Swell Spark is a company with concepts such as escape rooms and axe throwing
They are known for Blade and Timber and breakout escape rooms, have 11 storefronts nationwide and believe in the importance of having fun to bring people together for shared experiences.
Matt was a high school guidance counselor and owned a soda shop when he started an escape room as a side hustle and expanded to six locations within two years
They started the axe throwing trend and expanded to six locations around the country.
Hoping to launch a new concept in April 2020.
Joel Goldberg: Matt, there are a million things that you're involved in, which means there are a million things that I want to talk to you about. How would you describe yourself?
Matt Baysinger: I love having fun. I know that sounds really cheesy, maybe even sounds cutesie or something along those lines, even cheap. Right? But I just really believe that having fun is important. I think it brings people together. That's always kind of been my MO, not even in a professional sense, just in a life sense. Then from a company standpoint, we really made it the company MO as well. We want to gather people for shared experiences. We want to have a heck of a lot of fun together.
Joel Goldberg: You do that, I'm sure, and then we'll talk about the culture of your company but also anyone that is going to something that you own or run, that's the goal across the board. It's not just, hey, we're this company, come and do this. You're offering people a lot of ways to have fun.
Matt Baysinger: Yeah. The two major brands that we have that folks recognize us for the most are Blade & Timber and then Breakout KC here in Kansas City. We have 11 storefronts around the country from Kansas City to Honolulu. We've been doing this for five years. In that, we've also done things like Choir Bar and Epic Aloha and other kind of popup ideas. I think we are seekers of fun, and so there's a couple check boxes of, "Does it do this? Does it do that?" And I think at the end of the day if it's going to get people together, if it's going to give them a more compelling thing to do than stare at their phone, then it's something that we're interested in pursuing.
Joel Goldberg: Let's start with... You want to start with Breakout KC or Blade & Timber?
Matt Baysinger: Let's do it.
Joel Goldberg: Let's start with Breakout KC. Of course, everybody knows about these escape rooms now. If you've never done one before... I hadn't done one and then suddenly I think my family and everybody... My kids had done them and even my wife had done one at some point. Then suddenly we've got my parents and my kids and this and that. We're all in this room together, and it's exactly what you said. We're having a lot of fun together. This is really cool. Tell me about the origins of that.
Matt Baysinger: My wife, Emily and I, we were traveling to Chattanooga, Tennessee, in 2014. We had this eight hour stopover in Nashville before we really got going into Chattanooga to visit some friends. We were looking for something to do in Nashville. Never had been to the city. Seemed like a good place. We pull up Trip Advisor. We're thinking what music tour can we do or what sort of entertainment. We pull up, and the number one thing on Trip Advisor is this thing called The Escape Game, and it's a picture of a house. We're like, "What is this?"
Matt Baysinger: We didn't end up going on that trip, not knowing what it was. We were going to visit Emily's friend in Chattanooga, which meant I had a whole week to research escape rooms. Over the course of a week, one, I was like, "This looks fun." But, two, it was this brand new experience, this brand new industry in the United States. I came back really kind of rejuvenated from that trip. I pulled in one of my best friends, Ryan, who was in kind of more design fabrication construction. I said, "Ryan, we got to look into this thing. We have to. I think we can do this, and I think we can do it better than anybody."
Matt Baysinger: The basic idea for those who have not played an escape room is there's this dramatic experience. It's as though you're Jason Bourne or you're James Bond. It not like you're locked in a room. That was the old version of escape rooms. But you have to solve something. You have to be the hero of a great story. For us, we have 11 different experiences just in the Kansas City area alone, so 11 different movies that you get to play the part in essence. As you mentioned, they are a phenomenal opportunity to hang out with friends or family or coworkers. It's stinking fun.
Joel Goldberg: Yeah. How do you go from this looks cool to this is going to be our business?
Matt Baysinger: Sure. This was 2014. As a matter of fact, the first time that Ryan and I got together to really talk about this was the Wild Card Game in 2014. That was when the spark ignited. Honestly, when we first started, it was going to be a side hustle. We thought, "Hey, we can do this on the weekends. It might be some passive income. We can build these things. If we end up making a couple of bucks, awesome." And we thought that we would.
Matt Baysinger: I was working two jobs at that time. I was a high school guidance counselor at St. James Academy in Lenexa, and I had just started this soda shop, Mass Street Soda, within the last year. We didn't anticipate it doing what it has done. It's been an amazing ride. But we opened. We were able to get some friends in who shared it. I think there was just an appetite for something new among our customers, among the folks who came and supported us. Within two years, we had expanded out to six locations, largely because we thought that we could, and we thought that we should.
