Update: Matt’s latest card game, Ravine, went live on Kickstarter on Nov. 7 and as of Nov. 17 has raised over $120,000 (obliterating its $7,500 goal) with 17 days left on the campaign.
What if you made dreams reality? Mathew Sisson, 30, has transformed the passions, and puzzles, that inhabit his mind and made them a career playground of whimsy, fun, interaction and experience, that exists as a series of high-design escape rooms — with locations in Boulder and Fort Collins — popular interactive card games, including the “chaotic and cooperative” Spaceteam, and a live detective experience that takes participants around Boulder.
A mix of business savvy and dreaming so big that thoughts spill out of the mind’s container and demand form have worked for Matt, who runs these dreams under the firm Timber & Bolt.
If you catch him in his office in downtown Boulder, you might find him hovering over an intricate, sleek-designed collection of items spread out on a huge wooden table. Organizing, thinking, always moving. It leads to unique, interactive, engaging puzzles.
Take the The Melton Tablets, a puzzle experience that takes participants all over downtown Boulder as they decode seven laser-etched wooden tablets full of runic characters they must decipher to unravel the course. Here’s the prompt: “Fifty years ago a magical spell was buried in the heart of Boulder. Now, a local secret society claims to know its secret.”
Boulder’s Enigma Escape Room; Downtown Boulder immersion puzzle. Images courtesy of: Enigma Escape Rooms
“I wanted to show people details that they might not recognize,” Matt says of the Melton experience — for example, the 100-year time capsule on Pearl Street and Hotel Boulderado’s stunning stained-glass ceiling. Visitors check into Enigma at 1426 Pearl Street on the Pearl Street Mall, receive a backpack with the tablets and then head off on the expedition. (They can also choose to break into a time traveling-scientist’s office, decode his discoveries and escape before the bad guys come at the escape room itself).
A few years ago he and a business partner turned a downtown condo into a full-fledged puzzle experience, known as Pixel Space. It had vintage video games on the shelves and laser-cut wooden “maps.” They rented it as an Airbnb and partnered with companies looking to woo recruits with a cool experience that helped them get to know Boulder better.
He’s currently at work on a virtual reality space experience that will merge an event space and a virtual reality puzzle lair in a modern office layout.
“I like designing stuff and seeing things I create actually be beneficial to people,” Matt says. Part of that is forcing people to put down their phones, look up and creatively engage with others. It’s all about providing the experience for interaction, he says.
As a kid he was obsessed with board games — Monopoly, Clue — which grew into an interest in independent games such as the classic Settlers of Catan and into more fringe titles such as Code Names, Secret Hitler and Coup.
In Boulder, particularly in winter, he holds weekly game nights.
“I always wanted to have my own shop,” Matt says. He never worked for a company larger than 25 people. Some of his jobs included stints as the lead designer at digital tech magazine The Daily Dot, a web developer for a Vermont-based design and development firm, creative director for Boulder-founded startup PivotDesk.
Matt’s march to a dream-funded reality proceeded steadily, and given his constant tinkering and savvy, appears given.
He graduated with a degree in information systems and technology from Saint Michael’s College in Vermont in 2009. He learned programming, marketing, data systems, but constantly picked up design work on the side — designing and building websites, doing photography.
In Boulder Startup Week’s early days it would fly in talent from around the country to raise the event’s caliber. Matt applied and won a fly-in in 2011, and Boulder hooked another trout — two months later he moved to town.
He worked remotely for a Vermont design company and would often work out of the iconic, dynamic Atlas Purveyors coffee shop, which sat at the corner of Pearl and 15th Street for four years as a hub for creatives, fledgling techies and freelancers until it closed in 2013. The owner welcomed worker bees to sit all day.
Founders of startups connected with Boulder’s supernova accelerator Techstars were among Atlas’ residents. Sisson started doing design work for some of them, which gave him access to other Techstars companies and some gigs with a few of them including PivotDesk, which he left to work on Pixel Space and then Enigma Escape Rooms.
Matt took on the task of turning the video game Spaceteam into a board game. A 2015 Kickstarter for Spaceteam raised $200,000, and established Matt as a full-time dream-funded entrepreneur.
Recently, Matt has spread out into designing and selling different products — such as yo-yos — after mastering some e-commerce basics and smartly growing a cohesive following that all his verticals strengthen. He has inventory in warehouses around the world.
Matt reinvests a lot to expand each vertical and has new projects constantly in the works such as Peek & Push, a game of memory and coordination, coming later this year.