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ANDREW: Hey everyone it’s Andrew Warner, founder of mixergy.com, the ambitious startup. Today’s startup, today’s entrepeneur, launched a business, and then got it funded, and then, while he was going through this seed incubation process, sold that business and switched to another company. That’s what fascinated me about you, Russell D’Souza, that’s why I invited you to mixergy, to find out how you do this, why you sold it, how you decided on a whole new company, and how you were able to launch that new company inside of, what I think Dreamit is the company that funded you, I think they just have three months of incubation. Right?
INTERVIEWEE: It’s a little over three months, yeah.
ANDREW: A little over three months. You sold a company, relaunched a company, and then got it so good that you were able to take it to TechCrunch 50 and become one of the finalists at TechCrunch 50. So first of all, welcome.
INTERVIEWEE: Thanks for having me Andrew.
ANDREW: I’m really glad to meet you. Second, let’s find out what this business was. What was it called?
INTERVIEWEE: The business that we had prior to Seakeep, was a company called Scribnia. And it’s still up, it’s still running. They have hundreds of thousands of users every single month, they’re doing very, very well. We applied to Dreamit Ventures. And for those of you guys who don’t know, Dreamit Ventures is similar to Ycombinator and Textar, some of these other incubators out there. And it’s located in Philadelphia. So we ended up accepting a position at Dreamit for their Summer class of 2009. We applied with the idea of Scribnia. At the time we were in a private beta stage, and obviously had no traction because of that. But we applied with the idea and a proof of concept, and the folks at Dreamit liked what they saw, but wanted to challenge us on how we were going to grow this, how is it going to be a huge site. And we had good answers to that, and I think they also liked the two of us. We had founded a business prior to that before, our backgrounds were sort of unique, we were management consultants turned web entrepeneurs. So we had the business side of things, but also taught ourselves to program and were technically adept at well.
ANDREW: Okay, so let’s take this slowly. I want to make sure that I dig into every part of this.
ANDREW: Where did the idea come from, this Yelp of internet writers, which is what Scribnia was?
INTERVIEW: Sure. So, there are thousands upon thousands of internet authors out there. It’s so hard to know who you can trust, it’s so difficult to find out any information about them. I, for example, love reading Bill Simmons. I’m sure you know who Bill Simmons is – popular writer for ESPN, every single time one of his posts comes out, I’m eager to read him. And I’m always wondering: If I like Bill Simmons this much, there must be other authors who I would enjoy reading as well. And it’s not ESPN authors necessarily, because there are a number of ESPN authors who I just can’t stand reading. But I’m sure there are other authors who are like him. So if we can build this system that lets users rate and review every author out there, not just on a scale of one to ten but also on factors relevant to them. So, for a political author: Are they liberal or conservative biased? Show their bias, build the recommendation algorithm that would give people a good sense of who they would like to read.”
“Interviewee: That would give people a good sense of who they would like read.
Andrew: Okay, alright we would love that even today, and nobody has solved that yet. I can find articles that people who I like and respect are interested in but I can’t find writers like?
Interviewee: And once you find the writers that you like then you will always be able to find good articles that you like to read.
Andrew: Okay, so you have this idea, what did you guys do? How did you launch it?
Interviewee: So the first thing we did, we learned a lot along the way, so the first thing we did was we said this is an idea that affects the two of us, we personally have always wanted to find more authors and we knew that at least there are two people in the universe and we thought to have friends obviously who had same problem. In hindsight we talked to more people because the more input that you get at that early stage, the more you think about how you can build it and figure out what is the problem you want to solve differently. But the first thing we actually did was we started to building up the product, the two of us had very limited programming experience before this. We essentially taught ourselves how to program with the [unclear] at the side, I focused more on the backend side of the code, and then my business partner Jack did a lot at the front end and we were able to move pretty quickly but there is obviously a little bit of hump, it takes time for you to familiarize yourself with how to code. And so we started programming in September 2008 and had a private alpha launch in February 2009 and then about that time we started applying to the incubators like DreamIt Adventures and Ycombinator.
Andrew: What was in that alpha launch, what could the site do?
Interviewee: It was pretty functional. The big feature that it had was the ability to, so you could rate and review all these authors on these different, 1 to 10 and also on these different contexts, we launched in the alpha stage we had this very cool way of filtering authors where you could drag the handles around, like I am looking for a conservative author, on a scale of 1 to 10 is a 5 in conservative and then I want to [unclear] someone who on a scale of 1 to 10 maybe a 10 hiding their bias.
Andrew: [unclear] that would allow people to figure out how much of a bias they were hiding?
Interviewee: You rate them on a scale of 1 to 10 and then use sliders that let you discover the authors that you like, much like you had a kayak and you want to slide around figuring out okay, my plan to leave here, and it is same sort of idea it is more qualitative but, because we are taking quantitative rankings in, there is a process of being able to discover the authors just using these very crisp, clean java scrip sliders that we built, and the other thing that we had at the time was we had the recommendation algorithm built where we took all the different context ratings and all the different ratings of the individual users put it and then could spit out pretty accurately authors that they would like and at the time we didn’t have many users who were using the service but from every single person we talked to, it seemed like we were giving good recommendations, people are discovering new authors that they would like.
