UK music ticketing startup Dice, launching today in London on iOS and Android, is looking to tear up the traditional ticket buying process by ripping out booking fees and sending the middleman up in virtual smoke. The KLF would surely be proud.
This mobile-only ticket platform’s pledge is to sell gig tickets to fans at face value. No booking fees. No additional cards transaction costs. Nada.
The startup was founded last December by the two co-founders of digital product studio ustwo — of Monument Valley, Rando and Whale Trail app fame — along with a long-time UK music industry exec, Phil Hutcheon, who has worked in music management and A&R for over a decade.
Dice has secured £1 million/$1.6 million in outside investment thus far — from investors in both the tech and music industries — including White Star Capital, Tim Clarke & David Enthoven (Robbie Williams/Passenger management), Awy Julianto, Karen Hanton (Founder, Toptable), Mustafa Suleyman & Demis Hassabis (Founders, Google Deepmind), Angus Baskerville (partner, 13 Artists), Bob Angus (Metropolis) Andrew Bredon (Founder, Secret Escapes), Duncan Jennings (Founder, Voucher Codes) and more.
Although it’s based out of ustwo’s Shoreditch offices Dice remains a separate company — and a startup in its own right. ustwo is of course a major shareholder, and ustwo’s John Sinclair (aka Sinx) and Matt Miller (aka Mills) will are actively involved as co-founders. Sinx is also Head of Product at Dice, while Mills plays a supporting role across “all areas” — including supplying huge enthusiasm, in ample evidence when TechCrunch met up with the Dice team so they could show off what they’d been cooking up for the best part of a year.
Hutcheon had the original idea to build a fan-focused music ticketing platform but his experience was in the music industry, not app development. As luck would have it, he’d been a long time friend of Sinx — and that friendship was the trigger for ustwo to effectively incubate Dice for the past year.
ustwo has contributed people (half of the Dice team come from the studio), technical know-how to develop a robust back-end infrastructure so that Dice can handle serious ticketing demand, and app design chops, skinning the business end of the product with a slickly designed user interface — drawing on its expertise building apps for others (and indeed its own often-lauded IP).
Meanwhile Hutcheon has plugged into his music industry contacts — drawing on his knowledge of the fine-grained politics of an industry based on relationships, sizable egos and power plays — to get venues and promoters interested in signing up to a booking-fee-free ticketing platform.
“Ticketing companies always have booking fees, but at the same time it didn’t make any sense to me any more,” says Hutcheon explaining the rational for ditching the fee. “If we’re going 100% mobile, the ticket’s on the phone, everything’s there, it actually didn’t cost us anything to create a ticket so the idea of charging £4.50 or £5 for an email doesn’t make any sense.”
There’s a million ticket companies…No one’s come out and said we don’t charge any booking fees.
“There’s a million ticket companies. That’s actually one of the things that made me come up with Dice initially. All these ticketing companies trying to get tickets for my artist to sell and whatever else. But all kind of just doing the same thing. No one’s come out and said we don’t charge any booking fees.”
But why should music venues sign up for Dice, given they are losing the chance to get their hands on any booking fee revenue? Because, argues the Dice team, venues win when gigs are sold out. They will also get access to (opted in) fan data from Dice’s platform to help them sell out future gigs. So making the booking process easier for fans is a win-win all round: for venues, artists, fans and the music industry generally. That’s the Dice rational.
“We started off working with venues and promoters, talking to them first because they are really the gatekeepers. They’re the one’s who had the most to risk here by not having booking fees. And getting them to understand the longer vision. And we thought that there’d be quite a lot of resistance but in fact they’ve given us so many more ideas about how we can improve Dice, and everything else,” adds Hutcheon.
“They’ve all come on board — everyone from the O2, to Koko, to Scala, and to Village Underground. They’re all on board from day one. And this is the same with the promoters too. One of the biggest promoters put money behind us… On the artist side, showing them that their fans can get face-value tickets to their shows — it’s a pretty powerful sell.”
Show me the money
The wider context here is that the music industry needs disruption if it’s to regenerate revenues lost as streaming services have consumed physical format music sales. It needs to embrace new technology to replace what has been lost through technology. And maximizing live music revenues, and associated merchandizing when you have a captive audience of fans on hand, is surely going to be play a key part in any regeneration.
