Transcript for Using Escape Rooms for Team Building with Greg Koberger
Greg Koberger (Singing): That’s great, it starts with a hyperlink. HTML, scripts, and stylesheets. Tim Berners-Lee is not afraid. Dial-up, so slow. Had to teach yourself to code. Style your Myspace to impress The 8 friends that were your best. Guest books, web rings, 800 pixel screens. Blink tags and marquees. Learned how to code on Geocities. O’Reilly books, web safe colors. Works best in IE6, under construction. Browser wars, Firefox. If you’re stuck, you can just Ask Jeeves. FTP the PHP, validate with W3C–
Joe Casabona: That was a cover song from today’s guest, Greg Koberger, and no we’re not talking about making music, cover songs, REM, early 90s music– We’re not talking about any of that, but this is a testament to just how interesting Greg is. It comes through on this week’s episode. Not only do we talk about team-building with escape rooms, a super cool concept by the way, but we also touch on mental health, the startup culture, venture capital, and lots more. He digs deep into how he started his escape room and why, but also how somebody like you and me could start an escape room with an escape room startup resource. There’s a niche for everything. But again, we also talk about the mental health aspect that we opened the season with earlier this year. Greg continues that, and what working for a big venture capitalist-backed startup can do to your mental health. So, Greg is a pretty open book here, and it makes for an amazing interview. We’ll get to all of that and more right after a word from our sponsors.
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Joe: Hey, everybody. Welcome to another episode of How I Built It, the podcast that asks, “How did you build that?” Today my guest is Greg Koberger. He is the founder of Read Me, and we are going to be talking about not only his founding of Read Me but also how he uses escape rooms as team-building– And a little bonus fact that I will let him tell you later on. But for now, let’s welcome Greg onto the show. Greg, how are you doing today?
Greg: Hey, Joe. I’m doing great. I’m here to talk about my main company and then my side company, as it turns out. We get to do both of those things.
Joe: Awesome, sounds great. Thanks so much for joining me. I’m very excited to talk to you about this because team-building was always something that was on my mind since college. I was in charge of these student organizations, and we had to get college kids to become friends very quickly without the use of alcohol, and so I’ve been thinking about team-building and icebreakers since then. But let’s start off with who you are and what you do?
Greg: Sounds good. I, too, I was an RA back in college. But more recently, my name is– Or, my company, is Read Me. We do API documentation, so we work with thousands of companies to make it easy to build developer.whatever.com. I know you’re a big WordPress person, so the best analogy I possibly have is WordPress for companies that need a technical documentation site for their API, or something else. We usually tend to sit at developer.whatever.com, we’ve got a great content editing system, and they make it easy to play around with APIs, learn how to get and use APIs, get support, and things like that. So, that’s what Read Me does.
Joe: Nice. That’s cool. I know this isn’t our main topic of conversation, but it is very interesting to me. Do you–? The documentation, is it based on doc blocks or anything like that? Or is it developers going in and adding their own documentation through your interface?
Joe: That’s cool. As somebody who talks to APIs, I would encourage anybody who has an API to go check that out because I have written code based on some terrible APIs. Like, APIs that don’t have a standardized way of sending data back, that’s just the worst.
Greg: Yeah, and hopefully, none of those are hosted on us.
Joe: This was years ago.
Joe: It was an academic journal, so it probably was just an API that was added because they were like, “We should have this,” or whatever. Hopefully, it’s improved now, since like– I think it was 10 years ago that I wrote that. Anyway, as part of your company, you have employees. This is going to be a very contrived way of getting to our main topic. You have employees, right?
Greg: Go for it. Yes. Why I’m glad you asked. Yes, we do.
Joe: And you wanted to do some team-building exercises, so– Actually, let’s back up here. Are you a–? You are not a remote company. I can’t think of the appropriate word there, you guys all work in the same office?
Greg: Co-habitating, I guess? I don’t know. Yeah, give or take. We’ve got many people, and about 75% are in the office. But one thing that we do is, and I don’t know why I did this, but it was probably many years ago that I wanted to travel a bunch and to use company funds as an excuse. But every quarter we travel someplace as well, so we’ve done some– We’re in San Francisco as our main location, where our office is. We’ve been to a few places like Napa and Tahoe, which are pretty close. We’ve been to some places like Hawaii and Thailand that are not very close, and we’ve been to some places in between like Austin and Denver, and a bunch of other random locales.
