It’s easy to get lost in the humdrum routine of everyday life, but Tania Luna, Kat Dudina, and Maya Gilbert have found a way to shake things up with Surprise Industries. Their unique and intriguing company won’t tell you what you’re buying, but it promises not to let you down and never fails to live up to its word. And while the thrill of an unknown adventure is a treat in itself, perhaps the best part of Surprise Industries is the genuine enthusiasm, care, and dedication its creators put into their work– these days, that’s harder to come by than, say, a zombie attack in Central Park.
I am so intrigued by how you came up with this idea.
So are we! I think the myth of ideas is that there’s this one clear ‘aha’ moment, but in fact, it’s a layering of idea on top of idea. In part, it had a lot to do with the three of us — the three founders — being experienced connoisseurs. Kat is a language interpreter, Maya literally kept lists of fun things to do around New York like fire eating, and my background was working with a lot of different startups. Since i was a kid, I wanted a business. I think the thing we found the most inspiring was Somethingstore.com, which is a website where you pay ten dollars and you get something, but you don’t know what it’s going to be. We love the idea of being able to surprise yourself and that feeling of Christmas morning — like, “what am I going to get?”
And you’ve been quite successful so far! So how does Surprise Industries work?
We have what we call our mini surprises, which are $25 per person-, and are a taste of surprise. It’s not personalized in any way, and it’s made up of preexisting experiences around New York City. The next level, our personalized or team-building surprises, are really designed around people’s comfort zones and preferences. We get to know our clients’ personalities and their goals for this experience. Is it a family reunion? Is it a first date? Is it a company that’s celebrating an accomplishment or a company that’s having a lot of bickering and stress? Those can be a one-hour surprise or a full day of surprises. And then the last tier that we’re just experimenting with now is what we call the “Blow Your Mind” Surprise, and that is basically finding out how to squeeze surprise into your life. So it’s not necessarily, ‘Hey, your surprise is going to be at 2pm today’. It’s more about, “Hey, your surprise is about to begin, but you don’t know who is part of the game or what’s going to happen.”
This is a pretty unusual business venture. How did you get the word out?
I don’t know! We still don’t have a marketing plan! Mostly it started through word of mouth, telling friends, and we were fortunate enough to get some press pretty early on, so that really helped get word out.
How many surprises have you conducted so far?
About a thousand.
Whoa! What was one of your favorites?
One that I absolutely love was this woman who wanted us to plan a surprise for her husband who was scared of heights, and she wanted us to help him face his fear in this experience. We ended up doing a stunt falling class, and the really fascinating thing was that her husband took to it immediately, but his wife had this really unexpected experience. She didn’t think she had a fear of heights, but it took her forever to convince her legs to jump off of this ledge. But then the feedback we got from her said that it was one of the best experiences of her life. Through that we learned that surprises have so many layers and dimensions. Sometimes fears can be unexpected, but having the opportunity to face them in a fairly safe way can inspire so much confidence in people. You can look back at it and say, “Hey, that was me! And if I can do that, what else can I do?” That’s really a huge motivator for us as a company. Our mission, first and foremost, is transforming people’s lives.
Have you gotten any super unusual requests?
The first thing that comes to mind is a request from a woman who wanted to surprise her fiancé by having zombies attack him. What we ended up doing was the woman and her fiancé were going out to dinner and they had to walk through Central Park to get to the restaurant. So they were just walking through the park, not knowing what to expect, and meanwhile, she was following an actor who led them down this dark, creepy path. Once they got to the end of the path, the actor got attacked by this drooling, bloody zombie, and he started screaming. Then I think we had twelve zombies climbing over fences – - and they were all acrobats, too, so acrobat zombies climbing over fences — and biting this birthday boy. They got him down to the ground and then there was this zombie accordionist who played this dead version of Happy Birthday.
While that basically sounds like the best birthday present ever, an attack seems like a risky thing to plan. Is a sort of heads up given beforehand?
We really value anticipation, so a big part of the surprise is knowing the surprise is coming, and getting clues that give you a taste of what it’s like. There’s all this research that anticipation is a great deal more enjoyable than we give it credit. We really love that concept of starting the experience before the experience begins.
So you are, like, the master experts of surprises.
Well, uncontested so far! But we always welcome hearing from others who think they know more than we do. We’re happy to learn! We’re always learning from literature and from research and psychology on the study of surprise, anticipation, and novelty.
Have your or your partners experienced your surprises?
Yeah! We try out a lot of the experiences on our own. We’ve gotten into the habit of every birthday or a lot of times just because we design surprises for each other, especially when we have a new team member. As a challenge we’ll say, “Hey, design a surprise for this person on the team.”
That’s so fun that you get to partake in your work!
We absolutely practice what we preach. And if it’s not necessarily signing up for surprises through the website; we do make an effort in everyday life — and I mean every day — to do something surprising or notice something surprising in the familiar.
How would one go about signing up for a surprise?
Go on our website if you have any questions or if you just want to say hi or if you have any ideas. You can email us at email@example.com. We’re very community-oriented, and we really want to affect peoples’ lives and get the message out.
Any other ways Daily BR!NK readers can support you and Surprise Industries?
The biggest challenge for us is learning how to promote ourselves. I think we’re on this path to some extent, but it’s definitely something we can use guidance with. It’s figuring out how to promote something when you don’t know what it is!