Digitizing existing paper processes is nothing new. Think of all the photo sharing or document conversion services that are out there. They took what was once a paper-only process and changed it completely. But there is one historically paper-based service that a Columbus, OH startup is aiming to bring into the digital realm in a way that it hasn’t been before.
TicketFire is an app that allows ticket holders to scan the their paper event tickets, and then share, sell or transfer those tickets to other people also using the TicketFire app.
It’s an interesting idea and it offers several benefits and improvements over the current process. The coolest feature in my mind is the ability to buy or sell a ticket after an event has already started.
For example, if two people are already inside a venue for a show or sporting event, one person could sell their seat ticket to the other person, halfway through the event — effectively, upgrading their seat, at a possibly reduced cost. That is a great idea and I’m curious to see, in practical terms, how it plays out.
A few other services out there, like Flash Seats or StubHub, have similar offerings but neither are as streamlined for rapid, mobile ticket transfer as is TicketFire.
In any event, I had a moment to catch up with Tanisha Robinson — half of a two person team (including Eric Kerr) who created TicketFire — to talk about the app, how it works and where it is headed.
JD: Give me the scoop on TicketFire?
TR: TicketFire is a mobile app — right now only on iOS — that allows you to take any live event ticket (concert, sporting event, etc.) and scan the paper ticket into you phone so it becomes a digital ticket. Once it’s a digital ticket you can share it, use it, re-sell it without having to keep track of your piece of paper any more. So we’re kind of bringing the paper ticketing industry into the mobile era…um, without trying to take down Ticketmaster. That’s the short version of what we do.
We launched in the app store in January. We’ve seen pretty good adoption. TicketFire’s been used at the [NCAA] Final Four, Madison Square Garden, Premier League Soccer, Major League Baseball, Major League Soccer, The NHL. So, we’re seeing broad usage and we feel like it addresses a lot of the frustrations around having to be responsible for a physical token. It’s meant to be a little bit disruptive to this really old-school industry that hasn’t evolved in a couple of thousand years.
JD: Ok. That’s a pretty cool idea. What’s Ticket Master think of this…of you guys re-distributing their tickets, potentially?
TR: We don’t know yet. We’re hoping to partner with them. We’ve been making some in-roads but we don’t have a formal opinion from them yet. We hope that they bless it.
JD: What if they don’t? I mean, have you prepared for that?
TR: Ticketmaster and Live Nation own the industry and I think paper tickets aren’t going anywhere and our hope is to work really well with Ticketmaster and Live Nation. Our process is patent-pending…
JD: So maybe you could be acquired by them?
TR: I mean, Ideally. Absolutely. There are definitely a lot of opportunities for the data around knowing who goes to what show and not just who bought four tickets somewhere. Ultimately I think there are a lot of marketing and data opportunities with the app.
JD: Are you allowed to re-sell a ticket today or is that considered scalping?
TR: We’re not actually re-selling. It’s simply that we are the technology that allows you to convert a paper ticket into a digital ticket and then magically move it around without having to have a creepy Craigslist interaction.
JD: Ok so lets say I buy a ticket and I digitize it, but then I can’t go so I sell it to my friend, I can only sell it for the price that I bought it, through your system.
TR: No, we don’t regulate the price at which people sell those tickets. It’s kind of like StubHub. StubHub is simply a platform and people buy and sell them for whatever they want to sell them for. So for us, we are the platform, not the vendor. It’s a ticket exchange, but it allows people to not have to meet in person.
JD: Ok, so then I just digitize it using your platform and I receive money in cash or from PayPal or whatever from someone else, outside of your system.
TR: Yep. Exactly.
JD: So I could scalp it, but TicketFire doesn’t have anything to do with that.
JD: So I don’t exactly know how StubHub works. Is it similar?
TR: StubHub is an eBay company that is basically a market place to buy and sell tickets. It can be person-to-person, ticket broker to person, but Ticketmaster themselves do not sell on StubHub. The problem with StubHub is that often paper tickets can only be FedEx-ed. So the ticket window closes the second FedEx can’t get you those tickets in time for an event. The other thing that we think is cool is that because the ticket window can stay open it ‘s actually possible to buy tickets when you’re inside the venue already. So you could upgrade seats. This would allow sellers of tickets to say ‘this game is already halfway finished, and if I can get $50 for these great seats I’ll do it. [Maybe leave early]. So it’s actually possible to upgrade your seats from inside the venue, because you can move those tokens around.
