For all the runaway success of their music festival, the organizers of Coachella had a simple problem. "They would count the number of people coming into their event, and the number that were coming in far outweighed the number who paid for a ticket," says Eric Janssen, the chief revenue officer of Intellitix – the ticketing firm that Coachella turned to for a fix.
The Montreal-based Intellitix offers a digital solution to the muddy, grubby world of music-festival admissions. Rather than issuing paper tickets, the company works with ticketing companies to issue cloth wristbands with RFID chips embedded inside. When festival-goers arrive at the gates, they tap their wrists to a sensor, which compares their wristband to the database of ticketholders and grants them access.
Coachella, which is held outside of Palm Springs in California's inland Coachella Valley, is going into its fourth year of using the system; it's since been joined by events around the world, from Bonnaroo in Nashville to Rock in Rio, in Brazil, to Lollapalooza, wherever it's ended up.
Admissions are just the start. The RFID tags can be linked to social networks; for instance, linking your Facebook profile to a ticket purchase can yield bonuses like a Spotify playlist of all the bands who performed at the festival.
But the real money is in merchandizing and concessions. Intellitix wristbands can be linked to pre-paid accounts that festivalgoers set up before leaving, and used to purchase everything from beer to t-shirts with a wrist-tap instead of an exchange of sodden bills. "Every single event we've done we've seen sales on site rise between 10 and 30 per cent," says Janssen. "That's the business case."
To make this all work, the company has to set up an 18-wheeler trailer's worth of equipment, ranging from servers to scanners to networking equipment to kiosks for topping up wristband balances, ruggedized so that they'd survive having a pitcher of beer poured over them (though Mr. Janssen notes he probably wouldn't try it in a demo).
Weather isn't the only extreme demand: Festivals put thousands of people in close quarters, all trying to use the same equipment at once. (This is as true for servers as portapotties.) Internet access to festival sites isn't always 100 per cent reliable, so the company uses what's called a "closed-loop" network, in which admissions or concession transactions are all handled on nearby servers, without having to communicate immediately with the broader Internet. (The exception is top-up kiosks, which need to communicate with banks or credit card companies to validate the transaction.)
Mr. Janssen says the company is expanding aggressively onto other continents, as well as into different industries: Combining admissions with merchandize purchasing could work just as well for wine shows or trade events – or really, when you think about it, anywhere bedeviled by the bother of drink tickets.
Founded in 2011 by Serge Grimaux, a veteran promoter, Intellitix is headquartered in Montreal, with offices in Toronto and representatives around the world. Mr. Janssen, who is in charge of its sales and marketing, joined the company more recently, from the software startup world.
"I come from this bizarre tech world where you raise money and you try to make something and you're measured on these weird metrics of user-side growth and engagement," he says. The move to the logistically-oriented, fee-for-service funded Intellitix – which he says is in the process of buying out its original funders – has been something of a refreshing change. "It's one of these interesting technology companies that's profitable. We're growing based on the money we're making from our happy repeat customers, who are paying the bills. It's really cool."