So enter Dice, casting itself as a central fan hub where the industry can regroup and modernize, fueled by ticket sales but also by the connection between live music, passionate fans and digital technology — and all the resulting data-based decision-making that will enable. That’s the grand plan.
“No one’s buying music anymore, we’ve moved onto streaming. But the live music income is super important. And I feel like fans would buy things if they knew about them. Quite often you don’t have money when you’re at a venue, or you don’t know the merchandize existed, or you didn’t know a concert was happening. How do we make people aware that this is going on?” says Hutcheon, riffing on the industry’s concerns.
“How do we sell out all those shows? How do we make the artists bigger? How do you get them into new markets? How can you sit down with them and say, you know what with your Spotify and Dice data you should actually go to Paris and do something. How do we make it almost into a Netflix of live entertainment by saying to someone you really need to go into this market?”
Where, though, is Dice’s cut in all this? What’s the business model if it’s not pulling in a booking fee or skimming a percentage off the top of ticket sales? (Which — to be clear — it’s not.) The team is not ready to publicly talk monetization specifics yet but, as Hutcheon’s thought process indicates, it’s evidently crafting Dice as a freemium play, with ample opportunities to sell additional goods and services to engaged fans who love using its platform to buy fee-less tickets.
And also plentiful opportunities to monetize the music interest data it will amass through selling tickets. Opportunities for Dice to use its platform to do business intelligence around live music events are not hard to imagine, especially given how antiquated business processes can still be in this part of the music industry.
Priority one for Dice at this point is the music. And, more specifically, populating its app with the best gigs in London. Which is where DJ Jen Long, comes in — pictured above, sitting next to Hutcheon and Mills — as Dice’s Music Editor.
Long is in charge of what is absolutely intended to be a curated experience. Not all gigs and musicians will get on Dice. That’s the point. The idea is to offer tickets to gigs that are worth going to, not every possible night-out in a dingy London basement. No one in their right mind needs an exhaustive list of bad nights out to flip through on their phone.
The app knows when a gig will be worth going to because Long, a human who lives and breathes this stuff, tells it — rather than some algorithm. That’s not to say there aren’t algorithmic elements involved in Dice. The platform will use the interest data it generates from usage to power personalized user recommendations, for instance. But the top-line gig curation is powered by Long’s ears and music chops.
How then does Long know when a gig will be good and when it will suck? I ask this as someone who doesn’t go to a whole lot of gigs, and she counters with: how do you know what’s going to be a good app or a terrible app? Fair point. Clearly it’s gut instinct culled from gritty gig-going experience. Experience that is now being piped straight into Dice’s shiny digital environs. Long also writes the editorial content within the app, which includes gig/band descriptions, as well as saying yay or nay to which events make it onto the platform.
We’d definitely do Katy Perry… I want to be backstage at the next Katy Perry concert — because she’s a fan of Dice.
Musicians who are considered ‘definitely Dice material’ at this point — and indeed have already fully embraced the platform — include Jack White, Little Dragon and Sebastien Tellier.
“It’s a little bit left of mainstream,” says Hutcheon, discussing who the current Dice user is envisaged to be. “The early adopters, more music fan. But as time goes on we will have more mainstream acts on there.”
“We’d definitely do Katy Perry. 100%,” adds Long. “I want to be backstage at the next Katy Perry concert — because she’s a fan of Dice.”
Dice is not breaking out the specifics of exactly how many tickets are available on its platform at launch, or how many venues/musicians have signed up — but Mills says there are tickets to “100 of the best gigs in London” on sale at the off.
The current “twerking” incarnation of Miley Cyrus would also make the cut, says Lond. But Hannah Montana Cyrus obviously would not…
Ticket touts? F*** right off
Now — in all honestly — it’s hard to get hugely excited about a ticketing startup. Even when a sexy category like music is involved. If there’s one word in the English language that lugs a massive trolley of negative baggage behind it it’s ticketing. Why? Because who hasn’t had a terrible ticket buying experience at some point in their lives? Either online trying to get the web page to load before all the tickets sellout. Or offline, wrangling with a tout who wants to charge the price-tag of an exotic holiday for a piece of date-stamped paper.
