Ideas are cheap. Tickets are not.

Matt Smolin
Sep 14, 2017 · 9 min read

What started as a small “what if” solution to my Fare The Well ticket dilemma described below has come to life over the past 5 months through Agora.

Tickets aren’t cheap, neither is your time! As your concert ticket matchmaker, Agora gets you tickets to see the artist that you love, at your price.

In 2015, the Grateful Dead came together over July 4th weekend, to celebrate the Band’s 50th anniversary and the 20th anniversary of Jerry Garcia’s Death. The concert series was titled Fare The Well, alluding to this being the band’s final run. The “Core Four” (Bob Weir, Phil Lesh, Mickey Hart, and Bill Kreutzmann) were back together, with Phish’s front man, Trey Anastasio filling the Jerry role, and Jeff Chimenti and Bruce Hornsby on the keys.

Soldier Field was the last place Jerry ever performed at before leaving us on August 9, 1995, making it a logical destination to celebrate 50 years of America’s most profound Rock band, as well as a 20-year memorial for our Lost Sailor.

In true Grateful Dead fashion, they brought back the age-old GDTS mail order system for ticketing distribution, the same process used throughout the band’s 30-year run. As expected, the shows sold out in seconds — with a million tickets requested.

I was the owner of one of those requests but unfortunately was not granted any tickets. Being that there is nothing in the world that I would rather do on any given night than see Phish, love the Grateful Dead, and am a Chicago native and lived there at the time; this was about as bucket list as it could get.

Now I just needed tickets!

After getting the dreaded GTDS rejection letter, I began to look on secondary ticket sites, but prices were astronomically high, so I waited.

A month before the shows, I was able to score a ticket for July 4th.

Now I was in but one night would not be enough.

The Grateful Dead plays a different show every night, with no song ever played the same. Add that they have a catalog of enough music to fill a whole year, and that this was possibly their last three shows ever. I knew I had to be in attendance for all of them.

Still, I resisted crazy broker markup via StubHub, and waited for a miracle.

I waited and waited, but no tickets presented themselves.

Now, July 3rd was upon us and the first show was 12 hours away. No ticket, no problem! I would find a way to get one.

My friends who already had tickets were barbecuing at one of their places close by Soldier. I threw on a Dead shirt and headed over to their apartment.

On my walk over, it became apparent how many fans had traveled to Chicago. I only had to walk six blocks to see 100 Deadheads with eager grins on their faces, ready for a weekend that would not be forgotten.

I remember thinking, “This won’t be too tough. Day of show, NFL stadium, lots of seats, I’ll surely be able to scoop up an extra ticket”.

When I arrived at the apartment, I flipped open my computer, went onto StubHub, and quickly realized that this was no ordinary sold out show.

The market was moving, and moving fast. Tickets were continuously being repriced or sold. The moment I would identify a ticket, it would already be gone. The price fluctuation made no sense. A nosebleed ticket would go from $350 to $400 to $500, and then down to $320. Floor ticket prices would drop below nosebleeds, and before I could blink, they would be 5x them.

While strange and chaotic, this all seemed eerily familiar to me.

Since graduating college, two years earlier, I had worked as a trader. My days consisted of watching fast moving markets, buying, and selling. After attending tons of shows over the years, I had become quite familiar with StubHub, but it never appeared this way. This event on StubHub more closely resembled an equity index futures market than a secondary ticket market.

While I was equipped to trade equity index futures at work, I did not know how to make sense of StubHub in this setting. As a trader, supply and demand aggregate in a single place for all participants to assess. On StubHub, I saw supply but could not assess demand, let alone see it.

After watching for a while, I decided that I was willing to pay up to $300 for any seat in the house. I knew that setting a hard ceiling was a necessary precaution; otherwise, $300 could turn into $500 quickly.

The show was closing in, but I had seen some $300 tickets floating around. I started watching the market closer, reloading multiple times per minute. On eight different occasions I found tickets for $300 or less, but by the time I went to put my credit card info in, the tickets were gone.

There is no storybook ending here. I went to StubHub’s last min center and the venue, but I was out of luck. No miracle tickets dropped from the sky.

I ended up watching the show via a stream on my friend’s couch, was in attendance for July 4th, and paid up for July 5th, with the thought that this was their final hurrah. It was not. Most of the band has since toured as Dead & Co., with John Mayer satisfying the Jerry role. I’ve seen them on multiple occasions since and will continue to do so when they tour in the fall.

Two years later, out of all the shows, July 3rd sits top of mind. Later that day, after I had given up on finding a ticket, I begrudgingly found my way into StubHub’s sell-side to see what prices tickets had sold for. It turns out that within the time that I was searching, over 20 tickets sold for between $240 — $280. So, essentially, I was sitting there waving my credit card in the air, saying “I will pay more,” but because StubHub is such an opaque platform, the sellers didn’t see me and instead accepted less money.