Greg: We’ve chewed through the US and etc. over the past few years by doing it every quarter for the past five years. Like you said, most of us are in the same place. Not all of us in the same place, sometimes– Or, often it’s very much a reunion as well when we get together.
Joe: Nice. That’s cool. About 75% of people are in the office, and you travel, that’s a very good bonding experience. But you also used escape rooms as team-building, is that right?
Greg: Yes. Because like any company, we do things like go to a bar and hang out or other stuff, and then we also do a lot of work. I don’t know how we got hooked on them, but we started doing escape rooms, and now it’s become a thing where every time we go anywhere, we do at least one or two escape rooms. As a group, it’s become this team bonding thing where it’s– Everyone pretty much probably has a visual idea of what an escape room can or should be, but just to give a 30-second– Or, 10-second pitch to your audience, it’s more often not the way it works is that you sign up and it’s give or take about $30 bucks per person. You show up, there’s a theme like prison Alcatraz, stuff like that, or a mad scientist or Sherlock Holmes or Egypt, or there’s White House ones. Something more contrived. So you show up, and for an hour, you get locked in this room, you’re not locked in for the most part, but you have to solve a bunch of puzzles. You don’t know what the puzzles are. You walk into this room, and it looks like a very normal room, except that it’s themed like Egypt or like Sherlock Holmes’ apartment or office, or some sort of lair or something like that. But other than that, it’s not like there’s a Sudoku on the wall for the most part. It’s very– It’s more like you’re not sure exactly what the clues are, and for an hour you have to do two things. One is you figure out what the clue is, and then two is that you take that clue, and you solve it. Then you keep doing that for between 5-10-20-30 clues, whatever the room happens to have. Within an hour, you have to solve all these clues and figure out some end game. Sometimes it’ll be like, “You have to find the crystal and get out of this haunted house,” or whatever. You have about an hour, and it’s great. For a team-building exercise, you have 5-10-15 people, and you need something awesome to do as a team. That is not to overly team-bonding, and you’re not doing trust falls or anything like that. It’s still fun, but you’re also not sitting around at a bar. It’s a happy medium– Then you go to the bar after, obviously.
Joe: Of course.
Greg: But it’s a good team bonding thing for a bunch of people.
Joe: Yeah, right. It’s something a little bit more involved than two truths and a lie, but it’s also fun, and it allows you and your co-workers to work together towards some end goal.
Greg: Yeah, exactly.
Joe: Usually, at this point in the show, I like to ask what kind of research you did, but how did you first come up with the idea to do an escape room as team-building? Were you like, “Morale seems low for the team?” Or was it like, “I just hired a bunch of people, and none of them know each other,” or whatever? What was your thought process like?
Greg: I wish I had a great answer that would make you feel like I had some good point. But honestly, I wore out all of my friends on going to escape rooms, and I pay a bunch of people, and those people have to do what I want to do.
Joe: That’s fantastic.
Greg: That’s completely true, but also a little facetious. It just felt like a really good thing to do during the days. Like, I don’t know. What else would you do during the day, bowling, or something like that? Not that I have anything against bowling, but it genuinely did start as my girlfriend at the time, and I would do escape rooms a lot, and then I dragged all my friends into it. Then all my people in my life that I wasn’t paying were like, “This is expensive. Let’s go to a bar.” And I pivoted to “The people that work with me are absolutely awesome and smart and work well together, and it seems like I’ve already assembled quite the escape room. Or, the team of escape artists.” So that is how we slowly got into it the first time, and then people liked it, I liked it, everyone liked it. It went from there, so it was a happy accident to a certain extent.
Joe: Yeah, absolutely. Also, I should say I’m from New York originally–
Greg: Where in New York?
Joe: About an hour north of the city. People in the city would say “Upstate,” but Orange County, Middletown area.
Greg: I am from also what people would say is not– I’m in California now, but people would say “It’s not New York,” but upstate New York as well from outside of Albany. So I’m from a little outside of Troy, it’s called [inaudible], and it’s in the middle of nowhere. No one has heard of it.
