Lessons From Scaling and Exiting an Escape Room Business With Raleigh Williams

Raleigh Williams 10:49

Yeah. And, and so that’s, that’s kind of how we got started. Well, we will, we got the brick and mortar location, up to code. And the I mean, the beautiful thing, the beautiful thing was, the three of us were very qualified on paper, and very naive in terms of what we could achieve. And, you know, we kind of like, we’re like, building out the escape bus. Now, if I were to plan it out, I’d be like, You need at least six months to do it. We were so naive to like building procedures and how long things take and dealing with contractors and subcontractors and all that stuff that we just we built massively aggressive timelines for ourselves that we and so we got it ourselves. We got ourselves in trouble every once in awhile, like opening without a certificate of occupancy. We just like, all three of us, because we’ve kind of burned the boats to try to figure it out. We were like we have to. Yeah, we had to figure it out. And the beautiful thing about not about living in my in laws house is I never really wanted to go home. So I like to work 20 hours, 20 hours a day. I was five Yeah.

John Corcoran 12:05

That’s the key to successful entrepreneurship is moving to your in laws baseball. That’s That’s it? Yeah. And so you kind of what were those early days, like, because I want to get to two years into the business, you end up adding some additional kind of separate business models onto it. But how did you get traction in those early days, you know, went from opening the doors to having to shut them because the red tag and then opening them again two months later, how do people start to hear about it? How do you get people in the door?

Raleigh Williams 12:32

Yeah, we were we picked a location right by the freeway, we just picked it, we just picked a very high traffic area. And when we weren’t busy, we would we would take the bus out onto the freeway and park it by the side of the road. And we would pretend that there were prisoners. And we were just like, we wanted to create spectacle, any way that we could

John Corcoran 12:53

like guys in like orange jumpsuits in the back of the prison

Raleigh Williams 12:57

jumpsuits that you’d get from like a Halloween store. And we had never, you know, it never dawned on us to run Facebook ads or do digital advertising. Like we, you know, we didn’t know what that was. So we just we just thought we wanted to make a public spectacle as much as possible on the freeway and just kind of old school, generate traffic from just having people see us as they drive by.

John Corcoran 13:25

Yeah. So just two years into the business, which is really not that far in, you end up adding trampoline, parks and axe throwing what motivated that kind of very different business model wouldn’t I would think,

Raleigh Williams 13:39

yeah, trampoline parks were two years. And then an axe throwing was another year and a half after that my brother who was the Goldman Sachs guy, we had, we had a trampoline park business that that we’d started before I went to law school, I sold my portion to him to go to law school. And so the first location that we had, the reason why we picked it was because there were this 8000 square feet additional adjacent to the trampoline park that he had. And we kind of felt like, we kind of felt like that it was a family entertainment dollar. And so even though the offering was different, it’s still people looking to get entertained, and a brick and mortar location outside of their house. And as we started, we started running those two businesses very separate, separate, brand separate way to run them. And as we got into it, we realized we felt at the time that there was enough cross pollenization between the two businesses that it would make sense for on a going forward basis to just open up full locations with all of these concepts kind of baked together into the location. So that ended up being what the model moved to so that two years after we opened that one in that first location. We opened up a second one and then the third one very shortly after that and Texas and we felt like what we were trying to do is we were trying to create concepts that appealed to every age demo, a trampoline park is kind of like from zero to, you know, seventh, eighth, ninth grade, and then escape rooms kind of get picks up the high school kids onward. And so we were trying to get big spaces that we could have something for everyone to do. That was kind of like the the idea as we started to expand, and, and it worked, it worked pretty well until a thing called COVID happened and that

John Corcoran 15:29

I want to get to that before before. Before we get to that, though, I want to ask about, I guess one thing that I would be hesitant about with an escape room business is that you’d be selling something that people would experience once and then never come back again, because they’d already done it, or did you not experience that? Because you had multiple additional rooms? And I’ve also heard that a lot of times escape room businesses end up changing things up after some period of time. How did you handle that?