Joel Goldberg: Were you doing it differently than everybody else? Were you guys able to take it to a different place?
Matt Baysinger: Yeah, I think we did a really good job with telling great stories and letting people be heroes of great stories. I think even more so, Kansas City... I think it's the most underrated city in America. When people take a stab at something new in this city, if it is of high quality, what we found is more often than not, the city and the community at whole kind of wraps their arms around you. They're like, "Hey, we take care of our own."
Matt Baysinger: So we went from opening to being the top rated escape room in the country within about nine months. We had more reviews on Trip Advisor than anybody else. We had people waiting sometimes three or four weeks to get a spot to come in. I think honestly that's largely due to we told great compelling stories, but I think more importantly we've always had a super high focus on customer service. Whether you have a good time in the room or not, I can't really control that. But we can control how we treat you before the room, during the room, after the room, to make sure that you have just incredible interactions with real people the entire time.
Joel Goldberg: Was there a tipping point with that one where you said... Obviously, you believed this to be successful.
Matt Baysinger: Right.
Joel Goldberg: But like you said, a nice side hustle. What or when was the tipping point where you said, "Wait a minute. This side hustle is actually going to become the main hustle"?
Matt Baysinger: Sure. Ryan was a firefighter at the time. Again, I had these other jobs as well. We had this single phone number that would ring to both of our phones. The general rule, because it was the two of us, was, hey, if you can answer the phone go ahead and answer, and if you can't after five rings the other person might answer it. Normally, we'd get one or two calls a day in the first couple weeks. We'd have maybe one or two bookings a day. We only had one room.
Matt Baysinger: I vividly remember this experience. Ryan and I, we were building out the second room, and he's up on a ladder. The first call comes in of that day, and I call, hey, Matt... This is Matt with Blade & Timber. How can I help you? We want to book. Great. While I'm on the phone, Ryan's phone rings. Hey, this is Ryan with Blade & Timber. While we're on the phone, I get a beep in. Hey, can I put you on hold for a second? What had happened is two days before that... I went to high school with Matt Besler. We've been friends for quite some time. I said, "Hey, Matt, we started this new thing. Would you come? Bring some friends if you want to."
Matt Baysinger: Well, Matt brought almost the entire Sporting Kansas City team. They posted on their Instagram and Facebook-
Joel Goldberg: That was it.
Matt Baysinger: ... and honestly, that was it. People started hearing about what we were doing. I think it was that day or the next day is when we started booking out not just days in advance but weeks in advance. Within a couple short weeks, we were quitting our other jobs, saying, okay, let's go all in on this and trying to grow that thing as well as we could.
Joel Goldberg: This might be a dumb question or certainly... And I don't mean for it to be offensive because I know you believed in your product. If the soccer star with the whole soccer team does not do that, do you still get to where you are in just a matter of... Would it have taken longer?
Matt Baysinger: I think so. We still had a great product. That was, I think, the kickstart that we needed. But you know as well as anybody that you can have amazing marketing, but if your product sucks, people are going to say, "Wow, that was amazing marketing. They tricked me into doing this thing." The mountain of momentum came when very quickly we were the top rated experience in Kansas City more than the museums, more than the K, more than all these things.
Matt Baysinger: When you looked on Trip Advisor at things to do, we were the thing to do. Might that have taken a little bit longer? Yeah, absolutely. But I think when a lot of folks ask me why we've had success or what that goes back to, I talk about people. I talk about the relationships that I've had and the relationships that I've cultivated over time. Matt was generous enough to come along and help kickstart us, and that was awesome. I'm grateful for him. He probably wants commission right now that he's here in this podcast. I think if you put a great product out there as long as folks find a way to know about it, good things will come.
Joel Goldberg: Well, and we could also add in good people in terms of those connections. Okay, you had a long history with Matt Besler. Matt Besler also happens to be a very good person.
Matt Baysinger: Absolutely.
Joel Goldberg: So it's one thing to be a soccer star and sporting has such a loyal and unbelievable following, but part of that following is the culture that they have too.
Matt Baysinger: Absolutely.
Joel Goldberg: I'm guessing that that kind of all aligned with who you all are.
