What should go through your customers' minds? Melissa Carbone knows what she wants for hers: "I don't want them to think about the crappy day they had at work or the dishes in the sink. All I want them to be thinking about is 'What's coming around this next corner to ruin me?'"

Naturally: She and her ex-spouse, Alyson Richards, co-founded the Los Angeles-based Ten Thirty One Productions, creator of haunted hayrides and other events intended to terrify. The duo has created various events aimed at bringing city dwellers out of their apartments and into the woods for a fright-fest.

They got started in 2007, hosting haunted-house parties in their yard--their friends would dress as, say, werewolves and chase around a couple hundred kids, while parents sipped "witches' brew" (champagne). Carbone and Richards loved hosting the parties and believed there was a demand for something larger given the size of the Halloween market: Americans spent $5 billion on Halloween in 2007, according to Statista, but that number had increased to $9.1 billion last year.

To get ideas, Carbone and Richards began binge-watching scary films. Carbone has been a lifelong fan; Richards had to ease into it. "I did not start out as a huge horror movie buff. I was afraid of them at first," says Richards. "Once we started studying them, I got into them and they became less scary."  

The first haunted hayride under Ten Thirty One Productions launched in 2009 in L.A. Carbone and Richards developed their brand and slowly added other events, including Ghost Ship, which takes customers on a terrifying evening cruise. Business went well, but the co-founders wanted to expand their events to other parts of the country. For that, they needed Shark Tank. Carbone appeared on ABC's hit show in 2013, and Mark Cuban offered $2 million in exchange for 20 percent of the company. What's more, the startup landed an undisclosed investment from Live Nation the same year.

Since then, Ten Thirty One Productions has opened a Haunted Hayride in New York City and launched the Great Horror Campout and Great Horror Movie Night. And, in January, event company Thirteenth Floor Entertainment Group bought Carbone and Richards's business. The two are staying on, though, to create more horrors and, presumably, share key trade secrets--like where in their haunted bathrooms they stash a character or two for an extra fright. 

Carbone and Richards want everything to be precise, so the 300 actors don't just lurk about looking for someone to scare--they have characters and move to an original score created for the event. What's more, the budget for costumes and makeup is usually around $250,000--just a sliver of the $1.7 million typically spent on one event. The co-founders also wanted to make the safety of the guests and talent a priority. Actors have been briefed on body language and behavior that show whether a person may be enjoying the festivities. Additionally, participants are told at the beginning of the experience that if they don't wish to interact with a character, they should shout, "I want my mommy."

From the October 2018 issue of Inc. Magazine