Live escape room - Riddleroom in Bengaluru blurs the lines between fiction and the real world for adventure seekers; couple now eyes more centres and expansion across country.
Founders: Venkat Raman and Nishita Shah
Year it was founded: 2015
Where it is based: Bengaluru
Funding raised: Bootstrapped
The room is dark and dingy. The mission is time sensitive, and must be completed in the next 10 minutes. Timing is everything. Saurabh Kumar knows that he’s close to finding the key, but fails to meet the deadline. The buzzer goes off, lights flood the room.
Back in reality, Saurabh is a software engineer in Bengaluru and has no sleuth-like skills. But Escape Rooms, like the one he was in, are the perfect place for those looking to explore the world of fantasy and fiction. They’re also a great place for family and friends to spend time with each other, and do something fun together.
This idea led husband-wife duo Venkat Raman and Nishita Shah to start Riddleroom in Bengaluru.
“A certain bravado comes with watching an action movie or playing a video game; you enter a certain world. We wanted the individual to enter this world, which is removed and away from the real one.”
Finding something in Bengaluru
The Riddleroom at Bengaluru’s Raheja Arcade is a gateway to a different universe. Yellow lights and a narrow-but-cozy hallway lead into two empty hall spaces and two game rooms. Once you enter the game rooms, get set to be transported into the game world created by the team.
“You don’t need to talk in a Riddleroom or look into a screen. You need to work together and enter a different universe,” Nishita explains.
Venkat, who has a finance background, soon moved into the world of advertising and social media, eventually relocating to Singapore. Nishita, who worked with Venkat at JP Morgan, soon began working at Goldman Sachs.
The idea of Riddleroom came to the duo when they tried an Escape Room during a trip to Thailand. After getting back to Bengaluru, Nishita and Venkat realised that there were few such entertainment options for family and friends to spend time together.
In April 2015, the duo got a decent deal for the basement at Raheja Arcade, they began building Riddleroom.
“We knew that we didn't have to replicate what was there abroad, but focus on stuff that works - the principle point being game design. While we were discussing different themes and games, we agreed on the Egyptian theme,” Venkat says.
Building the space and games
The main idea was to plug in everyday things to make the puzzle interesting and interactive.
The cost of setting up the place was Rs 10 lakh - the capital came in from family, friends and personal savings. While the duo wanted to build some technology and AI (Artificial Intelligence) led games, they weren't able to do so.
“The electricians and people who were building the games didn't understand the concepts, so we worked around bookshelves turning into doors, and other textbook versions,” Venkat says.
Players are locked inside a room, and must use only their analytical skills to get out in 45 minutes by solving puzzles, codes, and ciphers to make their escape. The place opened in October 2015. The team initially got in family and friends to test Riddleroom, and from November, it started attracting customers.
Riddleroom has interesting games like 'Operation Chimera,' which runs nothing less than a racy spy movie. It runs along the theme of terrorist organisations, government spys, and discovering the right formula that saves the world from a deadly virus. Another game is along the Egyptian theme, where one has to navigate through a pharaoh's tomb.
A third game is about one trying to escape a serial killer's lair, and finally, like any good escape room scenario, there is a good old jewellery heist. Venkat explains that the idea is to build themes and ideas, like one would in a movie and where the individual or person feels as if they are the protagonist.
Since the games work better with larger groups, the pricing also works in their favour. For two to three people, the price is Rs 600 per head; for four to five it is Rs 550; and for six to seven people, it goes down to Rs 500 per head.
However, the rollout of GST has led to Riddleroom paying 28 percent tax. Venkat says that while they are paying a higher tax, they cannot increase the charges for customers as Rs 600 is the sweet spot for most.
Game for more
Riddleroom, which has three outlets across Bengaluru, also offers team outings and corporate discounts. For companies, the team charges Rs 500 per head. On an average, the footfall is between 1,700 and 2,000 in a month at each centre of Riddleroom. The team claims to have made over Rs 1 crore in sales till date.
Nishita says they broke even in the first year, and have opened a new centre at Play Arena in Sarjapur Road.
“Apart from opening more branches in Bengaluru and other parts of the country, we are also looking to bring in AI and technology-driven games,” Venkat concludes.