Matt Baysinger: It was I would say accidental strategic in the early days and that what we've come to find is that we actually overlap pretty well with the type of fans that Sporting Kansas City has. There's not as many folks at MLS Games as there are at Chiefs' games or at Royals' games, but they're oftentimes far more rabid fans. They're far more invested in their team. Coming from that area right by Cerner and some folks that are techy and geeky, escape rooms, they're a little bit nerdy.
Matt Baysinger: It is a more active form of entertainment than just going out and grabbing a few beers or something like that. You have to think.
Joel Goldberg: You have to think.
Matt Baysinger: But that's the fun of it. That's not to say... I think the fear for a lot of people is that they're going to be not smart enough for an escape room. Escape rooms are built for everybody. We definitely had some happy accidents in the early days as far as who we catered to, who we advertised to, who we marketed through and with. I will happily take advantage of those happy accidents that we've had.
Joel Goldberg: I always say never apologize for those. They don't really happen by accident either I don't think. You can stumble into something. I guess what I would say is that you can have that happen by accident, but ultimately it's up to you to capitalize on it.
Matt Baysinger: Absolutely.
Joel Goldberg: And a lot of people don't.
Matt Baysinger: Sure.
Joel Goldberg: And so then maybe it's not meant to be. You obviously did. How about... I know you've got a passion for film or film background. How much did that help in terms of the stories you guys were telling?
Matt Baysinger: Sure. I think quite a bit. My former company was just Baysinger Films, and we did work for Nike and Google and McDonald's and things like this. We also did weddings and just telling people's stories. Again, in the early days Ryan comes from this fabrication background, a wicked smart guy as well. We went to high school together. And I came really from more of a marketing, so I was like, man, I can market this stuff if you can help build it. I'm far more conceptual than Ryan is. I'm for better or worse. We tried to use every skill or talent that we had to push the envelope forward just a little bit more in the early days. I think fortunately we had a pretty good mix between the two of us, and then we had some really amazing folks come on board to help us with that as well.
Joel Goldberg: All right. You have the escape rooms, and everybody's throwing axes nowadays.
Matt Baysinger: Yep.
Joel Goldberg: That has become-
Matt Baysinger: Because of us, right?
Joel Goldberg: Yes. Well, it's become a thing.
Matt Baysinger: Yeah.
Joel Goldberg: No one in their wildest dreams would've ever imagined that that's something you could do outside of some kind of 2:00 in the morning programming on ESPN10 or whatever it was.
Matt Baysinger: The Ocho.
Joel Goldberg: Yeah, The Ocho. Oh man, how long ago that was. So how did this come about?
Matt Baysinger: Little context, right? In the early days of the escape room, I vividly... And I've told this story before. But I remember this moment of we lived on coffee at the time and Quay Coffee is down the street, amazing coffee shop in the River Market. We were there twice a day because we were working the stereotypical long hours that you do in startup. This group of gals probably, I don't know, 16, 17, 18 years old had just broken out from one of our escape rooms with 10 seconds to go, so they were hyped.
Matt Baysinger: Their immediate conversation is, hey, let's go grab something to eat. They're walking down, and they end up walking to Quay. I'm 10 paces behind them, which is a little awkward, but whatever. They get out of our escape room; we take the group photo of them; they celebrate; high fives; I think, get some T-shirts; start walking. They walk two blocks to Key Coffee. I'm right behind them the whole time. Seventeen-year-old gals. Not a single one of them pulls their phone out. They are just talking to each other trying to figure out what just happened. "Hey, I was doing this thing, and I pulled down on the antlers, and then... oh, that was when the door opened. Oh, my gosh, I was doing this other... " They're piecing together how they actually broke out of this room because it's just been pure something to that point.
Matt Baysinger: That was the moment that we kind of realized, "Oh, my gosh we've built something more exciting than your cellphone." I know that sounds maybe a little silly, but you know it's-
Joel Goldberg: No, I think everyone gets it actually.
Matt Baysinger: And so the question immediately became how else can we do this. We never anticipated being an escape room company. We really found ourselves in this what we call small box entertainment. From almost day one we said, "Escape rooms, and... " We looked at all these other concepts, all these other things. And then as we were just researching online at some point we saw this pub in London that had an axe throwing range in it. We were like, "Huh? Axe throwing and alcohol. That sounds kind of fun. That sounds kind of different."
Matt Baysinger: The building that we're in right now we actually built an axe throwing lane on the top floor. We have ping-pong tables and arcade games and all of the stuff that you would expect a bunch of 20 and 30 year olds to have in their offices.
