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Meet Ryan Coon of Switchboard Games in Downtown

Today we’d like to introduce you to Ryan Coon.

Thanks for sharing your story with us Ryan. So, let’s start at the beginning and we can move on from there.
I grew up in tiny towns all over upstate NY. Each one had a couple of stop lights, a handful of businesses, and nearly nothing fun to do anywhere close. I grew up infatuated by the entertainment industry since a trip to the movies felt like the Super Bowl for us. I didn’t fully realize how highly I thought about the entertainment industry until I graduated college and decided to take a management position at a movie theater (although corporate positions were offered elsewhere with higher salaries).

Over the next decade, I learned a lot about what it takes to truly entertain people. Creating an environment where everyone feels a sense of childlike wonderment and escapism was fascinating to me. This passion carried over to my time at Sea World San Diego where I accumulated even more leadership skills and memories.

Although I loved my time at both, I began to realize I wanted to bring something unique to the table by stepping out on my own. It was obvious my new business venture was going to include entertainment so I began thinking a lot about one of my favorite past-times. Board games were huge to me as a kid. Along with sports and renting movies, it was basically the only thing we had to keep us entertained. The thought that kept coming back to me was – what if you could play your favorite board games on vertical surfaces so the table was free for food, drinks, and wild hand gestures? That’s where our company began and the name Switchboard Games came from….we switch how you play board games.

One of my favorite parts of playing games is the camaraderie you establish with the other players. This realization gave us the idea to use vertical games, art, and challenges as a way to get people to connect at one-of-a-kind events. That actually leads to the second meaning behind our name. Each game connects you with others. Just like old school switchboards did.

It’s taken plenty of ingenuity and mistakes to come up with something that seems to resonate – social game nights at incredible venues that focus on unique fun as a way to create authentic, hilarious, and stress free conversations. Our ultimate goal was to answer the question – “How can you remove ALL of the anxiety, awkwardness, and wasted time associated with making new connections?” We drew a lot of inspiration from the Plato quote – “You can discover more about a person in an hour of play than in a year of conversation”. When you’re truly having a blast and acting like a kid, your true self comes out.

Seeing people enthusiastically meet new folks with joy and anticipation is what keeps me going. This concept has thankfully combined my love for entertainment and added in genuine connections with new people. Both of which were wholly non-existent in my upbringing. Hopefully one day we can bring our form of social entertainment to small towns like the ones I grew up in!

Has it been a smooth road?
My passion has never waned on this project so I personally think the road has been smooth. However, we’ve had plenty of twists and turns! The place we are now wasn’t on our GPS when we began. We knew we wanted to entertain and connect our audience, but we didn’t know how to do it effectively.

Before this idea really began to get momentum, I sat down with a local business owner who had successfully been working in this field for years. Once I finished pitching my idea to see if it had legs, I was sure he was going to be flabbergasted at how insightful and revolutionary the concept was. That did not happen! Instead, I was presented with a lot of hard truths, concerns, and problems to consider. I learned from everything I was told and am thankful for that conversation even though it wasn’t what I expected to hear.

One of our biggest obstacles was apparent from the start – vertical games didn’t exist. Creating something from scratch is tough so we had to get really creative throughout the research and development stage. With the help of an amazing local carpenter (Ed Nodland), we started off with huge designs that were expensive and beautiful but ultimately impractical at the events we attended. It took multiple iterations of vertical surfaces (or as we call them, Switchboards) before we developed our current model.

Fast forward a few months after our initial design is completed. I’m at our first public showing at a packed event downtown. We were there for over 3 hours and not 1 person played! I probably should have felt down about the participation level but I didn’t. I was weirdly even more excited to go to our next soiree since we had learned a lot.

This is a perfect example of why I love being an entrepreneur – new inventions and ideas continuously evolve! While we’re currently focusing on Singles Game Nights, Couples Game Nights, Social Game Nights (anyone can come), and Networking Game Nights, we already have new venues, games, and event types ready to go over the next couple of months.

So let’s switch gears a bit and go into the Switchboard Games story. Tell us more about the business.
We like to say our goal is to provide Social Entertainment that guarantees the most enjoyable, comfortable, and effective night of socializing possible.

We realized early on that every event we went to focused on 1 of 2 things – entertainment or socializing. Fun events are fantastic (the main reason I love the industry) but they don’t actively help attendees meet new people. Other events are perfectly social but don’t focus on providing entertainment simultaneously. We decided to design our events to be both! To take it a step further, we wanted our form of entertainment to turn players into their best/most relaxed self so they could easily and effectively make new connections.

At our soirees, unique entertainment is what attendees focus on but socializing is the stress-free result. Most of our events have structured rounds where we strategically determine who meets who and what form of vertical fun they’ll enjoy together. We use a precise schedule that guarantees players stay engaged by constantly experiencing new friends and games throughout the shindig. Each round traditionally sees 4 people tripping the life fantastic in comfortable group environments so as to avoid the feeling of one-on-one interviews.

One of our main goals when planning Game Nights is to make sure we host at impressive venues that are capable of adding excitement for everyone involved. We’ve enthusiastically collaborated with live music venues, breweries, bars, restaurants, outdoor spaces, movie theaters, mansions, etc. The sky is the limit on where our events can be held (both indoors and outside) so we’re always on the lookout for new locations.

Speaking of collaborations, we are also constantly searching for businesses, churches, charities, housing complexes, groups, etc. who would like for us to host events for their audience. I’m really excited that we’re going to have a chance to work with a couple new charities in the near future to help fundraise money through social entertainment. We’re always happy to help any group or business who would like to provide unique events that are both social and fun!

How do you think the industry will change over the next decade?
I heard a theory recently that says – the more people you live by, the less people you actually know. I’ve seen this myself by residing in different size complexes. Although high-rises I’ve lived in have hundreds of residents, I never got to know anyone well since I interacted with so many people on any given day. When living in smaller complexes, I became close to a few since I saw the same neighbors repeatedly.

I think our digital landscape could create a similar phenomenon. We’re so close to thousands of people online that it might make it more difficult for us to truly connect. While I have absolutely nothing against being connected digitally, I believe there will always be a place in society for face to face interactions. It may be possible that the need for these types of personable conversations increases as we consume more and more technology daily. That said, we wouldn’t be who we are without the help of our website wizard and all around idea master, Gaege Root!

One of the most meaningful things we’ve seen at our events is a complete lack of phone usage. I think it goes to show that we all have a deep desire to feel close to the community around us. When that need is purposefully satisfied with good people and quality entertainment, the need to check our phones disappears. With a community here in San Diego that constantly seeks new ideas and activities, we see a growing market for other types of events that strive to meet the same goal!

Contact Info:

Image Credit:
Barrera Photography
Black Chip Collective

Getting in touch: SDVoyager is built on recommendations from the community; it’s how we uncover hidden gems, so if you know someone who deserves recognition please let us know here.

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