How does a man escape the world of engineering to become an entrepreneur?
If you’re Will Rutherford, you do it by opening the Escape Artist in Greenville. This Greenville-native who holds degrees from Wofford and Clemson, was working for GE, when he and his wife Kim opened the Escape Artist as a hobby business in March of 2016. They wanted to show people something they’ve never seen before so they pulled together all of their skills and ideas together and gave it a go. Their customers loved it and it quickly turned from a hobby business into a second job. In April 2017, it became a full-time gig. In 2018, they moved to a new building on Stone Avenue in downtown Greenville. Want to know more? Keep reading?.
You are an engineer by trade, what made you go out on your own and create the Escape Artist?
I’ve been creating experiences like this more or less my entire life. Before Escape Artist, I spent much of my free time designing and producing similar experiences (Haunted Houses, Murder Mysteries, Mini-Escape Rooms) as a hobby. In April of 2017 I turned this into my full time job. It’s super exciting to be able to put all my time and resources into this and see just how far it can go.
And I’m certainly not on my own. My wife and co-owner was the driving force behind making the leap into entrepreneurship. We have friends and family that have helped us do everything from hanging wallpaper to puzzle building. We also have built an excellent team here at Escape Artist that is equally obsessed with creating the best experiences possible.
When did you decide to do the Escape artist?
My wife and I spent a weekend at the “Midwest Home Haunters Convention” in 2015. It’s pretty much Comic-con for people who go way overboard with Halloween decorations (like us). We attended a seminar about this new thing called escape rooms. On the drive back from Ohio we decided it was something we needed to do. It just seemed like such a perfect fit for us that it would be crazy not to give it a try.
What is the hardest part of your job?
Turning it off at the end of the day. It’s something that I love doing, so I’m always thinking up new concepts and ways to improve our existing ones. Sometimes I have a hard time making myself relax.
What part of your job worries you the most?
When we started Escape Artist, we knew that we could create a great experience, but we really didn’t know what went into owning and running a business. We’ve been learning all of that on the fly, but there’s a persistent worry in the back of my mind that we are missing something simple that could help us grow.
What advice would you tell yourself if you could go back in time to the start of your business?
Everything will turn out alright. It’s easy advice to give and difficult advice to take. I’d also tell myself to start hiring employees sooner. Our biggest mistake was that we started hiring too late. My wife Kim and I were running the entire show for way too long before we started building the Escape Artist team. It cost us lost bookings and decreased sanity.