“Hey, you! Get off that sofa!” says Billetto
“GO OUT MORE”
These three words are painted in big, bold letters on a wall inside Billetto’s Copenhagen headquarters. They sum up the company’s mission: getting people to leave the house and experience the many events around them.
It’s not an easy mission.
Between their busy lives and virtually endless entertainment options available at the click of a mouse, many end up sticking to the comfort of their homes.
But there’s another reason people might stay indoors: They often simply don’t know what events are taking place and which ones they’d enjoy.
Billetto’s co-founder and CMO Anders Fink believes there’s a solution: Relevance. There are more than enough events out there; it’s presenting the most relevant ones that’s key to changing people’s behaviour.
Getting good at delivering truly personalised event recommendation is a challenge. Still, it’s a challenge Anders welcomes.
We sat down with Anders to hear more about where Billetto is heading.
Billetto isn’t the only company working on event recommendations. What are your thoughts on the other ventures out there?
That’s true. Plenty of other companies have tried suggesting events in one way or another. Our competitors over at Eventbrite have been at it for years and are actually pretty scientific about it.
As far as we can tell, no one has yet succeeded. That’s because it’s a crazy difficult task. We’re in many ways inspired by their efforts and want to help carry the torch by taking a stab at it ourselves.
I have an engineering background, so I love trying to solve these types of complex data challenges.
When you say that others haven’t succeeded, how do you measure that?
Eventbrite might’ve had success with optimising sales on their site, but we’re looking at a slightly bigger picture. Have we changed people’s habits and behaviour? Are more people choosing to attend an event rather than stay at home and watch TV? That’s what we’re going for.
I could also argue that Eventbrite is having more success with conferences and professional events. We want to create an event discovery app that covers the full spectrum of experiences.
“Have we changed people’s habits and behaviour? Are more people choosing to attend an event rather than stay at home and watch TV? That’s what we’re going for.”
As for Facebook…they have an enormous audience, but they haven’t really focused 100% on getting the event discovery part right. I’m sure event recommendations will eventually become a priority for Facebook. We want to get in front of that and get our recommendations engine off the ground before Facebook throw their full weight behind it.
Another challenge Facebook face is that they don’t have an established ticketing platform in place.
So how does Billetto compare to other ticketing platforms out there?
Let’s take Eventbrite again. To use a social media analogy, we can look at LinkedIn and Facebook. They’re both social networks with similar features: news feed, messaging, notifications, etc. But their content focus and their target audiences are very different.
The same goes for us and Eventbrite. Both of us offer online ticketing, ticket scanning, payment processing, etc. Yet our approaches are different.
With their current approach, you could say Eventbrite is the LinkedIn of ticketing. We are trying to become Facebook. I know that’s quite a bold claim. We want to have lots of diverse participants finding shared interests and discovering cool things together.
You can also find many hyper-niche ticketing platforms that serve only specific types of events. One good example is Resident Advisor. They focus exclusively on electronic music events, which is fantastic if that’s exactly what you’re looking for.
I’m a big fan of electronic music myself. But I also want to find a cool kids’ show to go to with my daughter, a new pop-up restaurant I’d like to check out with my girlfriend, a football game to attend with friends, or a garden festival I can take my mom to. There’s no chance I’ll discover any of those if I’m only using Resident Advisor.
We take a different approach at Billetto. We want to be a platform that helps you discover events you might not otherwise even think of. We want to take you out of your bubble and show you that there’s more out there than your particular interest.
“We want to be a platform that helps you discover events you might not otherwise even think of. We want to take you out of your bubble.”
I’d also speculate that people don’t want to have multiple apps on their phone for just event discovery — say one for electronic music, one for conferences, and one for cricket tickets. We want to become a one-stop shop for events.
Why do you believe that Billetto will succeed where others haven’t?
There are three things that make me feel good about our chances.
First, we now have a really strong pipeline of events. We’ve hosted over 82,000 events in 2016, and we expect that number to grow by at least 235% this year. We’ve reached a point where we have a critical mass of events and enough data to start making rather accurate algorithms to recommend events to the right people.
Second, we cover the full range of events. We work with big, enterprise organisers — stadiums, festivals, you name it — but we also serve thousands of much smaller, niche events.
That last part is an absolute must, in my opinion.
Everyone already knows when Justin Bieber or Metallica are coming to town. We won’t impress anyone by recommending those. But it’s really with the smaller events that targeted recommendations truly shine. It’s about helping people discover those hidden gems.
“Everyone already knows when Justin Bieber or Metallica are coming to town. We won’t impress anyone by recommending those. But it’s really with the smaller events that targeted recommendations truly shine.”
Finally, we’ve built up a great, diverse team with just the right skills. Data engineers, back-end developers, front-enders, marketers, local country specialists, and so on. These are passionate people who want to make an impact. You could say we’re building the dream team to carry this forward and start having a measurable impact on people’s choice of entertainment.
What are some key obstacles to making this a reality?
Apart from the technical challenges we’ve already talked about, I think we also have to accept that it’ll take some time to get this right. We should expect a good deal of trial and error. So we need the patience to stick with this long-term.
You have to dare go for big innovations.
Our frontal lobe can always find reasons why we won’t succeed. But we need to be bold and brave and risk failure to build great things and change people’s lives for the better.
Can you share some of Billetto’s specific plans for the near future?
To begin with, we want to stick to a “pull” strategy of recommending events when people are already looking for something to do. Things like changing how our front page looks based on what we know about the visitors or incorporating their searches into what we show them.
Up to this point, we’ve had a really in-the-know person handpicking cool “trending” events to recommend. So that’s our benchmark today.
“You have to dare go for big innovations. Our frontal lobe can always find reasons why we won’t succeed. But we need to be bold and brave and risk failure to build great things and change people’s lives for the better.”
We’re now starting to roll out different variations of our data model where we look at combinations of factors like the IP address, previously bought tickets, ratings of previous events, how far out in the future the recommended events are, whether their friends are attending, and so on.
Mixing and matching these will give us different recommendations. We’ll then look at how well these data models do compared to our curated list.
We’ll be putting up new widgets on our front page and customising the “Events for you” newsletters we send out.
I expect that in about three months we’ll have a good understanding of which triggers and data points result in recommendations that actually affect people’s behavior.
Facebook have famously figured out that to get people to stick with the platform they had to help them reach 7 friends in 10 days. That was their so-called “a-ha moment.” We’re now in the process of discovering ours.
To wrap things up, what is Billetto’s long-term vision when it comes to event recommendations?
The big dream here is to make event discovery as mainstream as watching Netflix. We want it to be natural to log in, select an event you like, invite your friends, and go out to have fun and create new memories.
Our end product should be a truly must-have app that people regularly check to discover new events. We want to fill your calendar with awesome things to do instead of just work and weddings.
Watch this space.
Every Thursday, we’ll be posting about the promise and challenges of personalised event recommendations, along with Billetto’s current efforts and future plans.
Have some thoughts on or experience with event recommendations? We’d love to hear them. You can leave a comment or send an email with your thoughts to firstname.lastname@example.org. We’ll read it. Promise.