Joe: Yeah, my brother lives near Glens Falls now.
Greg: I know Glens Falls well.
Joe: Very cool. So yeah, absolutely. I’d say north of Albany is when you start to get to real upstate. But anyway, that’s neither here nor there. I know how expensive it could be going out to drink, probably in San Francisco too. I’m guessing the cost of living in San Francisco is higher than New York.
Greg: We could do a whole podcast on that, yes.
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Joe: I’ve done a couple of escape rooms myself. You need to be able to work together, generally speaking, to figure things out. Escape rooms as team-building, did you find that your employees started to become closer and work better together during the workday? I’m hitting you with these very deep view-like questions, and I hope they are fruitful, but I figure that’s the topic we’re talking about, so I’m sure you did find that.
Greg: I’ve never done this, but a lot of companies do escape rooms to interview people. Let’s say that you’re interviewing this head of blank or just a random IC, as in “Individual contributor.” Like, you’re interviewing someone, and you like them, and at this point, you’ve pretty much decided to give them the job. You’ve never really seen how they work together or anything like that, but a lot of times I know– I don’t do this, but people will take these people to an escape room because it’s– Entering a lot of escape rooms is one hour, and at the end of the day it literally doesn’t matter if you get out or not. No one cares. There’s no– Maybe you’ll get on the leaderboard if you’re the fastest, but no one cares about the actual results. But they do a very good job of perpetuating this stress and high-intensity environment, and [Gaye] can be like “That person under pressure is not good. We don’t want to work with them.” If someone’s a jerk under pressure, you’re like “Nope.” But we don’t do that, bringing new employees to this, although maybe that’s a good idea. It would be the most fun anyone would have at a job interview, I think.
Joe: It would be a lot better than a whiteboard interview.
Joe: Probably more– There’s pressure, there’s problem-solving. You get to see how people work because even though you’re not really, you know you’re not locked in the room, there’s still that competitive edge. Like, “I got to get out in the hour.”
Greg: Yeah, exactly. Be impressive without being over the top, and there’s a lot of different various ways to– Again, I haven’t done it yet for a job interview but– I don’t know if our, I’ll have to talk to my lawyers. Like, “Can we take people applying and just lock them up and throw some handcuffs on them and see how they do in an hour?” I don’t know how that conversation is going to go, but I’ll report back in the sequel to this episode. I’ll let you know how that goes.
Joe: Sounds good. I’m no lawyer, but it sounds good to me.
Greg: No, the podcast episode would be like “Surviving a company that’s been sued into oblivion.” That would be part two.
Joe: Yes. Awesome. So that’s interesting, companies will do escape rooms to interview people. As far as post-escape room, it sounds like you and your employees will do escape rooms pretty frequently. Do you find that its brought your employees closer together?
Greg: Definitely. First of all, any shared experience does.
Greg: But we– One example was when we were in Denver, and we did this escape room. Now I don’t want to brag, but I like to think that I’m a little bit better than most at escape rooms because I’ve done a few more. So we’re doing it, and it’s this escape room where there’s two different rooms, and it’s the exact same room, and they split the team into red team and blue team. You’re competing against each other, like actually in real-time competing with each other. I was like, “This seems great.” The escape room was good enough, it wasn’t the best escape room I’ve ever done, but the gimmick was interesting, and we liked it. So we’re going and at one point halfway through a window opens, and you can see through and see the other team. It’s a double-sided mirror. Or, not a double-sided mirror, it’s just a window.
Joe: Gotcha. You can each see each other.
Greg: Exactly, yeah. So you can see each other through this mirror, and I’m so confused. Like, “This is crazy. They’re doing– Every time we solved something, they solved it instantly.” I was so impressed. We were going, and we’d solve something hard, and like 30 seconds later, they’d get it. Fast forward to afterwards, and I didn’t realize that the entire time they figured this out, and we didn’t, that there is a little hole where you could hear the other team. So we were all excited, and we’d be like, “The code is 4721,” and they’d be like, “The code is 4721.” They were listening to us, and everything was the same. That was part of the whole gimmick, and you could use this as a metaphor for anything. I like to be a little heavy-handed with my company where I’m like, “Now that’s a metaphor because if you follow the competition, you’ll never win. You’ll always be right behind them, but you’ll never win.” Because ultimately, my team won because we were the ones they were following.
