Ryan Hogan is a serial entrepreneur who has started the majority of his companies while still on active duty. In this interview, we talk about finding like minded people as accountability partners and the importance of believing that anything is possible. We talk about what it’s like to have a startup fail, and how to recover from this in a way that might not seem intuitive to most listeners. We talk about finances, and how Ryan started his company and grew it to over $18M in annual revenue without raising a single dollar of investment from outside investors (and how he borrowed money from his Thrift Saving Plan) to do it.
Ryan Hogan is the Co-Founder & CEO of Hunt A Killer (HAK), the fastest-growing thriller subscription service in the world. Hunt a Killer is an immersive murder mystery entertainment service that challenges its players to hunt and catch a killer through its interactive monthly membership boxes and premium one-time experiences allowing thrill seeking minds to solve ongoing fictional murder mysteries. Ryan started out as an Enlisted Naval Aircrew member, and served in the Navy for 15 years, most recently as a Surface Warfare Officer. He is currently in the Navy reserves.
StoryBox- People trust each other more than advertising. StoryBox provides the tools and supports businesses need to take the best things customers say about them, and use them to drive more sales and referrals. StoryBox offers a 10% discount to companies employing veterans of the US Armed Forces.
Hear the other side of this story with BTU #227 - Navy Veteran to NASCAR Driver (Jesse Iwuji) - Jesse talks about how he and Ryan held each other accountable in pursuing their dreams.
Ryan recommends aspiring entrepreneur read The Lean Startup: How Today's Entrepreneurs Use Continuous Innovation to Create Radically Successful Businesses
Joining me today from Baltimore, Maryland is Ryan Hogan. Ryan Hogan is the Co-Founder & CEO of Hunt A Killer (HAK), the fastest-growing thriller subscription service in the world. Hunt a Killer is an immersive murder mystery entertainment service that challenges its players to hunt and catch a killer through its interactive monthly membership boxes and premium one-time experiences allowing thrill seeking minds to solve ongoing fictional murder mysteries. Ryan started out as an Enlisted Naval Aircrew member, and served in the Navy for 15 years, most recently as a Surface Warfare Officer. He is currently in the Navy Reserves.
How would you describe Hunt a Killer?
It’s an immersive story. We were founded on the premise of bringing people together in an immersive experience. We rented out a large campground and staged it as a murder mystery for 600 participants. But we realized that the idea was difficult to scale.
We used to run a company called Run For Your Lives which was a zombie themed 5K. We were able to scale that. We would show up with a trailer, put the obstacles out, and ran people through the course. We would make about a million dollars, pay what we owed, and then keep the rest as profits.
But the problem with the murder mystery event was that it really didn’t scale. So we ended up going toward the subscription box model.
When did you start your entrepreneurship journey?
I think I had a passion for it as soon as I could think. In third grade, I sold creepy crawlers to my classmates. I also had a lawn mowing business. And then from that to the Zombie 5Ks and Hunt a Killer. For me it’s about seeing an idea come to fruition. There’s no other job out there like being an entrepreneur and I get a lot of passion from that.
Can you talk a little more about the transition from Run For Your Lives to Hunt a Killer?
Run For Your Lives ended in an unfortunate manner. We figured everything out along the way. We did $12 million in sales in a three year time span. The rapid growth and success goes as quickly as it comes if you don’t keep innovating.
With Hunt a Killer, the first event was a success but there was just no way we could scale it.
Can you tell us a little bit more about Hunt a Killer?
Hunt a Killer is a murder mystery that is delivered to you episodically each month. People register for different plans depending on how often they want to receive their boxes. If you were to join today, you are immersed into this universe and world where you are corresponding with the killer. It’s up to the member to figure out what’s going on.
There’s a lot of gaming companies out there but we were looking for a way to combine the physical and digital world in a way that people would really immerse themselves in this world.
Previously we had your close friend Jesse Iwuji on our program. Can you tell us how you’ve held each other accountable as you both work toward your goals?
You have to find a like minded person. When Jesse and I talk, it’s a two way street in which we are able to provide advice to each other. Jesse just gets it. With entrepreneurs, it’s like unplugging from the matrix. You believe that anything is achievable.
After Run For Your Lives turned out to not be as successful as you wanted, how did you build back up after that?
It was really tough. The setbacks and failures are completely aligned with the scale of the organization. The year before we failed, we did $8.2 million in sales. At that point, you think you’re king of the world. And then a year later, it was all gone. So after that happened, I took a little bit of a step back. There was some doubt in my mind.
During this time, I started a blog to share what I was going through at that time. That helped a lot. I also jumped on Reddit and started connecting with other entrepreneurs. We built relationships and shared advice with one another and that made me feel really good too.
A lot of times, all you see with entrepreneurship is the highlights. But I promise you each of those entrepreneurs has gone through lows too. It’s easy to look at a company and think that they have it all figured out. But each company faces challenges and nobody has it all figured out.
Do you have any advice about handling your personal finances as an entrepreneur?
90% of entrepreneurs say that the first round is all of your own financing. The second round is friends and family. And then you go through Series A fundraising.
But the reality for Hunt a Killer is that we are a bootstrap organization. We started this with $6000. I took a loan from my TSP and injected it into the company. With that first event at the campsite, we made about $60,000. So we used that to start investing in marketing and rolling out the subscription box. We’ve always wanted to do it on our own and we’ve gotten creative with raising money.
As you continue to build, there will be more challenges but you will find more solutions as well. You’ll need to pivot as you go. Being innovative is critical to the success of a startup.
What other advice do you have for someone that wants to start their own company?
I started multiple companies while on active duty. That was incredibly important because in the beginning, your company is not going to be making a lot of money. Having a job while you start your company gives you something to fall back on.
It’s also important to find a mentor. My first real company was a performance athletic company. We made a lot of mistakes and if I had had one person that could have provided feedback to me during that time, it really would have helped.
The mechanics of a startup are virtually the same across many different industries. So reaching out to other entrepreneurs can be extremely beneficial.
Is there anything else you’d like to share with listeners?
I would say don’t give up. You just have to start. It’s easy to get caught up in the “great idea” loop. But your idea is not what will actually go to market. So just go ahead and launch the website. You just have to take that first step because everything with build on that.