There’s nothing like a good murder to bring people together. That’s the basic idea behind Right Angle events, which began offering crime scene investigation-style team-building events in 2007. You bond while dusting for fingerprints, combing the scene for ballistic marks and putting together a photofit of the killer, who may or may not look suspiciously like your boss.
It’s the brainchild of Steve Gaskin (below), a former detective chief inspector at the Metropolitan police. Having retired from public service after 25 years, he planned to move into teaching and was considering buying a maths tutoring franchise, when inspiration struck. Only, it didn’t actually strike him...
‘I was tutoring a young woman whose mother was a forensic dental nurse. At the end of the sessions she said hold on a minute: there are all these CSI programmes, you’re ex-Old Bill, you’ve got a bit of an entrepreneurial streak to you, why not do some CSI experiences?’ Says Gaskin.
CSI was big in 2007. The TV franchise of the same name was in full swing, and audiences worldwide were just beginning to get a taste for psychopathic blood spatter analyst Dexter. Yet no one had yet thought to turn it into an experience for public or corporate consumption.
‘I spoke to my wife about it and I spoke to my bank manager. He said do not ever, ever take this up and quit your day job. He’s subsequently eaten his words. In fact, we’ve considered putting him on the board as a non-executive...’
After testing the idea out, Gaskin won a competition fronted by BBC 'dragon' Theo Paphitis, winning £10,000 in radio advertising. From that came the company’s first big breaks, a contract with Center Parcs and a deal supplying a major team building provider with its niche product. Shortly afterwards Gaskin and his wife (also ex-police) took on their first employee, who worked in a summerhouse the family built in their back garden. Before they eventually outgrew it, it ended up housing eight workers.
Success was swift, but soon after came the crash. With corporate belts tightening, the recession threatened to squeeze the life out of the nascent business. The risks were real: Gaskin had put his home as security for a £60,000 loan.
It was in these difficult times that Gaskin’s experience of high stress work with the police came in handy: ‘It was commensurate to when I was investigating a murder case – the hours were very long and sometimes with very little tangible reward, but you’ve got to keep going.’
Rescue came at the cost of £500 of his own money. That was what it cost to buy a list of every school in the country. ‘We looked at how we could mirror our product to the national curriculum. A couple of weeks after starting that, we spent two weeks in the Liverpool area delivering [experiences] to schools back to back. That kept us afloat until the recession eased – if we hadn’t diversified we’d have gone under.’
From offering experiences to schoolkids, Right Angle later branched out into leadership training, as well as various other forms of team-building exercise, the most recent based on the successful TV show Line of Duty (experiences start from £75 per person). Gaskin puts the company’s expansion since the recession (it now employs 17 permanent staff plus freelancers) down to their awakening to the value of marketing.
‘It wasn’t until we did a SWOT analysis on the business and saw that marketing was a huge weakness that we actually invested in it. We took £10,000 out of the business and put it into a fantastic marketing service called Cardell Media that revolutionised the way we did things. If we did a SWOT analysis now, marketing would be a strength of ours,’ says Gaskin.
Unlike many of the entrepreneurs we cross paths with, Gaskin has no intention of selling. His hope is that his daughter, who works at the business, will one day take his place. ‘We’re still trying to conquer the world.’
For more stories of how people successfully changed careers, check out MT’s feature on the career pivot
Image credit: Jon Crel/Flickr