Greg: I try to turn it into some life lesson or something at some point, but that’s probably contrived and all that.
Joe: That’s funny. But I like the contrived metaphor, too.
Joe: I’m a teacher, and I try to do it a lot. But it is true, and you hear that a lot. “The first,” “If you’re the first to market,” or “If you’re not the first to market, you have to do it better somehow.”
Joe: I think there is a life lesson there. So you obviously love escape rooms, you do them with your employees a lot, but there’s another way that you’re related to escape rooms. Is that right?
Greg: Why, yes. OK, and actually, this is a larger-ish topic that I will delve into. Let me run, or not run, as long as you want. About two years ago, I was working at Read Me, and I love Read Me. I love the product more than anything, the people are the most amazing people I’ve ever worked with, but I was insanely burnt out. I’ve got a lot of energy normally, but I was tired, and I was depressed in a way that– I say the word “Depressed,” and I don’t want to throw around that word lightly. But I just had a hard time showing up at work, and I was burnt out. I’d been doing it for a few years, and again, it wasn’t a loss of belief in the team or the product, it was just a burnout. One of our investors and advisors, I was talking, and I was being very negative and sad. Not sad, but very negative, and they were like “OK. You probably won’t acknowledge this, but you’re very burnt out right now, and there is literally one way to get around burnout, and that is to leave for a bit.” My previous company had this protocol if someone was burnt out. I’m going to make some stuff up here now, but they were like, “You’re a level two. Level two burnout means that you need to take 14 days off,” and all that. I was like, “OK.” They were like, “You can’t just go to a beach and sit there and relax, because people who are starting a company, to a certain extent, don’t have that ability to turn things off. Because it’s too far the opposite way of a swing, so you need to go and do something. “You need to learn a skill, and you need to make something, go do woodworking, go learn a new language, or go learn how to scuba dive, go learn how to fly a plane. Stuff like that.” I was like, “All right. I will take some time off.” So I took two weeks off from my actual real job, which I’m still doing very happily right now, and I was like, “I’m going to build an escape room.” So what I did was I found, coincidentally, around the same time, I found an art gallery that was going out of business, and they were looking to rent out their space. It’s a physical space in San Francisco, it’s 1,200 square feet, which I don’t even know how to describe how big that is. It’s not huge, but it’s a decent size for an office of 5-10 people, perhaps. So I rented the space out, and I was like, “I’m going to build an escape room.” I took a lot of my own money, and I built an actual physical escape room, and it was– There’s never been anything that’s been so within my skill set, like so similar to my actual current job but so different, because I’m running a startup and I love startups. Not in a–, I don’t know, I’ve been in San Francisco for about 12 years. I moved there in 2008 when the economy crashed, and no one was doing a startup because they wanted to make money. Now everyone’s like, I have a startup idea, I’m going to be a billionaire.” Back then, no one was thinking that they were just like “I don’t care. I want to build something, and I love it.” I met all these random people who are now famous in a weird tech way, and because everyone is just there doing cool stuff. I’ve always loved startups and escape rooms like we talked about, and I merged the two. I was like, “I’m going to build–” I didn’t want to build an escape room for people who want to build an escape room, which I assume is most of your audience. There’s a lot of online resources where you can buy rooms, and they do this thing where they’re like “We’re only going to sell this prison escape room within a thousand miles or 500 miles,” So you can buy it, and it’s not going to be like two people in the same area have the same one. But a lot of escape rooms are bought, and they’re very off-the-shelf generic themes.
Joe: Gotcha. I see. So what you’re saying here is I can essentially buy a cookie-cutter escape room.
Greg: Yeah. For about $500 bucks for the plans and maybe ten thousand for all the actual physical props as well. You’re in Pennsylvania now, right?
