Quan Gan is a Chinese-American entrepreneur who has started and operated numerous companies. In Shanghai, Gan and his then-girlfriend (now wife) Charlie ran Shanghai Nightmare, the first haunted house attraction in the country in 2009 and 2010. In Valencia, Gan now owns Gantom Lighting and Control, a specialty lighting company that produces the world’s smallest DMX, or digital multiplex, lighting fixtures for theme parks and entertainment venues; and ZTag, another company that puts on a zombie-inspired laser tag game.Question: What inspired you to start your business?Answer: I once volunteered at a haunted house as a scare actor while in college and scared the daylights out of customers. That hilariously fun memory was seared into my brain. Years later, when I moved to Shanghai for work, I saw that the locals would celebrate Halloween as a fun foreign holiday but there wasn’t anything scary or exciting. Charlie, my future wife, and I wanted to moonlight a side hustle that somehow combined her art background with my engineering background. … That’s when I told her we should host a Halloween party and I would build scary effects to scare guests.
Do you like being your own boss? Both of us quitting our corporate jobs was the best business decision we made for ourselves. Neither of us is “employable,” as we have too much motivation.
What’s the best aspect of running your own business?Taking ownership of our own lives and having no limits to what we can achieve on our own.
And the worst?Failure is a part of the journey and as an entrepreneur, you don’t get to solve the easy problems; you have employees for that. You’re left with the hardest problems that no one else has solved.What’s the biggest challenge your business has faced? And how did you deal with it?Both of my businesses are in the live entertainment sector and COVID-19 has been the biggest crisis we have ever faced. We dealt with (and are still dealing with) the crisis by maintaining weekly huddles that give our employees the full picture with the honest truth.
What’s your favorite story about your business?The day we made the decision to quit, I posted on Facebook that I was “quitting my job to start a haunted house in China.” I’m sure everyone thought I was nuts. In the business plan, I calculated we needed 300 guests per night for the season in order to break even. When we opened our doors in late September, we were averaging no more than 50 guests per night for the first two weeks. This was terrifying. In the second week of October, a guest posted her experience on a blog and the post became viral within a week. We saw our attendance double on a nightly basis until we were capped out at 1,300 people per night and ran until 2 a.m. to clear the guests. Since it was an all-cash business, each night during the peak of our operations, Charlie and I would scooter around the city looking for ATMs to shove over a foot-tall stack of 100 RMB bills into the machine! It was a good problem to have.How has being Asian affected your business?This is hard to say because no one can A-B test their own personal situation with the variable of their own ethnicity. Therefore, I can’t be sure if my business would have changed for better or worse if I were not Asian. I can honestly say that I lean into my culture to grow my business. Because I’m an engineer that can speak Chinese, I use this skill every day to speak to my factory in China. Without my Chinese background, I can say for sure that I wouldn’t have the businesses that I have today.
What advice would you give someone looking to start their own business?Never quit, just learn to pivot. Entrepreneurship is the ultimate school of hard knocks that will teach you countless valuable lessons about yourself and how you relate to the world around you.
– Mark R. Madler