Matt Baysinger: The moment that we made an axe throwing lane on our top floor people stopped playing ping-pong, and they stopped playing the arcades, and they stopped... All you would hear is people talking over lunch hour of, "Oh, man, I can't believe you got me. I'm going to get you next game." Our staff started getting really into it.
Joel Goldberg: So the same way that those girls were talking about that escape room, putting the phones away and actually having... What is this? Oh, a conversation.
Matt Baysinger: Right.
Joel Goldberg: You saw a similar type of energy.
Matt Baysinger: Yeah. Again, as silly as it sounds, people like doing stuff. People like learning new skills. I think one of the reasons golf is declining is because it's really hard, and it's really expensive, and there's kind of a high barrier for entry to get into it. With axe throwing, we got to a point where we felt like we could teach anybody how to throw an axe in five minutes or less. When it became that simple, it's like, "If my mom can do this, then anybody can do this." I love you, mom.
Matt Baysinger: She doesn't have an athletic bone in her body, and she's able to hit bulls eyes underhand with an axe. Once we got to that point we were like, "There's something here." The next question was, "What kind of landlord would in their wildest imagination allow us to throw axes in their building?" Truth be told, we got denied by probably five or six landlords in Kansas City who were like, "This isn't going to work," or "It doesn't sounds safe," or whatever.
Matt Baysinger: But we were able to open in the West Bottoms, and I think once we had the proof of concept, same story. We've been able to expand to six locations, seventh coming. Actually, we only have five now that I think about it.
Joel Goldberg: We'll get into that one.
Matt Baysinger: What's been fun about axe throwing... I guess, quick little tangent. Our second location of our escape room was Honolulu, Hawaii, so Kansas City to Honolulu. What's been really fun, we took axe throwing-
Joel Goldberg: Let me stop you real quick. How'd did you go from... I mean, it seems like why wouldn't you, right?
Matt Baysinger: Right.
Joel Goldberg: It's not that easy. It can't be that easy.
Matt Baysinger: So mom graduated high school in Hawaii. Dad was [inaudible 00:17:12]. Our grandfather was military. So we did have kind of a familial connection out there, but also it's a large metro. It's a large metro, and quite frankly, there's not a lot to do once the sun goes down, especially if you're not into drinking or clubbing. What's been really neat with axe throwing with Blade & Timber, we have locations here. We're down in Wichita. We're in Seattle. We're in Honolulu. Those are very different people groups in all of those cities.
Matt Baysinger: They have different voting histories. They have different make ups of skin tones and skin colors and all sorts of stuff. But what's really fun is that people love axe throwing in all of those markets. People love having fun in all of those markets. It's been just from a human standpoint to see that this is something that's kind of universally needed is this table for community. It's been a really cool byproduct of what we do.
Joel Goldberg: When you put that axe throwing lane upstairs, it was just something else fun or cool to do because you guys have that cool type of office? How did you end up with that axe throwing lane upstairs?
Matt Baysinger: Even when you go back to escape rooms we test it first. I think a lot of people think that it was just striking gold, but we built our first escape room in the spare bedroom of my house. When it came to axe throwing, we can make some educated guesses, but we want to at least test it out for logistics. Upstairs the initial goal was simply, hey, let's figure out what axe we need to use. Let's figure out how far or close you should stand. Let's figure out if you should spin it once or twice. It was really to test the concept.
Matt Baysinger: When we put it up there, we knew that it was something that we were interested in doing as long as we could figure it out. People just figured it out a lot sooner than we would've anticipated.
Joel Goldberg: How did that compare in terms of interest, growth, to the escape rooms? Was it the same type of pattern? Were you stumbling upon the same thing or was it a different animal?
Matt Baysinger: Yeah, there were obviously some differences. There were obviously some similarities. But I think when you take a step back, people ask, "All right, Matt, you're with Swell Spark, what does Swell Spark do?" Nothing. The answer is nothing. Swell Spark is an operating group. It's a group of about 20 people here at headquarters who serve all of our concepts. In that capacity, when you look at the long-term growth plans for Swell Spark to be a long-term sustainable company, we need to launch new concepts. That's in our DNA. We have committed to be a perpetual startup of concepts.
Matt Baysinger: With that, we talk about velocity, and we talk about velocity of different metropolitan areas. We were able to open our escape rooms in two major metros, being Kansas City and Honolulu. We've been able so far to open our axe throwing in four major metros.
