We had the good fortune of connecting with Jay Carlson and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Jay, how has your work-life balance changed over time?
When I started Clue Town in 2012, it was definitely a side hustle. I was a stay-at-home dad with a 2 year old and an infant. Clue Town was my attempt to earn a little income without having to go into an office. Back then I was working maybe 15 hours a week. As I began selling at festivals, the business grew. I designed new puzzle hunts and attended more festivals, and around 2014 I was working about 30 hours a week.
This time period for the business was the hardest, because it was difficult to work during daytime hours since I was caring for a now 4 and 2 year old. The bulk of my work was done at night from the time the kids went to bed until 11 pm. In 2017, both kids started going to school during the day, which is was when I considered Clue Town a full time job. Every day I’m either designing a new hunt, assembling books, packing orders, or delivering to stores. I probably work about 40 hours a week, maybe more if there is a festival.
Now my days are split into an early 6 hour period while the kids are schooling, and then another 2 hour period at night. This allows me to care for the kids when they are done with school, do the laundry, cook dinner, hang out with my wife, and exercise. Since the pandemic, there are no festivals, which has been nice. I realized I can focus on new products and my e-commerce, which allows me to spend more time with my family.
What should our readers know about your business? What are the lessons you’ve learned along the way. What do you want the world to know about you or your brand and story?
Puzzle design is a very niche thing. There’s not as much competition providing experiences as there is for, say, designing jewelry. So I took something I understood and cared about, and I tried to make it unique. I know hunts like geocaching and escape rooms exist, but I like local history, and I think I’m the first to merge an outdoor hunt with puzzles that can only be solved on location.
One lesson I’ve learned the hard way is that landscapes change, and it doesn’t take long for them to do so. When I design for an outdoor location, I do my best to pick checkpoints that will be there long-term. The reality is that you never really know. For example, I designed a hunt that referenced a building that was demolished a few months later. On another hunt, a plaque went missing. When instances like that happen, I do my best to communicate on my website or social media what a solver can expect to find, so that he or she can proceed.
If you had a friend visiting you, what are some of the local spots you’d want to take them around to?
Most U.S. cities’ downtown areas are hubs for activity, but Atlanta is not that way. I firmly believe that the best experiences in Atlanta are confined to neighborhoods, and there’s no right or wrong neighborhood. Buford Highway is an unparalleled Asian and Mexican dining experience. Lullwater Park on the Emory campus is one of my favorite scenic hiking spots. If you want to look at cool Victorian house, then go to Inman Park or Grant Park. Midtown is probably the best for cultural accessibility.
Who else deserves some credit and recognition?
Well of course, anyone in my household deserves credit for Clue Town’s success. My wife is my editor and she’s a treasure-trove of business wisdom. And the kids help test many of the hunts.