Lyte-ing It Up: Q’s With Lyte’s Ant Taylor And Lawrence Peryer

– Ant Taylor and Lawrence Peryer

With the live industry dramatically disrupted, some have adopted anxious or more doom and gloom tones when talking about the business. Ticketing platform Lyte was seeing astronomical growth before the shutdown, matching its total 2018 revenue in Q1 of 2019 alone and securing an additional $15 million in Series A financing from the likes of Bernie Cahill and Activist Artist Management Oct. 8.

At an event with which Lyte is partnered, fans can swiftly return their tickets, plus fees, at the original point of purchase. Organizers then re-sell the ticket to someone else who wants it, often fans who missed out on original tickets and were put on a waiting list. While fans miss out on the potential profits from re-selling a hot ticket, Lyte’s whole pitch for years has been to make returnability and refundability easy, and the word “refunds” is key in the discourse on ticketing these days.

The tone when speaking to some of Lyte’s top executives was bright. While acknowledging many are suffering directly from the health effects of COVID-19 and many more are struggling with the economic fallout from efforts to control the spread of the disease, company founder and CEO Ant Taylor and Chief Revenue Officer Lawrence Peryer were optimistic about the future of the live business, especially as they have just partnered with the iconic festival Bonnaroo, joining partners like Coachella and BottleRock Napa Valley.

Taylor and Peryer spoke to Pollstar about the state of their company and the business in general, and where things are headed.

So I understand that Lyte is not having any sort of existential crisis or concerns about its survival that others in the ticketing space might be?

Ant Taylor: Our platform’s primary consumer value proposition is flexibility in the ticket. We make it easy to return, swap, rollover, or donate your ticket either for cash, another show at a venue or a festival’s new dates.

It is well documented the industry is facing an existential and financial crisis, as there is a fear many fans want refunds and that ticket revenue has already gone into talent, operations, etc. 

We got quiet in March. We were helping folks with April and May festival events navigate through their postponements. We had a ton of success doing it. Everything you hear about consumers not buying tickets, we are seeing the opposite. That speaks to flexibility of the platform and the resilience of our partners and their fans.

Without doing much different, we successfully navigated the Coachella and BottleRock postponements. We saw sub-10 percent net refund rates. We saw transaction volume increase and conversion rates are right where they were in 2019. Word travels fast. We are rolling out a bunch more events in the coming months.

Lawrence Peryer: Things are moving fast! Forget what’s happened in the last couple weeks, let’s talk the last 20 minutes. We just finished going live with Bonnaroo, a new partner in our family, though we have been friends with C3 for awhile. All it took was a few tweaks to our platform, in its front-end presentation, to adapt to the postponement scenario, but it is a platform that is designed to make flexibility and transferability work really well.

With Bonnaroo we have a festival that wants to do right by its patrons but also do right by the festival as a brand and business. It turns out if you wanted to go to Bonnaroo in June, many will still want to go to Bonnaroo in September. If you’re not in school and your work life allows it, many trust that C3 and AC are gonna put on a great event.

Now, the platform is letting people do more than get a refund or hold their ticket. They have more options than “my choice is to go or not go.” They can sell or transfer their ticket to another fan, they can swap single-day tickets across days. It’s a good counter-balance to a lot of desperate stories of “no refund” scenarios or fans having to pass on events they love because the rescheduled event details don’t work for them.

The current ecosystem doesn’t serve fans’ needs very well. By putting on a bit more of a service hat, caring about the things they are truly worried about, we can help improve the platform, keep fans in the event’s ecosystem and keep fans happy with the event’s brand.

It’s a really interesting and strange time to feel optimism [but we do]. We’re trying to approach this not with a sense of opportunism, but thinking about how we can improve this process, to help these people [promoters, venue owners/operators, artists] who have positively impacted our lives for years. It’s great to be here to help these people work through it.

Ant Taylor: Just to throw out another use case, we had an event that needed to roll to April 2021, Winter Wondergrass, and so they are using our platform to do that.

I have heard some people [brokers included] have had trouble getting their money back for events like Coachella through Lyte if there isn’t demand. Are there scenarios where that might occur?

Ant Taylor: Everyone who wants to refund Coachella got a refund. I would consider the source on that one.

We are not here to service brokers and scalpers. We’re not terribly concerned with them crying foul over this. We are here to service Coachella and Coachella fans. I feel like Coachella set the bar. Three weeks ago, amidst the talk was SXSW cancelled, the obvious question was “When is Coachella going to cancel.”

What these people came up with, under extreme duress, is nothing short of a miracle. I’m really proud our platform could be there to support such a bold move, and that changed the national narrative. You still get the corporate platform about what’s going on, the StubHub story clogs the airwaves, but Goldenvoice planted a flag and provided an example everyone could follow. And yes, everyone that wanted a refund for Coachella got one.

Lawrence Peryer: So refundability was the first “against the field” decision that we made in establishing  the company. After 50-60 years of “no refunds, no returns” as industry standard policy, it was an obvious place to start.

Ultimately, that became a proxy for “choice.” Handing some of that choice to the consumer, and doing it hand in hand with the rightsholder, creates trust, and that’s something that was missing from ticketing. Fans want to trust the artists they love, they want to trust Coachella, and nothing fosters that trust more than choice and flexibility.

So Lyte’s business is booming then? No layoffs or furloughs?

Lawrence Peryer: We can have the same conversation you and I had one year ago about trajectory, almost to the same level of detail, with today’s numbers. At this point in 2020 we have done our entire 2019 number. In 2019, at this point, we had done our entire 2018. A year ago we were Pre-Series A-funded, now we are Post-Series A-funded and exploring the next round of financing options.

