That’s The Ticket! Talking With Ticketfly CEO Andrew Dreskin

If you think all ticketing companies are alike, then you haven’t checked out Ticketfly. One thing is for sure; this isn’t your father’s ticket service.

Ticketfly’s Andrew Dreskin spends a lot of time thinking about better ways to sell tickets and incorporating ticketing into social networks such as Facebook and Twitter. But then, he’s spent the past 16 or so years thinking about tickets. He was co-founder / CEO of pioneer Internet ticketing company TicketWeb, which became the first company to sell tickets via the ‘Net when it launched in 1995.

Dreskin occupies a similar position at Ticketfly, which he co-founded with Dan Teree in 2008 and serves as the company’s CEO. By utilizing current technology as well as social networking and viral aspects of the Internet, Dreskin isn’t just building a better ticketing solution. Instead, he and his Ticketfly comrades-in-arms are focusing on creating more productive ways for sellers to reach customers as well as delivering consumer satisfaction in the form of buyers getting the tickets they want.

Pollstar recently spoke with Dreskin, who detailed a ticketing world firmly integrated with online social communities like Facebook and Twitter as well as technologies like R.F.I.D. (Radio Frequency Identification) and delivering tickets to buyers in the form of barcodes sent to cell phones. In other words, Dreskin and Ticketfly are hard at work providing tomorrow’s ticketing methods, today.

With the ticketing industry moving towards the virtual ticket, when will the traditional, physical ticket go the way of 8-track tapes and VCRs?

I think the hard ticket will quickly become a thing of the past. There are numerous types of ticket deliveries that will replace the hard ticket. Obviously print-at-home, probably the most popular delivery method. The next one on the horizon is the mobile delivery of barcodes to cell phones. We’re seeing it in our business and I think others are seeing it as well. I think where we’re going to go next is R.F.I.D.

Is there still a section of ticket buyers that prefer hard tickets to printing at home or receiving barcodes on their cell phones?

There will always be those folks, for sure. What’s happening in the ticketing industry with hard and virtual tickets is similar to any adaptation of new technology.

I remember back in the early days of TicketWeb when we had to convince the ticket seller and the consumer that the Internet was a viable medium and it was okay to use your credit number. We spent a lot of time on that and that seems downright laughable at this point, based on how e-commerce has evolved.

We were also concerned about the adaptation of print-at-home tickets. Very quickly consumers realized they could have their tickets on their desktop or in their e-mail. Now we can safely say the lion’s share of concerns about printing barcodes on 8/12 x 11 pieces of paper have pretty much gone away.

I think that will continue. After the first time folks scan the barcodes on their cell phones they’ll realize they don’t have to worry about losing the ticket or it getting damaged in the sunlight. It’s an environmentally friendly way to use a ticket. I think they’ll embrace it.

But it also means there won’t be any souvenirs for folks who enjoy collecting and showing off ticket stubs as if they were trophies representing the shows they’ve attended.

Yeah, that will be one piece of collateral damage in the progression of technology. I think special-event promoters will sell or deliver souvenir tickets. I don’t think it’s out of the question that there will be some sort of keepsake to ticket buyers who received their tickets through virtual delivery.

I don’t know if they still do it, but sort of akin to when you would walk out of the Fillmore in San Francisco with a souvenir poster. Back in the day the folks at Bill Graham Presents would print off posters for all the sold-out shows and give them to the fans on their way out of the building. I don’t think its out of the question that something like that will happen with virtual tickets.

When establishing Ticketfly, did you have an advantage in that you didn’t have to deal with a massive amount of back-technology? That is, you could start fresh instead of having to upgrade and in some case re-invent existing technology that would have represented a sizable investment?

Absolutely. I think it’s every entrepreneur’s dream to start over from a technology perspective and examine what they’ve done right and wrong in their past. We certainly did that in regards to our TicketWeb past. Personally, it’s been very exciting and for our team it’s been very exciting. We’ve seen a great result in the fact that we weren’t saddled with legacy technology. We could embrace the latest technologies and all kinds of technologies that weren’t available in the TicketWeb days.

There’s a lot of technology today available to companies like ours to be able to scale their technology infrastructure.

The second component is social media. It’s really the game-changer from a sales / marketing perspective. It’s the reason we got back into the game. We talk a lot internally at Ticketfly about what we could have done during the early days of TicketWeb if social marketing existed at that time. But there was nothing like it. Back then it was sort of a basic, synchronous transaction. We sold the ticket and that was that.

Now we’re able to sell tickets to consumers and they can promote and market that event to their friends. That’s an exciting thing for event promoters.

You mentioned Radio Frequency Identification (R.F.I.D.). Some consumers are hesitant about this because they’re unclear as to what information, if any, will end up in databases. Can you tell us a little more about R.F.I.D. and ticketing?

I think large events are going to be good examples in the near term. Take a large festival. I think ultimately you’ll have a wristband with an R.F.I.D. chip in it. It will be non counterfeitable, non-replicable, removing the counterfeiting or duplicating tickets issue. It’s going to be very simple. You’ll walk through the archway and the archway will pick up on the radio frequency. It will ease lines. I think there will be an opportunity to store value on the chip in advance and pay for food and drinks that way. I think it will be an interesting experience for consumers.

How did promoters and venues react to Ticketfly?

Reaction was very positive. We have a lot of good relationships and history in the industry and the thing we heard at the time was that everybody was ready for a change. The prevailing view as that ticketing hadn’t changed very much in the last decade. There were a number of ticket providers that offered a decent service and product, but nothing that was pushing the envelope. The industry was very receptive to what we were saying about social marketing, the need for better analytics and integrated systems.

Before Ticketfly launched, promoters and venues operated in a very insufficient world. They had numerous, disparate software systems that weren’t interconnected, that didn’t communicate with one another and created all kinds of insufficiencies.

If I was a promoter and I had a Radiohead concert coming, I would have to create that event five, six or seven times in my disparate systems. I would have to create it in my ticketing software, on my website, Facebook, Twitter, my e-mail newsletter, MySpace. This was hugely inefficient.

So when we started reaching out to the marketplace saying we had developed an integrated platform where you enter the event once and it populates or flows through all those outlets, people were ready for that change.

What was initial consumer response like to Ticketfly?

Consumer response was great. They may generally embrace a solution other than Ticketmaster. I’m just being frank. There are generally a few that they would love to see more competition in the market. Our software, I think, is more engaging from the get-go. We have all kinds of interesting technologies for promoters and consumers. Like the ability to upload YouTube videos and audio. We just released social commenting and Facebook RSVP and things like that. I think it’s a more engaging proposition for the consumer. That was part of our goal: to create a richer experience for consumers but also to create a destination around music, sports or whatever. Ultimately competition is healthy for the marketplace and ultimately it will drive down service fees.

How does the Ticketfly website differ from other ticketing websites?

At this point, two years into Ticketfly’s lifecycle, two things come to mind. One is this site looks a lot like many of the sort-of, best-of-breed websites you see in the marketplace today. The thing is, I think people forget that two years ago when we came onto the scene, for other ticket, other ticket providers’ ideas of engaging content was perhaps a photo of the artist, if that. Some of our competitors, I think, don’t even post display photos of the act, they don’t link to the act’s Facebook or MySpace page or to the act’s website. There were no YouTube videos, streaming audio or any of that stuff. So this was rather revolutionary when we launched. I think we woke up some of the folks who were asleep at the wheel and caused them to improve their own systems.

A link to an act’s social networking sites is all part of the plan at Ticketfly.

We’re very focused on providing technology to clients relating to location targeting. There’s a lot of stuff you can do in terms of pushing out offers, such as pushing out an offer via Foursquare and ultimately to Facebook saying, “Anybody within a square mile of my venue, the first fifty people showing up at my door and showing me their phone get two-for-one tickets.”

We’re very focused on location-based services. Beyond that we don’t have a crystal ball. But the way our business is designed we’ll be ready to connect to what the next ones are after Facebook and Twitter. We utilize APIs (Application Programming Interface) and if someone ultimately supplants one of those guys (Facebook, Twitter), we’ll connect to their API and integrate them into our site.

How will consumers be better served via Ticketfly technology. For example, how is buying a ducat from Ticketfly different than from buying from other vendors?

We think one big trend we’re going to see in 2011 is the end-to-end mobile transaction. We think people are more and more going to purchase tickets via their cell phones in a mobile-friendly transaction. They’re going to receive the ticket delivery to their cell phone via the mobile delivery of the barcode. And then their cell phone will be scanned at the venue.

I saw a study recently that said one in ten mobile subscribers will purchase a ticket on their cell phone in 2011. That’s a pretty staggering number when you consider there are five billion mobile subscribers in the world! 500 million people are going to buy tickets on their cell phone.

I also saw another stat saying 60 percent of the cell phones delivered today by manufacturers have a mobile web browser and that number is going to go to 80 percent by 2013. We really think ticketing is going to become an end-to-end transaction.

How about after the ticket buyer reaches the venue? How much information is already known about the person in regards to, say, drink choices, how much he or she spends on merch or food?

I can’t speak for other providers but our goal is to know enough about ticket buyers so we can be helpful to them without crossing the line into a “Big Brother” intrusive world.

A number of our clients have asked if we can connect to their P.O.S (Point Of Sale) systems. That’s certainly possible at some point down the road.

We’re headed to a more personalized transaction or a more personalized relationship between the venue and the consumer. The way this should work is when my ticket is scanned at the door, the door person should say, “Oh, Andrew. Hi. Great to see you. We see you’ve purchased four tickets from us this month. You’re one of our best customers. Here, let me get you a seat at the bar.” Something like that.

That’s sort of the good involved with this without heading into the creepy.

When you and your associates were sketching out the business plan for Ticketfly, what were there any ticketing industry practices you were trying to avoid?

Whether it was my prior company or my current company, we’ve always been focused on reasonable fees for consumers. That’s the cornerstone of everything we do. Let’s make sure fees are reasonable and we provide good value and excellent service for our customers. Our goal is to make sure we effectively harness social media, to create a richer experience. The ticketing transaction has been rather sterile, historically, very top-down. Let’s make it a more collaborative transaction.

In everything we do we try to do it right and do it well. The same holds true for consumers and for our clients.

When was the last time you purchased a ticket for an event? Do you find yourself analyzing the competition?

I buy tickets through various providers all the time – theatre, kids’ events, concerts. I’m always fishing around on my competitors’ sites. I’m always interested in seeing their consumer interfaces. What works and what doesn’t work.

One of the things we feel we do well at Ticketfly is the graphical user interface. Our goal has always been to not make it confusing or cluttered. White background, speed the ticket buyer through the transaction. Make it really simple, fast, easy. One or two screens.

I always marvel when I go online at a ticketing site or any other site as to how confusing the GUI can be sometimes. That’s something we try to stay away from.

“The ticketing transaction has been rather sterile, historically, very top-down. Let’s make it a more collaborative transaction.”

What would you tell a college freshman interested in making a career in the ticketing industry?

My college experience shaped my path into the music industry – both as a student at Tulane University and as a promoter in New Orleans – one of the most charged music communities on the planet. I looked beyond the classroom to take in all of the musical history and culture that New Orleans had to offer. I learned as much from my friendships with local musicians like The Radiators as I did from my professors. My advice is to be unconventional and look for opportunities that disrupt the way things have always been done – both in how your educating yourself and how you apply that application to the industry.