Today, WillCall is a concert ticket sales app aiming to grow by adding the option to gift tickets to friends. But founder Donnie Dinch’s ambitions are more akin to that of Travis Kalanick. Dinch has been staffing up and raising money to transform WillCall into an Uber for nightlife — one that makes everything from attending shows to buying drinks and merchandise much easier.
One of WillCall’s most recent hires almost went to Uber, in fact. That’s iOS engineer Matt Folsom. WillCall has also signed Ticketfly head of business development Ryan O’Connor (seen above left). He should aid WillCall’s relations with venues and ticket companies. And WillCall snapped up Sophie Xie (above right), a lauded designer who was the lead on Stickers for Facebook Messenger, and also flexed her pixel skills beautifying bespoke check-in app Dolo and storytelling photo app Shadow Puppet.
WillCall’s latest feature is the ability to gift tickets to friends. Before, you could browse the WillCall app’s curated set of hip upcoming local concerts in San Francisco or New York. If you bought multiple tickets, though, you and your friends would have to show up at the venue together or work out leaving their names with the ticket-taker.
Now you can send your extras to friends. They’ll get a push notification and see the tickets in their WillCall app if they already have it installed. If not, they’re prompted to download it to use their ticket. It’s dumb that you can’t gift the tickets when you buy them and have to go through another flow, but it works.
“We think this is an opportunity for growth” Dinch tells me. Instead of one person being the WillCall ticketholder for a bunch of friends, Dinch says “Hopefully this translates into three or four users.”
The money for these hires and product development comes from WillCall’s $2.1 million in total funding from 500 Startups, angels like Soundtracking’s Steve Jang and Uber’s Garrett Camp, and most recently SV Angel and Sean Parker who helped kick in its latest $1.2 million round.
But the plan isn’t to earn a return on concert tickets alone. The way Uber is trying to redefine transportation, WillCall is trying to redefine going out.
Dinch explains “We’re not building a ticket company. We’re a social logistics company for live music. We’re going beyond the idea of selling admission to show. We’re trying to remove the friction and bullshit that’s in between deciding to have a good time and having a good time.”
Now is a better time than any, as startups like WillCall can increasingly trust that people will have a smartphone in their pocket. If they’ve already hooked their credit card into the app, why should they have to break out cash or that card again to pay for a band’s t-shirt or get a drink at the bar? It’s not just about getting a cut of the venue or the band’s money. It’s about growing the pie for everyone, because people buy more when it’s easy.
WillCall’s been pioneering push notification commerce, alerting friends when you buy tickets so they can too. But it’s also working on creative new ways to endear themselves to venues. For example, it wants the ticket taker with the WillCall guest list at the door to be able to get people in as fast as possible. So WillCall is looking use new Bluetooth standards to detect the phones of WillCall customers nearby. That way when you get within 10 feet of the door, your name appears at the top of the list.
The company’s mission stems from its employees being fun-loving people who want the bar and club scene updated for the 21st century. Dinch fumes about wrestling with the oft-broken ATM at the cash-only dive bar near the office, “I can buy tacos from a car with my name [thanks to apps like Square] but I have to use this archaic machine at Dear Mom.”
There are plenty issues in the space where solutions could let small businesses and musicians earn more money while helping everyone have an enjoyable night on the town. WillCall needs the gifting feature because its user base is still pretty small. But for now, as it swiftly scales up its headcount, Dinch jokes that for WillCall, “our biggest problem is we don’t have enough chairs.”