Greg: In Pennsylvania, you could rent a spot, they’ll mail you everything, and basically, you could get this set up within 48 hours or something. There’s a really good ROI. If you want to sit there and run an escape room day to day, then you can go charge $35 bucks per person. You can do the math on what the rent is outside of cities. Not surprisingly escape rooms are very popular outside of cities, because in cities rent is expensive, and outside of cities you can go to a strip mall or a mall. It’s failing a little bit so you can get a really good spot.
Greg: Escape rooms are great because you’re not trying to get foot traffic. You can find this crappy little space that no one can see, so you’ll find a lot of escape rooms in weird places. But anyway, back to mine. I wanted to do something that was very on-brand for me. My escape room is called Startup Escape, and it is startup-themed, and the whole premise is you have one hour to launch your startup.
Joe: That’s cool.
Greg: By “Launch your startup,” I mean that there’s five tracks. Programming, design, IT, product, and marketing. You have one hour to solve clues in those five different tracks, and you have to solve all five tracks. The whole premise is that once you do all those, you can launch your startup.
Joe: That is super cool. Next time I’m out in San Francisco, I’m definitely going to look this up.
Greg: You better do it, it’s awesome.
Joe: Yeah, absolutely.
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Joe: This is cool because this is almost like your side hustle. Like, you have a startup, and then you have your side hustle.
Greg: Oh, I have a real job. Definitely. Yes, 100%.
Joe: But it was all built out of your love for both startups and for escape rooms. You started this about two years ago, you said?
Greg: Yeah, I started about two years ago, and it took two weeks to build-out. Then maybe a month to get the business part of things in shape, and then I hired a general manager, and I haven’t– I don’t have anything to do with this company other than I own it.
Greg: At the end of the day, I make money, but the goal, by the way, is not taking money on this. It’s just because I just wanted to make this exist in the world, and it makes enough money to run. This is how little I have to do with it, a few weeks ago my key didn’t work, and I was nearby, so I was like, “I’ll just grab new keys when the guy who runs is there.” I showed up, and I walk in, and I’m like, “I don’t know who this person is.” And I’m like, “Hi.” And he’s like, “Hey, welcome. Welcome to Startup Escape.” I was like, “Who are you?” And he’s like, “I’m so and so. Who are you?” I was like, “I own this place.” I have nothing to do with it day to day anymore. But the number of– The way this all comes full circle is that I did startup themed because I wanted it to be a team bonding experience for people. Most escape rooms are good for three people, four people, five people, six people. That’s the average. I built mine intentionally to be good for teams of up to like twelve, maybe up to 15 even. Because I wanted it to be a team-bonding thing, and that was my only motive for this. I was like, “This would be great for other companies to come through and do this,” and I made my company do it. They all knew that I left for two weeks, but they didn’t know where I went. I never told them that I was building an escape room, and they already had done them, so I was like, “I know this new escape room that just opened up. Let’s go do that when I come back.” They were my first scene that went through my own escape room, and it started to break about ten minutes in, and they’re like “Greg. Did you build this?” And I was like, “Yeah.” I like sheepishly admitted that it was mine, because we– Like I said, I run a startup, and this escape room was– First of all, if nothing else it was a mirror image of my actual office for my real company, and no one going to both my company’s office and this would be like “These don’t look alike.” They were a mirror image, I modeled it after my own startup, the way the office looked and all that stuff. So yeah, they figured out pretty quickly that it was mine, to their credit.
Joe: That’s cool. You essentially beta-tested this with your team.
Greg: Yeah. Things broke on both ends the first time, but now things run very smoothly. But yeah, I got to beta test with my team.
Joe: That’s fantastic. Let’s go back a little bit, too. You left because you were getting burnt out, and earlier in the season I interviewed someone named Allie Nimmons and we–
Greg: Yeah, that was a great podcast.
Joe: Thank you very much. I will link to that in the show notes for those who haven’t heard it, but we talked a bit about mental health. It’s really interesting to see not only that it was recognized by one of your investors, but he or she– I don’t remember.
Greg: “He,” yeah.
Joe: They said that his former company had a protocol. So I think a lot of people think of Silicon Valley or the investment venture capitalist world as this cold and heartless persona, but I think it’s really important that they were able to recognize that you needed a break and then you were able to take that break.