Joel Goldberg: Which is Kansas City-
Matt Baysinger: Kansas City, Honolulu, Seattle, and we're about to open Portland as well. When you look at the big picture, what do we do and what it is that we're about, we get velocity in metros. Once we open one concept in a metro, we start to accumulate data on who's coming. We start to accumulate data on who we should market to, what parts of town we should be in, what parts of town we should avoid. Realistically, once we opened Blade & Timber, we were able to do a cross promotion with Breakout KC and invite 70,000 people to come out. You can imagine what day one looked like when they're 70,000 invitations to be the first to do something in Kansas City.
Matt Baysinger: And so, it exploded. Our first kind of soft opening VIP night, which was literally just me and Ryan posting on Facebook, I think had 300 people show up.
Joel Goldberg: Wow.
Matt Baysinger: We always set up our experiences to be easy on the eyes. So we set up a photo booth in Blade & Timber and put some places in where it would make it real easy to take a photo so people share on our behalf, which we love. I have three kids, six, four and two. My wife, she probably wishes she didn't start this, but she started making a book a year per kid. It's just a scrapbook, a well-designed scrapbook. We just had all three of their birthdays in the last couple months. And so we're going through and making the new pages or the new years. The pages in those scrapbooks are never about the things we bought for them.
Matt Baysinger: There's never a picture of, "Oh, here's your toy that you enjoyed." It's like, "No, here's the stuff we did." Honestly, I think people are, not to say waking up to that idea, but bowling is the great example. Bowling was America's sport for a long time. There's countless research that's been done about this. Bowling died. There's a lot of reasons it died. What the problem is is a lot of people said, "Oh, well, it was because bowling wasn't fun," when really it was a lack of community.
Matt Baysinger: For us to have the opportunity to give people that again is just so special. I think people crave it. It's easy to stay in your house. It's easy to watch Netflix and order food. There's nothing wrong with either of those things as long as they're balanced with spending time with your friends and being around other people. We love to provide those opportunities.
Joel Goldberg: That's one of the things of why we like vacations. You actually get a chance to go and do things.
Matt Baysinger: Right.
Joel Goldberg: Not everything needs to be Disney World and waiting in the lines and all that and people may like certain things. We actually took our kids last year to Disney and Universal and all that for the first time ever. They're now 16 and 14, so they were 15 and 13 at that point. And they'll remember that forever.
Matt Baysinger: Absolutely.
Joel Goldberg: It might not be a specific ride. It might be just walking around and the Harry Potter stuff. Who knows? It is something that they will and we will remember forever those moments.
Matt Baysinger: Absolutely. I'm a KU grade. I'm a big Jayhawks fan. Even to go to 2014 and 2015 with the Royals, I've been to a whole lot of baseball games over the years. Those are fun, but you're generally watching other people do things. One of the reasons I think Allen Fieldhouse is such a special environment is because as a fan you feel like you're part of it. You're shredding newspaper. You're tossing it in the air. There's these little things you do with your hands. You are a part of your own entertainment experience.
Matt Baysinger: In 2014, that Wild Card Game I think I gave 700 high fives. Everyone who was there that's going to be a special memory because we got to be part of it to a degree.
Joel Goldberg: There is a reason why people have these crazy superstitions, and they ramp up, and it's not just in Kansas City. It's in every single city.
Matt Baysinger: Sure.
Joel Goldberg: How many people do you know that say, "We had to sit in this spot for this game," and if you came in and you weren't there before, you were kicked out. There were actually families that weren't watching the game together because that became their involvement and their experience. Right?
Matt Baysinger: Yeah, absolutely.
Joel Goldberg: As crazy and silly as those things are, they're fun because you're involved.
Matt Baysinger: They make it more memorable.
Joel Goldberg: You feel like you're a part of it even if you're wearing the same underwear for... Yeah.
Matt Baysinger: Make sure you wear your same shirt, your flannel shirt, every time you come to Breakout or Blade & Timber. It'll be your lucky shirt to get bulls eyes.
Joel Goldberg: Whatever it takes. I do want to ask you in a little bit about what's next. Before we get into the baseball theme questions, I'm curious now where you're at. You and I are in a group together, so I've had the chance to watch you operate a little bit. I haven't probably shown up as much as others or I should. Maybe you have. I don't know. What I've been though is I've just been really impressed with just your thirst for knowledge, your thirst to become better I think as a leader. I don't know if that's something you ever thought about getting into. I don't know that you could've envisioned any of the way this all went other than the fact that you seem to be to me a guy that's always thinking and driven and wanting to come up with new ideas.