Andrew: Okay, and did you see the site with all the authors or did you allow your audience to add authors.
Interviewee: Both, we definitely seeded it with authors but the big part of it was user generated content. We wanted people to input their favorite authors and put the [unclear] that they would like read and adding value to the community and also figuring out authors they would like as a result.
Andrew: Okay, that’s the first launch. That’s what the launch was and I know that there wasn’t that much time to iterate because you sold it soon after you launched it but how did the product evolve after that?
Interviewee: We launched, we had a full all out launch in May and sold it shortly thereafter. So we did iterate just to some extent, we didn’t go through the full iterating cycle that we do now at SeekGeek, I think we are just so much more agile now, and we learned the biggest thing is this is the first real web business that we ever built and we learned so much in terms of how quick you have to be, how nimble you have to be, how you have to test things, and how you test assumptions even before you start building products. So we sort of built these features that we thought made a lot of sense and luckily they seemed to be a hit. Hundreds of thousands of people use that site now, but in hindsight I wish we did more thinking about how we can build these really, really quickly and get them in front of people, get feedback and incorporate that feedback and make a better site.
Andrew: Okay, so then you applied to DreamIt, why did you apply to DreamIt?
Interviewee: We applied to several other incubators, the usual TechStarts, Ycombinator, we really, really liked the people at DreamIt, I think the one thing that DreamIt has and they really pushed was this concept that you guys were going to be, all the teams were all together within one room working over the summer and that was something differentiated itself from Ycombinator. They talked a lot about the speakers that they would bring in and once, even twice a week they would bring in these top notch speakers, guys like”
“Interviewee: Twice a week they are bringing these top-notch speakers guys like Josh Copman would come in and give their time for an hour, Bradfeld, really top-notch people in the Philadelphia community, even outside the Philadelphia community would talk about a certain aspect of entrepreneurship and give advice, practical advice, hands-on advice on how that can be applied, and so we had a great experience there. And that was the things they taught and when we applied it and they definitely lived up to their expectations.
Andrew: Was your application accepted by Techstars and Ycombinator?
Interviewee: So the way the process works is that once you apply the different incubators get back to you pretty quickly and when they do get back to you they expect an answer shortly thereafter. So we actually, DreamIt Ventures was actually very high in our list, it was the first company that actually accepted us and we felt very good about it, so we had late interviews with all the other incubators but we ended up choosing to do it with DreamIt Adventures.
Andrew: What do you mean by late interviews with the others?
Interviewee: So you know they have interview process where you fly out to California interview with YCombinator. So that is [inaudible], for some of the incubators we had an opportunity to go out and interview with them, but that interview would have taken place well after we had to let DreamIt Adventures know so, we were very happy with DreamIt Adventures and decided to do that.
Andrew: I see, okay. And I think now what’s happened is that they are all lined up with their application processes so that you are not put in that position, right?
Interviewee: To be honest, I know that there was a problem last year, there was a post on Tech Crunch actually about that particular issue. I think they have done a better job now of making sure that the entrepreneurs get more choice but to be honest these programs are so great that you learn so much at any one of them. I think that there is level of competitors from different programs that I understand why that exists, but I think at the same time as an entrepreneur it is so great that these companies do exist now and young people like us are lucky to be able to take advantage of them.
Andrew: So, why did you decide to go that route instead of calling up angel investors or friends and family and raising money from them?
Interviewee: I think DreamIt Adventures was the single best thing that I have done as entrepreneur. I think it changed the way that I thought about businesses and when you read through how these programs market themselves, that’s what they really talk about, that this is the way for you to really change the way you think to really have the luxury of building something over the [inaudible] and to be honest like if we had, I wouldn’t know the first thing before DreamIt about how to raise money and what the best way to do that is I would be calling friends and family, calling angel investors and it wouldn’t have been a very good process, DreamIt Adventures taught us the right way to do that and exposed you to a network of people who are looking to invest in smart ideas. So we didn’t have the network before that would, it is not to easy to raise money, so having a huge network, a good network is important, and also knowing how to do it is important, and I learnt both of this at Dream It.
Andrew: So you get into DreamIt, actually why did they accept you, they apparently didn’t like your idea, they helped you switch towards what became seatgeek? What did they like about you?
Interviewee: I wouldn’t say they didn’t like our idea, I think they understood that if you are building a yelp.com of that model, you just need a ton of skill, tons of users in order for it to be a real revenue opportunity and when you are in an offer the stage you don’t have any traction to show that this is going to be the company that’s going to generate a lot of users and get that kind traction. I think that they smartly asked the right questions, is this the idea, is this the team that’s going to do it, but I do think that we made a good impression with them, I think that we understood those questions and answered them pretty well, and moreover just as I said, having that unique background of having the business sort of, the business experience but at the same time, few people have, not the many companies who had the business sense also were as technical as we were. So having that two point combination, they knew that we can move quickly and do different things even if this idea didn’t work out.
