The entertainment concept remains evergreen due to creativity and innovations that surrounds it. Akos Gabossy’s idea for his multi-million dollar company, PanIQ Escape Rooms, came to him while he was participating in his high school’s foreign exchange student program that landed him in LA. Completely amazed by the indoor family amusement concepts like Dave & Busters and Chuck E Cheese, Akos decided that he wanted to establish a similar family entertainment concept in his homeland of Hungary. Around 2012, escape rooms became extremely in Budapest – and most people still consider Budapest as the escape room capital of the world. It only seemed logical for Akos and his partners to bring this concept to the US. He opened the first of many PanIQ Escape Rooms in Hollywood, California, and today, they have locations in San Jose, Phoenix, Miami, NYC, Dallas, Nashville, Chicago and many more. PanIQ now hosts more than 150,000 players annually, and this number is growing day by day with the opening of new units. PanIQ is extremely successful, and is on track to become the biggest brand in the escape room industry. In 3 years, they predict more than 50 operating units. In 5 years, an international takeover after partnering with the right investors. According to Akos, if you don’t risk your own money, the only thing you can lose is time, which is less valuable when you’re young and enthusiastic. We had a chance to interview Akos and asked about his story, how he started his business and the future of PanIQ.
Tell us your story. Why did you start your business?
During my high school years, I spent an academic year in Burbank, CA as a foreign exchange student from Hungary. The family who I lived with took me to Chuck E Cheese’s outlet, where I decided that I want to do a business like it back in Hungary. 8 years later, after I finished my University in Budapest, I finally convinced some investors to open up a huge playhouse in a Mall. 2 years later I opened up another location on 20,000 square feet on the other side of the city. Before the age of 30, I was also deeply involved in several multi-million dollar real estate developments, food and beverage projects and a big openair adventure park. I had the knowledge and the experience by the time to do something more exciting, like exporting a new amusement concept to the US from Eastern Europe.
This was the time when escape rooms became very popular in Budapest. Me and my partners decided, that it was finally a good time to do something outside the country, and it was a challenging endeavor! We wanted to build an international company from day one, that can be sold one day. We were (and still are) competing against billion dollar amusement parks and several leisure concepts (like bowling, laser tag, movie theaters) that have been around for decades. Escape rooms are still relatively unknown – we’re still very far from becoming a mainstream and an everyday activity for friends and families.
How did you come up with your business name?
I normally spend weeks on finding the best names for my companies. With PANIQ ROOM, it was a little different, since a small company in Hungary was using this name already. I immediately knew that was the name and a key to our success, so we purchased it from them. It had the potential to become a well-known brand name that is easy to memorize and describes what we do.
Tell us about your products and services. How do you help clients?
We are building and operating escape rooms. PANIQ ROOM is one of the pioneers that brought escape rooms to the US. PANIQ is a registered franchise brand since 2017, and the company is one of the fastest growing and most innovative amusement concepts of the country.
An escape room is a place where a group of people (2-12) is physically locked in a professionally designed thematic environment. They have an hour to get out by solving puzzles, opening locks and finding clues. It’s a fantastic social activity that’s interactive and immersive, and players can easily get addicted.
What makes you unique? What is your unique selling proposition (USP)?
PANIQ is one of the leading escape room brands in the world with substantial market share in the US. Established in 2014, our company has gained vast experience in the escape room industry, and now operates a network of rooms through franchises that are unique in terms of the technology that is used, and the customer experience. PANIQ’s strength as a franchisor is that it can offer holistic and state of the art solutions for prospect escape room investors. We have compact units, we have mega units with more than 5 themes and a bar, we have generation 2 and generation 3 rooms, a special hint kiosk system, and we have also started to develop virtual reality escape rooms. Our merchandise line will launch at the end of this year. We have our own (cost -efficient) production facility back in Hungary, and we have an experienced group of business partners and suppliers around us.
PANIQ is a valuable brand name, our google position is outstanding, and – thanks to our series A venture capital funding from Hiventures – we are currently investing a lot in audiovisual and marketing materials. Our entire website is unique and designed based upon the feedbacks of thousands of players.
Where do you see your business in the next 3-5 years?
I would like to sign at least 40 franchise agreements in the next 3 years. That’s the point, when we have to consider selling the company and involving a professional and well-capitalized partner. In 5 years, most of our units will be MEGA venues with more than 5 themes and a food and beverage area. The entire system will be more professional, with a 20-30 people central administration staff, who guarantee that everything runs smoothly.
Any advice you would give to entrepreneurs and business owners?
An idea is basically nothing, you have to be persistent and a great analyst. Emotions should never influence your decisions, 16 hours work doesn’t guarantee success, efficiency does. You also have to be honest and realistic with yourself, if you live in a dream world you will waste a lot of time.
What is your favorite business quote and why?
I don’t have one. Honestly I can not name anyone who I truly look up to and I can call as a mentor. The biggest problem nowdays, is that nobody likes to tell the honest story of their first million. Those parts of the success stories are always missing, while I think that’s the hardest part. Based upon my observations, people like to change the past and come up with a story, that is more beneficial for them. I’ve learnt a lot from celebrity entrepreneurs, but since I do not know every part of the puzzle, I just can’t look at them as perfect masterminds. Intelligence sometimes interferes people from getting rich. Unfortunately, I think inheritance, luck and courage plays a bigger role in business success, than rational thinking and persistence.
What have been some of your achievements that you are most proud of? Why?
I built up a growing American franchise from Eastern Europe from nothing in less than 5 years. I didn’t get any financial help from anyone, I could only rely on my knowledge and hard work. I’m also proud that most of my family works with me on this mission, and that I could show the right direction in life for a lot of people around me. Business is a dirty thing. I’m happy that I have friends and partners who trust me and I can trust them, we could stay moral and rightful over the years.
I’m happy that my ideas bring joy to more than a 100,000 players in the US annually! Designing an escape room is a fantastic process. I could only compare it to directing a movie, that amazes people and let’s players leave their everyday problems behind for an hour.
Anything else additional you want to tell our readers?
It’s time to PANIQ!