb studied finance at Bentley University. As a student, she joined Bentley’s theater organization, for which she directed, stage managed and produced shows. She met her husband, a set builder, there. Upon graduation, Loeb secured a job in management consulting. However, she eventually concluded that she did not belong in a corporate setting.
She had studied finance and was good with numbers. However, she also loved the visual and performing arts from a young age. This early interest in the arts and design have, of course, served her well as a game designer. She has “designed six escape rooms, a popup escape room for actor Chris Evans, dozens of custom puzzle adventures for corporations and several actor-driven immersive experiences with a heavy puzzle component.” Oftentimes, the final result is quite different from the original sketches.
“Design always starts on a napkin of some sort. Typically when I’m in a car, plane, train, or bus,” she said. “It always starts with the story. Then, we throw in plotline complications. Then we throw in tasks and challenges that our heroes have to solve. The rest snowballs into a mad scientist flowchart that somehow only I can read.”
Trapology is a small business with a creative, fun-loving group of employees who bring their impressive creative energy to the design and operations of the business. Loeb considers Trapology to be a true “group effort.” She takes an active role in many aspects of the business, including its digital marketing strategy and social media outreach. She and her husband make sure to pay close attention to each review and email they receive from customers.
Like all businesses, the COVID-19 pandemic has somewhat disrupted the usual course of things. True to form, though, the Loebs responded to this disruption with creativity and ingenuity. The outdoor escape rooms and at-home escape room game, Space Corp, were direct responses to the pandemic. After a year spent mostly inside our own homes, the need for immersive, active experiences may be greater than ever.
“Our escape rooms ignite all the senses,” Loeb said. “I think that all people want to be challenged. They want something new and different to do. They want to be surprised. They’re bored of watching things on screens, or [being] strapped in an amusement park ride. This gives them freedom. Our escape rooms are both physical and mental–and sometimes emotional.”
Words of advice
With all the escape room companies currently in the Boston area, Loeb believes Trapology still has the power to stand out. “I think we’re different. [We] know what our strong suits are, and we know what our weaknesses are,” Loeb said. “We’ve created a team that fills in the gaps where we are weak, so that we can stand proud and say that we design experiences that are worth bringing your family and friends to. We are so very determined to continue raising the bar.”
With such a creative business, it’s fun to imagine just what they might do next. Loeb teased upcoming, not-yet-announced projects and partnerships set for next year.
As for advice for aspiring entrepreneurs, she has four simple tips.“ Be humble,” she said. “Embrace your weirdness. Relationships are everything. Read every business book you can.”
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