We are above where one would expect, and the national circumstances have not had an impact on that growth, and we know we are very fortunate for that.

So when you say overall refund rates have been at 10 percent, is that for high-demand events like Coachella only, or does it include the smaller events you work with?

Ant Taylor: That is across all partners. There are outliers, but [when there was a postponement] we never saw refund rates rise above 20 percent. We took reservations to absorb demand and we are talking single digits in most instances. It has had a massive positive impact on our partners.

Lyte is also launching other projects during the COVID-19 crisis, right?

Lawrence Peryer: A lot of our perspective and the culture we try to grow and values we instill have to do with the intersection of the music, live entertainment and community. We really have been trying to operate within those principles that we stand for. Community. We have created a Slack channel exclusively for promoters to share data and stories, where they have a safe place to talk to colleagues and share requests for help. No other constituent groups in that channel, a truly safe place. That was an easy thing to do, to share a resource we already had.

We also launched a podcast, “Spot Lyte On,” early this year that started as a monthly interview series. Our first guest was Ben Lovett from Mumford & Sons, then Matt Watts from The Starting Line, and most recently ticketing executive David Goldberg. A week-and-a-half ago we decided to launch mini-episodes within the same feed that we are calling, The New Normal, about the COVID-19 situation, just as a way to let people hear other voices, to relate. We are all forced to sit inside and be socially isolated, but we are going through the same thing at the same time.

We are also developing a white paper about the things we are seeing in aggregate across the platform. What’s consumer behavior? What are fans asking? How are they reacting to the choices they are being given? We are not trying to whitewash the despair that is very real that people are feeling, but there are pockets of optimism and there are things that you can do besides wait for the inevitable.

We view this all as sort of a test. We’re just trying to be the best version of Lyte that we can be right now.

Ant Taylor – We launched  a philanthropic part of the platform last year that has been put to good use during this crisis. A consumer who returns a ticket through the platform can opt for a percentage of their ticket return to go to the philanthropy of the promoter’s choosing. And that has REALLY taken off during this period. 

What charities have benefited so far?

Ant Taylor: Well we’ve been a little more aggressive, after the tornado that hit Nashville, we partnered with Eventbrite to make a meaningful financial contribution.

A lot of our partners have hourly employees that they need to help get through this, so we have also integrated a GoFundMe experience into our actual process. Fans are now able to donate to the GoFundMe through our platform. It is designed to drive the maximum amount of traffic to these causes.

And we know this is not a time for opportunism, with everything going on in other parts of our industry, StubHub or otherwise. We need to be thinking about the people who put on live events, and technology companies, we need to be thinking about everything we can do to help people get through this. I hope this doesn’t come off as high and mighty, but that is what we are exposing to our employees.

 The idea of firings, furloughs and salary reductions keeps me up at night. We have not been impacted in that way, but we tell our team every day we need to stay present. We are securing new contracts but the fact that two-thirds of an employee base can be furloughed is haunting. Hourly workers are the ones that make our industry tick, they are the ones that keep the industry moving.

It’s great that we are not in the position of our competitors, but the reality is we need to be doing everything we can for those folks who are facing crisis.

So do you think the landscape of ticketing will change moving forward?

Ant Taylor: When we talk about policies in the industry – we have always run our business with good foundational principles when it comes to cash management and when we pay our partners. We see other platforms are now revising their principles, but it’s frankly too late. They’ve gotten people used to doing things in a way that is not sustainable in the face of global pandemic.

[That way of doing things] is not going to come back. A lot of the foundational principles of live entertainment will be different and we need to deal with where it is rather than try to get back to where it once was. I wish some of our competitors would do the same because there are ways their platforms could be helpful in that process.

Lawrence Peryer: I am on the board of an organization, iVoted, that has been reaching out to venues and promoters to do activations and drive turnout around the election. All these venues are talking about when they are going to be up and running in September. And they are making plans for that now. I think that’s something we miss when talking about the state of the business. The task of putting on a show or running a club is fundamentally optimistic. That you are going to create an environment with live entertainment that will be great and people will want to come … you can’t be a pessimist in that business.

Yes, it’s going to be tough and not everyone is going to make it, but I think we are all going to be very surprised by the resilience this industry offers up. There is reason to be optimistic.

Ant Taylor: People are willing to ride this out. It just can’t be the same as before. Consumers are going to expect more flexibility going forward.

But we need to stay strong through some of the darkest times culturally, what you see on CNN and how that can make you feel hopeless. But we are getting a lot of hope just from the way consumers are behaving on our platform.

When you talk about the things other platforms can do to make the ticketing ecosystem healthier, are you referring to transferability between marketplaces, which has been a hot-button issue for years?

Ant Taylor – I don’t have the stamina to speculate what other CEOs do with their platforms. What I do know is Lyte partners with 10 primary ticketing platforms globally. I’ve heard the discussions around transferability, the finger pointing.

But right now we are powering amazing Live Nation properties, we are powering amazing AEG properties, and amazing independent properties. When we get out of the internal facing discussions of “what we need” and focus more on the people are serving, there are many opportunities to be more impactful. That’s what we expect from our employees and that’s what we hope for from everyone around us.

Anything else?

Ant Taylor: We’ve got a bunch of resources for this period. “The New Normal” podcast is a great resource for how people are dealing with COVID-19. We’ve got that Slack channel. We’re releasing a white paper. We have a platform for cancellation or postponement, helping promoters navigate this. We have a refund rate below 10 percent and we are absorbing that with new demand. Consumers will also be able to use the GoFundMe portal moving forward. 

You can find the Spot Lyte On podcast and “The New Normal” episodes with Lawrence Peryer hereYou can request an invitation to the private Slack channel for Promoters by emailing Lawrence Peryer at [email protected]