How to Be an Entrepreneur When You Don’t Have a Business Idea
We sat down with the joy-filled Joy (sorry, couldn’t resist) Huffman, owner of Room Escape Atlanta to talk business.
Her story: once upon a time, Joy started an online fashion/lifestyle blog. The business didn’t quite work out so she ended up closing the company. She then returned to the corporate world, which allowed her a great income and snazzy lifestyle. Everything was groovy but eventually, she started to itch again. Not the pass-the-cortisone-kinda-itch, but that entrepreneurial itch many of us are too familiar with.
Ah, but where to start? She racked her brain thinking of ideas, hoping to alleviate that itch. What could she sell? What could she offer the marketplace? Nothing came to mind that she believed would be profitable or that she had a deep Great Gatsby-level passion for.
So instead of waiting around for the light bulb to go off, she decided to open a door for herself: she pursued the option of taking over an established business.
After 6 months of searching, she stumbled upon an online listing for Room Escape Atlanta, where you better hustle to solve clues within the allotted hour to escape a movie-like room—zombies and paranormal activity included.
Strapped with zero familiarity with the escape room industry and little capital, Joy took the plunge. She struck up a great deal with the business owner and next thing you know, she’s sharpening knives next to zombie heads and bloody axes (in a skirt no less):
5 TIPS FROM JOY ABOUT BUYING AND GROWING AN EXISTING BUSINESS:
Buying someone else’s business doesn’t make you any less of an entrepreneur. Joy experienced a moment when she felt she didn’t truly “own” Room Escape Atlanta because she didn’t have the alluring I-built-my-business-grinding-from-my-parent’s-garage-for-six-years type of story. She came to learn that just because she didn’t give birth to this zombie baby, didn’t mean it wasn’t hers. She knew that adopting someone else’s baby to help it flourish was in itself entrepreneurial. So Madonna of her.
You don’t always need a lot of money to buy a business. This is not to say that buying a business doesn’t require a lot of capital--it usually does. But if you put in some work, it’s possible to find opportunities that don’t require a lot of cash money. Business owners can be selling for all kinds of reasons--some sell because they lack the capacity to keep the business running. These folks may be willing to work with you on the price tag.
In Joy’s case, the owner of Room Escape was selling for $5000 but in recognizing Joy’s drive and potential, he made her an offer she couldn’t refuse. He allowed Joy to invest the $5000 back in the company in return for a tiny share of the business (which he was also flexible about). Joy’s business deal may have been a lucky strike, but opportunities to buy a business with little capital may be more feasible than you think.
Clueless about what industry to buy in? Research what’s working in other places. If you’re not sure where to begin, look into industries that have shown proof of market in other cities or other countries. Identifying successful markets abroad is a great way to capitalize on industries that are on the brink of blowing up in the U.S.
Joy did just that. She discovered that the room escape concept was catching strong heat in Asia and Europe. If it was good enough for the Europeans, it’ll likely be great for the Americans, she figured. So she slid in the industry early when there was a low barrier to entry (it didn’t require a lot of capital to enter the market) and capitalized BIG when it caught fire in the U.S. soon after.
Cultivate a passion for the business you buy. Common advice for creating a new business is to make sure you’re passionate about your idea because that’s what will carry you through the rain. But when taking over a business, how do you become passionate about something you didn’t create?
Joy says this part is challenging at times. She loves escape rooms but it’s not necessarily where her heart is. But Joy finds her passion in the creativity needed to grow her zombie baby into a tall, dark, and dead zombie man. Thinking outside the coffin is her fire and desire. When taking over a business, passion won’t always come immediately, so you must grow it.
Learn the wheel before you reinvent it. Be the Luke Skywalker to the previous owner’s Yoda before you start busting through the doors and turning everything upside down. Joy was adamant about learning how the previous owner ran his business before making any changes. She spent 3-5 months being Spongebob Squarepants, absorbing the ins and outs of the business and understanding the staff. It was only after gaining a firm grasp of the business operations that she began placing her stamp. Without this learning phase, it would have been a struggle for her to successfully build upon the business including moving locations, creating additional escape rooms, and establishing new revenue streams.
Joy is Exhibit A evidence you don’t need an idea to be an entrepreneur. Creating a business from scratch can mean a ton of work and much more risk. So if you’ve got that entrepreneurial itch, explore the option of acquiring an established business--Joy found her blessing in disguise on bizbuysell.com.
Meet Joy’s zombie baby at atlantaroomescape.com and check out our conversation with Joy here: