I recently had the opportunity to talk with Tania Luna, a woman whose job is to create amazing and memorable surprises. Seriously, that’s her job. Tania is a co-founder of Surprise Industries, a New York-based company specializing in producing one-of-a-kind surprise experiences for individuals and groups. So far, they’ve produced over 800 surprises, and this year they’re introducing a new kind of experience that’s sure to blow your mind.
Everybody’s Invited!: Can you explain how Surprise Industries works?
Tania Luna: People sign up for an experience, and they don’t know what it’s going to be until they get there. There’s a spectrum of surprise complexity. The simplest thing is a mini-surprise. It’s $25 per person (and only available in New York City). They know the neighborhood, date, and time of their surprise, and two days before, they get an additional clue. But that’s it! They show up, and they’re surprised!
Then there are personalized surprises. These are really tailored to the client. We do a thorough interview – we find out your likes, dislikes, and past experiences. We ask if you want to be pushed outside of your comfort zone. These are great for couples, birthday parties, family reunions, and corporate team building.
The highest level of surprise is a new thing we’re trying called “Blow Your Mind.” It’s a week long, totally immersive experience, built into your regular life. Instead of going away on vacation, you let this magical realism melt into your life, where you don’t know what’s normal and what’s part of the surprise.
EI!: Why did you start Surprise Industries?
TL: Me, my sister Kat, and our friend Maya have been coming up with business schemes forever. Hardly a day went by when we didn’t say, “Hey, could this be a business?” When this particular idea came about, we thought it was just going to be surprise classes. It was going to be called “Go Learn Something,” which in retrospect sounds terrible. A friend suggested that we make it inclusive of all kinds of experiences, not just classes. That resonated with us, because we realized that people really want to experience something, not necessarily learnsomething (even though they usually do end up learning something).
EI!: What’s been the most surprising aspect of running your Surprise business?
TL: What’s been surprising is that just because your business is inherently fun, doesn’t mean that everything about running it is fun. It’s really easy to have a bad day because a mystery car is late, or a clue is delivered in the wrong package. These things sound funny, but when you’re on the other side, when you’re the Agent of Surprise, it can be challenging. We get frustrated. And we’re constantly learning.
We’ve had to learn to really stick to our vision, and focus only on true surprises. We took on some projects last year that weren’t true to our vision. This year we’ve had to remind ourselves that we’re doing this because surprising people is important to us. And teaching people to live a more surprising life is important to us. I thought it was going to be perpetually fun and easy to remember our passion, but it’s not always. It was surprising to find out that we have to keep reminding ourselves to enjoy our work (just as anybody else does in any other line of business or area of life).
EI!: Favorite surprise you’ve helped to organize?
TL: A woman who surprised her husband who was afraid of heights. She decided to surprise him by helping him face his fear. In 99.9% of our surprises, the surpriser joins the surprisee in the experience. I don’t know if she fully grasped that she would be participating. We arranged for them to take a stunt class. They had to jump from a height of 40 feet onto a soft surface. He picked it up so quickly. The surprise twist was that the wife turned out to be terrified of the situation. We got a chance to be with her as she discovered a fear, and then faced it for an hour (that’s how long it took her to jump), and then we got to see her newfound confidence once she’d done it.
One of my favorite things to hear is,“I never would have tried this, but I’m so glad I did.”
EI!: Do you have any tips for planning a surprise?
TL: Yes. First, do it with the person. Most people think they’re giving the surprise to someone else. But if you do it together, it increases the other person’s comfort, and it creates an incredible memory. People benefit from taking risks together.
Second, tell them that it’s coming. This seems counter-intuitive, but what we’ve realized is that half of the fun is the anticipation. Plus you can then start to play with things like clues and other prep work. Research shows that being in a state of anticipation makes you much more aware and alert and it heightens your senses. So people will get an experience of living more fully before the surprise happens.
Finally, people experience surprise very differently. People have different facial expressions, and different emotional reactions. Don’t expect a particular reaction, because you’re bound to be disappointed. Sometimes surprise registers on a person’s face as a totally blank look.