The following is the third in a weekly series of articles about a “day in the life” of companies at the MakeOffices coworking space in Clarendon. The mini-series, which will run this fall, is sponsored by MakeOffices.
Move over Willy Wonka, the employees at SharpSeat are now the ones offering golden tickets. Whether for concerts or sporting events or theater performances, SharpSeat hooks up secondary market buyers with their dream tickets. The service essentially “is like StubHub, but cheaper,” say co-founder Andrew McCulloch.
He and the other two co-founders, Mike Williams and Brad Kurtzman, met while attending James Madison University and moved to Northern Virginia to take jobs after graduating. They attended a lot of ticketed events upon moving to the area and found themselves giving advice to friends looking to buy good tickets, too. But there was one major problem.
“There’s a ton of fees that we got sick of paying when shopping around on other sites,” McCulloch says. “We saw an opening in the secondary ticket market.” That’s when they decided they could do it better.
The three did a lot of research on secondary market ticket sales and ended up using their industry knowledge to start SharpSeat as a side project. “We found the average person didn’t know to look any further than Stubhub for secondary [tickets]. We saw an opportunity there to give them a better alternative,” Williams says.
They all eventually left their jobs to work full-time on SharpSeat. “We basically wanted to find a way to make tickets cheaper for the end customer,” McCulloch says. “We knew if we could find a way to keep costs down and still get access to the same tickets the big guys were getting, we could pass the savings on to customers.”
Their average day is a lot different now. The employees live in Virginia Square — two live together and the other lives down the street — so the MakeOffices Clarendon location where they work makes for an easy commute.
“One of the best parts is not having the commute around D.C.,” McCulloch says. He also found it important to stop working from home every day. “Keeping work and life separate was big for me because working in my kitchen all the time I’m [distracted]… Plus, here we’re surrounded by a bunch of other entrepreneurs that are getting things done.”
Being among other entrepreneurs has helped the employees stay motivated when doing their daily tasks, which include maintaining the website, coordinating with site developers, researching what events are coming up and fielding calls from the customer service team. And according to Williams, one of the big challenges they constantly face is marketing.
“For every business, [marketing] is probably 90 percent of the battle,” he says. “Just getting the word out there and getting people to visit the site, more than just your family and friends.”
Thanks to the business’ growth since launching two years ago — there is currently about $2 billion worth of tickets listed on the site, although it fluctuates seasonally — the team recently has been able to hire out for help with that marketing burden.
“Now we’ve hired a marketing firm to help us and we’re really looking to expand,” Kurtzman says. “This is our first business so we kind of learn as we go. We had to teach ourselves everything.”
They also outsource much of the customer service to a team in Chicago, but not all of it. The co-founders all use their venue expertise to give advice to customers who contact them looking for tips on purchasing the best tickets.
“So often people ask what’s the best value and where’s the best place to sit,” says McCulloch. “We know where you’re going to get a better value… Just little intricacies like that help out when we’re talking to clients.” Williams agrees, adding, “We have good knowledge of all the D.C. venues so we help people out” with getting the best ticket for their money.
To remain experts in the industry, the three often do offsite work — attending different types of events locally as well as traveling to other cities to check out their venues. “Obviously, it’s really fun to do that, but it is a part of what we have to do [for research],” Williams says.
Kurtzman explains that traveling to sites is how they gain knowledge of the best seats so they can offer direct customer support. “StubHub doesn’t really do that kind of thing,” he says.
When the SharpSeat employees aren’t traveling, they take advantage of the amenities in the MakeOffices Clarendon coworking space.
“Getting dedicated office space around here… is pretty unrealistic, especially for a small company like us,” says Williams. “Even for something half as nice as this, if you want a dedicated space the rents around here are so much that it just never really made sense to us. When this space opened up we couldn’t believe how cheap it was for what you get.”
One of the perks included in that price is a set of rotating taps of regionally-brewed beers. The SharpSeat co-founders say they like to head to the kitchen to try out new brews, relax and meet employees from the other businesses in the coworking space.
“Plus, I love the massage chairs,” Brad says, as the others laugh. “I usually use them once a day.”
Between the MakeOffices benefits and the satisfaction of doing a job they love, the SharpSeat team experiences something many typical employees don’t: They actually enjoy going to work.
“At my old job, I hated going to work. Now I love coming to this office,” Kurtzman says. Williams agrees, saying with a smile, “It’s kind of crazy that we’re voluntarily coming into an office after we wanted so badly to get out of one.”
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