How One Entrepreneur Struck Gold by Letting Tourists Dig Up His Land

How One Entrepreneur Struck Gold by Letting Tourists Dig Up His Land

Have you ever walked by a construction site and had the urge to drive a bulldozer or excavator? A thriving business in Las Vegas will help you do just that — without getting hurt or arrested. 

In episode 8 of TGIM, we sat down with Ed Mumm, owner of Dig This Las Vegas, to find out how he started his business and what he learned along the way.

In this TGIM short, you'll...

  • Find out why you shouldn't assume who your audience will be
  • Discover how "scratching your own itch" can lead to unique business ideas
  • Learn one of the benefits of partnering with businesses similar to yours

Check out the full short below:

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Ed: "Okay, you ready for this?"

Woman: "[inaudible]."

Ed: "We've got to do a breathalyzer, all right? It's really to test how much of a good time you've been having here in Las Vegas today, so don't be intimidated by it."

Woman: "It's all right, we're ..."

Speaker 2: "It's Sunday morning in a storefront office just off the Vegas strip, and the owner of Dig This Las Vegas, one Ed Mumm, is making sure the two women who've come in are legally sober before they do what they're here to do, namely jump on a couple of thirty thousand pound excavators and play around in an adult-sized sandbox. If you've ever stopped at a construction site and watched as massive amounts of dirt and equipment were moved by machines and thought, "I'd like to give that a try," well, for a little more than two hundred dollars a head, this is where you can do that."

"Here's how it goes down: After a safety lecture you get a wireless headset so the instructor can talk to you as you go."

Speaker 1: "See the lever on your left, the one with the ball on the top? You're going to pull it ..."

Speaker 2: "As long as you know your left from your right, you get to dig holes, do this kind of handstand with the excavator arm, scoop up basketballs and drop them inside massive tractor trailers that you've hauled from one end of the compound to the other, and on a more emotional level, if you're a podcast jockey like me, maybe even get to feel like your father would be proud of you, if only for a minute. Mumm, who's from New Zealand where his dad was a contractor, tells me the idea came to him when he was building a house in Colorado."

Ed: "I had the opportunity to jump on a big excavator, and I kind of had that "aha" moment was like, "Wow, if I'm enjoying this experience, imagine the amount of people that really want to come and do this." I called up a few of my friends and I said, "Hey, do you want to come out and run a twenty ton excavator?""

Speaker 2: "Before he took his act to the bright lights of the strip, there was a kitchen table consulting group of construction and business types to help form a business plan, then a test run in Colorado that showed people would happily pay him to dig in the dirt. He even hired a psychologist to give him advice on how to shape the experience so people could do just enough to enjoy that warm swell of accomplishment but not so much that they might take out a garage."

"A funny thing happened when he got to Nevada five years ago, something that proved the old adage about how no one else is on your timeline. He expected there would be issues; finding someone to insure this operation took a year."

Ed: ""Hi, I'm Ed Mumm, I'm just here to see if I can get some insurance. I'm going to put people that never been in heavy equipment before into this equipment, and we're going to tear up five acres. We need insurance." They'd look at me like, "Get the hell out of my office, son, and whatever you're on, stop.""

Speaker 2: "Getting the state to sign off on his idea took even longer."

Ed: "Just the due diligence we had to do to prove that we were a safe operation made it extremely challenging, and they almost shut us down before we started."

Speaker 2: "What really surprised him was how long it took for the rest of the business community to accept Dig This as one of their own. You see, if you're running an attraction in Vegas, you don't really count on the casinos to send you customers. They're much happier if their guests never leave the casino floor. Tour operators and convention planners, they're the lifeblood, and they are not an easy sell, especially to the new kid on the lot. Mumm says Dig This had to take the time to prove its staying power."

Ed: "This town is a real fly-by-night town. A lot of people come in here and they think they'll be successful after a year, but it's not true. So many people burn their bridges here that nobody trusts anybody. Now that we've proven that we have a really cool experience, we're trustworthy, we say what we're going to do, doors are opening now and locals are starting to [sell us again 00:31:19], which is great."

Speaker 2: "On the staffing side Mumm realized early on he didn't need construction foreman to guide tourists through their paces. In fact, it was kind of the opposite."

Ed: "Frankly most of the people that come from a construction background are not our type. It's the people skills that we're looking for."

Speaker 2: "The surprises didn't stop there. There was also that whole thing about defining the target market. You're guessing men, right? Well, you're half correct. Ladies?"

Woman: "This is something that we don't do. She's in finance, I'm in marketing, and this is nothing we'd ever get an opportunity to do. I thought about doing this twenty years ago, so I've been waiting twenty years to do this. How's that? It's like adults playing with Tonka trucks and sand."

Ed: "When I first opened Dig This, I thought it would just be a guy thing only. The way it's turned out is that 50% of our clients, and I mean 50% of our clients, are women. Women are typically the better operators. They're extremely good listeners."

Speaker 3: "What lesson did that teach you as an entrepreneur?"

Ed: "I think you've got to be open minded going into anything. Don't assume anything."

Speaker 2: "On the publicity side, Mumm says he found that people in Vegas were more than willing to share his enthusiasm, at least for a price."

Ed: "I was so excited about Dig This and I really wanted to spread the word. Without doing too much homework or studies, I just did a huge shotgun approach and spent about sixty, seventy thousand my first year. Did newspaper advertising and radio advertising and all this print on the ... Look, Las Vegas is really good at getting money out of your pocket like I told you. There's some sharp salespeople here, and they managed to extract a lot of money out of me. Return on investment for probably 90% of that investment we had a 0 return on our marketing."

Speaker 2: "It's marketing 101 really. Don't sell everyone, sell potential buyers. Dig This has teamed up with another local attraction to capitalize on their mutual access to like-minded thrill seekers, which now means for one low price you can shoot machine guns for an hour and a half before you jump on the excavator of your choice, which may be the most manly way in the world you can ever spend an afternoon. Anyway, after the holes have been dug and the tires moved out on the course, it's back inside and time for the diplomas."

Speaker 4: "[inaudible] experience also hereby recognize [inaudible]. Now you can move your tassels over, throw your hats in the sky, you guys all graduated Dig This operators. Okay? Woohoo, all right."

Speaker 2: "It's only been five years, but Dig This has already become quite the success story. They're planning on relocating to a larger space where they can add in other attractions like bungee jumping and jet boats, and yes, they plan on building their own lake. Whatever the future brings, Ed says he will always remember this place, and especially one curious local who popped in to make a very astute observation."

Ed: "It was really funny. One guy walked in one day and he said, "What are you guys doing out there?" He said, "You've been tearing up this place for the last two or three months, and nothing's getting done." I said, "What do you mean?" He said, "You're one of the worst construction companies I've ever seen." I said, "Well mate, we're union. We're not in a hurry, we don't need to get this job done." He just looked at me blank faced and was like, "You're nuts.""

Speaker 1: "That's it for TGIM this week. If you're interested in how Shopify can help make commerce better for everyone, including you, visit Subscribe to the full podcast on iTunes or at If you like what you're hearing, please remember to leave us a rating on iTunes, that would be swell. You can also hear single stories on Stitcher. We call those TGIM Shorts. We'll have another episode in two weeks. Talk to you then."


Show notes:

About TGIM: TGIM is a podcast for people who can’t wait for the week to start. In each episode we’ll be bringing you inspirational stories about entrepreneurs who have overcome obstacles, built incredible businesses, and are now living the life they want.