Produced by the Office of Marketing and Communications
Game Brings Fictional Murder Mysteries to Doorsteps
Photo courtesy of Ryan Hogan ’13
Ever figured you could solve a murder mystery after binge-watching hours of “Law & Order”, or listening to the latest episode of your favorite serial killer podcast?
Serial (ha ha ha) entrepreneur Ryan Hogan ’13 thinks you can, too, so he created Hunt a Killer (HAK), a murder mystery subscription box that allows buyers to solve a deadly crime over a series of episodes delivered to your door. Six years later, HAK has shipped over 3.5 million boxes.
The Seattle-based Hogan had noted the viral popularity of 2014’s initial episodes of “Serial,” about a killing in the Baltimore suburbs, and other mayhem-focused efforts like “Last Podcast on the Left.”
“There were all these podcasts about (true crime) that were just exploding. What if we recreate that into an interactive murder mystery?” said Hogan.
At 26, while studying at UMD as part of his military commitment, he’d started Run for Your Lives, billed as the first-ever zombie-infested 5K race. Obstacle races like “Tough Mudder” were big at the time, and within three years, Hogan was running a multimillion-dollar business while attending UMD and went from holding one event a year to 22 events a year across the United States.
“He was one of the students who came to class and already had the entrepreneurship bug,” said Oliver Schlake, clinical professor of management and organization. “He already had some (entrepreneurial) skills coming in, so as much as he learned from the class, we learned from him as well.”
But in 2013, the business went bankrupt. Instead of jumping into his next enterprise after graduation, Hogan began driving U.S. Navy ships as a surface warfare officer to fulfill his commitment to the military program that paid for his degree.
Juggling service to the country with the demands of raising a young family, he longed to stretch his entrepreneurial muscles anew.
“The reality was between 2013 and late 2015 nothing was really clicking,” said Hogan. “I had a mentor call me and tell me “go do what you’re good at,” so called up Derrick, my co-founder for Run for Your Lives, and I said, “Hey, let’s do this again.””
With his Navy commitment now only one weekend a month, Hogan spends the majority of his time with company co-founder Derrick Smith, producing new immersive murder mystery experiences every month for subscribers. HAK offers three subscriptions: subscription, premium and retail.
Noted on Bustle as a “perfect last-minute gift for anyone” and on The Washington Post as “not for the faint of heart,” each box is packed with clues, stories and notes about a fictional crime, like the current series “Mallory Rock” Which follows Gwen, a citizen of Mallory Rock who is the sole believer that her sister was killed and is on a mission to solve the case.
If it sounds a little cold-blooded, HAK donates a portion of the profits to the Cold Case Foundation, a nonprofit that provides funding and support for law enforcement involvement in unsolved homicides, missing-person or unidentified-body cases and sexual assaults.
This year, Hogan plans to establish in-person interactive events through HAK, where participants can use their living room-based murder mystery-solving skills in a like-minded community of “detectives.”
For Hogan, HAK is just the beginning, and he continues to develop new ideas and business practices.
“I have a list of ideas that I just keep writing down. When a company is growing, it can very quickly become routine. (That’s when) you take the entrepreneurial spirit and embed it in the framework of your company,” said Hogan. “So, I always have ideas, and this one won’t be the last.”
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