Meet Eventbrite’s world-touring, punk-drumming, Amazon-jungle-living Music team (who happen to be deft technologists)
Music has always been a core focus at Eventbrite, and last year we stoked the fire with our acquisition of Queue, a leading venue-management platform. With our powers combined, we created a brand new team, dedicated to solving the complex needs of venues, promoters, and music festivals and they have been working hard behind the scenes for months. For a proper introduction we sat down for a conversation with five of the team’s leaders: Stephany Bader (Director of Product), Greg Patterson (Director of Music & Live Events), Vinnie Franco (Engineering Director/CTO Queue), Biasha Mitchell (Strategy ,Music & Live Events), and Shana Fong (Head of Music Marketing).
Why did Eventbrite create a music-focused team?
Stephany: Our roots with music run deep. Over the past decade we’ve built a very successful business as a general events platform, and with those tools we’ve served music festivals for almost as long. But last year we said to ourselves, if we’re going to be true experts at one thing, we think we should go big for music venues.
It’s exciting to shift from building general solutions to solving the particular pain points of one industry. A venue staff’s work, for example, does not start and end with putting an event on sale — it’s an entire journey. It’s everything from, “Who do I book, when do I book them, what’s my budget for the month?” to selling tickets, getting people on site, and settling at the end of the night. These are problems we can solve because Eventbrite is not just a ticketing company — we’re a technology company.
Biasha: What has evolved is our focus. We already have some of the biggest independent promoters in the world on our platform, like Disco Donnie Presents. In the U.S. Disco Donnie does 1,100 shows a year on Eventbrite — venue shows and festivals all inside the same platform.
How was this team formed?
Greg: It began when Eventbrite acquired Queue, the company Vinnie and I founded. We’ve been living and breathing the industry for most of our adult lives. Now that we’re one big team though, and because of Eventbrite’s resources and scale, our ambitions are higher.
Shana: We’ve all been involved in music for a long time, but we wanted everyone on the music team to have the empathy Greg and Vinnie have for customers. So we sat down with 50 different organizers on the venue and festival sides to deeply understand their needs. What’s their day-to-day? What are their high-level challenges?
Biasha: The music team reaches across a bunch of teams at Eventbrite. We chose people from Product, Marketing, Sales, and Account Management. That’s helped us strengthen inter-team communication. We’ve been able to push things along quickly because there’s such a range of experience in the room.
Greg, can we take a step back and hear how Queue was born?
Greg: Vinnie and worked together at another company I started 10 years ago. We came up with the idea for Queue in the back of a bar in Austin, Texas, after spending a weekend working the box office at a festival. It was a pretty new experience for the two of us, but we instantly saw a great deal of friction. Most people want to make their jobs easier, but we actually had the power to do it because we understood technology. We saw inefficiencies with things like will call and guest lists and then asked ourselves: “How could this be better? What can we build that’ll allow us to make this easier and re-adjust resources on the fly?”
“Instead of trying to analyze what people thought they needed, we were just going, doing the job, and figuring out what actually made the work easier.” –Vinnie
Vinnie: It’s all about asking the right questions. We were lucky enough to have some really cool homies in the business who let us test Queue on their multi-million dollar festival. Another friend let us test Queue on a midsize club. That helped us learn about the work of venue owners and festival bookers, and how complex it can be.
Greg: Friends would tell us, “We have to log into five different systems to do our job! If stage manager wants to know what’s in the artist contract, I have to pull off the freeway and search my inbox to get it to them. We’re putting in the same information over and over again. There’s no central place to store all of this.”
Vinnie: Instead of trying to analyze what people thought they needed, we were just going, doing the job, and figuring out what actually made the work easier. I equate it to observational science. If you spend your entire career observing what it takes to ride a bicycle and have a PhD in physics, you won’t be popping wheelies and doing back flips the first time you get on a bike. We just rode the damn bike. It was wobbly at first, but as we kept going it got easier and easier.
Tell me more about your backgrounds. Greg, what were you doing before Eventbrite and Queue?
Greg: Well, in the early 2000s I was working at a record label. I did graphic and website design, eventually doing A&R I traveled for about three years, touring with some friends whose band had really started to blow up. Went around the world a few times. I learned photography and video and just kept taking all these different jobs on the tour. By the end, I’d been a guitar tech, tour manager, production manager, and production assistant at various stages of the tours.
