Wednesday, March 18, 2009
Interview with Tom Higley, Iggli
For today's interview, we talked with Tom Higley, Founder and CEO of Boulder-based Iggli (www.iggli.com), a startup which is looking to fill a hole in the marketplace for helping promote ticketed events. Tom is the former founder and CEO of StillSecure, and his co-founder, Brian Makare, was President of @Last (acquired by Google).
For those who haven't heard of Iggli, what's the purpose of the service?
Tom Higley: We realized about a year ago, that there is a hole in the marketplace--a curious hole. Although most people are familiar with services that can be used to invite friends to user-created events like graduations and office parties--services like Evite--there was not a comparable service for ticketed events. It seemed like a curious gap to us. The more we though about it, and explored it, we came to understand why that gap existed, and what an interesting opportunity that turns out to be. So, we created an invite service for ticketed events, which could be sporting events, live music, or concerts. In order to make this successful in 2009, we had to do more than just use email to invite people, we also had to incorporate other tools for invitations. One key element of that was to make sure that the invite service embraced social networks and all things social, things like Facebook, MySpace, Twitter, LinkedIn, and so forth. That was our impetus--there was something missing in the market, and wanted to explore whether folks would find it a useful service.
Who finds this service useful?
Tom Higley: The service is useful to people who want to attend events, and also to people interested in selling more tickets. It really is a valuable service to both constituencies. The service is valuable to anybody who has a stake in filling empty seats, whether that might be a concert promoter, a sports team, or an artist like someone like Madonna or Bruce Springsteen--but even more so for an artist in the middle tier and venues, folks in the ecosystem who want to see more tickets sold. As we learned in the process, typically more than 40 percent of available seats in live music and other events go unsold. There's an incredible upside to sell into that space. And, as we've also learned, the most effective way to fill seats is through friend-to-friend communications.
When you were looking at this idea, what problems were you looking to solve?
Tom Higley: I think we first caught a glimpse of this when we created a utility and service that let people find out what was going on in an area, based on ZIP code. The service was called What's Up. We integrated invites into the service, so you could go, for example, to the Boulder Theater, and see a button, which would lead you to invite others. We got to thinking about what the problems were in the space, and how they needed to be solved. One of the biggest parts of the problem is just the coordination of a group thinking about going to an event. The other really big problem is the "loser friend" problem. If you are inviting a collection of folks to go to any significant concert, ticket prices are more than $25 a piece or maybe even $50 a ticket. If you have a group of 4, 6, or maybe 8 people, you will have to find someone willing to pony up the money for the entire group. Invariably, there is a loser friend who won't readily cough up the cash to purchase a ticket, and reimbursement is an issue. We realized that if we could offer an invite service, we could fundamentally solve the loser friend problem. But, you can't do that until you've created invites and a mechanism to communicate with each other.
What's the business model when you work with venues and events?
Tom Higley: It's easy to describe the business model. We generate revenue by taking a piece of the transaction. So, when someone buys a ticket, a portion of that ticket price goes to compensate us for the service we provide. It's important to recognize that our partners don't pay us anything unless they see results. In this economy, it's a particularly good deal for them. The second thing, which is important, is that the take per-ticket is pretty small, but the overall market is pretty large. The opportunity from a business perspective is quite enormous.
You've got some interesting folks on your team, can you talk about your background and that of your founders?
Tom Higley: Brian Makare and I have known each other since 1996. Way back then, I had created a startup called NETdelivery. Brian had created a company with Brad Feld and Andrew Currie, Email Publishing, and we kept on running into each other. We've always been connected in one way or another, and over the years, I've seen him at @Last, which Google acquired in 2006, and because we live in Boulder--which is a small town--we just bump into each other. We finally found a way to work in the same company together.
Your background is from the web security world with StillSecure--why did you decide to jump over to what looks like a consumer facing Internet startup?
Tom Higley: It's complicated--I actually have a pretty varied background, if you go all the way back. I was a lawyer, then a startup executive, and my first foray into the world of entrepreneurship was on the consumer side. NETdelivery was an ISP, and we sold subscriptions to the ISP. So, it's not as foreign as you might think. The other piece of this, is this really was a segue for me. I was retired, and came back to run a different company, do something else, and decided this was much more of an interesting model than what I had looked at previously.
Finally, what are you working on in the near term?
Tom Higley: At the moment, we're very excited about beginning to get exposure for the products we've been working on for a long, long time, to a national audience. I talked about how big of opportunity this is earlier, it is a $30 billion market annually, if you look at the sports and entertainment business, secondary ticketing, and so forth. What I'm most pumped about, is that we're about to go into a situation where we're seeing really interesting, and large players using our service. We also have a collection of things linked to the back end of the service, after users have created an invite, to allow them to talk to each other, allow them to interact around events, and all of that is very exciting. That's what we're jazzed about at the moment.