Joel Goldberg: But now you're running companies all around the country. And I know you have to have a culture in the way you want things done, and that could be a little bit unnerving to say, "Wait a minute. How are things going in Hawaii? I'm sitting here in Kansas City."
Matt Baysinger: Right.
Joel Goldberg: What have you learned?
Matt Baysinger: We were talking before the podcast started is all we can do is tell our story. I look back at, my undergrad was sociology. Then I worked in athletics for a while, and I got a master's in education administration. I worked as a high school guidance counselor. I worked as a barista. I started a soda shop. I have a film company. None of it makes sense. But I think when you take a step back a little bit more, all of it makes sense.
Matt Baysinger: One, as you iterated, the people, the relationships that you build along the way matter. I think more than that we went through recently, and we talked about what it is that we actually look for in employees. It was kind of tucked in the back of my head, but we finally spit it out and said, "We want people who are eager to learn. We want people who are coachable." I had the opportunity to run track at the University of Kansas, and I got there because I was fast. Without being overly pretentious, I was a fast runner. I got a lot faster because I had a great coach.
Matt Baysinger: I think sometimes when you get to the metaphorical big leagues of running your own company it's easy to think that you know it all. I think the more that I have realized that our business while it is strange, it's not unlike other businesses. There are things that apply to just about every business on earth, and the more that we've realized that... At first, I was kind of upset about it like, "Oh, I thought we were doing something special. I thought we were venturing out into the world," but I've realized no. A lot of the problems that we face are the same problems that other people have faced, and what that means is there's wisdom in finding the answers they found so that we can skip those painful steps and get to better solutions without having to reinvent the wheel ourselves.
Matt Baysinger: The startup community, the small business community in Kansas City, is unlike anything I've encountered. We've been able to travel a lot. There are a special group of folks here who are invested in making the cream rise to the top. If I can be a part of that, man, I'll take that opportunity any day.
Joel Goldberg: Yeah, that's pretty powerful. Before we get to the baseball theme questions, so how many stores or properties total around the country right now? We talked about the different cities.
Matt Baysinger: Yeah, we had 11. One of our stores just burned down two weeks ago, which was a huge bummer. So technically we're at 10. We'll be at 12 by quarter two of 2020.
Joel Goldberg: This is Blade & Timber and escape rooms?
Matt Baysinger: Yes, that's correct. We hope to launch our next concept in April-ish of 2020. That'll depend on our construction contracts and whatnot. But we have something new coming to Kansas City.
Joel Goldberg: Which I'm sure you can't tell me.
Matt Baysinger: Nope.
Joel Goldberg: But it'll be I'm guessing something as ground breaking or original as an escape room was in 2014 and as original as axe throwing was a few years back.
Matt Baysinger: We have found that fun maybe looks different in other countries or other regions.
Joel Goldberg: There's a hint.
Matt Baysinger: But that doesn't make it any less fun. I think oftentimes it's simply that we don't realize the opportunity that there is to do this really fun thing.
Joel Goldberg: Put it this way. I'm not trying to get it... I live in this world where with baseball and athletes where you just know you're not going to get the answer, so that's fine. But when this thing comes out, will it initially be something saying, "Wait? Really? Never thought about that before"?
Matt Baysinger: I think you're going to chuckle at its simplicity.
Joel Goldberg: Okay.
Matt Baysinger: Yep.
Joel Goldberg: All right, fair enough. Baseball themed questions. What would you say professionally is the biggest home run you've hit?
Matt Baysinger: That first risk of Breakout KC. That was the launching pad for sure. Honestly, as I say it though, I think the biggest home run that we hit was Breakout Waikiki, our second location. The reason I say that is we had to open a location 3,800 miles from here, 15 hours of travel at best. We had to set it up in a way that it could run without me being there, which is a hard transition for an entrepreneur to build process and to build functions that can exist without you being the one to do it.
Matt Baysinger: It was successful. That's why I'm calling it a home run, but I think more so it forced us to take a step back and think about how to grow well. Since that point, every other location we've done since then has been closer, but we've been able to grow 10 locations in four years. We've been able to increase our sales by 55% a year for four years now, and that's because we had to work out a lot of those kinks early on with Breakout Waikiki.
Joel Goldberg: What's the swing and miss? You've talked a lot about learning.
Matt Baysinger: Sure.
Joel Goldberg: What's a big swing and miss, and what did you learn from it?