When I came off the road I did a lot of freelance design and started an artist management company called The Artery Foundation. We managed Warped Tour style bands, mainly hardcore and metal acts. At the same time, I started a artist service company (Wonderful Union). Wonderful Union is celebrating it’s 10th year in business, servicing VIP, artists ticketing, and merchandise sales for everybody from Taylor Swift to Cat Stevens. That’s where I met Vinnie. He got hired as a frontend engineer and after a year of working together we started kicking around ideas about how we could use technology to improve the jobs of event producers at festivals and in small music venues.
Vinnie, how did you get into the music world?
Vinnie: It started a long time ago for both music and computers — I was in kindergarten when I got into computers, and I wanted to play drums, too, but my Mom said “No, you’re playing the clarinet.” If you ever need a rendition of Hot Cross Buns, I might be able to cobble something together. I was 15 when I bought my first drum set from a friend, and a month later I played my first show in a crappy punk band at the Yuba City Skate Park. I grew up going to tons of hardcore shows in Nevada City, Berkeley and Sacramento. At one point I was in six bands, and then some friends decided to put together the best musicians from each band, play pop-punk, and get signed. That actually worked, and that’s how I met Greg. Though, during that era it wasn’t super cool to be a computer dude, so I hid that interest for years.
Greg: I spent a lot of time with Vinnie before I ever knew he was a developer. I shot their band photos and designed their album cover.
Vinnie: Greg was the cool old music guy at the management company who would load up my iPod before we went out on tours. He’d already been around the world, and we were this small band from a one-horse town. He provided a window into more music than we ever knew. When our band broke up, I called it quits and went to work at a startup that did civic tech.
Greg: Fast forward a few years, I remember Vinnie coming into the office when I worked at the design agency and I was like, “What’s that guy doing here?” When they told me he was an engineer, I was like, “What? No, he’s a drummer in a band. When did he have time to become an engineer?” This is kind of embarrassing now, but during his interview I was explaining to him how subversion worked and he just sat there patiently nodding. Now I know he was this amazing full stack engineer — I was basically telling a doctor how thermometers work.
“I was like, “What? No, he’s a drummer in a band. When did he have time to become an engineer?” ” –Greg
Biasha, how about you? What’s your background?
Biasha: I also grew up in the music industry. My family is really tied to the Grateful Dead and Bill Graham Presents. I grew up backstage at Grateful Dead shows and at music festivals across California. My first job at a festival was horseback security when I was in high school. I’d ride my horse up to some hippie in a tree and be like, “Excuse me, you can’t be here.”
My family produced a festival, a Jerry Garcia Band show called “Electric on the Eel.” I did every job you could do. I ran the merch booth. I ran the coffee booth. Eventually, I fell into production. I learned a ton, but I decided I wanted to go save the world, so I went off to Stanford. I studied International Relations and Latin American Studies, then lived in the Peruvian Amazon for a couple years.
When I came back I went back to Bill Graham Presents and got a job as a runner. I did crazy, random jobs like getting Beyoncé’s shoe repaired on a Sunday in San Francisco. That is way harder than it sounds. I also drove artists around. I almost crashed a 15 passenger van in San Francisco, which isn’t so terrible except Coldplay was in the back seat.
I did that for several years and then fell into the music festival freelance industry. I did credential management for every major music festival in the U.S. for about six years. One year at Bonnaroo I met Kevin Hartz, one of Eventbrite’s co-founders. He was accidentally left off the guest list, I helped figure it out, and we stayed in touch. I joined Eventbrite in 2011. The message was, “Come work for us. We’ll figure out what you’re going to do.” I was put in charge of the account management teams for music and festivals. Basically, I managed any event over 10,000 people.
What do you feel like you’ve learned through all those roles?
Biasha: To perform any job I have with a smile and a great attitude, even when people are mean to me. I like helping people. When I did credential management for festivals, I dealt with a lot of people with a, “Don’t you know who I am?” attitude. Handling that was an interesting skill to gain. What I love about events is you never know what your day will be like. I love being on my feet and figuring out, “Okay, what problem am I going to solve today?”
Shana, same question. Tell us about your background.
Shana: My first job was working for a clean tech company in 2007. After that, I ran marketing and PR at Rdio, a streaming service that Pandora acquired. Rdio was interesting because it was a streaming platform designed for the rabid music fan — the kind of listener who digs through crates of vinyl and pours through the liner notes. I managed all of our agencies around the world and worked closely with our product team on launches, announcements, and campaigns.