Greg: Yeah, there’s this– How do I put it? This concept. OK, in Silicon Valley in San Francisco, there is a lot of people with a lot of money looking to invest, obviously. There has been a bad thing that has come from that, which is this culture of, you know, everyone is starting companies and everyone’s got to compete, and there’s some negative things about it. But the best thing in my mind about this concept that there’s a lot of different VC funds is that a lot of VC funds have become very– This is such a cliché word, but “Founder-friendly.” But the nice thing about that is that no one’s competing on money anymore because there’s so much money out here. I’m not saying it’s easy to show up in Silicon Valley and raise a ton of money, it’s shockingly hard. But if you’re making money, it’s easy, and you can find someone to give you money. What’s hard, though, is to find investors who are good and who care about you and all that. I’ve been so stupidly lucky with Read Me that the people who invested in me are in my company and they really care about the company. Obviously, the product. I’m eventually making money back, obviously. We’re not charity. I care about my mental health, my team, and making sure that everyone is definitely happy but also just enabled to keep going and build stuff and do awesome things. You can’t do that if you’re rundown and miserable and overworked. I’ve been stupidly lucky that we have VCs that both push us and want the best from us, but also want the best for us. I don’t think Silicon Valley is– Or, San Francisco is this cold-hearted money-making machine that– Of course there’s definitely pockets and areas that it is, but that has not been my experience. The people that I work with all care and the people that work for me, I truly care about their well-being, what’s going on with them, and all that stuff. The takeaway is that you can run a company, however, you want. If you want to be cold-hearted and work with cold-hearted people, you can. There’s definitely people who have money that will be cold-hearted. But there’s also people who are just awesome people who care about each other here as well.
Joe: That’s fantastic. To that point, after you had some time off, you came back. Were you feeling refreshed? Did it take you some time to get back into the swing of things? It seems like you’re very happy now.
Greg: Yeah. It comes and goes. What Allie talked about, and she was very open. That was awesome. I’m happy to be pretty open, as well. There’s days where I think that the company is going– Read Me, not the escape room. The escape room will always totter on and make enough money to survive. But I’ll think that Read Me is going amazingly well, and not that I care about the money, but we’re going to be a trillion-dollar company, and it’s going to be huge. And there’s other days where I’m like, “I should leave. This is an utter failure. I don’t even want to get out of bed this morning.” It just goes back and forth nonstop, just oscillating. Overall, I’m excited on a macro level. I love my job, and I’m not burned out at all, but on a micro-level from days– There’s hard days and hard weeks. But leaving for a bit was the best thing I ever did. For like two weeks, not for a long time. It was just like re-invigorating. Then you come back, and you’re on top of things and excited again.
Joe: That’s fantastic. I think there are two really important takeaways in what you just said in that couple of minutes, and one is I think everybody feels it goes back and forth. I feel the same way. One day my life will be like, “How’s it going?” And I’m like, “We are killing it. We can take that Disney vacation earlier than we wanted.” And the next day I’ll be like, “I’m not making any money. I don’t know what I’m doing here.”
Greg: This seems like a good time for me to do an ad for Plesk or something, get you a little bit of extra money on this.
Joe: I know, right? That’s how I’ve been very lucky, and I’ve always been able to find– If I felt things are slow, I’ve been able to speed things up a little bit where I could. But everybody feels that way in your company, and you’re going to feel that way because it’s not always good. There are some bad times. As long as you have a healthy understanding of how your business is doing, you can bounce back from that.
Greg: I didn’t prepare this story whatsoever, so I’m going to mess everything up, and hopefully, our listeners who have heard this story don’t think I’m a complete idiot for this, but it’s some proverb or something. Again, I’ve not prepared this, and I probably should. It just came to mind. But it’s called “My king,” or something. People were wondering, when things were great, he wouldn’t get too excited, and when things were really bad– His son died or something, he wouldn’t get too upset. He probably would get upset about that one, but he was very stable. You’ve probably heard the phrase “This too shall pass,” and the whole mythos behind this was he asked one of his aides, or I don’t know what kings have. Aides, I suppose. His chief of staff to go out and find a solution to the ups and downs of life. This person came back with a ring that was engraved with, that said, the words “This too shall pass.” It’s a metaphor, obviously, for a lot of different things. But the concept of when things are going well, don’t get too excited or cocky because they’re going to get worse at some point. When things go really bad, that’s also not going to last forever. So I have a ring that I don’t wear anymore that has engraved inside it “This too shall pass.” It’s always a really good reminder that the ups and the downs are great, but when you zoom out a little bit, life is pretty linear. In a good way. The bad never weighs you down, and the good never pulls you up.
