Geek of the Week

Geek of the Week: There’s no escaping it — Puzzle Break’s Nate Martin created his dream startup

Nate Martin
Nate Martin, co-founder and CEO of Seattle-based Puzzle Break. (Photo courtesy of Nate Martin)

Nate Martin can’t escape his work. And he’s never been happier about it.

As the co-founder and CEO of Puzzle Break, Martin is leading a revolution at America’s very first escape room company. For the uninitiated, escape rooms are an in-person, interactive way for groups to solve puzzles and use teamwork to find their way out of a locked room in one hour.

Martin, GeekWire’s new Geek of the Week, started the company in 2013 with a $7,000 investment, and five years later he says the landscape for such companies has changed dramatically.

“I graduated from the DigiPen Institute of Technology with a Computer Science degree with a focus on Real-Time Interactive Simulation, which was just about the first legitimate video game programming degree in the world,” he said. “I later worked at Microsoft and Electronic Arts in a variety of roles (it turned out I wasn’t the world’s greatest programmer) and projects before taking the leap that would kickstart an entertainment revolution!”

Learn more about our latest Geek of the Week, Nate Martin:

What do you do, and why do you do it? “I make pure, raw, uncut fun. Puzzle Break’s primary mission is to create the maximum amount of fun for the maximum amount of people, full stop. We make escape rooms, puzzle hunts, brain teasers, huge team events, and everything in between. We have locations across the country and on Royal Caribbean International cruise ships across the world! Overseeing all our projects and growth lets me directly engage with our players and enjoy the hell out of them enjoying the hell out of Puzzle Break. It’s a rush that cannot be fully described.

Additionally, I give many talks and interviews on entrepreneurship, business, games, design, and all things escape rooms. Last year an interviewer called me the “Founding Father of Escape Rooms” and I’ve been sure to drop that in every conversation I can ever since.

What’s the single most important thing people should know about your field? We famously started Puzzle Break from an out-of-pocket investment of $7,000. It’s a great success story and we’re very proud. BUT, the Escape Room landscape is very different five years later. Long gone are the days where folks could design a game, build it from thrift store materials on a shoe-string budget (which, for the record, is exactly what we did), and compete in the marketplace. In order to run a successful escape room operation in 2018 and beyond, you need to have serious capital or find a niche. Also, I’d like to take this opportunity to speak to all the escape room players out there: 1. We love you; Thanks so much for letting us live our dreams. 2. We humbly request you minimize the hulk strength inside our games.

Where do you find your inspiration? Video games! There’s a rich history going back decades of unsung puzzle and adventure games that shaped our childhoods. Every experience we make is an homage to the Mysts, the Grim Fandangos, the Legends of Kyrandia out there.

What’s the one piece of technology you couldn’t live without, and why? My treadmill desk! My lifestyle isn’t nearly as physically active as it should be, and spending a few hours every day working, watching TV, World of Warcraft (you name it!) on the treadmill desk has done wonders over the years.

What’s your workspace like, and why does it work for you? Same answer! While active on the treadmill desk, I cannot operate with fewer than three screens at once: two for productivity, and one for background entertainment.

Nate Martin’s treadmill desk set-up . (Photo courtesy of Nate Martin)

Your best tip or trick for managing everyday work and life. (Help us out, we need it.) I’ve cheated. I made my everyday life of puzzles and games the very work I do. It’s not feasible for everyone, but I’m having a great time.

Mac, Windows or Linux? Windows has all the games, and I used to work on the Windows team!

Kirk, Picard, or Janeway? Picard and it ain’t close.

Transporter, Time Machine or Cloak of Invisibility? I feel like a Time Machine could be exploited to obtain the other two and everything else I could ever hope to want.

If someone gave me $1 million to launch a startup, I would … Give it back to them and tell them to find someone who hasn’t already launched the startup of their dreams.

I once waited in line for … Warcraft 3. There was a midnight launch on July 3, 2002, and I had a math final the very next day. A final for which I was extremely unprepared. I chose to get in line about 2 p.m. and was the only person in line for several hours. I used the time to study, got the very first copy of Warcraft 3, and got a commanding A- on my math final. I remain very proud to this day.

Your role models: I stand in continual awe of Bill Gates, who changed the world of technology and business in innumerable ways. Then he immediately turns around and brings the full force of his time and resources to making the world a better place. The world could use a few more Bill Gates.

Greatest game in history: Final Fantasy VI.

Best gadget ever: As a society, I think we take laptops for granted. Imagine for a minute what society would be like if we had never been able to successfully shrink the personal computer.

First computer: 33 MHz Intel 386.

Current phone: Android, though I make sure to always have an iPad so I have access to all platform exclusive games.

Favorite app: Netflix.

Favorite cause: In the general case, education. To my mind, there isn’t an aspect of life anywhere that can’t be improved with better education.

Most important technology of 2018: Augmented reality.

Most important technology of 2020: Self-driving automobiles.

Final words of advice for your fellow geeks: Make something! Now! You don’t need to wait for that degree, or that funding, or that job. Just sit down and make something today and go from there.

Website: Puzzle Break

Twitter: @GuyFromTomorrow

LinkedIn: Nate Martin

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