Back in 1996, Ticketfly's CEO, Andrew Dreskin, started TicketWeb which, as its name suggests, was the first company to sell tickets on the web. He hoped to disrupt event goliath Ticketmaster but, in the end, ended up selling to them.
Today, Dreskin is the CEO of San Francisco-based ticketing company Ticketfly. Founded in 2008, the company caters to over 1,300 venues plus high-profile gatherings including Burning Man and Pitchfork Music Festival - making it the number two retailer right behind...Ticketmaster.
WillCall was founded in February 2012, after a stint in well-known incubator 500 Startups, by Donnie Dinch along with Julian and Patrick Tescher. The trio built out a mobile app for iOS and Android that enables consumers to purchase last-minute tickets to a list of curated events from mostly up-and-coming artists.
To compete with a slew of last-minute-ticketing competitors entering an increasingly crowded marketplace, they developed features including BarTab, which allows concertgoers to open and close a bar tab in-app, and the ability to gift friends with tickets. These seamless technologies, and the on-premise data they collected, are what made the small SF-based start up an attractive prospect to Ticketfly - whose other major competitor is Eventbrite.
While WillCall developed an intuitive, beautifully-designed app, its reach was limited in a market dominated by the likes of Ticketmaster, Eventbrite, and Ticketfly. Yesterday, the latter company acquired the small start up and has big plans for using the technologies built by WillCall's agile team to create the most enjoyable experience possible for fans that frequent its breadth of venues.
I got a chance to catch up with Andrew Dreskin, and Donnie Dinch, who is now Ticketfly's GM of Consumer Experience, to talk about the acquisition and what's at stake for both companies. While they couldn't reveal full details stemming from some of the more specific questions, one thing is clear: their overarching goal is to make the experience of attending an event as enjoyable as possible.
There was a rumor that Ticketfly wanted to replicate what WillCall was doing, to shut them down. One year later, you’ve acquired them. Why the change of heart?
Andrew: We realized we were never going to be able to do it as well as they do it. From the beginning, we’ve always been interested in the types of things WillCall does. There’s a lot to like about WillCall. They have a super-great mobile dev team who created a curated last-minute ticketing channel. Our desire has always been to display our clients’ ticket inventory in front of as many people as possible.
We have an affiliate network of 300 websites. This sort of curated and semi-last-minute ticket channel is another example of a distribution channel that we’ve always been desirous of providing for our clients. In addition, we’re very much fans of the frictionless payment technology that WillCall has developed and we think that presents the future of how people are going to pay for drinks in music venues and bars.
Finally, they have a great POS (point of sale) platform and we see the data that comes from that platform as very important to event promoters; they can better understand the profitability of their events. So, we think it’s foundational to loyalty. That was the driver here, we think these guys do a great job of it, and we’re happy to have them on the team.
As you should be…WillCall comes with a lot of useful features for both fans and artists alike. Is there anything that will go away or will it all remain intact and expand?
Andrew: I’ll start by saying we know that WillCall users are a very passionate group and they’re equally passionate about the app. We have no desire to muck that up. We don’t plan to try and get in the middle of that in any way and we certainly don’t want to take anything away that they love about it. We only want to grow it and bring it to a bigger audience.
We also are in the early days of putting the businesses together. Whether every single feature in there survives is still TBD (to be decided) but, generally, the philosophy is let’s make it bigger and better and not take anything away from it.
Ticketfly caters to over 1,300 venues, nationwide, now and a lot of the tickets available there will be feeding into WillCall. Do you think that will greatly impact the look, feel, and experience?
Donnie: To some extent, yes. We’ve learned quite a bit in the past couple years working on the app and I think that the way we service information to people, the way that we trade it will change. The implications of having a larger audience is that we can’t do it the same way.
Since we’re going to have a broader audience, we’re going to have a broader approach to the way we want to carry content to that audience. I can’t really speak to anything specifically that’s going to change but I can promise it’s going to be tailored to its use case in the future.
How do you see the BarTab feature expanding now that you have Ticketfly in your corner?
Donnie: Andrew can elaborate on this but our approach, when we started to build out BarTab, was to go beyond ticketing and build a better experience for consumers and, at the same time, try to get more information that would give us a better understanding of the fans for the venue owners and promoters. I think it’s something that's pretty exciting to Ticketfly. I’ll let Andrew talk to how far we’re going to take it but I think we’re just at the beginning.
Andrew: We think that the businesses are very complementary. WillCall has some amazing technology, some great people. BarTab is one of those and we have a broad network of really amazing venues and promoters. There’s a tremendous opportunity to offer things like BarTab to our network. This is about changing and improving the way people go to live events, experience live events, pay for drinks and merchandise.
What’s the number one thing you want to see come out of this acquisition?
Andrew: Well, the number one thing is I’m looking forward to spending more time with Donnie (laughs).
Seriously, beyond that, really just continuing on the theme of building a better experience for the fans. We’re of the view here that the entire live events ecosystem really just exists to create better experiences for fans. If there was one overarching goal here, it’s to help people to have a better experience when they attend live events.