Andrew: Do you think they had a sense that this idea wouldn’t work out?
Interviewee: It’s hard to say. I don’t think so. I think that if they, they may have thought that we would pivot in some direction along the same idea. I don’t think they ever anticipated we would be getting into ticketing, so if they expected anything would be for us to change our focus along the [inaudible] but I don’t think they anticipated us switching ideas completely.
Andrew: Okay, where did the idea of switching occur? At what point?
Interviewee: Throughout the summer, almost as soon as we got to Dream It, we started building our processes and started grabbing these listing transactional data. Going back to what they [inaudible] seatgeek, both Jack and I are from Boston and we would go to the”
“Interviewee: And we would go to the secondary ticket markets all the time because you couldn’t get tickets in Boston without doing so, everything gets sold out all the time. It’s a sports fanatic city. And we would almost feel like we were getting ripped off at the same time sites like Kayak and FairCast out there that had a great model on aggregation, particularly with FairCast had the analytic piece as well. And so we had thought about this idea for awhile and it had germinated for awhile and we thought look lets just put ourselves into a position where we can build this idea in case Scribnia doesn’t work out the way we hope it will. And even before we formally launching the site we were already gathering all the data for us to make the predictive algorithm and kept putting ourselves in the position to build out the site really quickly.
Andrew: Now when you’ve got a business and you’ve already launched it and you’re thinking about how to grow it isn’t your obsession on growing the one business instead of still thinking about all the other businesses you can be in?
Interviewee: You know that’s very true and certainly I’m not dabbling in other business concepts right now at SeatGeek, I think with that particular business it was just the realization that we were very naive when we started in the sense that we didn’t understand how long it takes to generate a ton of users and how to go about getting users, and so as time went on I think the people who own the business now and are working on it now have that mindset and have that perspective they understand that they aren’t in it for six months before seeing significant traffic and revenue but it’s about being in it for a one year or two year horizon and then realizing that if you are creating something that tackles such a huge problem that the opportunity is big. And just to answer your question, we sort of realize that that’s the type of business we have to be patient with and have to continually grow it, it’s not one that would automatically be a home run right out of the gate in terms of both traffic and revenue and as we started to realize that we wanted to build something that from day one we could be earning revenue.
Andrew: I see, so while you were building that one business you kept saying well wouldn’t it be great if we could make some money, wouldn’t it be great if we could earn a living while we were building out Scribnia? Is that right? or
Interviewee: I admit that’s one way of putting it we wanted a business that had a business model that’s more entrenched in the web application. If that makes sense.
Andrew: Okay, what I am seeing a lot in my interviews is that before you really find the one a lot of entrepreneurs seem to dabble and so it’s kinda like dating, you are dating one business, you are dating another you’re trying to find what fits and then you find one that fits and that is the one you marry. Is that a good description?
Interviewee: Umhmm. I think that is the right way to go about things in a lot of ways. And even at SeatGeek today, you know we are laser focused at building the number one ticketing consumer application out there, but at the same time we see all these other inefficiencies in ticketing and we are tackling them alongside. So, it is a question of making sure you are getting feedback in other areas and making sure you can actually move and tackle other problems if they turn out to be bigger. So the dating analogy is pretty apt.
Andrew: I’ve got a note here from earlier, you said that you were gathering data before you launched. What kind of data are you gathering?
Interviewee: So the way these forecasting models works is that we are gathering data from different data points for example like team performance…
Andrew: I’m sorry to interrupt that answer, why don’t we, I should have done this earlier on in the interview, I guess I just assumed that everyone knows what SeatGeek is, can you just describe what it is and then it will help us understand how it evolved to what it is?
Interviewee: Sure, SeatGeek forecasts how sports and concert tickets move on the secondary ticket market. Secondary ticket markets are sites like StubHub, RazorGator, anywhere people are reselling tickets. And so what we are doing is we’re providing a central consumer interface where consumers can come and they can search all these different markets and also learn if I should buy my tickets for this event now or wait three weeks to buy my tickets. And that second process that I am talk about, that forecasting is done through us gathering tons of data and then creating an algorithm around it that forecasts with 85% accuracy to where these ticket prices are gonna go. So, when I eluded to earlier about gathering data process that is obviously something that had to, you can’t ramp that up from day one, so we had started that data gathering process earlier to make sure that we were in the position that once we were committed to building the application we would have the data in place that we could make the predictions.
Andrew: I see, how could you know? In fact, here, let me just describe to people my experience with it. I wanted to get a ticket to the Yankees’ game. I went on your website…”
“Andrew:I wanted to get a ticket to the Yankees’ game,I went on your website and not only saw all the different tickets that were available but I saw them mapped in the stadium and then I could click on a specific seat and see who offered it,maybe it was stub-hub or maybe was one of the other services,see what they were offering it for and see how many tickets I had to buy you know in order to get the price I had to buy 2 tickets or in some cases four tickets.But what was specially interesting was on the bottom right of the web page was a graph that showed that the ticket prices were going down, down, down,down and somewhere on the website i forget where in the experience, you guys said ,””don’t buy yet,wait its probably gonna go down further.so that’s what makes this thing so freaking incredible,you know you not only helped me find the tickets but you also helped me decide when to do it.Now how did you know that..how did you put that in place…how did you…how did you…how can you predict it..how did you start predicting it in the beginning?
