Interview: Talking franchising escape rooms with Vincent Rubino

Vincent Rubino talks about how he went from software development to running an escape room franchise.

Hi guys

While many of you know me as the brains behind Fox in a Box here in Orange County, I also have an escape room channel on YouTube called Find Your Escape. Recently, it was my pleasure to interview Vincent Rubino, a member of our Fox in a Box family (he runs Fox in a Box in Chicago), on Find Your Escape.


We talked about how he entered the escape room industry, why he chose the franchise route, and finally, his insight on the industry and plans for the future.


Amanda: “I tried out an escape room and I LOVED it! That got me thinking, if I were managing my own Escape Room – I’d be doing something I just love.

On the other hand, software development – hmm, that’s the more secure path and will beef up my resume. It’s got better career prospects. I need to get real. The world isn’t a bed of roses. Software development is where I should be job-hunting.”


Does that sound like something you would think? Is that the way you’re planning your career?


Or was there another way you were looking at your career?

A different logic you based your decisions on.

Replacing “I need to do this” with “I want to do this”…


Warren Buffett once said, taking up jobs to beef up your resume is “a little like saving up sex for your old age”.

In other words, maybe you should do it. But, chances are, you won’t enjoy the end result as much as you would’ve thought.


Vincent Rubino, owner of Fox in a Box Chicago, sat down for an interview with me, Amanda Contreras, on my YouTube channel Find Your Escape and talked about his voyage to setting up Fox in a Box.


Which brings me back to the scenario I started with. A career in software development beefing up your resume versus a chance to manage your own escape room, an activity you personally savor.


Vincent’s voyage

That was the choice that Vincent had in 2013.


At that time, he was living the complete Silicon Valley software developer life.

He’d more or less watched the internet ecosystem grow right from the dialup days.

His software career included a long stint working at Four11 Corp (a company that developed free email and internet directories of email addresses and phone numbers), through working at Yahoo (which acquired Four11Corp), and finally working with a bunch of startups that are synonymous with Silicon Valley.


After years of intense work days, long commutes, and insufficient time with his family, he was feeling that something was missing; so he decided to take a sabbatical.

He bought an RV, drove it across the US, shipped it to the UK, and then travelled across Europe for almost a year with his family.

On most days he and his family would visit a museum, gallery, castle, monastery or other sight, but never were all family members equally happy with the chosen activity on a given day.


The turning point came at Novi Sad in Serbia.


They did an escape room there and the entire family LOVED IT.

It was then that Vincent had the notion that maybe it was time to switch careers.

The entire family loved the escape room concept; why not go into that, open and run an escape room business of their own?


So, that was it? One escape room and boom, career selected?

Not quite.


A lot of research had to be done, like how prevalent escape rooms were in the United States at that time; what kind of work went into starting and running an escape room venue and so on.


Vincent persisted with the research, doing a lot of legwork, and eventually arrived at an informed decision to go ahead with his new business.


Why an escape room franchise?

Generally speaking, if you’re part of a franchise, you get a lot of help from the franchisor in setting up and running your escape room business.


Of course, you can’t just set up any kind of room that you want. You need to select from among the list of escape games offered by the franchisor.


However, large and established escape room franchisors (like Fox in a Box) tend to have extensive escape game menus that offer you a lot of choice in terms of game theme, game genre and difficulty of the puzzles. And the franchisor rooms have all been tested and fine-tuned to provide the best experience for guests.


For example, one of the earliest escape games that Vincent included in his Chicago escape room venue (a thousand Whose Line Is It Anyway type points if you can guess which Escape Room I’m talking about) is The Bunker which is based on the Cold War.


To boost immersion, 

  • The walls were given a cement-like look, which reinforced the feeling of being inside an actual bunker.
  • Props were shipped in from Eastern Europe which gave authenticity to the Cold War setting.


Fox in a Box, the franchisor, helped with both the set design and prop acquisition on top of the complete blueprint of the game.


As you can well imagine, had the franchise not been involved, getting the advice of interior designers for the walls may have been easy but shipping in props from Eastern Europe would have been another story altogether.


To summarize how an escape room franchise can help,

  • The franchise model gives you a ‘package’ that you set up by ‘reading the directions’, in a manner of speaking, which removes uncertainty and enables a quicker launch.
  • With an extensive network, the franchise is able to act on market trends and update their escape game portfolio, helping you stay on the ball with respect to the pace of the industry..


Even so, it took a full year for Fox in a Box – Chicago to launch. It launched on Saturday, September 12th, 2015.


Has Vincent gained any insight from over 4 years of running Fox in a Box Chicago?

An escape game must be a memorable experience for players

For example, two of the escape games – The Bunker and The Bank – have been operating since the beginning and have proven very resilient in drawing bookings.

The idea is always to create a thrilling experience for players, which takes more than impressing them with the decor or the difficulty of the puzzles.

Escape rooms can consider the horror genre but it may draw more of a niche crowd

The Zodiac – a serial killer-themed room – has definitely proven a strategic asset, getting its fair share of bookings but it’s The Bunker and The Bank which have proved to have the broadest appeal booking-wise.

Room design matters

They went in for a major revamp of their rooms in 2017, which pushed up design and immersion to ‘theme park level’ and have proven instrumental in boosting popularity and user (player) experience.


What lies ahead?

In one word: Expansion. Space is definitely a constraint in an escape room venue. Expansion to 8 or more escape missions is on Vincent’s agenda.


And, how all this left any time to keep up the love for doing Escape Rooms?

One of the key things about running an escape room franchise (or any other franchise, for that matter) is, you get to be your own boss.

There’s certainly a lot of stuff to be done in planning, oversight, research, personnel management, problem-solving, you name it; but you can definitely plan your schedule to accommodate your passions.


The trials and tribulations of running his own Escape Room have definitely not slowed down Vincent’s passion for Escape Rooms. He’s done a number of Escape Rooms since starting Fox in a Box, and he always tries to book an escape whenever he gets a chance and particularly when he travels.


You can listen to the entire interview on YouTube.

And, if you’re not sure what to do this weekend, you can find out why Fox in a Box belongs at the top of a things to do in Orange County list.