Entrepreneurs: Tania Luna, Kat Dudina and Maya Gilbert, founders of Surprise Industries, a New York company that plans surprise events for individuals and businesses. Think trapeze lessons, private beer tastings and a zombie birthday party complete with actors in costume and a terrifying alleyway ambush--the possibilities are endless.
How It Works: The clients themselves can be the surprisees, or they can hire the company to surprise someone they know. Surprisees have no idea what they're paying for, aside from some hints, a location and an arrival time. They're asked what kind of experience they want (adrenaline-spiked, romantic, mysterious) and what the occasion is. Then, Surprise Industries' team, including 13 part-time "agents of surprise" on call for emergency brainstorming sessions, makes it happen by contacting the right people and putting together the surprise.
What Possessed Them: Gilbert stumbled upon a website called somethingstore.com that sold "surprise" objects. After trying it out, she realized the awesome power of buying a mystery. Now, Dudina says, "We want to spread the surprise bug and encourage risk-taking and adventure-seeking."
"Aha" Moment: One night in June 2008, the three were chatting about cool business ideas and hit on a concept that combined somethingstore.com with the excitement of learning something new and unexpected in a class. "The idea just appeared on the table. We thought we should do it, and that night, we did it," Luna says.
Startup: Within minutes, they bought the domain name golearnsomething.com and got to work on a business plan. They entered their idea into a competition and won $10,000 to get started. By the time the first order came in January 2009, the concept had morphed into Surprise Industries, covering all types of experiences, not just classes.
Customers: Most clients are in their 20s and 30s, but the trio has planned surprises for family reunions and vacations, as well as corporate team-building activities and company events. "It's like a concierge service, a little personalized luxury experience that's accessible to anyone," Luna says.
Success: Revenue doubled in 2010, and Surprise Industries now receives approximately two private orders a day (averaging about $300 to $500) and one corporate order a week (as much as $10,000). Clients include Christian Dior, L'Oreal and marketing agency Mr. Youth--and this all came about without any active marketing efforts.
What's Next: Building up business clients and focusing on large-scale private surprises, as well as planning more public holiday surprises for multiple groups. (Last year's Valentine's Day involved couples samurai fighting, a Moroccan cooking class and Thai massage.) Gilbert says they're constantly expanding, too: "Our database of surprises is the largest in New York, but we're going after interesting people in all interesting cities."