Joe: Right. And you probably don’t want either one of those. Like, if it’s just always up, up, up, up, up. You’re going to– There’s going to be a point where you can’t–
Greg: I don’t know about that. But yeah, I get your point. Exactly. I’m not going to say “No” to that.
Joe: Yeah, right. If somebody wants to hand me a bunch of money every day, I’m not going to turn that down.
Greg: If every day is better than the last, I’m not going to be like “No. That’s not what I want from this life.”
Joe: Yeah, exactly. If the highs are always too high–
Greg: Yeah, exactly.
Joe: But the other the other thing I wanted to drive home before we wrap up here is I think a lot of– I would consider myself in the freelancer level, I’m a solo-entrepreneur guy. A lot of people in my position probably feel like they can never take a vacation. I take a week off, and I’m literally not making any money, but if you get burnt out, that’s going to be worse for your business than the one week you were going to take off. So be mindful of that and take time off when you need to. I took 17 days off for my honeymoon. I didn’t even bring my laptop. It was the first time since laptops were a thing that I traveled about it. And you know what? I came home and–
Greg: You still have a podcast. You’re still there, and you’re still good.
Joe: Exactly. Nothing was on fire. So remember that, if you need to take time off, then that’s going to be like Greg said, the best thing that could be for your business.
Greg: Yes. I would agree with that completely.
Joe: So, awesome. As we wrap up here, I do need to ask you my favorite question, and that is, do you have any trade secrets for us?
Greg: Yes. We got to it a little bit sooner, but my trade secret that I prepared– My preface is that in Silicon Valley– Or, in San Francisco, there’s not a lot of trade secrets, which I love about it. People are so open about talking about how they make money, why they make money. They go on podcasts, and there’s entire industry of people that go on podcasts and spill out all their trade secrets. I love that. There’s no huge ones, but I think the one that people do shy away from is the concept of mental health. My trade secret is that early on, everyone believes that they’re different, and for the most part, they aren’t. I know a ton of founders, and everyone is just struggling. Here’s why I think you’re the same way. You have your own– You have two companies, basically. You have the podcast, and you do consulting as well, and you also do Word Camp. You do a ton of stuff as well. I think anyone who does stuff like this, the only way to be successful is to care so stupidly much that you care so much. The problem with caring so much, it’s a really good thing, but you have to invest all your money, time, effort, your identity, all of this into it. That wears at you. I think the reward is worth it, but I also think that for too long, when you’re running something with a lot of employees or a lot of people that depend on you, you don’t get to be vulnerable. You have to always be the one with the answers and the smart one and the one who is going to solve all the problems. I think investing early on, if you’re going to do something or if you’re build anything that’s going to last and have legs and you’re going to put all this time and effort and energy into it, the best thing you can do early on is make sure that you have the right support system. I think a big support system as a co-founder– I don’t have one, and that’s one of bigger regrets. I founded a company that I love, and it’s a perfect company for me, but I wish I also had that perfect partner in this. If that doesn’t happen, that’s OK as well. Not everyone can have a co-founder or two co-founders. Life doesn’t always work out perfectly but have some really strong way– An outlet of some sort for getting out of it. Understand that at the end of the day, it’s just a company. You want to make money because money is a good thing because you can pay people and provide them a good life. I’m not anti-money even remotely, but you also want to find interesting, fun ways to make the job the best job it possibly can be. When you run a company, like escape rooms. I spend a lot of– Not a lot of money, for any investors listening, an appropriate amount of our budget on team bonding and stuff like that. I find– You’re right that we should take time off, but we also can’t take 17 days off every two weeks when you’re a little depressed. Finding ways to craft the job in a way that you love it day-to-day. One thing that I’ve gotten really into over the past few weeks is writing songs about APIs in tech, and then paying people or hiring musicians to perform them. You get to take this job and make it however you want, and I get to do some cool stuff. I’ll send you one of the songs if you want to play it on the podcast. But you know, I find really interesting ways day-to-day to make my job the coolest job ever. Because there’s a lot of really shitty things about it too, and finding that balance day-to-day is tough. I don’t know if that’s a trade secret, but the actual advice on how to make money and all that stuff’s pretty out there. But everyone’s going through this misery as well, and there’s a lot of cool ways to make the best of it.
