When Shark Tank victor Melissa Carbone and I sit down for a conversation, people around us are still figuring out their plans for July 4 weekend. Carbone, however, lives the Halloween spirit year round. This ultimately made her one of Los Angeles’ most successful entertainment entrepreneurs.
“Halloween comes once a year, but it is a sustainable multi-billion dollar industry,” Carbone explains. “However, horror as a larger entertainment genre is massive. Fear is America’s favorite drug. When we did more research into the revenues of horror (films and attractions), we knew this was an area that was underserved and had great potential as a business model.”
Although Carbone had a successful ten-year run as a Clear Channel (iHeart Radio) executive, her unrelenting drive for more prompted her to leave her covetable job behind to found Ten Thirty One Productions. Up until that point, Carbone’s professional life seemed to be a charmed one. An account executive position at the media company’s Hartford, Conn., offices was her first job right out of college.
After a year and a half in that position, Carbone wanted the challenge of moving to Clear Channel’s biggest revenue-generating marketplace, Los Angeles. She got her wish. For the next eight years, she ascended the firm’s corporate levels to become the youngest manager controlling more dollars than any other single manager in the company.
“I could have stayed there and retired wealthy and happy…but I wanted more,” she says. “I wanted my time back, and I wanted to build my own empire. Therefore, I jumped. I jumped into an awesome risk leaving the safety of my corporate career behind. People thought I was crazy. I believed that a stable job isn’t the only qualifier that determines a successful life.”
The Los Angeles Haunted Hayride was an immediate success when it premiered in 2009, pushing Carbone to take well-planned thriller attractions above and beyond the Halloween season. The summertime Great Horror Campout was born, and also became a cult phenomenon really quickly.
“The high-octane horror nature of ‘Campout’ appeals to Comic-Con, Sci-Fi, gaming audiences, to adventure seekers wanting an experience beyond going to movies or out to dinner,” observes Carbone. “You can gauge consumers’ fear levels by the types of attractions they are drawn to, and the people who really want to be scared want to be scared all year long. The real horrors of today’s world add to the ‘escapism’ need for these kinds of attractions and help make them successful.”
Carbone says what differentiates Ten Thirty One Productions from other event entertainment companies is that every attraction is designed to “completely submerge guests into a visceral, sensory experience. From the moment your car enters our parking lot until the back tires exit, you are in our world, and will not be taken out for any reason. You don’t pass pastel-colored Dippin’ Dots or SpongeBob to get from one zone to the next. You stay consistently in our narrative.”
“I could have stayed there and retired wealthy and happy…but I wanted more.
I wanted my time back, and I wanted to build my own empire.”
Though the Los Angeles Haunted Hayride effectively launched the firm, and the first year’s success remains a point of pride for Carbone, she also experienced new-company mistakes that taught her to embrace her failures.
“After we had two years of success with the Haunted Hayride, we decided it was time to grow,” she says. “We created a new attraction that epitomized the Ten Thirty One philosophy and would attract a different demographic—an Orange County, over-40 crowd who wanted mild scares and booze. In 2011, we leased a mega yacht and birthed Ghost Ship, the only haunted attraction to take place on a ship that actually set sail.”
Marketed incorrectly, it drew die-hard fans of the original Los Angeles Haunted Hayride, who ended up hating the more middle-of-the-road experience. The backlash was horrific, but what did not kill the Ten Thirty One business made it, and Carbone, stronger.
“The struggle ended up being a valuable lesson that made me rethink the way I viewed failure,” she said, leading up to a conversation on her new book, (Ready, Fire, Aim), which encourages readers to accept obstacles as a part of success as well as taking risks to achieve entrepreneurial and life goals. As she sees it, nothing but your most extraordinary ride should be good enough. And for that, bold choices are mandatory.
“The principle I want to get across is to not be ‘reasonable’ in your aspirations of life,” she explains. “Go beyond ordinary goals. We live in a society where we are told what is successful. I challenge that notion because I have made some risky choices that caused people to look at me as if I had three heads by taking certain leaps that would scare most reasonable people. (With the book), I am trying to help readers find the courage to take the most extraordinary ride of their life.”
“My definition of success remains as owning your own time, and choosing
boldly to stay on your most extraordinary ride.”
Carbone was already a success by the time she appeared on Shark Tank in 2013, thanks to the lessons she mastered over the years at Clear Channel: How to bring in revenue and investors, draft business proposals, budget for various operating costs and develop marketing plans and platforms. She also acquired a huge network of contacts that she successfully leveraged to get the business up and running. However, she is grateful for Mark Cuban’s continued influence on her career and company.
“(Cuban) has been a valuable network resource, including an introduction to Live Nation, which soon after (the show) became our partner,” she says. “He has helped us have a bigger voice in the entertainment world and also been a coach to me. With my tendency to want to take on way too much, Mark has tattooed the mantra ‘Don’t drown in opportunity’ in my cerebral sector.”
Just like the horror genre itself, Carbone’s business outlook continues to evolve. She remains driven by her thirst for risks and knowledge that will carry her into new dimensions of personal fulfillment while Ten Thirty One’s attractions will continue to carry customers into new dimensions of scares and thrills. While some business people are out to attain security to address their fear of the unknown, she finds falling into the abyss of the status quo much scarier.
“My definition of success remains as owning your own time, and choosing boldly to stay on your most extraordinary ride,” she says. “This has changed over time as I once defined success purely by wealth…how much of the Monopoly board could I own. When you are working so hard that you don’t enjoy life, how can that be success? I want people to jump…to dare to be unreasonable, and see what happens.”