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Driven & Co. Ep: 18 – From Video Games to Reality

Nate Martin, Co-founder and CEO of PuzzleBreak, talks with host Justin Gray about his childhood dream to make video games, lessons learned from his first startup, & advice for people considering entrepreneurship.

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Can you explain the escape-the-room concept?

At a high level, these are rooms where groups of players—friends, family, strangers or co-workers—are trapped. They have a set amount of time, usually an hour, to work together to find hidden clues and solve puzzles to unravel a mystery and escape that room before time runs out.

When you were a kid, what did you want to be when you grew up?

The only thing I ever wanted to do was make video games.

There’s a huge market for that. Did that come to the light of day?

I actually went to the DigiPen Institute of Technology, which had a focus on making video games. After that, I went to work for Microsoft. Over my seven years I got promoted a number of times, but was still eight levels away from the CEO. If I ever wanted to become a C-level executive, I was going to have to live to be about 250 years old. I realized that if I really wanted to be master of my own destiny and take the helm of my own enterprise, I would have to do it myself.

What came next?

After Microsoft, I was an executive at Electronic Arts, which was actually a video game company. This was in 2013. A bit of context: the escape-the-room concept was originally almost a genre of video game. So purely by coincidence, one day my future co-founder and I discovered that people were doing this in real life. She was living in Seattle and I had spent many years in Seattle and it was like, “We have to do this in Seattle. This would be a huge hit.”

Puzzle Break is not your first entrepreneurial adventure, correct?

I had another startup for about 10 minutes. We made every mistake you can make, but it was an explosion of learning. It’s worth mentioning I can’t point to a product or service that’s running today that came of my 10 minutes there.

If you could rewind and give yourself advice at the beginning of your career, what would you tell yourself?

Probably the most actionable information that I would tell myself as soon as I leapt into the entrepreneurial arena, is just, “Ready. Fire. Aim.” Don’t spend too much time in the proverbial basement creating what you think people want until you can actually talk to them with a product in hand.

Do you have advice for someone considering doing something on their own?

There’s a lot of awesome stuff about running your own business and figuring it out as you go. But there is a lot of stuff about having a reliable and nice day job that a lot of folks take for granted. There’s a lot you miss when you become an entrepreneur, from the safety net to the hours, to the social thing. Also, if you’re an entrepreneur who is having some success but you’re hating life and you’re hating this lifestyle, there’s no shame in figuring out you only want a side-hustle and that’s it. In other words, don’t assume that the famous entrepreneurial stories out there are nothing but roses. Because I can assure you that they are not.

To find out how Nate is scaling Puzzle Break and managing responsibilities with his co-founder, click here to listen. Plus, visit puzzlebreak.com and find Nate on Twitter at @guyfromtomorrow.

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