Raleigh Williams 15:55

Yeah, we are, the two things that we tried to do was we tried to spend more than other would on kind of room design, room layout, and like having puzzles that were like, interesting and high tech and things dropping from the ceiling, and all that type of stuff. And then we had actors and basically all of our rooms. So we tend to do scarier themes, like escaping a prison room or zombies, or like the girl from the ring and like an abandoned basement. And so the acting would be different every single time. So that way, there was some there’s some variation and experience. As we ran the business we we realize that like over time, people, you basically get people that are like escape room and dizziness. And they love doing the room, even if they kind of know what is kind of like, you may watch Shawshank Redemption, once every you know what’s going to happen, like you just enjoy the process of doing it. And but the majority of the market is kind of like someone who’s just looking for something to do. And as long as they’ve done a room as long as they’re doing a room that they haven’t done before. So like, you know, we had 7000 square feet. So in our biggest locations, we had six escape room kind of themes that they could pick from and like, you know, it was atypical for someone to turn through all of those, but a lot of times people will go and do it. And then they want to bring their friends to like go and do it again. And like they like being the smartest one in the room. Like knowing all of the answers and stuff is its own unique psychological experience

John Corcoran 17:35

is an interesting trend, because you’re definitely on the upward trend in 2015. And then by 2019, the industry actually had more closures than opening. So that’s before COVID hit. So what was that, like when you start seeing that as a trend? And you jumped on this trend? Because you saw it as a trend? So I imagine you noticed it in 2019.

Raleigh Williams 17:55

Yeah, what we noticed was that people were people were just late to the game. And so they felt like they could open a room up, open a business up with the same amount of investment that you could have done in in 2015. And so they were going to worse and worse locations, assuming that there was just so much demand for escape rooms that like people would show up no matter what. And what ended up happening is it was kind of like, it was a little bit of a flight to quality, like the best, the best ones continued to do it was kind of like the tale of two cities, the haves and the have nots. And that was part of the reason that made our business sellable is because we ended up building a really great reputation a brand name around like being high quality more expensive than everybody else. But and you know, you you basically got these people that would, if they had 800 square square foot office and like a Class C office complex, they would try to, you know, throw a little piece of printed out paper on the door that says escape rooms here and put a couch in there with TV and like try to they Yeah, and there’s so many people that were trying to open doing that because because you could call yourself an escape room with essentially no barrier to entry. And and then those people tend were the ones that tended to peter out over time and you know, not not last very long.

John Corcoran 19:22

Yeah, yeah. Now you wrote that, because of your reputation in the marketplace. You were able to reinvest the profits back into growth, and then kind of let it compound what sorts of specific things did you do?

Raleigh Williams 19:38

Yeah, for for us, it was just location growth. It was let’s go from one location to three to five to seven. And as we continue to grow the business grow the locations what we found was yeah, just as we continue to grow the locations Like that was the best thing that we could do in order to continue to grow the profit margin and to grow the brand. So just for us, the buyers that we ultimately found, they liked that the concept had been proven over and over again in multiple different locations. And we kind of gotten to a point of diminishing returns, like continuing to invest in a particular location, because what you find in these businesses particularly is that like 80% of your business comes Friday, Saturday, Sunday. And like you can, you could spend your whole life trying to figure out how to improve a Tuesday night bookings, and prove Tuesday nights, but like the demand in the market is the demand in the market. And a lot of times, the best way to continue to grow is just go find an adjacent market and capture that demand there. And so that was the way that we found that growing the locations was, you know, growing the location number was the best way that we can improve the enterprise value the business.

