Nick Gray is the founder of Museum Hack, a twist on the traditional museum experience. The funny thing about Nick is, he used to hate museums. That is until he went on a date that forever changed his life.
During a snowy day in NYC, a girl brought him to the Metropolitan Museum of Art and showed him artifacts, furniture, and other interesting things in the museum. This changed Nick’s perception of what a museum tour could be. That’s when he started frequenting the MET, and learned to love museums.
The first time Nick charged for a museum tour, he even tried to give money back to the people who took it. He had so much fun with the tour that he thought he shouldn’t charge people for it.
“The first tour that I actually charged money for, it was a Sunday morning tour at 11 in the morning, and I was like ‘Alright I’ll just see if I can charge money. I’ll charge them $20. See if they come.’ And everyone gave me their cash, and I gave them the tour. And I had so much fun Kevin, I had so much fun, that at the end of the tour, I think I freaked everybody out because I gave them all of their money back. And they were like ‘Why are you giving us… is this Candid Camera or something?’ and I was like “No, I had so much fun. It feels dirty for me to take your money, to do something that I love, something that I’m having so much fun with.’ So for me that was the first time I experimented, but it didn’t really go so well.”
Before Nick started Musuem Hack he was a salesman of flat screen monitors. But the success of his initial tours, and the experience he gained as a salesman, allowed him to turn his passion project into a business.
“What I think is special about what I’ve done with Museum Hack that your listeners might find fascinating, is that I took something that was a passion project, something that I just did for a hobby, for fun, and I was able to convert it and make it into a business. And my time selling these screens really taught me the importance of marketing and sales and dollar value of creating premium experiences. So for me that was really helpful.”
The thing that makes Museum Hack different from other museum tours is what Nick likes to dub the 3 G’s. While most other tours are zigging, Museum Hack is zagging.
“The three Gs. These are the three things that makes Museum Hack completely different from most museum tours. Three Gs. Number one, guides. Number two, games. and number three gossip. So it’s the tour guides that are so engaging, that are actors and educators, and science teachers, and musicians who write their own tours who are so special. That’s the guides. The games means that the tours are so fast paced. They’re ultra fast paced. They’re two to three times as fast as most museum tours. And we also do selfie challenges. We takes shots of espresso or drink some wine. And then the gossip, that’s the juicy back story. The cool stuff about the art that we like to talk about.”
Instead of trying to find people who are knowledgeable in history and museums, Nick hires guides who are good with people. Anyone can learn about art, but not everyone is good at connecting with people.
“The number one thing we look for is someone’s ability to be a good host. How is their body language? How comfortable to they make people? Do they make us laugh? That’s the most important thing. It’s not about their knowledge. It’s not about how much they know about the art history. It’s about how do they make the guests feel. Because that’s what we’re trying to do, right? We’re trying to make people comfortable and we’re trying to get them to warm up inside the space. So that’s really what we hire for first and foremost. And then we can teach them about the art. We can teach them about the museum… We hire folks that are really good with people.”
He also gives his guides the freedom to create their own tours. When you are building something yourself, you become passionate about it. So, Nick gives them the freedom to come up with their own tours and write their own scripts.
“We think that having our tour guides write their own tours is so powerful because the guests and the visitors can hear that excitement and that passion, and you can hear me talk right now, right? I’m excited. I’m pumped up. I’m jazzed to talk about my business with you, and that’s because I’m not going off a script. No one is telling me what to do. Our tour guides have to be the same way, so we let them explore the whole museum, come up with their own tours, stuff that they’re excited about and they write their own scripts.”
One would think that competing with instant gratification culture would be a detriment to Museum Hack, but it isn’t. Nick tells his guides to embrace people’s attention spans and work it into their tours.
“We’re dealing with an increasingly ADD generation. These are people that are like me that are on their phones every two or three minutes. I mean, it’s not just millenials. It’s people of all ages that have a short attention span, and we try to teach our museum friends ways to engage with that type of audience. Make it personal. Keep it fast. Don’t be afraid of smart phones. Encourage people to take selfies and pictures. Things like that.”
In a world where museums can seem stale and uninteresting, Nick has captured people’s imaginations. That sort of innovation requires curiosity, risks, and failures, and that’s exactly what he has done with Museum Hack.
“Figuring out like you did, people who have that curiosity, and people who are willing to troubleshoot and make failures, and I’m guessing the podcast hasn’t been perfect since day one, would that be a correct assumption?… That willingness to make mistakes and resourcefulness to figure things out. Those are two key things we look for.”