Mark Cuban made the biggest investment of his five seasons on “Shark Tank” in 2013 when he put down $US2 million for a 20% stake in Melissa Carbone’s horror attraction company Ten Thirty One Productions.
Carbone, the CEO and president, cofounded Ten Thirty One in 2009 with Alyson Richards for the purpose of launching the first large-scale haunted hayride in Los Angeles. After clearing out their bank accounts and scraping together investments from friends, they put down $US365,000 to set up and “market the hell out of” the Los Angeles Haunted Hayride. By 2012, Ten Thirty One was selling out the Halloween season and bringing in $US1.8 million in revenue in October.
Cuban saw the potential the company had for other markets and jumped at the opportunity, and recently told Business Insider that it’s been one of his most profitable deals from the show, grouping it with others that are making at least half a million in profit annually. Last year Ten Thirty One hit its goal of $US3 million in gross revenue.
This year, Carbone expanded her flagship hayride brand to New York City, and has experienced the advanced and unique challenges that come with scaling a company.
Carbone told us last year that “The ultimate long-term goal is to have a Ten Thirty One attraction in every major metropolitan area in the United States,” so using Cuban’s investment to bring the hayride out to the biggest city on the East Coast seemed an obvious choice.
The New York Haunted Hayride opened in September on Randall’s Island, located on the East River between uptown Manhattan and Queens. Carbone said that while she can’t reveal its revenues, it’s done three times better than LA Haunted Hayride did in its first year, and 36% better than LA did in its second year. “So I think from that standpoint, the potential for that attraction is giant,” Carbone said. “I think it’s loud and clear that that ride has legs.”
What she hadn’t planned for, however, was a wave of rain and intense wind wreaking havoc on their setup and forcing them to close for several nights, losing significant amounts of money in the process. She also found the location to be less than ideal, since isolated Randall’s Island is far from a visitor-friendly locale. Due to the unexpected closings, Ten Thirty One will miss its goal of $US5 million in revenue this year.
But again, the project was not a failure. And despite her high levels of stress over it, she said that Cuban has been an invaluable source of reason throughout the chaos.
“I’m the type of person who, if something is not in my control, it makes my head explode,” Carbone said. It’s why Cuban has been repeating the mantra of “relax, relax, relax” on their biweekly phone calls this Halloween season. “Having anxiety about this isn’t going to make it any better,” he told her.
“This is a tough business to scale with a small team,” Carbone said. While Ten Thirty One now employs around 500 people, up from around 300 last year, its central team comprises only six people. “I’ve learned a lot in the vein of scaling how to make these attractions more convertible or a little more transportable.”
Last year, Carbone considered bringing the hayride to Atlanta and San Francisco, but she and Cuban decided that their next target market will be in Dallas. Not only does Cuban live there, but it will give Ten Thirty One a presence down south.
And though the New York Hayride gave Carbone some headaches, the year has been a positive one overall. She recently partnered with the seasoned horror film producer Sonny Mallhi (“The Strangers,” Spike Lee’s remake of “Oldboy”) to launch a new film arm of Ten Thirty One called Shadow House Films. Carbone said films they develop will organically incorporate Ten Thirty One brands like the Haunted Hayride into the plot in a way that won’t feel cheesy but rather be like “what Camp Crystal Lake was to ‘Friday the 13th.'”
Carbone said she has realised that she can venture beyond a simple growth plan of adding identical attractions in each new market.
Ten Thirty One Productions now has six brands, including the two Hayrides, the film outlet, the haunted cruise Ghost Ship, a live action horror film experience during the summer called The Great Horror Campout, and Great Horror Movie Night outings scattered throughout the year.
There are many horror attraction franchises in different parts of the country, but Carbone is attempting to create a national presence. It will certainly not be easy, but Cuban is confident in Carbone and her team, and will help keep her on track to her dream of being the dominant horror attraction company in the United States.
Last year she told us that she wants “every teenager, whether they’re in Miami, Atlanta, San Francisco, San Diego, or Chicago, to have access to a Ten Thirty One Production.”
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