John Corcoran 21:04

Yeah. Now you end up selling off different pieces of the business, I believe over nine, eight or nine deals or something like that. Yeah. Yeah. You described it, though, is is one network or one business at reputation. So take walk me through, first of all, why you decided to sell the business? Why decided the timing was right. And I think it was 2020 was the first to location. So the COVID, I imagined it something to do with

Raleigh Williams 21:30

  1. Sure. So in 2018, I had been doing it for two years, we had a couple trampoline parks, we ended on axon yet. And I had kind of felt like, I kind of felt like I had gotten into the business as a way to get out of the law. But it wasn’t, I knew that it wasn’t the thing that I wanted to do for the rest of my life. I didn’t know what I wanted to do. I didn’t know what I wanted to do. But I just knew that it wasn’t that. So I went to a competitor. When we had I think we were building out our third location at the time. And so I went to a competitor in the trampoline park business. And I said, Hey, you know, we’re looking at potentially exiting. And what do you think you would buy us for they had private equity money, they had raised a couple 100 million dollars, they had acquired a couple other big brands, and but mostly in the trampoline park space. So I went and met with him, he looked at the business, I was as transparent as I could be in terms of the numbers and it was doing well, like it was it was netting. It was netting somewhere between one and a half $2 million a year and profit. Like it wasn’t a nothing business. And he looked at it. And he basically said, your business is worth $0, it’s not worth anything, I can’t buy it because it’s too. It’s too You’re too diverse. You’re too broad. You don’t, you’re not in any one specific geographic area, you have all these different brands. And it’s unclear how they interact. I don’t know, you know, you haven’t proven to me that there’s really synergies. I don’t know that I want to be in the escape room business, even though I’m already in the trampoline park business. And so he kind of outlined all of these issues that we had created for ourselves. And and so it took us two years to kind of to kind of figure out how to, you know, run each p&l as a separate p&l and run each business separately run each brand separately, and kind of like the needs of the brand needed to be like, we had to just focus on the individual silos for a period of time to show that escaper and business could do well, the tripling purposes could do well. And what we ultimately found as I started trying to sell these businesses off, was that we, it would make more sense that the trampoline park buyer doesn’t want to be in the escape room business. They don’t view it as family entertainment like we had viewed it, we kind of viewed it like we want it to spread across all the demos, and capture everyone irrespective of age. And the buyers really didn’t view it that way. They viewed it as I’m going to get into I have to manage two very separate things with very, very unclear synergies between them. Yeah. And so because of that, we we realized that it would we would make more money, selling each business off selling really each location off and each business within the location off separately to separate buyers. Instead of trying to go as one package deal we’d always run it as what we call the Williams Entertainment Group as my brother and I are the biggest owners of the business, Williams brothers so it was Williams Entertainment Group. And, and then in order to really take it to market we had to break it all down and the Escape Rooms were bought by haunted house operators, the trampoline park businesses were bought by SBA buyers or trampoline park operators, axon people, you know, so like every every buyer wanted their own thing and they didn’t want to be in multiple business segments.

John Corcoran 24:53

That makes sense. I mean, we actually our company has been looking at acquiring other companies and I’ve looked at a few where they have a couple of very are different businesses mushed together and to them, it makes sense to you it’s, wait a second, I gotta figure out this business model and this business model, and they’re very different. It may be a different buyer, in the midst of all this COVID hits. So take me back to March 2020, when COVID hits and you realize, oh, my gosh, we have to shut this thing down. You’re in Texas. So I think that lasted about a week and a half. But what was that like? I

Raleigh Williams 25:25

wish, I wish so and COVID at 20. So we went under contract on our first to escape room businesses in November of 2019. And we said, let’s close it on let’s so we were we were under contract for 2 million bucks to sell the first two escape room businesses to this to this buyer. And we said, you know, SBA is going to make the SBA is going to require that he had his tax returns done. So he wanted to close, he wanted to acquire the business on April 1, we made this joke, we said, well, let’s not close on April Fool’s Day in case, you know, this all looks like a joke to all of us, like, let’s close on April 15, just to make sure. And so we had been in diligence. And we were under contract. I mean, he gave us purchase money he gave us he put some money down in order to make sure that we knew that he was going to close and he was getting his SBA loan done. And so then my birthday is March 16. And that was an so the day that was like the like declaring it a national pandemic was March 16, was my birthday. And so we’re two, we’re two weeks out from closing on this deal. And the SBA will not loan you money if if the business is closed. And so we were trying to find a way to keep the Utah locations open of the escape room business. So that way we so that way, and he still wanted to buy it, like, you know, he didn’t get flighty to his credit. And so anyway, that was, it was interesting one because we were in the midst of a transaction midst of we’re in the midst of the first transaction transaction. And secondly, because in every pitch deck that we had ever done, to either our internal team of going to new location, and we had brought investors on on the last two parts that we had built. We had the slide there was always about how recession proof the business was because we had always felt like because and the analogy that we put that we wholeheartedly believed in was in, oh 708 Disney raise their prices, you know, and even if there’s even if there’s a downturn, like we all felt like we were due for, even if there’s a downturn, you know, families will still always want to escape. And they’ll always have a place to, you know, they want their kids to have a birthday party memories. And you know, we’re in this recession resistant business that even if the economy goes down, that just means that real estate prices are gonna go down. And it’s going to be a way for us to acquire these buildings instead of leasing them. And that was the narrative that we had completely believed in until COVID happened. And we realized,