Matt Baysinger: We did this project called Epic Aloha in Hawaii as well. This was a 6,000 square foot walkable Instagramable museum. Again, it checked the boxes. Shared experiences? Absolutely. Bring people together. Amazing concepts. All of those things. Honestly, from an installation standpoint it might've been the best thing we've every built. It went out of business in 10 months. Granted, it was a 12 month lease. We went to the wrong space. Not to oversimplify it, but what was bizarre about that concept, we became the seventh highest rated attraction in all of Hawaii. You're talking Pearl Harbor and then Waikiki Beach and then a handful of others, and then Epic Aloha.
Matt Baysinger: We had this insane problem that everyone loved us but nobody knew about us. We just couldn't overcome that. Unfortunately, we closed that one a little bit early. We took a bath on it in many ways, but also we realized what we were capable of. I'm the eternal optimist, so we're always going to find the positives, but from a numbers standpoint, golly, that was bad. From a learning standpoint, we know what a fast ball looks like now. We know what a curve ball looks like, and I think we know how to handle those a little bit better moving forward.
Joel Goldberg: That's good. Small ball. How would you define small ball to Swell Spark or to any of your entities in terms of the little things?
Matt Baysinger: You know, I wouldn't call myself a futurist, but I think our world is changing a lot. I think one of the things that differentiates us from just about anybody else is our emphasis on customer service. I believe it's all about the relationships, I really do. The thing can be cool, but if you do a cool thing with terrible people, you're not going to enjoy it. We focus on our people first, and I think when our people are feeling loved, when they're feeling supported as employees, it allows them to do that with customers as well.
Matt Baysinger: Our blocking and tackling or our small ball is we got to make sure that the people are even better than the experience that we offer.
Joel Goldberg: Four final questions that I ask every guest. These will vary by guest. Four final questions as we round the bases. Do you have a favorite story or scene that you've done over the years?
Matt Baysinger: Halloween is a big deal for my wife and I. This isn't going to be the answer that you asked for.
Joel Goldberg: That's okay.
Matt Baysinger: Forrest Gump is my favorite movie. It's an amazing movie. When you talk about how I got into all this, my junior year of college I grew my hair out just so I could shave it down to look like Forrest Gump. I sat on a bench on KU's campus and I passed out chocolates for four hours and told stories. I think that probably as much as anything iterates who I am and what we stand for, which is, man, we like to have fun. We love to do that through Halloween as well. I think from a company standpoint I told you about the gals walking, and that's been a pivotal moment for us.
Matt Baysinger: I just love when I get to see reviews... I love on a regular basis is people will say, "This is the best thing I've done this year," or "This is the best birthday party I've ever had." As cheesy as it may sound, that is all of the motivation or story that I need to know that we're doing something positive.
Joel Goldberg: All right. The second question, which has to do with storytelling or perhaps in this case, fake storytelling. You know where I'm going. I didn't know you that well, and I'm still getting to know you. But when this whole thing popped up, and it was written about... It was one of those just epic... Back in the day we used to call it a burn, I guess. You know?
Matt Baysinger: Sure. Yeah, sick burn.
Joel Goldberg: Sick burn. Yeah. This was back in July. I just remember reading this, and I had goosebumps because basically you dealt with what I'm sure a lot of very proud, hardworking business owners deal with. And we live in a world... We're all guilty of it. I try to remind myself all the time that just because it's on Yelp doesn't mean it's true.
Matt Baysinger: Sure.
Joel Goldberg: In the case, somebody basically accused one of your employees of Blade & Timber of some racist stuff. Your reply was beautiful. I'll just read a little bit of it because you responded to him, and you said, "The best part of this is that you tried to paint a picture of my man, Jordan, as rude and racist. This is the exact same Jordan whose own mother immigrated to the US from Mexico. You have the audacity to call out a staff member by name, yet you have to make up a story and hide behind a fake Yelp alias to try to stir the pot. If one of our staff members was actually being racist, I can assure you that we would take action, but in this scenario you're just using a fake name to tell a fake story to try and paint a fake picture about a real and honest person that's just trying to do his job. I can't let that fly here. If I could give you a Yelp rating, you would earn zero stars."
Joel Goldberg: It got a lot of attention as it should have.
Matt Baysinger: It did. Yeah.
Joel Goldberg: That's just some of it. But I can only imagine the fire that burned in you when this happened, and then being the storyteller, the chance for you to tell that story.