This made me realize how truly broken the secondary ticket market is.

On StubHub, the buyer is at the mercy of the seller. They pay the price the seller is offering, walk away, or continue to search for better prices. Obtaining a decent priced ticket is an exercise of luck. With limited information, the buyer must catch a break and enter StubHub at the moment a seller is looking to get rid of their tickets for cheap.

Yet, the seller is also at the mercy of the buyer. While the buyer can initiate a transaction by clicking “Buy Now,” the seller cannot “Sell Now.” Instead, they guess the price the buyer is willing to pay and wait for the buyer to initiate the transaction. This results in excessive time spent fishing around at different prices levels, waiting for buyers to bite.

When trading, I could see all buyers and sellers in real-time. Similar to on StubHub, sellers post the price they want, but the difference is that buyers make themselves known through bids that signal their willingness to pay. By gathering all information and aggregating it in one location, buyers and sellers spend less time and money achieving their goals.

But the bidding component goes a step further.

When a buyer places a bid, they agree to purchase the item if it reaches their bid price. So when a buyer places a $100 bid, they commit to purchase the item if any seller marks it down to $100. No questions asked.

By adding similar bidding functionality to secondary ticketing, buyers can use bids to communicate how much they want to pay. Bids work as safety nets so that buyers do not have to wait around and watch the market. They can stop searching and go about their day knowing that if a seller lowers to or below their bid, the ticket will be purchased for them.

You can also think of a bid as a buyer’s vote on what the price should be. On StubHub, the buyer has no idea of what others have paid previously or are currently willing to pay. This leaves them powerless, either paying up and feeling ripped off or not purchasing at all. Through a visible bidding system, fans can see each other’s bids, vote together on what the price should be, and stand their ground instead of blindly paying up to the sellers’ prices.

Bidding also benefits sellers because it allows them to assess real time demand and sell their tickets instantly by clicking into bids. They do not have to price around waiting for a buyer, or list their tickets at all, and can instead sell on-demand with the click of a button.

Looking back, if I had this functionality on July 3rd, 2015, I am confident I would have gotten a ticket. Sellers sold for $300 and below, I just didn’t see them, and they didn’t see me. With a single bid, and no time spent searching, my order would have been entered into the market, and the moment a seller clicked on my bid/priced down to $300, I would have had a ticket in my hand.

No stressing, no time wasted, just a Let it Grow →Help on the Way>Slipnot>Franklin’s Tower to end the second set.

But this is not how current secondary ticket marketplaces operate.

StubHub and the rest are all just bulletin boards of sellers’ tickets, each less transparent than the next. Leaving me with no clue what other buyers have paid in the past or are currently willing to pay.

As a result, I end up searching different sites for days or weeks at a time, eventually succumbing to StubHub and paying broker markup + aggressive fees or spending hours messaging people on Facebook and Craigslist.

Last year I decided that I was fed up and gave myself two options:
1) Boycott purchasing tickets on the secondary market; or
2) Do something about it.

I had no other option than to choose #2 and launched Agora earlier this year.

Fans spend far too much time and money buying tickets on the secondary market. Agora is here to help. As your concert ticket matchmaker, Agora gets you in to see the artists that you love at your price.

You just tell us the price you want to pay, and we take care of the rest.

We have built technology that accesses tickets from fans who cannot attend, broker networks, and ticket marketplaces, as well as have a dedicated team constantly searching for you, to give us full coverage of the secondary market.

Through Agora, you can pay the current market price or set your price by placing an offer (your bid!). All offers are visible, helping you get a sense of what other like-minded fans are willing to pay. After your offer is placed, we do all the searching for you, so that you can go about your day stress-free, knowing that the moment a ticket hits your price, we will be there to catch it.

When you place an offer, we ask for payment info, but do not charge you until we find a ticket matching your offer. When we do, we purchase it for you and send it your way. Since we do not charge you until we find the ticket, you can cancel the offer at any time, and if you do, it is like nothing ever happened.

Unlike StubHub and the other players, who charge buyers 17–30+% in ridiculous fees, we have been charging fans a small 6% fee.

Agora currently provides services for select, GA concerts in the Bay Area. We have saved fans over $35k compared to what they would have paid for those same tickets on StubHub, but the time and stress saved by not having to do all the searching and digging may be even more valuable to our customers.

Gone are the days of paying too much to see the bands that you love and spending too much time looking for decently priced tickets.

Agora does all the work so that you can sit back, relax, and enjoy the show.

We hope to have you along for what looks to be an exciting journey ahead!

If you have any questions, you can check us out at or reach out to me personally at

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