Joe: Yeah. I love that. First of all, you’re not alone. I think that’s a great takeaway for founders, freelancers, parents. I have a two-year-old now, and any time a friend of mine becomes a parent, and I’m like, “Text me. If you’re having trouble, text me and say, ‘Is this normal?’ And I’m going to say ‘Yes,’ because if you don’t feel like you need to go to the hospital, it’s probably normal.” I’m not a doctor, by the way, disclaimer. But, just in general.
Greg: So anyhow, let’s call Joe, and he will take of it and help your kid.
Joe: Yeah, exactly. And then have a great support system, too. Again my wife has been a great support system for me when I was ready to leave my job, and after my daughter was born, I was super burnt out. I was unhappy. I was like, “I don’t know if I should start this company. We have a 3-month-old.” And she was like, “You need to start this company. You need to go off and do this.” And she’s been fantastic, so that’s fantastic advice. Greg, I appreciate you coming on the show. I feel like you did more research about me than I did about you.
Greg: No, it’s not research. I’ve been listening to your podcast for a while, so it’s easy research.
Joe: Awesome. Thank you so much, I appreciate it. You’ll be able to find all the show notes over at HowIBuilt.it. How can people find you?
Greg: OK, based on what we just talked about, definitely if anyone is listening and is stupidly depressed, or not even that depressed but wants to talk, don’t just follow me on Twitter. Genuinely feel free to reach out. I am @gkoberger at everything, on Twitter, at Gmail, it’s my email, Dribbble, Facebook, and Instagram, Linked-In. It’s the best way to find me. I would love someone to reach out, “I like escape rooms too,” or whatever. But I also would love if people who are going through this and maybe aren’t as lucky, that they have great investors or great employees or great whatever, definitely feel free to shoot me an email. Like you, I’m not a doctor, and I can’t fix things, but I’m always excited to meet new people who are going through this as well. Because we’re doing it because we love it for some bizarre, strange reason. I’m always happy to talk to anyone. My escape room– My company is Read Me, and we just bought the .com. That was quite expensive, but ReadMe.com and my escape room is StartupEscape.com. Hopefully, one of those two things will interest all of your readers, or listeners– Or, readers?
Joe: Yeah, absolutely. Transcripts are available, too, so they could be readers. I will, of course, link everything at the show notes over at HowIBuilt.it. Greg, thanks so much for joining me. I appreciate you taking the time.
Greg: Joe, this was a lot of fun. Thank you for having me.
Joe: Thanks so much to Greg for joining us today. I love everything he talked about. He’s a very interesting guy. The API documentation stuff was his main business, but again, we talked about the team-building and escape room stuff. I thought that was cool. I love how he opened up about his mental health and how he parlayed that into his trade secret about venture capital and being vulnerable, and a whole bunch of other stuff that entrepreneurs are affected by. Thank you, Greg, so much for your time and for your fantastic advice. I also want to thank our sponsors for this episode, Pantheon, Ahoy! and Gusto. Without them, this show would not be possible, so definitely check them out. You can check them out on the show notes page where we list all of the resources, links, and all that, which you can get over at HowIBuilt.it/143. If you do like this podcast, be sure to subscribe in your podcast player of choice. If you want to start your own podcast, I am currently working on a new course called Podcast Liftoff. You can learn more about that at HowIBuilt.it/Liftoff where you’ll get a free workbook with checklists and show notes, templates, and all that stuff in the podcast Liftoff course. You will learn how to apply all of those things, choosing your topic and your format, finding the right equipment and recording the show, editing, and all that fun stuff. So, check that out over at HowIBuilt.it/Liftoff if you are interested in starting your own podcast. Until next time, get out there and build something.