Well, Dice wants to steamroller those unpleasant kinks too. Since it’s a mobile-only platform it’s already cutting through the faff of wrangling with a badly designed website. Mobile only means it can also cut off the online bots programmed to hoover up tickets for touts to sell on at inflated prices. Indeed, it’s setting itself up as a tout-buster. Tickets bought on Dice are mobile only, and are associated with the buyer’s device — so reselling a ticket would likely mean having to resell your phone too, says Hutcheon. Which makes for a fairly sizable disincentive.
“When you sign up, you get a text with a four-digit code. It’s the same kind of thing as Uber. It just validates the phone and we record the device. Then we always attach the things together. If you get a new phone and you reinstall [the app] then the tickets on the old phone disappear. But also from a venue’s perspective it’s a little red flag, so when that person turns up you could also ask them for additional ID,” says Hutcheon.
Fans hate touts because they drive prices up and make it harder for genuine fans to get to gigs. Bands hate them for the same reasons. And venues hate them because higher ticket prices mean fewer fans inside the venues buying beer… Bottom line: Ticket touts are only good business for ticket touts. So a ticket platform that makes life harder for touts is another industry win-win, argues Dice.
Dice will also have a customer service team behind the scenes and visible reps at every gig it’s sold tickets to ensure it can knit together any logistical cracks — such as, for instance, a ticket buyer who’s phone has run out of juice meaning they can’t show their ticket (a Snapchattish feature of Dice asks the user to hold their finger down on the screen to display their ticket). In that case Dice reps at gigs will be armed with phone chargers. And/or able to verify a ticket buyer via another form of ID.
Dice’s app also includes notifications when tickets are going on sale, so fans don’t miss out because they were away from their computer, and a waiting list feature — for when all the tickets on Dice for a particular gig have been sold. “We are never going to sell out. We are always going to be working for the fan to try and unearth more tickets,” adds Mills.
The team is bubbling with other fan-friendly feature ideas for the app but it wanted to get the product out stat, so additional elements will come in time. v1 doesn’t even have the ability to save payment card data yet — but of course that will be along shortly to sandpaper another bump out of the buying process. Payments are processed within Dice via Stripe. A search and filter function is also coming in the next release — which will allow Dice to ramp up to a maximum of 200 shows at any one time, since users will be better able to navigate the selection on offer.
London is the launch city for Dice but the ambition is obviously to scale the app, city by city, based on demand. “We’re focusing initially on music and London and testing out all the new features, and then early next year expanding pretty rapidly. Because it’s actually pretty easy for us to get into new cities,” says Hutcheon, discussing where next for Dice to roll.
“We want to do some testing around it. Do you do the big push into North America or do you go through Europe? Or Asia? There are so many options right now. In the next couple of months we’ll have a better idea. But obviously New York [is on the list].”
There are of course other ticketing startups out there. London has also incubated YPlan, for instance, although its focus is on last minute event ticketing — so Dice definitely has a different emphasis with its firm focus on music fans who care enough about the bands they want to see to plan and book ahead.
One thing both startups share is that they are mobile only, though. And there is also clearly a shared emphasis on branding and product.
In Dice’s case the brand building is better described as an aspiration to pull in some of the fan love it’s ultimately trading on — to harness the power of people’s music passions to reclaim an unloved category (aka the misery-inducing ticketing company that true fans currently curse). Basically Dice wants to build the first ticketing company that true music fans can really love.
People love the venue, they love the label, and they love the bands. But no one loves the ticketing companies.
“There’s something about what we’re creating here, like an attitude — a really positive movement to enhance the music experience,” says Mills, summing up. “We’re making the easiest way to get the cheapest tickets to the best gigs.”
“What we’re trying to do is make ticketing a thing that people love,” adds Long. “As a fan, whoever you buy your ticket through buying the ticket is the bit that you loathe of going to a gig. You wouldn’t embrace a ticketing company. You’d wear a Sub Pop T-Shirt, you’d wear the band’s T-shirt. I mean people walk round in Brudenell Social Club T-shirts. That’s a venue in Leeds. People love the venue, they love the label, and they love the bands. But no one loves the ticketing companies.”
So there’s Dice’s pitch. It wants to be the first ticketing company with a branded T-shirt that people actually wear. And if it can achieve that not inconsiderable feat, of reclaiming ticketing from the misery merchants, this UK startup may also be a sign of something much bigger: a new wave of transformative digital change — heading into the music industry, determined to dance.