Skift Take

Gray's company exemplifies the challenges of a business that is more original than it is scalable. But it's enduring creativity is one reason that it's making a second appearance at the Skift Global Forum.

Nick Gray, Founder of Museum Hack will speak about how Millennials hack travel experiences at the Skift Global Forum on October 14 and 15 in Brooklyn, New York. See the complete list of amazing speakers and topics at the Skift Global Forum.

Museum Hack has made enough heads turn with their high-energy and good humored behavior in cultural spaces to also offer crash courses at the Museum of Natural History in New York and the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C.

Founder Nick Gray is staying true to his brand’s origin by keeping things bite-sized so it can remain a sustainable business for years to come. We caught up with him to talk about what’s behind the demand for these types of tours and how such unique experiences are re-created over and over again. An edited version of the conversation follows.

Skift: Being that Millennials are self-sufficient and are tuned into digital discovery during their trip, why do you think they are still interested in taking tours?

Nick Gray: They are digitally saturated with smartphone ads, Facebook, and the rest of social media. Travel is about and is the definition of the live experience. For my friends, they travel to disconnect. I don’t know anyone who purposely travels to be on a screen.

We tie into the juicy gossip, the behind the scene stories, making them feel like they have insider knowledge. Everyone wants to feel like a local when they’re traveling. It’s this live experience that people are willing to pay for that is refreshing, engaging, and that’s why we do what we do.

Skift: There are other companies that are also doing small batch tours in New York City. Are you noticing an uptrend in activity?

Gray: We see a lot of people who maybe try and start the tours, but very few of them turn into real sustainable businesses. I can think of two that were very popular that got a lot of attention — not going to say who — that eventually fizzled out because they weren’t able to make a real sustainable business around it. People definitely like the immersive theater experience. Look at the success of escape-the-room-games around the world, like Sleep No More in New York City.

Skift: Do you think people who take your tours are already familiar with New York City?

Gray: I’m not sure, with a museum as large as The Metropolitan Museum of Art oftentimes you deal with people who have never been there before and it’s almost like a pilgrimage for them. There are cities and iconic destinations that are kind of like that. The massive museums are just overwhelming and it can be too much for people, they kind of go there to check off a box, but they don’t leave with anything significant. We try to make the tours education but ultimately, just a fun experience.

Skift: Boutique experiences are a popular cultural trend in fashion, food, and travel. Do feel that your business is relevant because it co-exists with these cultural preferences?

Gray: The idea and concept of wanting to travel like a local and have a small-batch boutique experience has been around for a long time. As far back as when people from England did the grand tour around Europe. It was a highly customized and sort of immersive experience for them. But today, with technology and [digital] marketing, we have the ability to create, manage, and market those experiences to a much larger audience at a price point that is a lot more affordable [tickets range from $49.00 to $89.00].

Skift: What are the reasons why it’s important to keep Museum Hack small?

Gray: The concept of engagement. It can be hard to scale engagement.
We’d like to keep it small to give our audience attention with a boutique feeling like personalization and customization. Really, we want to be dynamic so we can keep up with people’s ever-changing attention span.

Skift: How are you maintaining Museum Hack’s pace in terms of growth without missing out on potential opportunities?

Gray: That’s something that we’re still struggling with. We can certainly grow a lot faster and bigger that’s if we massively dropped the quality of our tours. A lot people every week come to us to sell us a smartphone app to make our tools virtual and reach tens of thousands of people, but that hasn’t been something that we want to do yet.

We are growing and we’re similar to Skift. You guys are laser-focused on quality and are a real sustainable business that is going to be around for a long time. Not tons of hot air. Tight and scrappy. Real business. Real hustle. And, that’s a lot what we do too.

Skift: Being that each tour is so unique, how does Museum Hack iterate from those experiences to make a new tour?

Gray: We’ve setup a framework that let’s us easily test new tours and new experiences called Beta Testing Tour. Where the guides don’t have to be threatened by getting a negative review on something new that try [and guests don’t pay full price tickets]. And that has been a real breakthrough for us to give them room and space to experiment to try new thematic tours. We’re going to do a tour called, “The Bad Ass Bitches at The Met.” and they can offfer a 45-minutes to 60-minute tour and not feel like they have to invest months of prep.

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Tags: museumhack, sgf2015, skift global forum, tours

Photo credit: "Be Rebellious" is the topic of Nick Gray's TEDxFoggyBottom talk. Museum Hack

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