John Corcoran 28:08

very, very different

Raleigh Williams 28:10

than we realized that we had just, we were just wrong. And so then the next six months, we’re basically negotiating with landlords trying to keep up and I mean, landlords didn’t have any other alternatives. You know, no other tenant was trying to come in and say, let me open this new space, you know, and, and so it was, by far the most stressful time it that was more stressful. That was much more stressful than when we were just starting out and I was living in my in laws basement because we’ve been running it for four years. And I had made millions of dollars from operating the businesses. And I had a big house and I was living the entrepreneur lifestyle. And then the prot the idea of going back down to living in my in laws base was what’s more terrifying than it was leaving the ball with nothing to really lose. You know what I mean? I had

John Corcoran 29:03

more mouths to feed by this. Yeah, three. Yeah, three kids.

Raleigh Williams 29:07

And even in that time, I was like, shit, where is my resume? Because I may have to go get a law firm.

John Corcoran 29:18

Yeah, and you’re kind of brushing off his legal skills by going in negotiating with, you know, reading over the lease your commercial lease and stuff and seeing oh my god, yeah. What?

Raleigh Williams 29:27

brushing off brushing off force majeure. And what does that mean? You got to figure it out,

John Corcoran 29:34

reading some case law and that has been a blast. So So anyway, so you end up YouTube, I guess closing that deal eventually, and 20 later in 2020. By that point,

Raleigh Williams 29:44

we closed it. We closed it in June. We actually took like a $250,000 haircut to close it. But we were just we he still wanted the business and I think he knew that he had some leverage.

Unknown Speaker 29:58

In order to that’s not

John Corcoran 29:59

bad. Uh, yeah, consider everything went down at that point.

Raleigh Williams 30:03

Yeah, we’re excited. It was a win. Like, I’ve talked to him many times since then he still owns the business, he still runs it. I think it’s been a great acquisition. For him. It’s made total sense. And we were happy to get out of it. Yeah, yeah. And that was, that was kind of the the first transaction that then we just copied that playbook. And we went location by location, and sold the businesses off in a very similar way. I, you know, I would put the business on bizbuysell manage all the inbound inquiries. And, you know, find the buyer that made the most sense. And then, and then make it happen location by location,

John Corcoran 30:38

did you use a broker or do that all yourself,

Raleigh Williams 30:41

I just did it all myself, I am doing it over again. I mean, I felt like I had to do it all myself, because we were in so many different states. And I had so many different partners amongst all of the locations, that I think it would have been messy. Now, when I take a business to market, I’ll almost always use a broker, because it’s just not like, if you have a good broker, they’re totally worth their salt doing it. And back, then I felt like the 10% that I was going to give up was going, you know, I just couldn’t stomach you knowing that and now I’ve become wiser.