Interviewee: so a huge component of the algorithm is obviously the data.So we are gathering all this data and we are able to look at how ticket prices are moving over time for all these different events.My business partner Jack is a..you know..very..has a back on the kinda metrics,worked with some of the phd students to build out this algorithm using the data..then..so its very academic in nature,its a kinda metrics but..you know… we are looking at how the ticket prices are moving and looking at how that relates to external factors like team performance,the venue size..whether all these other things are being taken into this model that help us predict accurately how the ticket prices move.
Andrew:how did you know it in the beginning?What were you doing?did you go back in time and get all the weather forecasts..
Interviewee:That’s the whole data gathering processes Iam talking about..just gathering everything that we thought would…could potentially affect ticket prices.You gather everything then you figure out what you which one is statistically significant or not.
Andrew:I see so in the beginning part of 2009 did you go back and say what was the temperature like in 2008..how did the ticket prices adjust for2008.How did you even get the historical data?
Interviewee:Yeah I mean for things like team performance and .. that is always out there .You go to ESPN..you can figure that one out.the ticket price is only available in real time so are gathering..we are also……….we work with some academics who share some data with us and helped us on the model …so that’s something that we were the first people to contact them and help build relationships with them..and so that is also..and you are right that data also is only available in real time and that’s the competitive edge that we have..that enables us..keeps us ahead of the other companies that you know one day would like to copy what we do.
Andrew:And how did you do it when you launched?
Interviewee:Yes ..we had….
Andrew:how did you do it in the beginning?how much data were you able to collect considering the fact that a lot of this data isn’t publicly available.
Interviewee:Yeah so we had as I said data….we were starting to gather data from the beginning of premed and we had a significant amount of data there and we were also a partnering with academics and had data going back as much as five years …….so we had a huge amount of data that we were making our predictions on even when we started.
Andrew: Can you help me understand how you decided to switch gears,’cause its tough,when you are already moving in one direction to say now this doesn’t really work.In fact using the dating analogy when you are dating somebody its tough to say this isn’t really the one,I gotta move on and then just to go out there and say it is even tougher.Here you did that within a matter of months.How did you come to that decision?
Interviewee:I…I..I’d really think it was around …just…you know… understanding and having a perspective on the time horizon it would take for a business to be successful and I think it gonna be a massively successful business and you have to be willing to spend time with it and understand that you have to grow the traffic to a huge degree before you start generating revenues and you look at our personal preference is to build something where from day 1 revenue comes in the door and it feels more like a business and its not based on hitting a home run right..its based on us growing the business slowly and steadily over time.obviously trying to scale as quickly as possible but there is revenue from the moment you know you start..and I may or may not have covered this in the interview,but the way that we earn the revenue,is a ..much like..higher when some one buys a ticket through us…we earn a lead,an affiliate fee from the different secondary ticket markets.on an average tickets transact for upwards of $20 to $50 on our site so we make $20 per transaction .So you can imagine we are doing a lot of transactions and how that can quickly scale up in terms of revenue.That business model that was the heart of the business concept is exciting to us.
Andrew:What size transactions are you doing now?roughly..any amount
Interviewee: so you know as a private company you don’t really share too much about the number of transactions and the …
Andrew:are we in thousands or tens of thousands..
Interviewee:yeah ..over that…
Andrew:OK …so its not tens of thousands..its gotta be thousands ..
Interviewee:lets not go into that
Andrew:OK,… its gotta be thousands …i was checking out your traffic…”
“Andrew: I was checking out your traffic I think you guys are doing about fifty thousand uniques a month so it’s gotta be in the thousands, not the tens of thousands.
Interviewee: So, the funny part about [Compete] is that, you know, [Compete] traffic isn’t always terribly accurate so we’ve… yeah I think [Compete] definitely short-changes us in terms of the traffic but y’know it is what it is, I think it’s fine but it’s a good tool to get a [hear-stick] of how each company is doing. But you know, we are doing very well by the standards that we set out when we started and we’re happy with the progress we’ve made, but looking to scale it up a lot going forward.
Andrew: Where are you getting your audience, your customers?
Interviewee: So, a couple of… two main ways. The first of which is that we have so much of this data right out of the [seekgeeks] and as a result of that we can put out really interesting content that gets picked up everywhere. So a good example is Stevens Strasburg, I’m not sure if you’re familiar with the starting pitcher for the Washington Nationals, the most hyped-up start from a prospect in a long time. so we’ll look at how ticket prices move for an event like that, and we’ll say “”look, the fans really are excited about this event because ticket prices are trading at… are selling at a hundred, I think it’s a hundred and five dollars, and the average Nationals’ price is fifty-one dollars. So it’s two times the average Nationals’ ticket price just to see this particular game.”” That gets picked up by places like The Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal, it’ll get picked up by The New York Times, it’ll get picked up everywhere. And they’ll have, y’know, often links to [Seekgeek], and that’s a way… there’s so many stories in sports and music on a week to week basis that we don’t need to be the focal point of these stories, we just have to comment around them, and using our data have an opportunity to… expose people to our brand.
