Juliana Boboshko (22) is half Russian, half American. She originally moved to Rotterdam to study Communication and Media Studies at EUR. As a bachelor student, she spent a lot of her free time acting. And she was a member of WILDe Theatre, a theatre company formed by international students and the cradle of her current enterprise. Together with co-founder Jan van der Meer and a number of fellow actors, Juliana is now organising online murder mysteries for various large clients.

How it all started

“Covid crisis had just broken, and all the performances on our club calendar had been cancelled,” remembers Juliana. “So we immediately started asking ourselves: how can we keep acting together?” Every year, WILDe Theatre organises a murder mystery. During this interactive event, the actors play suspects in a murder case, and audience members are welcome to walk through the different rooms and ask the actors questions – in the hope of identifying the killer. “Then I got this crazy idea. I thought: what if we organise a murder mystery, same as always – but this year, do it online?”

One of Juliana’s close friends turned out to be an excellent scriptwriter. “He had already written a script about a murder case. I got in touch with him and asked whether he’d allow us to use his script and convert it to a game format.” She smiles: “I suspect he didn’t completely get what I planned to do, but he agreed anyway.” Determining how to host the results online called for a bit more research: “Zoom didn’t seem a practical platform for this kind of thing. We eventually opted for REMO: an online platform where you can walk around in a virtual environment and sit at different tables. That was perfect for our particular game format.”

Setting it up

“We then took to social media to promote our murder mystery. The first time we organised the event, admission was free. The amount of interest we had generated took us by surprise – we even had to turn people away. And the second time we organised the event free of charge was also a huge success – we were even contacted by AD for an article.”

The ball started rolling after that. The international student network ESN Rotterdam asked the actors to organise a game for one of their open days. “And later on in the year, towards the winter, the big consultancy firm Accenture asked us whether we could stage a murder mystery for them too. It was the first time we were actually paid for organising an event.”

Juliana Jan ludere events 1 – amber leijen
Image credit: Amber Leijen

That got Juliana thinking. “Only a few months ago, if you had asked me whether I’d ever be starting a business, I would have given you a confused stare. I had never even given it a second thought. But some time after, I was sitting at home with a friend of mine, telling him how much I enjoyed organising these games. And he said: ‘Why don’t you turn it into a proper business then?’ We were up all night working on a business plan for Ludere Events.” She came up with the name together with co-founder Jan: “Finding the right name was a fun process. After brainstorming for a while, Jan suggested the Latin word for playing games: ludere. It’s a perfect match with our playful approach to networking. On top of which it turned out there weren’t any other companies with the same name.”

Other events

With the company well and truly launched, Juliana is already working on expansions to its programme. “We also want to organise other types of games, to appeal to a wider range of clients. Which means we also list werewolves, pub quizzes and scavenger hunts as options on our website. We’re still working on the scavenger hunt – we’ll be doing a trial in July, during a charity event. That will allow us to test whether it’s a fun concept. And it will be a good opportunity to promote our company, since everyone’s welcome at this event.”

By now, Juliana is accepting some two to three bookings per month. She’s able to pay her actors, and has also hired a few accountants to help her with the financial details. “Since we only started a few months ago, I expect there’s lots of room for growth. At present, I’m still working full-time as a marketing and sustainability assistant. So this business of mine is still something of a side job. I can’t make a living off it as yet, but I can see it developing into a full-time job. I would love that.”

Asked whether her business concept will still prove viable after the pandemic, Juliana says: “We think so: there are loads of companies with people working for them all over the world. In addition, we plan to focus on organisations that depend on long-distance communication, like universities and schools for people with a disability. I think there will always be a market for our special approach to organising events.”