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Community Highlights: Meet Hareem Idris of Grand Escape Game

Today we’d like to introduce you to Hareem Idris.

Hi Hareem, so excited to have you with us today. What can you tell us about your story?
I come from an entrepreneurial background. I literally grew up seeing my inspiration every day, and that’s no other but, My Dad, Idris MS, an-award winning successful business pioneer. Just by looking at him, I would say to myself, that’s where I want to be one day. It’s his entire journey that fascinates me; from hearing how he started from scratch, working multiple jobs while completing his Bachelor’s of Science in Electrical Engineering from State University of New York at New Paltz. Graduating and then stepping into the business world, and then actually seeing how he took up each challenge that came in his way, how he chose the right opportunities that knocked his door alongside moving forward with his family for their betterment, I find it totally charming. My parents have always been keen about how they wanted us to grow up, the sort of culture they wanted to bring us up in, the quality of education, as well as keeping us close to the family, and that’s one reason why we have had the exposure of living in different countries it has all been part of our training without knowing it. My Dad has been very supportive and guided me instead of enforcing his orders on me and that has really assisted me in trying out different things. I love being creative in my own world and this one element has led me to becoming an escape room developer today, from scripts to theming, designing, props, and all that goes in there is what I do for work, I enjoy hosting the games and beta testing in my spare time, and have a lot of fun playing them with my friends virtually since majority of my friends are based overseas. Grand Escape Game is a product line of Funtania the family fun center, it is also very close to my heart especially because it was Dad & My ultimate project we worked on together, I lost him just a few months back due to covid. Now, taking this forward has become my ultimate mission.

I think I landed at the best educational institutes in Canada, UAE & the UK. My teachers discovered my creativity, I was encouraged to enter art competitions and effortlessly won back-to-back, in fact for three years consistently my artwork was exhibited at the Burnaby Art Gallery. Later on, my innovative skills were brought forward and I was one of the few students to construct working models for the majority of my high-school projects. Around the same time, my parents brought us up in a close-knit family culture. My Dad being a businessman was always looking for opportunities, due to which luckily, we were mostly traveling and lived different phases of our life in numerous places across the world. For us, it also meant our second home was My Dad’s business, and spending time there was my favorite, be it after school or during holidays I was always excited about it. Even if I had to sit in his office all day long, I was up for it. I remember I was roughly around nine years old, My Dad owned/operated a Dairy Manufacturing Plant in Vancouver, British Columbia. I would spend time by helping out in the lab checking the quality of the creamers or watch my dad editing his expansion sketches, helping out labeling the products/etc. I would ask silly questions, and My Dad would actually take the time to explain to me even though he knew at that age I would not understand much. Moreover, in the years to come, My Dad developed a variety of businesses in various fields across the globe and I had been a part of it in some way or the other playing a role behind the scenes.

In 2013, we moved back to Orlando, Florida from Dubai, UAE. My Dad & I had put plans together to set up a family fun center which I was superbly excited about. I was about to debut into the business world by entering the entertainment industry. It became my dream project and I was really passionate about the entire concept we were putting together. While the plans were taking a long time to get on the floor due to city permits and licenses, My Dad decided to get me on board at his other business so that I can start getting some exposure to the real world.