John Corcoran 31:20

I want to get to some of the work that you’ve done since selling those businesses before I do. But before we do, I want to ask you about just kind of reflecting back on that trajectory with the escape room business? What are some of the lessons that you take away from it? I know, I’ll say that, just looking, you know, finding an industry that is on an upward swing is certainly

Unknown Speaker 31:41

helpful. Yeah,

Raleigh Williams 31:44

I that would that would be the first thing that I would say is that if you are if you’re building something into increasing demand, and to a trend that it is growing, you know, you can’t outperform the wave that you’ve decided to ride. And so we were lucky to ride to the trampoline, Park, business, family entertainment, like those were two waves that were doing very, very well. And it covers up a lot of really stupid stuff. But you could make a lot of mistakes on and in a market that’s increasing demand, like I assume in your podcast business, like, I think my assumption is more and more and more now. Same thing, podcast. Yeah. So like that wave. Like, it covers up a multitude of errors, that and it gives you a massively wide margin of safety, to make decisions and to, and you don’t have to be perfect. And, you know, we one mistake that we made as we we were doing so well in those family entertainment businesses that we thought that we were really smart guys. And so we got to so we opened up a bar in downtown Salt Lake, which we knew nothing about neither one of us drink, I’ve never even had alcohol in my life. And we thought, we thought that a bar would be a really smart thing to do. And, and we picked a market where like, the demand for bars in the market was pretty, you know, stable to slug to slightly on the decline. And the difficulty of running that business and and in a tepid demand market versus the escape room business and the trampoline park business and an increasing growing, you know, demand market. It was just night and day difference. And so like the I think that’s probably the biggest thing is like if you just if you’re building something that you know, more and more people are tending to want. It makes it made things so much easier. And as we thought, as we started to do things that we thought that we’re just smart guys, because we built stuff where there’s demand, and we did it where there wasn’t demand, or growing demand, it became much more difficult. Yeah.

John Corcoran 33:49

And as you reflect back on the profession that you and I both left law, which has had impact from AI and things like that, what are your thoughts on you know that industry?

Raleigh Williams 34:03

I think the as, as an industry, I think it’s going to be very, very difficult to make a lot of money practicing law. I’m sure it’s like anything, it’s a flight to quality. Right. And like the best I don’t think career path will go out of business in the next 100 years. But I think someone who’s trying to do something, it just the the thing think what you’ll find is that there will be the rewards will not make make it worth it like the juice just won’t be worth the squeeze the squeeze will get much much harder. It’ll be much much harder to get the the results that that an AI and all of those kinds of market market forces I think will just make it really difficult. I think I would be very hesitant to start a law practice. unless I had a unique form of distribution, I think audience audience building and distribution building and having the ear of someone who trusts you, I think that ends up. I think, I think that ends up being the, the kind of the sifter of the wheat in the chaff. And in this day and age much more than like the quality of the work output. Right, which, which was the answer, you know, 1520 years ago,

John Corcoran 35:27

that was the only answer right? And, and none of those really matters all about the quality. And so now some people think that that’s the only answer. And now, you’ve done some acquisitions since then. So which I think we were chatting before, and you said, you wouldn’t make again, to tell us about what types of acquisitions you made after exiting the escape room and the trampoline park businesses.

Raleigh Williams 35:52

after I sold those businesses, I kind of, I kind of got in the mindset of like, I never want to start a business again. I never want to start from scratch again. I never want to start from scratch again, I only want to run something. So my parameters were a can’t be something that says zero, I will not start something again. And secondly, I only want to back people. I don’t want to operate. I don’t view myself as a great operator of businesses. And so I only wanted to buy things where the entrepreneur operator was staying on board and needed some help in order to get it to the next level.

John Corcoran 36:37

That is that is fraught with danger, right? Because oftentimes, that entrepreneur owner, once they are acquired, they end up being miserable. They don’t they don’t enjoy it. So how do you feel totally out and sure that you get someone who’s going to thrive in that type of arrangement?

