Here is an interesting business case study: You run a small company in a space dominated by giants. Competition is vicious, digital advertising is ruinously expensive and you all compete for the same supply and the same consumers. Although you have raised $40 million in your first round, that’s tip money for some of your larger competitors. Almost every one of your competitors makes their money by adding a surprise mark-up at the check-out page, but you decided to show the true price to your customers up front even though the largest company in the business tried and failed at this model. You are growing, but so is everyone.
In the middle of March 2020, the Coronavirus comes and your entire industry freezes and stays frozen for the rest of the year. Much of what you sold over the past six months must be refunded to buyers even though you already paid the suppliers for the product. How do you survive?
I spoke with Brett Goldberg, TickPick’s co-founder and co-CEO. He’s smart, warm and unafraid to try new paths to success. We discussed the path he’s charted to pivot TickPick through the quiet until live entertainment resumes and ticket buyers return.
TickPick is an outlier. It competes with companies like StubHub, Vivid Seats, SeatGeek and Ticketmaster reselling tickets for concerts, theater and sporting events to consumers who missed the chance to buy those tickets when they were first put-on sale. StubHub, then a subsidiary of eBay, sold more than $5 billion in resale tickets during 2019. Vivid Seats, SeatGeek and Ticketmaster together sold about the same that year. Getting attention in competition with those guys is a lot like trying to catch the homecoming queen’s attention from your position as the water boy for the football team. It is possible, but it doesn’t really happen often.
To some extent, TickPick is like the Jim Carrey’s Lloyd Christmas chasing Lauren Holly’s Mary Swanson character:
Lloyd: What are the chances of a guy like you and a girl like me….ending up
Mary: Not good.
Lloyd: Not good like one in a hundred?
Mary: I’d say more like one in a million.
Lloyd: So you’re telling me there’s a chance?
However, this is not the movies, it is real life and in real life TickPick has threaded the needle. They’re growing their business and their raising awareness of the brand. They made two smart acquisitions, purchasing failing competitors Rukkus and RazorGator. (Disclosure: I was the competing bidder for RazorGator.) These acquisitions expanded TickPick’s levels of consumer awareness.
TickPick’s model is different than its competitors. Their site is optimized to show the total cost of a ticket purchase, where other ticket resellers show a lower price initially, then add service fees at the checkout screen. TickPick’s task is to get buyers to compare final prices, rather than what’s the first price they see. It’s working, but anytime you ask consumers to pay attention, you risk losing them to an option which appears at first blush to be cheaper.
TickPick also made a decision which turned out well for them as the Covid-19 shutdown forced immediate changes to resale ticketing. Once it became apparent that shows were not going to resume quickly after the shutdown and that refunds requests would flood in as tours were postponed or canceled, most ticket marketplaces changed the terms by which they paid their suppliers. Previously, ticket brokers were paid for the tickets sold by the markets once those tickets were delivered. By April 2020, this had changed to payment will be made within 14 days after the event takes place. This change put the ticket suppliers in the position of having put out the money to purchase tickets upfront, then having to wait as much as 2 years until the show took place before they’d get paid. This change devastated the supply chain for tickets.
TickPick decided they knew their suppliers well enough to trust them. So, they went the other way. They continued to pay their suppliers upon delivery of tickets which is move which will forever endear them to their suppliers, many of whom had few other options to recover the money they’d invested into tickets.
TickPick once forgot to map a portion of Michigan thereby cutting off a good portion of the state. Once Michigan natives noticed, they were displeased. Social media scores for TickPick plummeted in that area. Brett Goldberg got onto a plane with to make things right. He took his medicine, threw an open bar event, and rallied those who came into supporting TickPick. See the story below:
Perhaps this is the major differentiator for TickPick: they’re willing to take a few chances and they’re willing to do things which others may not. Telling people the true checkout price upfront was a strategy which failed for StubHub during the year they tried. TickPick is making it work. Supporting your suppliers while things are tight is risky, but it pays off in the long run. And, understanding that the best way to fix a mistake is to own it is another path less frequented, but very well appreciated when correctly employed. Often, leadership is demonstrated by taking the path least traveled. Done correctly it can get you to your goal in front of the crowd who went the other way.