Andrew: I see. And do you have a PR person who’s doing this for you?
Interviewee: We work with a company called Launch Squad. They’re a PR firm out in New York city and also San Francisco I believe they have offices too and… they’ve done a great job and we’ve put together a plan about how we’re gonna constantly push at interesting data to the media and that’s been a huge opportunity for us in terms of getting coverage.
Andrew: Can you give me another example of a media hit that you guys had?
Interviewee: Absolutely. Like a good one, another one is the Lakers. So the Lakers-Celtic finals, we compare that to the… we first of all looked at the ticket price for that event, the tickets are selling as six hundred dollars a piece for the Lakers and five hundred-something for the Celtics for those finals games. But interestingly when you compare it to the NHL, NHL ticket prices are actually higher than NBA ticket prices. And nobody saw that coming. Who would think that that… it’s Lakers versus Celtics, two most storied franchises of the NBA, yet hockey ticket prices are higher. And when we put that out it got a ton of interest. And these are two examples that were literally in the past week. So you can see that this is something that we don’t have to worry about finding these events, there’s huge events all the time, we just have to figure out how we can intelligently comment on them and… push that data out to… [unintelligable]
Andrew: Who comes up with that, who comes up with those stories? And by the way before you answer, can you push back a little bit from the camera? I wanna make sure we get your full head in there.
Interviewee: Oh, sorry.
Andrew: You don’t have to go quite that far back, I just wanna make sure we don’t cut off the top of your head.
Interviewee: Absolutely, absolutely. So the question was…
Andrew: Now, I’m sorry, now lower the camera a little bit, there we go.
Interviewee: Alright, I see it.
Andrew: That’s good.
Interviewee: I can see myself at the bottom.
Andrew: Yeah, yeah, I wanna make sure you’re fully in the picture.
Interviewee: So we… our PR firm comes up with the… all of us are sports fans and music fans so we use that. We have a good sense about what the upcoming stories are just because we follow those sort of events. And if you follow sports in any capacity you know that the Strasburg thing is huge or that the finals are huge. And then… but we also, you know, we have… the PR firm also keeps us up on our toes and makes sure that we know what stories we should be commenting on and what the good opportunities are.
Andrew: I see, that’s pretty cool. What about advertizing? Are you doing online ads also?
Interviewee: We do a little bit of Pagesearch, but just to experiment with it. I don’t think that… we don’t at the moment see it as a big driver. Another good opportunity for us is around business development, if you go to Yahoo Sports, biggest sports on the internet, go to any major league baseball page, you’ll see a ticketing link that goes to [Seekgeek]. And we get thousands of users every day who come through those ticketing links. And…
Andrew: That’s paid placement, right?
Interviewee: No, so that’s revenue share.
Interviewee: So we work with these different… we built, for a good example, we also built widgets. And these widgets show cool content that’s from [Seekgeek]. It’ll show you here are the three upcoming events in your area, three concerts in your area. And bloggers love this sort of stuff, they’ll put it on their site. And as a result of that we’ll compensate them whenever someone makes a transaction through these widgets, we’ll pay them fifty percent of the commission. But that’s a great way for us to get our brand out there and for us to get [risk] for users because we’re paying out on the transaction itself, not on the lead generating.
Andrew: How do you tie back the sale to the company you have an affiliate program with that then pays you?”
Interviewee: Yeah so that’s all done automatically. We just pass parameters and can track. We’re very very.. We care a lot about tracking. So we track everything and one of the things is when someone clicks through any switches we’re tracking, that user that we are tracking them onto the secondary ticket market and then we’re able to associate all these transactions with where their original source was.
Andrew: How did you get the Yahoo! deal? Actually wait, I’m sorry let me stick with the previous question about time back revenue. How many companies are you working with that are paying you, that you have to then keep track of the revenue, that you’re getting from them?
Interviewee: Lots. Basically any small blog becomes an affiliate bars.
Andrew: uh no the other side. How many ticketing companies do you work with?
Interviewee: So we work with the major secondary ticket markets at the moment. There’s four big ones. Stub up, Racegator, Tickets Now and Ticket Network. Over time we’ll start working with a lot more companies now that we’re integrating direct brokers into our feed so that instead of going to like Racegator, you can now go to the broker who solicits their stuff on Racegator. So over the next month or so we’ll have another fifty companies whose tickets will be showing [inaudible]. But right now it’s the four major secondary ticket markets.
Andrew: Okay. All right. That also explains why it’s also easier to track. If you add more I think it’ll be tougher to know.
Interviewee: Not necessarily. I mean a lot of the stuff is pretty templated. You’re just.. they have no idea what we’re passing to them, when we’re passing this extra parameter. They just you know in their tracking margin we just need to show it. And once we have that we can associate where the transaction came from.
Andrew: Okay, the Yahoo! deal. How’d you get that?