Raleigh Williams 36:52

Yeah. And that that’s a question that I don’t have the answer to you. And that that has been I think the mistakes that I’ve made have been acquiring businesses that have been to small businesses that aren’t big enough yet to really, to really be able to afford an operating team that can really knows how to take it to the next level. And secondly, businesses that are so dependent on the entrepreneur as the artist, or as kind of like the magician behind the scenes that makes everything work that and really, really feeling comfortable with myself that like they’re not, they’re not wanting to sell a part of the business because they’re just tired, and they want to take their chips off at the table. Because, and, and I like all of the acquisitions that I’ve that I’ve done. I’ve learned a great deal. I haven’t lost money on you know, and entrepreneur world. Typically, it’s like, if you can get a great lesson, and it doesn’t knock you out, and you don’t lose money on it. And like that’s a that’s a win, even though maybe it’s not the economic win that you would have hoped that it could have been. But I think in in the acquisition world, and I and I knew this because when I sold those businesses there’s there’s so much in a business, that there’s so many skeletons in a business. And, you know, most most businesses, I’ve been in, you know, businesses that most businesses are slow moving dumpster fires, yeah. No matter what, no matter what the profit and loss statement says there’s just, there’s just problems that that some of them are, some of them are systemic, that will never get solved, no matter how smart you think that you are. And some of them are personnel lot, you know, like you until you change the personnel, the business won’t change. And so, for me, the thing that I’ve learned is that I’m always, I’m always wanting to make sure that I myself have a clear escape path, a clear way to exit the business, in the off chance that that that it’s more difficult to improve it than what I originally think at, at the outset. When I’m looking at and saying, man, there’s so much you know, low hanging fruit here that can Yeah, capital has done

John Corcoran 39:28

so the companies you’ve acquired doesn’t sound like you. There’s any regrets around like industry or vertical or geography or anything like that.

Unknown Speaker 39:37

No, I

Raleigh Williams 39:40

think, I think sighs I what i’ve what I’ve, what I’ve had to remember is that, you know, until you’re at, really, I would say, a million bucks a year in revenue and call it you know, four to $500,000 a year in profit, because I tend to buy higher margin And businesses now like E Comm, you know, shipping and receiving giant and margin. Yeah, like, until you’re at about 500 500 grand a year, you really don’t know, you really don’t have product market fit yet. And so I bought things that are, you know, in the three to $400,000 a year revenue making two to 250 grand a year. And even though I’ve gotten in at very favorable valuations, there’s still a lot of work that needs to be done in order to really find what the business, you know, you’re still at the embryonic stage of that business. And there’s a there’s a lot of, there’s a lot of uphill climbing left in order to figure out what the business is. And you have to have people that have a long term mindset in order to figure that out together.

John Corcoran 40:51

Yeah, yeah. So what you found is in those acquisitions, then you’ve had kind of more work fixing it up, it’s a big fixer upper that big, put it Yeah, even if

Raleigh Williams 41:01

it’s even if it’s trending, right, even if it’s growing, and even if it’s trending the right way, it’s still a fixer upper, in the sense of like, the growth can also be like a false signal, right? You could, you could be growing the wrong way. Or you could be growing away from product market fit, even though your revenue and your profit are growing, you may find yourself hitting a wall very soon. Because just

John Corcoran 41:22

As an interesting, an interesting point growing away from product-market fit, can you can elaborate a little more on that?

Raleigh Williams 41:28

Yeah, I think especially when you’re when you’re pretty system light when the business is growing based on the sheer charisma or audience of the of the founder. And you can find, you know, clever ways to bring revenue in and service customers. But it’s but it almost encapsulates encapsulates the founder at the center, because like, they’re the only person who can fulfill on the thing that you’re selling, or, you know, it, it, it, it moves them further and further into the center of the business because yes, you can sell to their audience, but finding a way to grow through cold customer acquisition is very difficult, because people only want it from this founder, particularly. So you can find ways to continue to, you know, drive revenue, drive profit, but if it’s done in a way that is so founder, dependent, you’re not, you’re not really growing a business, you’re growing our cash flow stream for the founder, which is great, but like, you know, you have to figure out a way to extricate yourself from that. And a lot of times, it takes, you know, it feels like you’re cutting off your nose to spite your face, it feels like you’re, you’re making the business, it feels like you’re, you’re kind of you’re turning away growth opportunities that look like attractive opportunities, but you can’t, you can’t build a business there outside of the founder, you know, you become more founder dependent, you have more key man risk. 

