Ottawa’s Amazing Race: Q&A with Urban Quest’s Anthony Woods

Anthony Woods, emceeing at the Sears Great Canadian Chill

Anthony Woods is a consultant and entrepreneur who has lived in Ottawa his whole life. In his spare time, Tony enjoys paintballing, musicals, and participating in City Chases.

So, tell me about the history and premise of Urban Quest.

The founders of UrbanQuest love reality TV shows like the Amazing Race that combine challenges and travel, and require resourcefulness. The idea was to recreate a smaller scale version of the experience that’s available to the average person and isn’t hugely expensive.

What led you to start such a unique business?

There was a long time that we couldn’t figure out how to make the model work.  We could build a huge experience that had a secret ending – but the costs involved meant we’d need to charge hundreds of dollars per experience.  And we felt sure that immediately after we had finished all the answers would be posted on the Internet. The breakthrough for the company was actually the release of the newest Zelda game. The day the game was released, you could pick up a full walk through at EB Games. It made us realize that it was the user’s experience. Give them the answers and if they want to use them, it is their choice. It allowed us to build something cost-effective because we didn’t need to keep everything a secret.

Who is your target audience? Locals or out-of-towners?

The original thinking behind UQ was that it would be a fun activity for locals. In particular, we thought it was going to be “the greatest date night ever.” What we’ve found is another market that loves Quests which we didn’t see coming: families.  Parents started telling us stories about how they loved doing it with their kids and how their kids loved the “treasure hunt.” We are working now to build more family oriented events – we have three museum Quests in queue.

How do you write the quiz questions?

Writing the Quest clues isn’t exactly a science but we do have a methodology worked out.  We always try to design the clues more around shapes, colours and numbers rather than making them trivia based.  We also do a lot of puzzles, books, games, etc. We also read a lot of tour books, surf the web, and a few late night brainstorming sessions over some beers and a game of settlers never hurt either!

Bryan McKenzie running at the launch of Urban Quest's Museum of Nature Quest

What kind of reaction are you receiving from people?

We have actually been receiving an overall positive response to the company’s idea and to the Quests themselves. The vast majority of people are up to the challenge and absolutely love the idea.  We’ve had second hand stories come back from people we know that had friends telling them about this “great puzzle, Amazing Race” thing they did and how they have to try it.  It’s interesting to create that kind of buzz.  There are a few people that have come back without enjoying the experience, but in those cases we have found that we didn’t manage customer experience well enough.  For example, a grandfather did it with his grandson and came back saying that it was way too much walking – so we now post on each quest how much walking you can expect to do.  We listen to our customers and work to improve the product with every response.

Do you have goals for expanding your business in the future?

We recently launched our first Quest in Toronto, with more to come. We’ll also be moving to Kingston soon. We will continue to work the east coast from there.  We also recognize that we will have to move past our small crew writing all the clues and are working on a writing contest to try to get others involved in the process.  Becoming mobile is also key for us – both Blackberry and iPhone versions of the product are in development.

What do you think is the number one misconception about Ottawa?

Ottawa’s painted with the stigma that we are a boring government town!  There are two things I have against this. First, Ottawa is one of the most diverse and beautiful cities out there.  We cover the range of winter sports like skiing to summer activities like white water rafting.  The second is as a government town, Ottawa isn’t without entrepreneurialism.  If you look to some of the historic companies that have come out of the Ottawa area, especially Kanata, it is tough to say we are without business innovation.  We’re hoping that UrbanQuest can be just another one out of this great city.

Can you describe your perfect day in the city?

Of course my first natural answer is “spend my day doing an Urban Quest”.  That aside – it depends on the season.  In the winter, a day snowboarding.  In the summer, that’s a tough one but I’d probably say a day on the Ottawa River.  Either way – this is a city that requires going outside!

Why do you think it is important for people to get out, pound the pavement a little bit, and explore this city?

This city is filled with hidden spots and neat areas.  How many people drive to work every day passing the Parliament buildings but have never heard of the cat sanctuary or the whispering wall?  People spend lots of money to go visit foreign places but especially in a tough economy, one of the cheapest things people can do is visit their own city!  Urban Quest just makes doing so a lot more fun!

Thanks for dropping by Tony!

Also: this just in — LTOttawa will be doing an Urban Quest and writing about it (as soon as the weather and our schedule clears up!). If you’d like to tell us about your Urban Quest, send us a note and we’ll bring you in on the fun.