INNOVATORS VS COVID 19
Meet the Mastermind Behind the UK’s Best Online Escape Room
We talked to Christopher Stylianou of Agent Venture and the creators of London’s first immersive board gaming experience and he had the following to say about it.
First of all, how are you and your family doing in these COVID-19 times?
Christopher Stylianou: It’s been difficult; my father passed suddenly from a heart attack in August, and current restrictions have granted me limited opportunities to see the rest of my family since then. My wife and I have had to stay in London. It has been worrying as my wife works as a practice nurse and has needed to physically go in and work at her clinic as opposed to working from home. It’s a tough time for everyone right now, so it’s very much just a case of trying to do the best with the situation presented.
Tell us about you, your career, how you founded Agent Venture.
Christopher Stylianou: I trained as a Chartered Accountant within the Financial Services industry after graduating from the University of Oxford with a physics degree. I had ambitions to become an entrepreneur for a long time but not long into my career, inertia had set in, and I found it difficult to make the leap into starting a business. At the start of 2018, I’d been at the same company for over 7 years, and I eventually decided ‘enough was enough’ and began working as a contractor whilst developing my business idea, ‘The Adventure Is Real.’ Originally we created a live roleplaying experience based on medieval fantasy, which launched at the end of 2019 and gained momentum in February just before the first lockdown struck.
How does Agent Venture innovate?
Christopher Stylianou: When the pandemic hit, we knew that we could no longer operate our in-person experience and did not want to try and create a watered-down version to deliver over Zoom. We went back to the drawing board and designed a new experience from the ground up specifically to be played over Zoom. We wanted to create a new type of experience that was better for playing in different locations online as opposed to playing in person. ‘Agent Venture’ is what we produced. A social game played over Zoom for teams of 4-5, run by a live professional actor. Each team acts as the support team to a top-secret agent, the titular Agent Venture character! There are lots of puzzles and challenges where each person on the team has a unique role to play and have to work together to be successful.
How the coronavirus pandemic affects your business, and how are you coping?
Christopher Stylianou: The pandemic forced us to rapidly pivot to an online experience, and we were one of the first businesses to enter this space; as a result, we turned around the first Agent Venture in under 2 weeks to launch at the start of April! We’ve been growing since then, and we’re especially busy right now as we approach Christmas, and we’re helping businesses take their usual office Christmas parties virtual!
Did you have to make difficult choices, and what are the lessons learned?
Christopher Stylianou: It feels like that question should be more when I didn’t have to make difficult choices! The hardest choice was at the start of lockdown. It was very tempting just to hibernate our live experience until social distancing ended and try to preserve as much cash as possible to weather the storm. Instead, I chose to take a risk and invest time and money in creating a brand-new product for the remote world with Agent Venture, and luckily it paid off as it has been so well received.
How do you deal with stress and anxiety?
Christopher Stylianou: This is tricky! The best thing to do is take a short break when things become overwhelming and then try to create a To-Do list. If I have a clear list of what I need to tackle, it helps focus me and stay organized.
Who are your competitors? And how do you plan to stay in the game?
Christopher Stylianou: We are in the virtual events space right now, and we are really trying to spread the word about how great virtual events can actually be (it’s not all Zoom quizzes)! So I would compare us to the other businesses moving into the virtual space. Albeit I don’t see them as competitors because at the end of the day, there’s a big synergistic effect that we have on each other; if one person does a great virtual event with us, they think ‘Wow, I need to go do another one of these, who else is hosting them?’. There are some great experiences being run by Jury Games, and they’ve got two investigation-style mysteries in Jury Duty and The Inquest, and also CtrlAltRepeat have produced two excellent immersive shows: Sherlock Holmes and The Symmetric Mailshot, and more recently, their hit 80’s themed action experience Viper Squad ’88!
Your final thoughts?
Christopher Stylianou: We are in unprecedented times right now, so I am really not sure what the future holds. We have been able to create a great virtual experience with ‘Agent Venture,’ so I am very excited to see what opportunities await. It is very much a growing industry, and we have big ideas for more great experiences we can host in the virtual space!
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