Ryan Hogan ’13 loves a good mystery. So much so, in fact, that he has made them a career. But his success is no secret or enigma – it’s a product of years of trial and error.
Hogan is co-founder and CEO of Hunt A Killer, an immersive entertainment company that creates games that challenge players to solve cases through interactive monthly subscription boxes and one-time experiences. He believes entrepreneurship is about failure and the ability to learn from each endeavor.
It’s a perspective he gained at the Robert H. Smith School of Business, in 2012 winning Maryland Smith’s Cupid’s Cup (the predecessor to the Pitch Dingman entrepreneurship competition), and later coping with the fall of his early business venture, Reed Street Productions – operators of Run For Your Lives, a zombie-themed adventure race.
“Entrepreneurship is about your ability to be able to adapt, learn and then improve or iterate from whatever failure you experience,” says Hogan. “I have a very special relationship with the Smith School, in part because of the Cupid’s Cup experience. While we won the Cupid’s Cup, Run For Your Lives eventually didn’t work out as expected and that was probably one of the most painful entrepreneurial lessons that I experienced up until that time, and it’s something that I carry with me today.”
After graduating from high school, he enlisted immediately in the United States Navy as means to “find his purpose.” He spent those subsequent years performing extensive flight crew duties as an aviation warfare systems operator.
In 2010, he enrolled at the Smith School and continued serving as a reserve in George Washington University’s NROTC program. To become a college student after many years in the military and starting a family was a bit jarring, Hogan says, but it helped him stay focused on his education and enabled him to appreciate the lessons learned even more.
“College was a very different experience for me compared to my peers, who were six or seven years younger than me. But what really resonated with me during that time were the leadership courses I took that gave me tremendous perspective on my military experiences,” says Hogan.
Hogan would return to the Navy following his graduation from Maryland Smith in 2013, this time with a four-year stint as a Surface Warfare Officer and continues to serve as an Executive Officer in the Navy Reserves. During that experience, he says, he took note of his superiors and their habits and behaviors. In the business world, he’d emulate some of those traits, and avoid others.
What he drew from most during that time was the discipline it takes to start from the bottom, Hogan says. It enabled him to be a more empathetic leader knowing what it’s like to be in the shoes of those he’s leading.
“Having the understanding to know what it’s like to be in the employee’s position is so important and something that I appreciate,” says Hogan. “Looking back at this company, I used to pack boxes myself and stay up for hours on virtual chats answering questions. That type of perspective has really helped us grow as a company and continue to focus on our goals.”
With those intangibles in hand and lessons learned from his previous Run For Your Lives events, the groundwork was laid for his next venture.
“We sat down and said, ‘What’s the emerging genre?’ and at that time it was true crime,” says Hogan. “We saw major podcasts, escape rooms and interactive theaters around the world that were brewing, and we knew we had an opportunity to bring it all together in one gigantic event with Hunt A Killer.”
Hunt A Killer has grown to over 100 full-time employees – an expansion Hogan says he is proud of – and produced $50.4 million in revenue in 2020. The company has evolved from a live event and corporate team-building service, to subscription boxes and retail – and there are plans for forays into other various enterprises in the future.
From the outside, it is easy to view the company as a success, Hogan says, but that only tells part of the story. What’s important, he says, is that people keep in mind the obstacles and failures that have led to this point.
“What people miss are the different things that we’ve screwed up along the way,” says Hogan. “Entrepreneurship is about pivoting and exploring different iterations of products. You’ll know what it means to fail, but you’ll get those big wins eventually and those wins are what people will pay attention to.”
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About the University of Maryland's Robert H. Smith School of Business
The Robert H. Smith School of Business is an internationally recognized leader in management education and research. One of 12 colleges and schools at the University of Maryland, College Park, the Smith School offers undergraduate, full-time and part-time MBA, executive MBA, online MBA, specialty master's, PhD and executive education programs, as well as outreach services to the corporate community. The school offers its degree, custom and certification programs in learning locations in North America and Asia.