Interviewee: It’s actually quite fortuitous. If you ask a piece of advice that I’d give. We were at Tech-Crunch 50, and one of the companies that was next to us, I’m actually blanking on the name, had a contact at Yahoo! sports that happened to run this development there. We were sort of at the right place at the right time. They were looking for new ticketing opportunities especially in secondary space and we started the relationship in October? And then at the start of the major baseball season we became their ticketing solution for baseball. It showed a lot. I think it’s a good lesson in how important it is to get yourself out there because you never know who you’re talking to and the networks that they have. So I think it’s always helpful just to ask people, you know do you know anybody who works at the contacts? And sometimes you get these home runs that happen just out of nowhere. And we’ve had a great relationship with them so far and I think it shows a lot about them that they’d be willing to work with a company like us. We’ve never had any technical hiccups or anything like that. But we’re a start up. We launched in September. They’ve been very excited about it. They like the product that we have and they like the laser focused and they became a very useful experience.
Andrew: All right. So what did you get out of dreaming? You told us about the speakers that came in. You told us about the resources they had. But how did you personally benefit?
Interviewee: Certainly, the biggest thing I think is having three months where the only thing you think about, the only thing you do is to build your company and the only people you see are people in the same boat too. I think there’s like the motivation that you get from that experience is second to none. We work every waking moment, feels great because the companies next to you are working just as hard. They’re all killing themselves. They all want to build a company that was viable by the end of the summer. So I think that the first and foremost if you have to pick one reason to do an incubator is that you’ll never be short of motivation. And then I think the network is huge. If you’re, if I’m an early stage BC, I know there’s a hundred companies say that graduate from this incubator every year. I don’t think I would look at them if they didn’t do it right. I think it’s a signal. Someone else has screened you, has said that you guys are intelligent potentially and that you guys have a cool concept. And then [inaudible] and all that stuff but at the same time I think it’s great when you’re able to.. When you talk to BCs, talk to investors afterwards. They say ‘Look you know we want to be with you in the program. Here are the people involved in it’ and you rattle off some impressive names who have given their time for the program and I think it makes a huge difference. It’s much different, I just talked about. You can’t just call, why we didn’t raise money at first from Angel investment when we first started screening. You can’t just call Angel investors and say ‘Would you invest in me?’ you know. They’d find out about you because you’ve built the network.
Andrew: I see. What about the product evolution? Did they help with that at all?
Interviewee: I think it’s just having people who’ve been there, done that and you can get feedback from them.
Andrew: A specific example of how you they gave you feedback that impacted your business, impacted your product specifically?
Interviewee: Trying to think. That’s a good question. One of the things that.. Trying to think of a good example.”
“Interviewee: I [unclear] think of a good example.
Andrew: What about the speakers. Did they come in and give you advice, did they take a look at your business and give you direction?
Interviewee: Absolutely, speakers were fantastic. We had people like Chris Parella come in and talk to us about business development. I had no idea what business development was before I came into that summer and he explained to us here is what business development looks like, here is the mindset you have to have, here is how you go out and you build your network and you go out and shine, and that’s all I do now, that is my full time job at SeekGeek, so it is amazing that transition that I made from that no idea of what it was, this is a nebulous thing before I joined the summer, it was like understanding the ins and outs of it and you are not going to get them in a 40 minute conversation but he really laid out the basics, it is something that you are not going to find out in any textbook, and I think that’s a big thing, the advice you are getting these guys, you can’t find anywhere else because there is no textbook written on this sort of material.
Andrew: What advice do you have for people who need to do business development, now that you do it all the time and you have learnt so much?
Interviewee: I won’t say I am wise by any sort of imagination, I would say that
Andrew: More experienced
Interviewee: More experienced, as I said I think it is so important to constantly build your network and don’t look at, you can’t look at the ten people you talk like, okay what can I get out of this person, or how I am going to the next person, it is actually building, and I sound so clichéd, but to build true genuine relationship with people means that, and be open to them if they ask you, can you introduce me to this person, always immediately jump to introduce them to other people because that pays itself back in the long term. Any success that we have had in business development thus far is that we are very open, if someone wants to come meet with, we are always open to talk with them, sit down with them for half an hour, talk to them about SeekGeek and out of that we have had great conversations, I unfortunately can’t give the names until we start closing and integrating, but we are in big conversations right now, just because of that sort of open mentality.
Andrew: How much did you sell [unclear] for?
Interviewee: I sold it for an undisclosed amount. It was a minor exit. It is not
Andrew: Under 50?
Interviewee: It was $100,000
Andrew: Under $100,000 and how did you find let me see who you sold it to? You sold it to the guy who owns Hispanoclick, Marc Duquette
Interviewee: We weren’t open about selling but he had someone across the site, found it interesting, he really liked the concept so, Marc’s background is that he found Hispanoclick, and he understands the content publishing and he understands how to advertise very well. And so he was looking for an opportunity where he could apply these sort of skills to a site like [unclear] which had a good option to get a huge audience but didn’t really think critically about how to advertise and how to gain advertising revenue, so he approached us and he used to say, and that was interesting and asked us pretty candidly whether we were looking to sell or not?
