Steve Pearce: on turning down the Dragons, raising £3m, and building a global events tech company

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Steve Pearce, CEO of TickX
Steve Pearce, CEO of TickX

Steve Pearce was a university student when he spotted a gap in the market. Products like flights and hotel rooms are aggregated and ranked for price on websites like SkyScanner and Trivago – but when it comes to event tickets, consumers are largely on their own.

Steve and his co-founder Sam Coley launched TickX to fill that gap. After turning down three separate offers on Dragons’ Den, the pair raised over £3m through series A investment and took TickX worldwide.

Here, Steve tells BLM about raising funds, building a strong co-founder relationship, and the future of events tech.

What was your background prior to cofounding TickX?

I had the idea for TickX while I was studying Economics at the University of Manchester. I then spent two years at blue-chip tech company Arrow ECS whilst working evenings and weekends getting TickX off the ground and raising the seed round from Ministry of Sound so that I could focus full time on the business.

How did you meet your co-founder? What do you think makes a good cofounding relationship?

Sam (Coley – TickX co-founder and CTO) and I are old family friends. Our dads used to work together and subsequently our parents became good friends. Whilst I didn’t meet with Sam regularly, I’d been following his progress at his previous company and it was clear that he had the capabilities to take complex problems and transform them into easy-to-use interfaces.

That’s exactly what we’re doing with TickX – taking huge amounts of information from hundreds of partners and turning it into a single clean feed of events.

I think the key to a good co-founding relationship is having complimentary skillsets and sharing similar values. There are many highs to running a business but also a lot of low points, so it’s important to be open and transparent throughout the journey to manage the turbulent periods.

What gave you the initial inspiration for TickX? What is your vision for the company?

Whilst at university and like most students, I was going out far more often than I should! I realised that every time you’d plan a night out, you would end up reading all the various flyers and strolling through all the different venue and promoters ticket sellers’ websites, and they’d often be conflicting claims to offer the best deal. I was surprised when I looked into it that nobody was collating all of the information into one place, so the idea for TickX was born.

Since then, it’s grown into much more than club nights – we now bring together hundreds of thousands of events for people to discover the best tickets for gigs, theatre, clubs, comedy, cinema, sports and much more.

In most other sectors, there is a billion-pound aggregator displaying all of the available options in one place. For example, Skyscanner for flights, Trivago for hotels and Rentalcars.com for car hire – but the events industry had been neglected. Our mission is to build the global go-to destination for discovering experiences.

You turned down investment on Dragons’ Den. Can you walk me through that decision?

Turning down the Dragons was obviously a very tough decision to make, but Sam and I felt the offers undervalued the company.

Whilst we knew the Dragons could add a lot of value to what we’re doing, we knew there were plenty of other investors who have been there, done that and got the t-shirt who we could approach to back us on our vision to build TickX to become the global go-to platform for searching events. Going onto Dragons’ Den was a fantastic experience, and one we’d recommend, but we’ve gone on to raise 50x the amount offered and at a much better valuation so we’re confident that we made the right choice.

How did you use the £3m you received through Series A investment? Did you have to rethink your strategy when you had such an influx of funds?

Last year, we received an investment of £3 million from BGF Ventures to build our team, develop our technology, expand our service across new sectors and launch TickX across Europe.

This has allowed us to grow fast with over 2.5 million people using TickX in 2018 to plan their perfect day or night out and we’ve now partnered with over 100 ticket partners to give customers the full range of options to find the best tickets for events and cinema trips. In addition, we’ve launched our AI-powered personalised discovery platform, designed to make it easier than ever to be informed of the experiences you love.

We’ve also moved into a brand-new HQ in Manchester, launched TickX in four territories across Europe, revamped our product range and partnered with some of the biggest brands in entertainment.

We had a clear strategy that we wanted to pursue if and when we managed to secure funding so we were delighted when the opportunity presented itself and we could fully embrace our plans to take TickX global.

What have been some of the challenges of building TickX? What have been some highlights?

Scaling customer acquisitions is always tough for early-stage companies, especially when margins are thin. So, our focus has been to build a world-class product first that people love and want to come back to over and over again. This includes a recommendations engine to get people discovering more events and help our partners drive more incremental sales. Now that we have a great product, we’re ready to get the word out about TickX to as many people as possible and continue to build our user base.

To build a world-class platform, it takes serious talent. So, we’ve focused on building a great place to work and attracting people by giving them an exciting project to work on where we’re looking to build a category-leading business in the experience space.

We’ve had some important milestones that we’re proud of in the few years since we started TickX, but building a great team has been the biggest highlight. Although it can be a challenging and long process, when you get it right it’s the most valuable thing you can do for your business.

What do you think of Manchester as a place to launch a business?

Manchester is a great place to launch and grow your business. It’s the largest tech hub in the UK outside of London – a thriving, vibrant city and the perfect place to develop TickX. There’s a huge pool of talent in Manchester and the surrounding area and its no surprise that some of the biggest tech companies have set up their base here.

We’re also conscious that we’ve got a strong global mission to become the go-to destination to discover events so being close to an international airport and having good accessibility to London is important for us too.

What are your priorities with TickX for the next few years?

We’re pleased that we’ve got a firm base in the UK and are on track to reach 5 million users by the end of the year – but continued customer growth and building our inventory both here and internationally is our priority.

TickX is available across four different territories at the moment – the UK, Ireland, Spain and The Netherlands. Our aim now is rapid expansion across more European countries and then the rest of the world.

We’ll also keep continuing to grow our product range. Last year we introduced ‘Cinema’ services to the TickX platform and we’ll continue to build the range and diversity of our inventory that will add value to the customer experience.

What are some of the most exciting developments in your sector currently?

The most exciting development is simply the continued forecasted growth of the events & entertainment in general. People are spending a lot less money on physical things and more and more on experiences – in fact, a recent global survey revealed that over three-quarters of people prefer doing things to buying things.

I think people are also starting to wake up to the immense power of data and its value is going to be increasingly important in our industry to identify trends and service customers’ needs effectively.

What are your top tips for aspiring entrepreneurs?

Make sure you stay laser focused – it’s very easy to get distracted with new opportunities and features. But it’s really important to understand what your core offering is and double down on that.

When hiring, cultural match is absolutely key – you have to find the right people who fit into your team and align with the company values. On top of this, find ways to test peoples’ technical ability versus just asking questions during the interview process. All of our developers, business development team and marketing professionals have technical challenges and it’s key to understand if they have the skillset to enable you to grow.

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