I started to work on Stageville in my first year of university, back in 2014. Now, in my final year of university, and having formally winded down the company, I’m going to try to condense my main learnings into one blog post.
But first, what was Stageville? Stageville was an event ticketing company. It began trading in January 2016 and ticketed 56 events over the next two years, transacting over €48,000. Stageville started life as a promoter of up-and-coming artists (hence the cool picture). Through organising several gigs, I saw a lot of the challenges that artists face when putting on live shows. Although not original, the idea to integrate crowdfunding and event ticketing made a lot of sense and was potentially disruptive.
Concept & Validation
I was totally unfamiliar with the music industry and took far too long to validate the concept with customers. By the time I actually got out there, I learned that what I was working on was largely seen as unnecessary by artists. Our value proposition was not strong enough. I assumed that artists would love this risk-free way of putting on gigs, but I was wrong. Indeed, “the show must go on”. And the show will go on — without crowdfunding.
Ultimately, I found out that our value proposition better suited the needs of promoters as opposed to artists. By removing the risk for promoters, we solved a massive problem for them. Thus, we were able to charge 15% commission on every ticket sold through the platform. Stageville was once summed up as a ‘middle-man’, and this can be a difficult position for a business to hold. However, by solving customer needs, we were able to charge a premium compared to other event ticketing companies.
In truth, Stageville never really progressed from a piecemeal MVP. The key crowdfunding technology was outsourced and was not very user-friendly, nor was it terribly reliable. In the early days, I spent a lot of time fighting fires (which was particularly challenging for someone with a non-technical background). Reliance on this software greatly diminished Stageville’s flexibility to meet other customer requirements. However, Stageville likely would never have got off the ground had I needed to build such capabilities in-house.
Some integrations were fantastic. Stripe Connect enabled me to seamlessly split payments between Stageville and the promoter, and the integration with Slack informed me every time an order went through. Furthermore, the SendGrid API meant that users reliably received their tickets via email. This was a massive improvement over the unreliable WordPress mail server. Prior to integrating SendGrid, roughly 10% of users would not receive their tickets before events. For obvious reasons this was bad for the user (and resulted in many angry emails).
From September 2015, Stageville was a one-man team. I had spent three months working with two others in the Launchbox start-up accelerator programme. However, I made the mistake of onboarding employees and not co-founders. I learned the hard way that having a team is crucially important. This is something I achieved in my second venture. I often tell first-time founders that 100% of nothing is nothing. The reality is that most start-ups fail. Besides, co-founders can always agree to vesting.
Working with two others in the summer of 2015 was my first real experience of management. I’ll refrain from being too critical of myself, given that I was only eighteen at the time. However, the two main things that I learned in this area were that transparency and autonomy are hugely important.
During my internship in Skyscanner last summer, I decided that I would end Stageville in December 2017. I can quite honestly say that I have not missed it at all since. Nowadays, entrepreneurship is often romanticised. However, having founded and co-founded two start-ups in university, I’m much more realistic about the challenges. Although initially exhilarating, it can become very difficult to sustain your motivation. I think it’s really important to be hugely passionate about the problem that you are trying to solve. Also, it’s important to think big — in terms of impact but also in terms of revenue. I was fortunate that I was able to run the technical side of the website myself because I would not have been able to afford external development.
I definitely do not want to end this reflection on any sort of negative note. Stageville was a major part of my university life. Overall, it was an incredibly worthwhile project for me. I made loads of mistakes and gained some invaluable experience. Most importantly, I got a taste of entrepreneurship — something I’d longed for since I was fifteen. I’ll only look back fondly on this chapter of my life.
And to everyone who encouraged and supported a clueless eighteen year-old who was determined to set up his own business — thank you.