John Corcoran 42:53

You know, we were talking beforehand about the great book Buy Then Build by Walker Deibel, who I interviewed a couple of months ago, and he’s a big advocate of acquiring businesses and then fixing them, fixing them up. So other than what you said about the size of the business, so you would acquire a larger business that has more product market fit, what other factors or indicators do you look at to determine whether it’s a good target for you to acquire? My

Raleigh Williams 43:23

my answer to this has changed over time and where it is today

Raleigh Williams 43:32

more and more I look at the business. And one of the one of the first things that I felt when I sold that first escape room business and got the check for a couple million bucks wherever. And I saw it in the bank account and I thought

Unknown Speaker 43:53

that was not worth doing.

Raleigh Williams 43:56

I was so much that was so much harder than I thought that it than it should have been that like Like, a lot of times I myself fallen into the the idea of like, the ends justify the means I’m gonna buy this business, even though I don’t understand it. I don’t like it. I don’t like the customers, I don’t like the product, I don’t care about it. I’m gonna do all of this stuff that I hate doing. And that because I get because I’m so captivated by the potential opportunity that I see that like the end of ultimately selling it will be totally worth the means of doing all of this stuff in the interim that I hate doing. So I think I would have made fewer mistakes and in the acquisitions that I’ve done if I only bought things that I never want to sell, that I only buy trophy assets that I’m just stoked to own for the rest of my life. And I have an unlimited time horizon because every worry that I’ve convinced myself whether I was operating a trampoline park business and escape room business, in any of the businesses that I’ve acquired along the way, or some that we’ve kind of started. If I, if I asked myself in 20 years, do I want to continue to own this thing? And the answer is yes, then like, your, your margin of safety is massive, because you have like such a long time horizon in order to get it done when you’re buying something simply because you feel like it’s, it’s worth more than what you’re buying it for, you feel like you’re getting a good deal, you feel like you’re getting it for cheap, relative to what it could be worth otherwise. And you hope that in 12 months, you’re able to flip it to a greater fool who will pay you more than what you bought it for. There’s so much there’s so much that you can be wrong about. And, and it’s a lot of work. And like ultimately, it’s a lot of work. That’s not appealing work, if you’re only doing it for financial arbitrage, you know what I mean? You end up wasting a lot of your life hoping to exploit a financial arbitrage that may or may not be there, right relative to like, I love this business. And I’m buying it because I never want to sell it. I think you’re so much safer to a do something that you enjoy and be probably make an acquisition that makes a ton of sense for you in the future.

Raleigh Williams 46:28

that’s, that’s changed for me over time, as I’ve looked less and less for like, What can I get super, super cheap that I can hopefully flip down the road.

John Corcoran 46:36

Yeah. Now, a couple of years ago, your wife was diagnosed with breast cancer, stage three breast cancer, you guys went through a real tough scare there sounds like she is on the upward swing now. Thankfully, how was that approached, you’re changed your your focus, change your approach to everything we’re talking about here? In terms of Yeah, how you spend your time? And what types of businesses do you want to spend your time on?

Raleigh Williams 47:09

Totally, I think, I think, for me, it’s made all of my answers much more qualitative than quantitative. Because like, like, that answer that I just gave of, like, discipline that you love, do like something that I would enjoy. Right? Those are all the answers that I would always hate when I was listening to something like this of like, I don’t know what I want to enjoy, I want to be rich, and then I’ll figure out what I want to enjoy. And I think I think that going through that experience with her and realizing how, how quickly things can change. And, and really how, yeah, you just have you just have no idea what’s on the horizon for you. And we tend to always think that what’s on the horizon is better and up into the right and more zeros in the bank account. And you know, things that are easier but sometimes was up on the horizon is choppy, choppier waters than you’ve ever experienced in the past. And so it I think it’s given me a greater sense of gratitude, I work much less honestly, I work much less than I did through cancer, and it also helped me going through cancer and a lot of ways, like, helped me realize the like, the reliance that I have on work in order to escape my reality. And, and like, how I needed to be more well rounded in the way that I approached work and what I’m hoping to get out of work and what what I what are goals for me that are worth having. And I think that at the end of the day, I was I was always the one that was like, I want to get rich, and then I’ll figure out everything else. And and as I got rich, rich enough, rich enough to know that like, as I got rich enough, I realized that like, oh, there’s I was so grateful that I got enough money in my early 30s to realize that like that I didn’t get to that when I was 65 and realize, oh shit, I’ve wasted 35 years of my life for like this for this. This is nothing. You know what I mean? And it’s super hard. What I tell people what I tell my closest friends is and what I tell the people that I do business with is like, I want to get you rich enough for you to know that it’s not the answer. Like I don’t think that you should just go join a monastery and you know, just meditate for the rest of your life. I think you should get rich. And once you’re rich enough, you realize this is not If and you know what else what else? What? The answer be? Yeah, totally. And and I think that’s kind of human progression.

