Center City-based startup TicketLeap, which was just named to the
Inc. 500 (ranked #397), has positioned itself as a disruptive competitor to the large, entrenched players that have dominated pricing, distribution and technology in the event ticketing industry. Offering web-based technology that event hosts can easily configure themselves and services that are inexpensive (and sometimes free) for small events, the company hopes to gradually move up the chain to compete for larger events.
TicketLeap was founded in 2003 by South Jersey native Chris Stanchak while he was still an undergrad at Wharton. After spending time at GSI Commerce helping manage its eCommerce programs for major sports leagues like the NHL, Chris started focusing on TicketLeap full time in 2007 and has raised over $4.5 million in venture capital from MentorTech Ventures, Seneca Advisors, Ben Franklin Technology Partners, NextStage Capital and several prominent angel investors. TicketLeap had one period during which it may have ramped up too quickly, and had to cut back a little. It now has about 24 employees, according its website. Last year, $20 million in ticket sales were generated through TicketLeap and it had net revenue of $2.1 million; this year, Stanchak told me in a phone conversation, ticket sales should be in the $35 million range and TicketLeap's net revenue will be around $3 million. Stanchak expects the company to achieve positive cash flow in this year's 4th quarter.
TicketLeap had a learning experience on scaling up to handle larger events. Last winter it managed ticketing for Comic-Con 2011, the immensely popular event among the Geek crowd, and its servers failed to handle all the traffic for several hours after ticketing went live, causing considerable commotion since Comic-Con had turned to TicketLeap after having just experienced two previous ticketing failures with other vendors. The problem was not so much a failure on TicketLeap's part to anticipate and scale to demand properly, but a gliche due to a MySQL feature it was trying to use to speed transaction processing that Amazon Web Services' Relational Database Service did not support at the time. (See Vice President of Engineering Keith Fitzgerald's post on the TicketLeap Blog). TicketLeap was very responsive and straightforward, I believe, in explaining the problem publicly and rectifying it.
That specific issue has since been resolved, and Stanchak says TicketLeap remains very happy with AWS's services and its scalability, which enables it to adapt elastically to events of varying sizes without requiring a large IT infrastructure. TicketLeap was not impacted at all by the major AWS outage problems that occurred in April. It is also planning to deploy AWS's recently released in-memory Amazon ElastiCache, which can greatly reduce the number of disk lookups and also helps TicketLeap to rapidly increase or decrease its cache footprint in response to demand.
In August, TicketLeap introduced TicketLeap Mobile, what it calls "the first mobile ticketing platform that enables smartphone users to easily search and purchase event tickets, engage in social conversations, and check-in with their phones" in a single place. Each mobile ticket comes with a confirmation number and QR code, enabling faster entry into venues. (Back in March, it released an Android scanning application for event organizers to scan QR codes of printed etickets.) TicketLeap Mobile also emphasizes the social nature of events; users can post messages to Facebook or Twitter and communicate with other attendees. TicketLeap Mobile, now available on Android devices, is optimized for mobile devices, and works automatically when you access Ticketleap or any events from a mobile phone. TicketLeap plans to launch a universal iOS application for event organizers to scan and sell tickets via an iPhone, iPod touch, or iPad this fall.
The market for event ticketing is huge and has many different competitors and segments. TicketLeap doesn't compete with Ticketmaster (or Ticketmonster as some might call it) that much directly right now, but more with the heavily funded Eventbrite and a number of other smaller firms like Pittsburgh-based ShowClix. Eventbrite has raised about $80 million in venture capital, according to Crunchbase. Its gross ticket sales were $200 million in 2010 and could reach $400 million in 2011, according to TicketNews. (Stanchak points out that comparing Eventbrite to TicketLeap based on gross billings is not quite apples to apples since Eventbrite's average ticket price point is much higher due to its focus on expensive professional conferences).
While TicketLeap is doing well at this stage, achieving more scale and broader distribution remain key issues. Barclays Bank/MBNA veteran Holly Flanagan was brought on recently as Vice President of Brand and Association Sales to help build strategic partnerships. Raising more funding could also be a possibility at some point in the future.