Jeff Fromm: Can SeatGeek’s Algorithm Innovation Take Share from StubHub?
Head of millennial marketing research and consulting firm interviews SeatGeek Co-Founder, Russ D’Souza, on the creation of a system that appeals to a new consumer market
Millennial consumers have grown up with a proliferation of choice. With so many products available at an unlimited rate and price, differences tend to come at a broad range. This has led us into a market where value reigns supreme and if the value is at a level that millennials are looking for, they are happy to pay the premium. This is especially true when it comes to experience-based opportunities. StubHub and Ticketmaster both broke the Internet when they offered consumers the opportunity to find the best prices for any type of entertainment including, but not limited to, sporting events, theater, concerts, etc.
Now, just finding the lowest price is not enough. For millennials, it’s about getting the best bang for your buck. That means that paying $10 for a seat with a terrible view is not nearly as valuable as paying $20 for a better view in the same area. SeatGeek, a website and app to find the best deal on tickets, recognized the changing mindset of millennial deal-seekers and created a platform that sorted tickets based on value rather than just price alone. For a generation that is constantly on a budget and has never fully experienced an upward climbing economy, the opportunity for Seat Geek is huge.
Using a similar theory to the Kalman Filter, which is a complex algorithm that produces estimates of unknown variables and determines value through predictive analytics and data, Seat Geek created a formula that allows users to sort through low prices to find the best value.
I had the opportunity to sit down with SeatGeek Co-Founder, Russ D’Souza, to learn more about the business and how he was able to create an entirely new system that appeals to a new consumer market.
Jeff Fromm: Why did you start SeatGeek?
Russ D’Souza: My founder, Jack Groetzinger, and I were living in Boston in 2008-2009, at a time when all of the major Boston sports teams were winning championships, and tickets to their games were prohibitively expensive and hard to come by. As fans, we were constantly looking at secondary ticket websites and opening up multiple browser windows just to compare prices across all of the websites selling resale tickets.
Jack and I had started a few Internet startups before, and we were particularly inspired by the great utility of aggregator sites like Kayak.com or Farecast in the travel space. There really wasn’t anything like that that existed at the time for sports and concert tickets, so we saw a great opportunity and set out to build what became SeatGeek during the summer of 2009.
Jeff Fromm: What makes SeatGeek unique and interesting to millennial consumers who often value badge experiences over badge products?
RD: At its core, SeatGeek is a search engine that makes buying tickets transparent and painless for fans. We find that millennials shop differently than other demographics, and SeatGeek is nicely oriented to the way they search.
There are thousands of events to attend in a city; we cut through the clutter and recommend the events that are best suited for the user. Moreover, SeatGeek allows users to buy tickets all the through the start of the event. There’s no need to plan months in advance. Thus, a group of friends can stumble across a concert they didn’t know was even going on that night and immediately book tickets in just a few taps on their smartphones. That buying pattern is becoming more popular across all demographics but resonates particularly well with Millennials.
Jeff Fromm: How does your algorithm create value for your consumers? How could you improve on an already great algorithm?
RD: Other ticketing sites sort ticket options in a price ascending—effectively showing the cheapest tickets at the top of the list. The cheapest ticket out there for a given event is by no means the best value.
Imagine that you could buy an upper deck seat to a basketball game for $5, but if you paid $10 you could get a ticket in the lower bowl. The vast majority of consumers are willing to make that trade-up to pay more for the lower deck seat, because the increase in seat quality—and by extension, your experience at the event—far outstrips the incremental cost of the more expensive ticket.
Our DealScore algorithm leverages a vast trove of data and analysis we’ve collected on ticket prices and trends to identify the absolute best values in the stadium or venue, and then communicates that to the user through a simple to interpret 0-to-100 score. We color-code ticketing options on our map by DealScore (better deals are large green dots, while worse deals are small red dots), so users can see value at a glance.
Jeff Fromm: How do you define innovation?
RD: A cool aspect of Internet companies is that things can be prototyped, deployed, and tested quickly. Older industries have a significant gap (sometimes years) between the innovation (that “Ah Ha!” moment) and the product’s release.
We’re able to continuously improve SeatGeek. Every week, we launch an A/B test to improve some part of the user’s buying experience. Testing is such a part of SeatGeek’s culture that we built our own A/B testing tool called Sixpack.
Innovation goes beyond A/B testing, we are also always thinking about what products we can build to transform the ticket buying experience.
Jeff Fromm: What’s your vision for innovation in the entertainment and ticketing secondary market in the near future?
RD: Our main goal is to continue to reduce friction in payment and access of event tickets. Whether that means integrating as many sources of tickets as possible into SeatGeek to allow consumers to see the full breadth of the ticket market in one place, or continuing to improve our mobile experience to make it easier to find great ticket deals on the go, we’ll continue to roll out new features that work towards that goal.
Jeff Fromm: How does your brand compare and compete with StubHub?
RD: We really don’t view any single ticketing company as a competitor—truthfully, we’re simply a competitor for the time and attention of ticket buying consumers, as we want them to think of SeatGeek first when they begin their ticket shopping journey. In that light, Google is as much a competitor as any ticketing company since so many consumers start there.
Our key differentiator is around the strength of the user experience, particularly on mobile. Americans aren’t going to have a half dozen ticketing apps. They’ll have a couple, maybe even just one, and we always want that to be SeatGeek.
Jeff Fromm: What key metrics do you look at on an ongoing basis?
RD: We’re mainly looking at the volume of ticket sales, along with many of the standard metrics around engagement, growth and user retention that other companies focus on.
Jeff Fromm: How much time do consumers spend on your site and how often will they likely purchase versus just search?
RD: As more people start to make repeat purchases and buy on mobile, we’ve seen a shift in purchasing behavior. Because the experience of buying tickets on SeatGeek is so seamless, a process that once required heavy search can now be done in under two minutes. Conversion rate is way up on all our platforms because users don’t have to make a deliberative search, they can buy tickets in just a few taps and be assured that they are getting the best deal.
Jeff Fromm is founder and president of FutureCast, a millennial marketing research and consulting firm.
Woman using pass via Shutterstock
Event ticket via Shutterstock