We sort of had it nailed early on, then veered a little bit at the end when we bought a ticketing company [three] years ago. So now we’re into festivals, sports teams, venues and casinos, but the idea remains the same: that the Internet is your friend and you can use it to market, promote, publicize and sell your wares.
What’s your strategy for competing with a giant like Ticketmaster?
We try to compete in every way. The axiom is that you never compete on price. The way we compete with anyone, not just Ticketmaster, is that the customer is king. We’ve been taught that from an early age and it’s always true.
What kind of boss are you?
Someone said the other day that they’d never seen me get mad in 12 years. Once you hire great people, you create an environment for them to explode, then you get out of the way. If you can get all of your people firing on all cylinders, you’re going to have a great company.
Paul Coffey [former NHL defenceman] once said to me that when Wayne Gretsky was on the ice, the real secret to Wayne was that he made you feel like anything could happen. That’s the kind of boss I want to be and hope I am. I want people who are in charge of divisions or in customer service to take pride, be acknowledged and be the champions of their areas. I hate those bosses that take all the credit and run around the front. I’m kind of the opposite. I like being in the background and watching people succeed.
Are you hands-on with the hiring?
I do. I kind of have a sixth sense about people so I generally get pulled into some of the hiring on the medium and higher-level folks. We have a very high employee retention. Small– and medium-sized entrepreneurs can’t make many mistakes because we’re always living on life or death.
What’s your advice to other entrepreneurs?
Hire brilliant people because those people are vitally important to your business. Also, watch your cash. We started off in my basement, then moved to 700 square feet, then 1,100 square feet, then we co-shared 4,000 square feet with another company. We didn’t get our own office space until seven years in. I bought a used phone system for $6,000. A lot of companies blow their budget on superficial things like office space or Herman Miller chairs. We still have chairs in our boardroom that I got at an auction in 1999. I don’t want employees to sit in them because they need great seats but you’ve got to watch your spending. We have a very nice rainy-day cash reserve and I’m still worried. The third thing is to have a great mentoring system. If you’re an entrepreneur, every mistake you’re going to make has already been made, so find a great board.
You’ve got to be constantly thinking ahead. Look at what happened to the music business in general. Look at Universal and Sony. These are massive companies that were making billions of dollars a year and they never diversified. When Netflix was tiny, why didn’t Blockbuster go buy 50 per cent of it? It’s easy to say when you’re on the outside, but when you’re on the inside making lots of money, you think it’s not going to end, even when things start to ebb. I’m glad we moved into ticketing but it probably could have been a couple of years earlier. When you’re managing a robust business, it’s hard to strategize outside of that because you get caught up with the day to day.
Do you have a motto?
You can only control what you can control. I used to sit up at night worrying when I started the business because I’m a worrier by nature, but then I realized that we can just do the best we can do.