This week on the XLIVE Interview Series we sat down with Willie Litvack, the CEO & Co-Founder of SquadUP. SquadUP is a mobile-first ticketing, event management and audience engagement platform. We spoke to Willie about a number of topics within the ticketing industry from the benefits of boutique ticketing organizations, why customers love white label ticketing and how event organizers are using their data to sell sponsorships. Read the full interview below!
For those who don’t already know, can you give us a brief overview of SquadUP, the organization’s mission statement and the opportunity you saw when founding SquadUP?
SquadUP is a mobile-first ticketing, event management and audience engagement platform. The Company provides software to more than 800 customers including The New Yorker, Riot Games, The New York City Wine and Food Festival and The Wall St. Journal. The platform’s major value proposition hinges on an integrated, fully-featured mobile app for attendees and organizers in addition to a completely white labeled implementation package for enterprise customers.
In founding the company we really saw an opportunity to allow event organizers to take complete control of their ticketing experience. Our platform is incredibly robust and allows organizers to easily implement a mobile-first and white labeled ticketing solution. It was an ambitious goal, but five years in and I believe the product speaks for itself. We’re having an incredible amount of fun
How do you differentiate yourself as a ticketing company?
Product and service. On the product side, we saw an opportunity to be first movers on building a mobile-first product for primary ticketing. This isn’t limited to designing the customer experience to drive conversion on mobile devices, but also to building a suite of mobile-first tools that allow event organizers to access our content management system, in full, from their mobile devices. Essentially we saw primary ticketing companies retrofitting for mobile, what we’ve done is give organizers all the tools they’re used to from their desktop web dashboard and making those tools available via a mobile application. Further, we offer a white labeled implementation for our enterprise customers that is truly best in class. The solution allows event organizers to keep buyers on their website throughout the entire purchase experience while controlling every aspect of the customer journey.
On the service side, we saw something really interesting happening in the space overall. Basically as more and more primary ticketing companies emerged, companies began competing on price (processing fees). The effect was a massive squeeze on margins where it no longer made sense for ticketing companies to provide the level of service event organizers truly required. We’ve kept our fees on the hire side and as a result we can be more selective with who we work with while providing customers with real account management. We see primary ticketing as equal parts software and service, our goal is to be more than a software vendor – we want to be a true partner to our customers.
The ticketing space is very competitive and there there are several very large players. What advantages can boutique ticketing companies offer customers?
Building on my answer to the last question, boutique ticketing companies have an opportunity to differentiate through a higher level of service. This isn’t limited to dedicated account management, but extends into implementation support, training, on-site staffing and custom feature development.
What advice can you give event organizers who are making a decision about ticketing?
Do your research. Dealing with sales reps from several ticketing companies can be draining, but the various platforms that are available for event organizers are actually fairly differentiated. If organizer take the time to really find the platform that fits the needs to their events best, they’re going to be in a far better position to focus on what’s important – putting on an amazing event for fans.
How are event organizers using data to sell sponsorships and more tickets, and what are you doing from a product perspective to help organizers not only collect data, but to better understand their data and leverage it?
Event organizers intuitively understand the value of collecting data from customers and they use the checkout process as a means to grab a lot of extremely valuable information from ticket buyers. Once they have the data, organizers are not great at actually using it. Reason being that it’s literally impossible to look at an excel file with tens of columns and thousands of rows and to glean any real insight. One of our core product objectives is to help organizers visualize their data in ways that enable them to develop actionable insight. We’ve built an awesome dashboard with interactive charts that help organizers look at trends across events, ticket types and geographies. Our hope is that this empowers our customers to make data driven decisions in their marketing and operations.
On the sponsorship side, we’re seeing that event organizers are becoming increasingly sophisticated in how their approach potential sponsors. More specifically, organizers want to understand their customers so they can better package digital and physical activations to relevant sponsors. We built an awesome tool to help our customers do exactly that. By using our Advanced Data Segmentation tool (http://blog.squadup.com/advanced-data-segmentation/), our customers can you use the data they already collect on ticket buyers to build custom segments. Our organizers are using these segments to better target and sell potential sponsors. It’s really awesome and all part of our overall goal of empowering organizers with simple and powerful cloud based tools.
What excites your customers most about white label ticketing?
When we first started SquadUP (~5 years ago), customers regularly asked about whether or not it was safe to use credit cards on the Internet. At that time, it really made sense for event organizers to work with ticketing companies that had a strong consumer brand. Linking out to complete the transaction and seeing “Ticketmaster” or “Eventbrite” at checkout really made ticket buyers feel more secure in using their credit cards online. That paradigm has completely shifted. As people are more comfortable with e-commerce, it no longer makes sense for event organizers to incorporate the brand of a ticketing company into their checkout experience. Our customers are most excited about the ability to complete control the purchasing and experience and the ability to keep ticket buyers on their website through the entire transaction.
How does on-site fan engagement factor into your long-term vision at SquadUP?
I believe that ticketing is one of the strongest drivers of mobile-app downloads today. As it becomes increasingly challenging to get people to download new mobile apps, one thing remains constant – modern consumers will download apps to access tickets. Looking at my phone right now I have an app for basically every ticketed experience I attend. On my phone right now I have apps for Eventbrite, Ticketmaster, Seatgeek, Gametime, Stubhub and every airline that I have traveled on in the last 5 years. There is no other category of mobile app where the average consumer has 5+ apps installed. The reason behind this is that it is just easier to download an app and access your ticket than it is for you to print your ticket out at home or to shuffle through your email to pull up the .PDF when you’re walking into an event. Playing on this, I think ticketing companies have a massive opportunity to drive mobile app engagement at live events. The future of ticketing, in my opinion, will be a revenue model that is driven entirely off of mobile-app engagement at live events. We’re still in the 2nd or 3rd inning here, but we’re starting to see an interesting transition.
The ticketing industry is consolidating rapidly. How should event organizers be thinking about their relationship with their ticketing company if it is acquired?
Carefully. The general consensus amongst the acquirers in the space is that there’s a ton of feature parity from one platform to the next. While this may be true in some cases, event organizers are sophisticated and they choose software vendors based on their unique needs. If the ticketing company you’re working with gets acquired, I would speak to whomever you can and get clarity on whether or not the acquirer is planning on transition all the customers to one platform. If that’s the case, you may want to consider looking for a vendor that best serves your unique needs.
What’s the best part of your job and what is most challenging?
The best part of my job is working with awesome customers. Our customers are truly amazing. They’re brilliant, passionate and highly effective. It’s incredibly fun to work with talented people who love what they do.
The most challenging part of my job is balancing a million priorities. Every decision you make as an entrepreneur carries opportunity cost. When we decide to work with a customer or work on a new feature, that limits our bandwidth. I feel like I’m making those types of decisions all day long. It can be stressful, but such is life when you’re blazing new trail.
Can you give us a bold prediction for the ticketing industry for 2018?
Bold prediction for 2018 given we’re halfway through the year – there’s going to be a lot more consolidation and there may be some regulatory changes that force the largest players in the space to rethink their business practices. Taking it one step further, we’re going to see an opportunity for new, technology-focused competitors to actually take a swing at turning the industry upside down. My belief is that by finding ways to innovate on ticketing’s traditional business model, startups will have the opportunity to fundamentally change the basis of competition in the industry. Said more simply – if ticketing companies can figure out how to make money in a way other than processing fees, everything will change. All in, it’s a really exciting time to be an operator in the space.