Andrew: Did you just stumble on the site? How did you even find the site?
Interviewee: He ended up using the site and then he reached out to us and we discussed selling. So it was very fortuitous, [unclear] the most.
Andrew: What about Marc Walkin one of your investors [unclear] how did you connect with him?
Interviewee: Yeah, Marc is a great guy, so how do you know Mark?
Andrew: Actually, believe it or not, I did business with him years ago back when he was at Sony.
Interviewee: So Mark is a great example again of another fortuitous connection. We were in an incubation space in New York and one of the companies there is a company that was part of the Angel Network which is a sort of angel mentorship program in New York and Mark was working with that company and he had actually been using SeekGeek at the time. We were actually hired on his browser, and he said [unclear], this guy Josh Weinstein who runs [unclear] the company I was referring to said you guys sit right there, so that’s how we actually met for the first time. He was checking at the site, he liked it and that’s how we met each other. We actually have a lot in common, he is a Dartmouth guy too. He is super, super helpful, Mark is literally a word expert in AB testing so he understands the ins and outs of how do you test things and how do you improve your conversion rate and every time we use SeekGeek we run some sort of test. We test rigorously and that’s the sort of feedback, we have been very hands on about giving, and so he works with us and helps us design this testing.
Andrew: He is one of the pioneers, he started one of the early AB multivariant testing companies? So what has he taught you? What specifically have you learned about AB testing or about testing in general from him?
Interviewee: I think it is just a question of figuring out what’s to important to test. It is a process right. It is about understanding, here are the things from his huge background, he has wealth of knowledge, here are some of the things that are likely to improve conversion rate”
“Interviewee: Here are some of the things that are likely to improve conversion rate but he doesn’t tell us, [inaudible] just do this, implement these changes, he will never describe himself as a expert, it is more about understanding that these are the things that you might want to test and see what happens and so a great example is actually when we launched this partnership with Yahoo, all its users from Yahoo came to a certain page, we call it our team page, where it shows all the upcoming events for certain team. We actually have reduced our bounce rate by 40% because we followed his testing advice, and I can actually send you screenshots of what the two look like, it is unbelievable how different they are, we did things like, we tested whether, do we want to show the forecast to these users, or we not want to show the forecast to these users, how big do we want the buttons to be that say buy tickets, what color should they be, and we gave all things that we should think about testing, and it made it a lot faster. I think we had arrived at a good solution in the long term but to be able to do it so quickly within a matter of weeks was because he gave us sort of, these are things you should think about testing.
Andrew: Okay, you are saying bounce rates improved because you changed the layout of the email?
Interviewee: No, not the email, so when Yahoo users come we have ticketing link on Yahoo
Andrew: Bounce rate on the site, right okay.
Interviewee: Exactly, so people would come and they just, we didn’t give a very good description of what seekgeek is, they wouldn’t know that it is a ticketing company, they would have this forecast that, I think they are important obviously so we build the company but it wasn’t contextualized for them, they didn’t understand what the forecast meant, and so not including those forecasts which to us was just a crazy when we first thought about it, but not including the forecast and putting very strong buy ticket buttons and doing things like that and just completely redesigning the page in a lot of ways improved our bounce rate by 40%.
Andrew: That explains why, and I was wondering this, why the chart is on the bottom of the page that I described earlier, if what you guys are is a ticket forecasting company, why don’t I see it at the top or the center of the page, and that’s why, because it is too confusing for people?
Interviewee: What’s actually is part of that, but more importantly it is because we want the map to be front and center, that’s where people interacted and buy the tickets and we found that when you put the analytic section with the graphs and forecast in the header, the downside is that people don’t always get a chance to interact with the map and on some computers the map wouldn’t even be visible, so we thought let’s make the map hyper visible, that’s the one thing we want users interacting with, and then as they started scroll to the listings and so moving down to the bottom of the page and they see this really cool analytic section and they can learn more information.
Andrew: Okay, I got someone in the audience from FusionApps, do you know that company?
Interviewee: I don’t know.
Andrew: Great company in New Jersey and it sounds like you are in New York right now.
Interviewee: I am in New York, yep.
Andrew: It says you guys received $25,000 in the incubation phase, how was the money spent?
Interviewee: On people. So we brought on another developer and we brought on a social media guy over the summer and both are great hires, worked out really well for us, and that’s primarily what we use the money for.
Andrew: Okay, let’s talk about actually one other question also from FusionApps [inaudible] domain, when you guys sold what was the split between you and your partner Jack?
Interviewee: We were 50:50 equity partners.
Andrew: So you guys had some savings even while you were building up a startup, it gives you a little bit of cushion, no?
Interviewee: That was very helpful.
Andrew: And before this interview you told me about a start up that you launched that I didn’t see anything about online and I do a lot of research on I guess Evolving Box, what’s Evolving Box?