Apparently, my very first practical workplace experience came to be at My Dad’s Medical Office in Orlando, Florida. I still remember I started off like a new kid around the block at the age of 18 knowing absolutely nothing, and I was assigned to the reception counter to check-in patients, answer phone calls, and deal with tons of paperwork. I was not interested in the healthcare field at all, I didn’t like the piles of paperwork, the usual medical smell (great thing this office never had that) however, just the entire ambiance would tell me I don’t belong here. One day I went to my dad and told him, ‘This is something I can’t do, I am better off just waiting on until the family fun center plans get approved”, and he told me “You’ll not get the opportunity of doing what you prefer each time, learn it all you never know where you end up”. I tried to figure things out and it still did not work out for me. I was doing my undergrad degree in Business & Management on the side from The University of Essex Online, so I went up to my Dad again and told him “I am studying and I don’t see myself balancing as my grades are being affected”, he knew I was making up excuses, which was very unlike of me, And he tells me “Your business degree will not get you the practical exposure you need in order to operate a business, it’ll only land you with a good job, your best foot forward would be to think this business is yours from an employer perspective and put aside the employee attitude”. Then I thought to myself, let’s give it a final shot. It was super hard settling in between a crowd of professionals but my aim was to stand out in them, and I invested myself in the business entirely. I just not learned but understood the dynamics of everything from ground up. In less than two years I was managing the entire office, which I hadn’t even imagined in my wildest dream, no one could tell that I had no healthcare background at all. The entire operating sphere was at the tip of my fingers, from billing and coding to verifying insurances, credentialing, I was intaking interviews of the medical staff, training, and developing ways of running the practice smoothly on a day-to-day basis. We had grown the practice by adding more lines of care for our patients. During the midst of these years, My Dad had redeveloped a restaurant and, on the weekends, I would be hosting events for up to 300 people. I enjoyed event management; it gave me the space to create my designs, work closely with clients to make their event into the best ones ever. Working full-time did not put my studies behind, I just had to manage it right, in fact, I scored a distinction in my dissertation, so I was happy with how I had been achieving and multitasking. My convocation date had been finalized for Summer 2018 which was to take place in Colchester, London and I had made plans of taking one month off with my family. In order for me to take this vacation, I made some changes at the medical office, as the manager of the medical office, I needed to know everything by the minute, I came up with a plan to convert the administration side remote so that I can manage it virtually from anywhere, and luckily, I was successful in doing that, transferring to an electronical workplace model made the life of our healthcare staff & professionals easier too, we went completely paperless and made the workplace much more efficient.

End of 2019, we finally opened the doors to our family fun center, Funtania, the dream come true project, something we had worked towards for the last five years. Dad & I put in a lot for this one, we would stay up past midnight, discussing ideas, sharing plans, ordering stuff, and whatnot, some priceless moments we shared. Our concept was simple, we wanted to set up an arena with multiple attractions in smaller experiences that would cater to all ages, rather than focusing on just arcade games or a certain age group. We have a synthetic ice-skating rink, virtual reality movie ride simulators, bumper cars, virtual reality escape games (btw we are the only ones in Orlando, so if you are ever in the area that’s a must-try), also offering real-life escape rooms and host birthday parties.

The real-life escape rooms are an original, Dad & my last masterpiece, one of the most fun we had from making the scripts to theme designing, mechanics and props, and then game mastering. It’s been a lovely journey. By developing these Escape Rooms for Funtania, it became my thing, it was something that I saw myself passionate about and my dad kept supporting my crazy ideas to incorporate immense levels of innovation. I wanted to grow and expand that line of products but then the pandemic came in the way in 2020. That period of time was full of uncertainty, as we saw so many successful and much older businesses in the industry close down overnight. We were blessed by God that we were able to make it through that phase. During this time of the shutdown, the idea of the remote escape game concept struck me as numerous escape room businesses innovated to offer online games in order to keep the operation cycle moving so that they can survive the pandemic. So, I diverted directions towards an alternative plan, and I started Grand Escape Game, which is an online remote escape room experience, played virtually on online platforms from anywhere at any time. At the moment we are offering 8 virtual escape games, 2-3 more games are under work and would be available sometime later this year. By incorporating this platform into the existing business of ours, we were able to diversify lines of product offering and this expansion assisted in generating additional revenue as a backup to the business.

Would you say it’s been a smooth road, and if not what are some of the biggest challenges you’ve faced along the way?
I wouldn’t say it has been a purely smooth road, but at the same time I wouldn’t call them struggles more like speed bumps, which are a part of life regardless of whatever phase you are in, I think it’s a part of learning when life slows you down and you just have to find ways of re-routing yourself to get back on track. The current phase I am going through, with not having my mentor, my only inspiration, my business partner, My Dad with me, it’s tough and it gets harder day by day. Deep inside I know I gotta keep our business not only running but push myself to make it flourish now. Even the tiniest amount of negligence of effort can impact differently on the business health, which I can’t afford my dad’s business to face. There are times when I go through a fluctuation of emotions, but, being in the entertainment industry I am forced to cast a smile on my face at all times and that is a daily challenge. Furthermore, there have been some great friends of my Dad, like his CPA, lawyer, commercial property/financial advisor, relationship manager, who have been super accommodating, supportive in getting things aligned for me and guiding me whenever I needed. This matters a lot, having the right team at the toughest time to stand by your side is a blessing and I cannot thank them enough!