Matt Baysinger: The first revision of my response was a little bit punchier.
Joel Goldberg: This was pretty punchy.
Matt Baysinger: Yeah. Jessie, our Director of Communications, asked me to tone it down a little bit. But, you know, this was... It's a weird world online. Right?
Joel Goldberg: Yeah, it is.
Matt Baysinger: People can say things unchecked. And we had this situation where we threw some kids out for underage drinking. This was the way that they decided to retaliate against us. We're smart enough to... I mean, we have audio and video of everything that happens in our store. Honestly, I read the review, and I was first fired up that one of our staff members had done something stupid. I was like, "Oh, my gosh, I can't believe that Jordan was racist." These are the things flying through my head.
Matt Baysinger: I dive in, and I get the real story. Then my level of anger went through the roof. We ask a lot of our employees. It's not easy to have great customer service and to love and serve people well especially when they suck. In this situation, we reviewed the tapes. It was pretty clear that Jordan had done exactly what we had asked him to do in the situation. There wasn't a racist bone in his body in this situation. It just felt like the right opportunity and the right thing to do to stand up for him.
Matt Baysinger: Whenever you talk about things like racism online, you set yourself up for potential windfall. So we were nervous about that quite frankly, but the response was amazing in that I think anyone who understood the character of our company and understood what we really stand for, they then had the opportunity to choose which story to believe. I think pretty much universally folks realize that ours was the right one. And I think people were... I think they were glad to see a small business like us stand up to the review machine that has taken down so many other businesses and so many other people.
Joel Goldberg: Just a follow up before we move on, I'm curious if, one, you ever heard from that kid or anyone associated with him? And, two, what did you hear from people like Jordan and your employees?
Matt Baysinger: Our employees were extravagant. Extravagant? No, they were excited that we did something. I think in some ways it would've been really easy for us to ignore it or maybe try to get the review taken down or something like that. The gentleman who posted did it under a fake name.
Joel Goldberg: Of course.
Matt Baysinger: We know his real name. We know his real address. We know where he goes to school. We know his friends' names. We didn't call him out publicly. We didn't put his real name out there for obvious reasons. He's a kid, right? We don't want one stupid decision to define somebody. If he ever wants to come throw axes, we'd love to have him back. He's just got to use his real name.
Joel Goldberg: Right, and not be drinking underage.
Matt Baysinger: Absolutely, absolutely. He's got to do it the way that we ask him to do it. But we're quick to forgive as well. We'd be honored to have him back.
Joel Goldberg: You guys handled it the right way.
Matt Baysinger: I appreciate it.
Joel Goldberg: You all did. I've grown up too to realize that people will take shots at me on Twitter. You know what? Most of it is just not worth replying to. If it gets personal and there's some kind of danger to my family, then we can block them.
Matt Baysinger: Sure.
Joel Goldberg: Otherwise, mute them. It doesn't matter. I realized one night somebody was walking by our set, and they yell out. It's a group of six or seven people after the game. They were walking through the outfield. The guy yells, "Hey, Goldberg, you suck." Fine. Yeah, maybe. Not everybody's going to like my broadcast style. I totally get that. I just kind of looked at them, and I waved. As he saw me turn, I said, "Hey, what's going on? Thanks for watching." He just kind of turned and hid, and he wouldn't look back.
Matt Baysinger: Yep.
Joel Goldberg: I said, "Come on, I'd love to shake your hand." He just kept on moving.
Matt Baysinger: Sure.
Joel Goldberg: And that right there was Twitter in person.
Matt Baysinger: Absolutely.
Joel Goldberg: That was Yelp in person.
Matt Baysinger: Yep.
Joel Goldberg: Which by the way, there's plenty of positive on there too. It's just so easy, we know this, to hide behind something.
Matt Baysinger: It is.
Joel Goldberg: Okay, third question. What then would be the scouting report of Matt Baysinger, the track athlete, back in the day?
Matt Baysinger: I was a giant 800 meter runner. I probably outweighed both my competitors by 200 pounds, which made it real fun for some of the relay races in particular. I had a pretty decent career. I was seven time all big 12. Got to run on our four by four all four years. For being a walk on at KU, I feel really good. I got to hang out with my old Coach Redwine this weekend. They did this amazing event at KU where they brought in elementary age kids, and so my kindergartner was able to come and learn how to do hurdles and stuff like that. But, KU Redwine's he's one of the best people I ever met in my life, and he gave me an incredible oppor…