Interviewee: It is funny enough, I think you probably have more publicity for involving Box in a different [inaudible] in a lot of ways. So Evolving Box was a, when we were at Dartmouth College, it was very difficult for us to get furniture, it is a school in the middle of nowhere and you are going to buying furniture and then throw it out at the end of every year, we thought this is a perfect example where a rental market works, and one which everything is online. So it would be great if you could go to this online interface, it is called Evolving Box and you can click I want these six items and that’s all you have to do. You click buy and then magically these items, someone knocks on your door and these items appear in your room and then at the end of the year they are taken, within the term they are taken out depending on how long you are at college. And so we built the site and we then we ended up hiring students to help us with the delivery process, moving all these furniture items to the different rooms and it was a large business at Dartmouth, still is a large business today, it has been passed on probably four times, now it is the large business in Dartmouth today, and we actually franchised that to a couple of schools because the model made sense to almost every college, like, why would you ever buy furniture when you are not going to need it, and colleges love that sort of stuff because they wanted [inaudible]at all cost, ended up as furniture items sitting outside in the hallway at the end of the year, so that was Evolving Box, and it was a great experience, we learned a ton from it, it was our first dab on entrepreneurship.”
“Interviewee: and it was our first [unintelligible] ownership.
Andrew: Who’s running it now?
Interviewee: When we sold it, we sold it to a bunch of students who were younger than us. We sold it for twenty-five thousand, not very much, but those students then sold it on and passed it on. I’m not sure now what it’s sold for, but when we sold it at the time, the funny part was that we looked at how much it should have been worth, by any sort of business measurements, and how much we could sell it for, and there’s definitely a divide there because it’s something that students need to run, given their access to the dorms and all that sort of stuff. It’s now run by I think a group of eight students, maybe almost even higher than that now – because you need more and more students to be able to afford the upfront payment to buy the business.
Andrew: Did you sell the furniture, or did you rent it?
Interviewee: We rented the furniture only. We’d buy it wholesale, and then we rented it out to the students.
Andrew: So you had to put out how much money upfront to start the business?
Interviewee: It was actually a great business because we would – the first time in the fall when we launched our senior year, we took in all the orders. When those orders came in, we capped it, and we went out and bought all that furniture. So our risk was relatively small. It’s just that difference between the renting period and the wholesale cost. And, it’s actually not that big a difference.
Andrew: Oh really? So you were basically selling it, renting it for what portion of the cost?
Interviewee: We were – a good amount. I mean, because a lot of stuff we were getting wholesale, so you’re getting quality furniture at a good rate. So it depended on each item. I mean, for a TV, we’re using sites like, companies like Best Buy. There you’re gonna get regular retail prices. But for futons we were getting just fantastic deals, because you’re buying them in bulk and you’re buying from the futon manufacturer directly.
Andrew: So rent was maybe 80% of your cost?
Interviewee: Yeah, about that, yeah. Rent for a year. And then you figure it was about – yeah, 80% of the cost, and then you’re also reusing it. I think we modeled out three years those furniture items are usable, and then, should they get damaged, you just charge the student who rented it last. So, that’s a business that I would love to see scale, and be everywhere. Unfortunately, it’s something that’s particularly easy to run when you’re a college student and can access any single dorm, and don’t have to worry about paying health insurance to your employees, but it’s a business that makes a lot of sense and I wish we used it more.
Andrew: And the students delivered it in their own cars?
Interviewee: We’d rent u-hauls.
Andrew: I see, okay. Alright, it sounds like even that wasn’t the first business that you started. What else did you start?
Interviewee: No, that was it! That’s it!
Andrew: You didn’t have any businesses as a kid? You sound really entrepreneurial is why I ask.
Interviewee: No, I didn’t, actually. No lemonade stand for me. The first business that I did was Evolving Vox.
Andrew: Alright. Let’s end it with, what’s next? What’s next for Seek Geek? I want to make sure to just say this really clearly, and it’s going to be so interesting to see what the transcribers come back with as the spelling and understanding of what the company name is, because we say it pretty quickly. I’ll say this, for whoever’s transcribing: Seek Geek. But leave the other misspellings in there, they’ll be good for search engine optimization. Plus it’ll be also interesting to see how people spell your name. So anyway, what’s next for Seek Geek?
Interviewee: So Seek Geek, we – we’re looking to become the consumer facing application where people buy tickets online. And that’s a really grand statement, and something that we – we know we have a lot of room to build, and a lot of stuff to build in order to get there. But over the next months we’ll start expanding our event coverage. Right now we focus on every sport, every major league sport, so there’s football, basketball, baseball and hockey, and also concerts, pretty much every concert in the secondary ticket market. So as we expand, we want to start rolling out a prediction algorithm for things like theater, things like stand-up comedy, some of these other – UFC fights – having people be able to use it for more than just buying concert and sports tickets. So that’s a big initiative for us at the moment.
Andrew: Well thanks, thanks for doing the interview. It’s great meeting you.
Interviewee: Thanks a lot.
Andrew: And I’m going to keep watching Seek Geek and see how it evolves.
Interviewee: Awesome. Thanks so much Andrew, I really appreciate it.
Andrew: Cool. And thank you all for watching. Bye.”