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November 30, 2014

Unlocking Sherlocked

How the ‘best escape room game’ in The Netherlands came upon its very special location, and what it taught us about making ideas happen in Amsterdam.

The past 9 months have been a rather constant succession of challenges, excitements, setbacks and of course incidences of sheer, down-right, luck. Through it all and with the help of many inspiring people, we managed to create something exceptional called Sherlocked.

For me, the Sherlocked journey started over two years ago in London, through the infamous and innocent medium of a Facebook tag. There was something new in town near King’s Cross Station and a friend thought I would absolutely love it. The link he sent wrote about some sort of a game, but it was pretty vague. I wasn’t sure, was it a computer game, a board game or what?

Turned out it was a live mystery challenge of just one hour, where together with some friends, you’re locked in a room filled with clues, which you have to solve in order to escape.

This stuff was insane. I had never done anything quite like it and by the time we (nearly) escaped, I was in such a rush that I could only feel one thought: we need to bring this to Amsterdam.

I didn’t. Sometimes inspiration has bad timing; I was in the middle of launching another company and so the excitement didn’t transfer into action, and two years passed.

Then last December, I found one of the shortest emails I have ever received from a friend in my inbox. No text, just a subject line saying: “You guys rock. Pay eachother a visit; fun guaranteed”

It was sent by a modern day wizard, Martijn Aslander. Martijn is a resourcerer, someone who weaves magic by hooking up the right people and sometimes adding a bit of his rare sparking energy. On average he sends me such a (slightly longer) ‘you must meet’ message around once a year, and so far, he’s never been wrong.

This year’s must-meet was Felix Lepoutre, the founder of MeetBerlage, a very special co-working space inside one of Amsterdam’s most epic and iconic buildings, the Beurs van Berlage.

We hit it off and started contemplating to move the tattoo-shop for objects I was working on, Uncover Lab to the Beurs building. This plan also didn’t come to fruition. The Beurs van Berlage chose another (also pretty cool) initiative for that space, and Uncover moved elsewhere.

The reason I’m including these ideas and projects that didn’t materialize, is to show that you don’t always know what every attempt is good for. With every project you explore, new connections are made, and in this story, the link with Felix was crucial. Don’t be afraid to try and fail; if you put love into everything you do and you work from an open ‘sensing’ mindset, as opposed to ‘expectations’, then there is no failure. Then, there is only discovery.

Two months later, my friend and Uncover colleague Tristan, came back from Cape Town, beaming with inspiration. “Man, I’ve seen something so awesome, some kind of game in a room that you have to puzzle your way out of..”. By the time he had said the word ‘room’ I was already jumping up and down, and my excitement from 2 years before came rushing back in.

Again, this excitement was totally inconvenient for all of us. Tristan was working on an album and wanted to go travel the world with his girlfriend. Also, I had just started Uncover Lab, and our other musketeer, Tristan’s best friend and partner Micah was away travelling with his band BlondBlackBlonde.

But we decided to entertain the idea in the back of our heads, musing about locations.

We thought we had found the perfect place in a very special house inside Amsterdam Centraal Station on track 13B. After some email stalking, we were able to meet with the station manager. I don’t remember much from that meeting, except for the surreal sentence “you can try, but that requires at least €300.000 in reconstruction costs”. While walking away from that meeting feeling pretty daunted by that number, we paused to look at the first building we laid eyes on: the Beurs van Berlage.

We walked inside and ran into Felix right away. Pretty much from that moment on, we knew we’d found our place (in reality, it was a massive campaign getting the spot, but that’s another tale)

Time passed very quickly from there, so I’ll speed up the story as well.

We got funded with the help of a succesful Kickstarter campaign and the support of two friends/investors. With the help of an army of the most hard working, playful and awesome creators and friends, we built our room in 4 months time. Thanks to another very well connected geek/entrepreneur, we made it onto the most watched TV show in the country, where we managed to pull some mystery magic, and we’ve been booked on a weekly basis ever since.

The Sherlocked escape room is now hailed as the most exciting escape room in Amsterdam (by now, there are many) and arguably among the best in the world (tooting my own horn, apologies, I’ll refer to some reviews).

It’s one of the most exciting projects I’ve ever worked on, and together with our puzzling team of dreamers and makers, we are working around the clocks to ensure Sherlocked’s new chapter will exceed our highest expectations.

Then yesterday my phone rings. It’s Martijn, the wizard, sounding excited: “Hey man, is 28 minutes and 29 seconds left on the clock a good score?”.

Baffled, I reply “Dude. It’s the record. Out of around 480 teams who played thusfar, yours broke the record by a minute and a half.”

We hope it’s never bettered.