John Corcoran 50:09

Yeah, that’s part of the reason I love talking to folks like you. I love hanging out with successful entrepreneurs, because then you realize that there’s just other hills to climb and might not be financial, it might be something else. You mentioned the word gratitude, which is a perfect segue to my last question. And this all has been great Raleigh. Thank you so much for your time. But, you know, if you as you look back on your journey, and you think about who in particular, you’re grateful to know, a lot of us reflexively will mention our family and friends, which is totally fine, or our teammates, but I love to also hear stories about peers, contemporaries, business partners, mentors, and the more specific the band, the better. But I love to hear those types of stories of who you would want to shout out publicly, and just thank them for helping you along the way. Sure.

Raleigh Williams 50:54

I remember when I was thinking about quitting law, I told my dad that I wanted to quit, and he told me that I would be throwing my career away, it’d be the worst decision I’d ever make. Which I could be grateful for that it’s a way but he’s not who gets the shout out this time. I went and talked to a friend who who was kind of like the wealthiest guy that I knew and Dallas guy named Steve Houghton. And, and I asked him, what he thought, what he thought I should do. You know, I’ve been practicing law for seven months. And I showed him this escape room thing that I that I thought that I wanted to do. I showed him a little mock up of like, what the store was going to look like. And I was all stoked about the name Alcatraz, whatever the

John Corcoran 51:43

whole story sounds crazy now, doesn’t it thinking back on, like, instantly. 

Raleigh Williams 51:49

And to his credit, you know, Steve, heard me out. And, and he said, what he said to me was, you know, for a lot of people, they can’t do what you’re asking to do, because they don’t have a spouse that supportive, but with how supportive your wife is, it’s your responsibility to do this as big as you possibly can. And you should only do something that if you’re right, you get rich, and if you’re wrong, you don’t go broke. So he’s like, you, you’re already broke. So it doesn’t matter. And it seems like the economics of this thing makes enough sense that, like, if you do this thing, right, you can get rich enough to figure out what your next thing is. And it doesn’t look like he’s like, I don’t think that this is your grade, this won’t be your greatest contribution to Earth is starting this escape room business. But like, the more time you spend on the law, the more time you’ll be trapped there, and with the wife and the child that you have, it’s your responsibility to go do something much bigger than being a lawyer at a big firm. And so you need to do this, this is something that you need to do. And so he was him and my wife are really the only two people that were like, massively supportive of the idea. And I think without without the confidence that they showed and me in order to make the decision, I would have had still be practicing law somewhere just because it would have been too, too, too wide a chasm to jump you know what I mean? Too scary of a thing to do. And so I I’m forever grateful for Steve to, you know, help guide me along the way when I needed it the most.

John Corcoran 53:35

Yeah, that’s so great. Raleigh, this has been great. Where can people go to learn more about you connect with you? I know you do consulting. DealMaven.io I believe is at least one of your websites. Where can people go?

Raleigh Williams 53:48

Yeah, dealmaven.io is great. I’m most active on Twitter, probably. So either one of those two spots are perfect. 

John Corcoran 53:52

Excellent Raleigh. Thanks so much. I appreciate it.

Outro 53:54

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