Creating Adventures for a Living: Interview with Chris Waters of Constructed Adventures

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Chris Waters wanted an adventure.

He started out like most of us—he went to work, came home, and did the same thing over again the next day. But where was the fun in that?

So he decided to make his own fun.

During a Reddit Secret Santa gift exchange one year, he decided to design an adventure for his giftee, rather than give a basic gift. Chris sent his giftee on an adventure at the zoo that the giftee loved so much, he encouraged Chris to build a business out of building adventures—and even offered to build the website for it!

What followed was nothing short of magical: a slew of press mentions that led to his “adventure” business getting booked out over the six months that followed.

This founder story is one for the books.

Allow me to introduce “The Architect” of adventures, Chris Waters…

So, who are you and what’s your business?

My name is Chris Waters, I go by “The Architect,” and I started Constructed Adventures.

The goal of Constructed Adventures is to create a seemingly serendipitous perfect day for someone. Oftentimes, these days are for special occasions like milestone birthdays or marriage proposals. Some days involve challenges and puzzles (think “escape room around the city”). Others are more whimsical. They’re always custom-tailored to a specific person and location.

What is your backstory and what inspired you to come up with / pursue this idea?

I was always that guy trying to create a fun experience for people. I hated the idea of waking up and knowing EXACTLY how the day was going to pan out (drive to work, meeting, lunch, get yelled at by clients, drive home, watch tv, go to bed, rinse and repeat every day for the rest of your life).

So I would be the one kidnapping people on their birthdays, putting googly eyes on every picture in the office, etc.

Take us through the process of designing, prototyping, and manufacturing your first product or service- what was that like?

It was very “learn as you go.”

I kept my prices low, as my one goal was to “just get clients.” There was constant playtesting and tweaking between Adventures.

The baseline for every Adventure is to create a magical experience, but I’ve learned an INSANE amount of lessons and created a pretty in-depth set of rules that govern each adventure.

For example: One rule is that no stop should ever be longer than 15 minutes of travel distance from the previous stop unless it’s an absolute MUST.

We watch movies like “National Treasure” where in one scene they’re in Washington D.C. and in the next scene they’re in New York, but they don’t show the hour plane ride! It’s important to make sure the adventure never stagnates!

After every Adventure, I tweak everything. My rules, my survey that I send to potential clients, the contract: everything.

I’m always improving.

Describe launching the company… Where did you start?

The business happened by accident. It all started with the Reddit Secret Santa gift exchange. In short, 100k people sign up, get matched with someone, and send them a gift for the holidays! I’d been participating for years. I’d sent and received some really incredible gifts.

Then 2015 rolled around. I got matched with my giftee. I immediately looked at his location. It was literally 21 minutes away. I had this grand opportunity to do something really cool for an internet stranger.

So I started planning.

The recommended amount for Reddit Secret Santa is always $20. Some people send $20 gifts. Some people don’t send anything. Some people spend way more. I was one of those people.

Frankly, I just kept coming up with cooler and cooler ideas. “What if they open an envelope here, and there’s two tickets to the zoo, and they need to decode messages on the plaques on animal pens! Then they’ll go to a restaurant where everything has been covered!” It continued like that.

Luckily at the time, I was making good money as an account manager for a software company and hosting a weekly poker game. I’m not a spectacular poker player, but I’d somehow taken down the game 4-5 weeks in a row. I still joke with my buddies that they financed the start of my business.

The day of the Adventure, I had a bunch of people willing to help put on a big production for an internet stranger. One of them was the boyfriend of a coworker. He was willing to hand deliver the century-old suitcase at 8:00 am to my giftee. Once my giftee and his girlfriend were at the zoo, I took him to breakfast as a “thank you.”

He told me this was a cool thing that people would pay for. He insisted that I start a business, and he was going to build me a website. He said, “What’s your business name?”

“Uhhhh…Constructed Adventures?”

“Cool, let me see if the URL is available. Yep! Just bought it. Give me a day.”

The Reddit gifts adventure ended at this speakeasy bar where I met my giftee and his girlfriend. They were exhausted (in hindsight, I made the day WAY too long) but still blown away. Through our conversation I let him know I was going to try to do this as a side business.

A day or two later, he posted it to Reddit. It hit the front page, my business page got linked, and the business blew up. The next night, it was all over the local news, and I got another huge spike in publicity.

I was still working full time but by mid-January, Constructed Adventures was booked out through June.

What has worked to attract & retain customers so far?

I tend to go viral on the internet 1-2 times a year, and that pretty much does it. I do a lot of promotion on Reddit. I’m very transparent about my methods and the lessons I’ve learned.

Between the occasional viral video or post, the constant stream of teaching and helpfulness, and being featured in articles like this, I’ve had no problem getting clients.

What books, podcasts, or people have been the most influential on your journey?

Podcast – “How I Built This” – Startup
Books – “The E-Myth” and “The Tipping Point”

How are things going today and what does the future look like?

Things are going great. I just ran Adventure no. 104 in Washington D.C. This year I’ve already run Adventures in Paris, San Diego, and the Bay Area.

In the future, I’ll be slowing the amount of travel and reducing the amount of events as I increase consultation and other revenue streams.

Any advice for others who are just starting out?

Just start. Good God, so many people just. won’t. start. They spend five weeks asking people about what they should name their business or what their logo should be. They don’t launch a site because it’s not perfect.

At the beginning of a business, the downside is you’re insignificant and no one knows about you. But it’s also a wonderful upside. Don’t worry about these little hiccups and just start doing. Don’t worry about figuring out taxes when you’re not even making money yet! JUST START.

The easiest thing to do is start offering to build an event for a friend or family member at cost/for free. In the beginning, you just need testimonials and documentation of events.

What’s the best way for people to connect and follow you? Website, Social Profiles, Etc…

You can find me at my website, and here are all the other places you can find me.

My mother in law loves to sew.

A few years ago she asked me how to set up an online store.

She wanted to sell fancy throw pillows she was making.

I gave her very basic steps. Enough to get started (I don't know much about ecom).

A few weeks later she showed me her site. It…

Everyone wants “yes.”

But they don’t wanna pay the price.

100 Nos is the price of one yes.

You can get as many as yeses as you damn well please as long as you’re willing to pay the price.

I was sad to learn that Charlie Munger died today at age 99.

What a life.

He would likely roll his eyes and argue that none of us should be too surprised, based on the actuarial tables, but we’ve lost one of the 20th century’s greatest investors and businessmen.

Chris and I…

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