JD: Oh, so you could buy half of a ticket, prorated sort of, while you are already in the venue.
TR: Yeah, you could buy a ticket and the seller could be thinking “well I could still get some money out of this” and you could get the ticket digitally transferred to you and move seats.
JD: That’s interesting. But here’s another question I have. I remember — going way back here — Napster didn’t sell anything but they were a facilitator and they were shut down because of that. So how is this different from say, something like that? I mean, are you worried about that?
TR: Not really because it’s not licensed content. And there are precedents. There are a lot of ticket market places, people sell tickets on eBay. I mean some states are pretty heavily regulated but for the most part it’s a widely know industry for re-sale. We are simply a platform for all of that. We’re not super worried about that.
JD: That’s true. I guess it’s not content. It’s a utility. Another question… do you store the tickets on servers or is it complete pass-through from person to person?
TR: We do [store them]. Basically each ticket has a unique ID. So if you transfer your ticket to you friend and they download it… you can no longer access that ticket. So we do move them around.
JD: So you scan your own ticket, dump it into TicketFire, then you can no longer get to it again. But you have the original paper ticket? What’s to stop you from fraud?
TR: So it’s the same problem with Ticketmaster. You can download your ticket as a PDF and print multiple copies if you wanted and there’s nothing to prevent you from doing that today.
JD: Whoever gets to the venue first, right? They still only let one ticket go in at the venue.
TR: Exactly. And that’s Ticketmaster’s rule on it. If there’s any sort of discrepancy they refund the original purchaser and kick everyone else out. So it’s not something the existing ticketing industry hasn’t seen before. But at least this is a way to contain it and have some data on who’s actually using them.
JD: They kick people out?
TR: Yes, that’s the ticket policy.
JD: How could they find someone inside of an arena?
TR: I guess it would be based on the disputed seat.
JD: Oh yeah, I guess for a place with seats. Not a general admission kind of place.
TR: I mean, if people want to scam on tickets, they can anyway, with the existing infrastructure; without TicketFire.
JD: So is there anybody else doing this? Who is your competition? Do you feel like you are first to market with this?
TR: We feel like we are. Most ticketing startups are focused on competing with Ticketmaster. We feel like we fit really well inside the existing [system], which is paper and barcode scanners.
JD: When do you plan to go to Android platform?
TR: We’re in the midst of raising some money now to go to Android. We’re pretty specific about who we want to raise money from. We want strategic partners from inside the industry.
JD: Who all is involved in your business?
TR: It’s just me and a guy named Eric Kerr. He’s the technical co-founder and developer.
JD: How many tickets have you processed?
TR: I haven’t checked in a few days and since I don’t have a factual answer at this time, I’d rather not say.
JD: I mean like ballpark. Are we talking about thousands, or tens of thousands or hundreds?
TR: I’d say at least in the thousands.
JD: Ok, here’s another question. Can all venues redeem a digital ticket with their scanners even on a phone’s reflective screen? Laser scanners don’t always work on reflective screens.
TR: So far, we’ve only had a couple of instances where there was trouble. Typically with any digital ticket, it’s like “is your brightness turned all the way up” and that usually resolves it. For that vast majority, we haven’t had any problem with the tickets functioning with Ticketmaster’s barcode scanners.
JD: Wait, does Ticketmaster provide scanners to all the venues or something?
TR: They do. Yep.
JD: Wait. To like, all venues?
TR: Not to all venues, but to all their partner venues (which is like probably 90% of them).
JD: Back to the reflective screen question. If the venue has an older style laser scanner (that will reflect off the screen) what happens? Do the tickets have a number or something that can still be hand keyed?
TR: yes, they do.
JD: Do you guarantee that Ticket Master will take the ticket?
TR: We can’t do that yet but that’s why we are hopeful for some strategic partnerships
JD: Ok, so what happens if person A sells a ticket to person B for $50 and they transfer it between them via TicketFire, but then Ticket Master doesn’t let person B into the venue? What happens then?
TR: So basically if it won’t scan, then Ticketmaster enters the barcode and as long as it’s a valid barcode number then it’s not an issue.
JD: But what I mean is, for whatever reason, there’s a dispute. Maybe the guy at the counters is like “What’s this? Where’s your paper ticket?” What happens in a dispute?
TR: I don’t know actually. We’re pretty new and our hope is to have strategic partnerships in place so that we can guarantee the tickets.