In the past, there were patches in life where I was juggling with time, balancing studies and work, then we were also traveling and I had to prioritize my things. I initially found it hard settling into my dad’s medical office, the staff was way more experienced and highly classified, some even took me as their competition and wouldn’t teach me nor let me learn even though at the end of the day, I was the daughter of their boss and I was like, don’t worry, I don’t belong in this field, I am just working here to help out (LOL). Innovating ideas was tactical, especially when I was introducing the concept of going paperless, many staff members were old-school, and it annoyed me a lot because every day, there was some piece of paper that we all would spend half the day finding through files cause somehow it would get misplaced when we could have been doing something else.

The way My Dad trained me was surely different, he wouldn’t tell me word by word, it was based on practical experience, more like learn as you go and at times I was completely lost. Now when I reflect, I think it was great because that hands-on attitude gave me the ability to be more confident and responsible, and the best thing my dad would always be there behind me to guide me, so if there was anything I had someone to discuss with and we would find solutions or ways to evolve from there. Last year, I had the opportunity to intern at Senator Marco Rubio’s Office, it was a wonderful learning experience throughout the term. I worked alongside a dream team that was very supportive and appreciative. I feel absolutely blessed that I had the chance to obtain such a lifetime experience and My Dad was very happy about it, I felt I made him proud. It was something I had not planned off, it just came my way and I took it up. I managed to somehow maneuver things in a way that my internship would not clash with my study pattern as I was doing my Master’s, I wanted to make sure I would still have time for my family afterward and of course, the internship was taken up by me on my own created criteria that it would not disturb my workplace Funtania, which I consider my baby, and have always kept as my first and foremost priority, (this is another thing I learned from my Dad, he always took his businesses as his child, in taking care of them, growing them, portraying future plans, and then eventually finding the right buyer who would take it forward).

As you know, we’re big fans of Grand Escape Game. For our readers who might not be as familiar what can you tell them about the brand?
Grand Escape Game is a product line of Funtania the Family Fun Center, we are currently offering 8 real-time fully interactive, immersive, remotely played escape room games. There are 2-3 more games which are under work and I am personally very excited for their launch later this year. They are a conversion of our actual escape rooms in Orlando. An original masterpiece of Dad & mine.

All of our games are live hosted. We are targeting everyone nationwide, be it first-timers or experts, age is also not a barrier, we have had some fantastic family get-together groups play the “Detention” with the younger ones, you’re basically under detention and locked inside a classroom and have an hour to escape. Many people are loving “the Sword of Drakul”, one of the finest animated games we offer. My personal top most favorite is the Rise of the Mad Pharaoh, and I encourage everyone to try that game if you’re looking for some fun time, be it as small as a friend’s virtual night-out or even a huge corporate event, it’s different from all of our other games, it’s got an essence of character role-play which you rarely see in other escape room games. Talking about corporate events, this is definitely a great platform for virtual team building events and our most popular one for this is “Ben’s Big Heist” because when the group of players are broken into smaller teams, it becomes very competitive as each team is in the challenge of being able to escape with the larger amount of money in 60 mins. For all our games you don’t need to download anything, just a good internet connection and zoom and you are all set to play.

I am very proud of the collection of our games. I think each one is beautiful in its own way, they all have an element which sets them apart from one another as well as unlike the usual traditional escape room themes, we tried to keep it different, and when you play them, you’ll know exactly what I mean. We are working towards going global, taking this forward and adding leaderboards tournaments, and developing more games. In the industry we sit in, I believe the customer base is not limited, the exposure is vast, especially at national or even international level. Our main focus is the idea of competitive play and interaction. When we were planning these games, I wanted to stay on top of keeping it real-time so that the team players could communicate with one another or work together to understand what happened that made something else happen, this was the prime idea when escape rooms actually started and I wanted to keep that idea alive in the virtual play. Secondly, we have created games that make you feel you are actually a part of that storyline, so it’s not only escaping rooms, it’s in fact escaping the storyline. Lastly, it’s a conceptualized online game-playing experience, an incorporation of old and new puzzles which excite all generations that has been put together by a mastermind global team from the USA, UK, Australia & Netherlands.

There is another crazy/exciting live-play escape game concept on a very huge platform my team is in works with right now and will be launching very soon… so keep following us to stay posted!

What do you like best about our city? What do you like least?
It’s always been super fun hosting games for clients based in LA, we have done many virtual small and big corporate events, offering our wide variety of remote escape games to them and it’s been a blast of a time, such enthusiastic and competitive teams. And we look forward to keep hosting for such wonderful team-building events!

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