At the same time, I went to business school to get my MBA in design strategy, which teaches a strategic approach to designing better business models by starting with customer empathy. You understand your customer and the problems you’re solving for, and then use those insights to go through cycles of rapid prototyping and iteration. It’s very similar to how Greg and Vinnie think about Queue.
In 2013 I joined Eventbrite as the marketing manager for music. I’ve been focused on growing awareness and demand among music festivals, venues, and promoters.
And Stephany, you have more of a technology background, right?
Stephany: Yeah, I’ve been at Eventbrite for four and a half years. I lead the organizer side of the product team. Prior to Eventbrite, I was a product manager for Google, an engineering manager, and an engineer. I also have a degree in computer science.
My background is a bit different, but I think my fresh perspective and sometimes-naïve questioning of everything has benefited the team. I want to make sure I understand where our decisions are coming from. I bring my raised eyebrow to the table, where I say, “Why are we doing it like this?” And then someone says, “Let me tell you the story about Bill Graham showing up with a briefcase of money,” and the whole backstory on why artist settlement reports are so critical.”
And then someone says, “Let me tell you the story about Bill Graham showing up with a briefcase of money,” and the whole backstory on why artist settlement reports are so critical.” ” –Stephany
Submerging myself in the music industry has been really interesting. I didn’t used to go to shows, but as an attendee I feel such a connection now. They’re such strong memories, when your hands are in the air and you’re having a pinch-yourself moment. Biasha has been with me for some of those.
Biasha: I dragged her all over the country to music festivals.
Stephany: For our RFID product, which was launched last spring, I went to Maker Faire, then Lighting in a Bottle, BottleRock, GovBall, and then Bonnaroo. I’m so excited about the work we’re doing. We have an incredible opportunity to change an industry that operates, in some ways, a bit backwards.
What makes Eventbrite different from other companies in the music industry?
Biasha: We make sure we’re solving problems with the right technology. So many times, I’ve been onsite at an event and the scanners don’t work, or people are still using Motorola laser scanners. Our scanning app is specifically designed to scan tickets off of mobile screens. When our Organizer app came out, we allowed people to sell tickets in the middle of a field on 4G. The thing just works. No one else’s technology is built to do that. We have an incredible QA process and put so much thought into making our technology reliable. When you are in the middle of a field or opening the doors of your venue, you can’t afford to have a technology failure.
Greg: Eventbrite’s Organizer tool was what convinced me Eventbrite would be a good destination for Queue. Before the acquisition I remember opening it up and being like, “Damn, this is really good. They get it.”
Stephany: Over and over, when we survey our users, they say, “You’re easy to use. I can get an event up in seconds.” Ease-of-use is threaded through everything we do. In our minds, the technology works when users can solve their problems by making fewer decisions.
Biasha: When I first started at Eventbrite, I came into the office one day and everyone was abuzz. They were like, “Who put VIP packages for Justin Bieber in South America on Eventbrite?” Apparently, Bieber’s ticketing provider — which wasn’t us — couldn’t get their South American shows built and on sale over a weekend. They had a very quick turnaround between announce and on-sale. So Bieber’s team put the tickets on Eventbrite instead. That was a moment where I was like, “Whoa, we’re doing something really interesting here.”
What does it mean to be independent? How are you different from other major ticketing companies?
Shana: Independent venues, promoters, and festivals want to work with us because they don’t want to share customer data with certain ticketing companies. What happens is, when a ticketing company is also a promoter, they can use data on your shows to help promote their own shows instead. That’s a huge conflict of interest. Eventbrite isn’t a promoter, so we won’t use customer data to market our own events. I think we’re also more incentivized to innovate than the Time Warners of the ticketing world.
Greg: Ticketing companies mainly care about the problem of getting money from a buyer. What we see and care about is all this stuff that happens before, during, and after someone buys a ticket. When I was a promoter, if we didn’t sell enough tickets, I’d literally have to go to the ATM and pull money out of my personal bank account to pay the band. Unless you’ve been in that position, you don’t think of those problems as worth fixing.
Biasha: We have ticket buyer data on our consumers, but we use it differently. We put relevant events in front of ticket buyers, events we really think they’d be interested in. We’re connecting attendees to the right kinds of events at the right time and our belief is that will help all our event organizers sell more tickets. There’s no other agenda than that. I love that part of our business.
Shana: It comes back to the core of serving the attendee.
Let’s start simple: what is Eventbrite Venue and how does it work with Eventbrite?
Biasha: Eventbrite Venue is a complete solution that enables venues to operate their entire day through a single interface. We designed this platform specifically for live music venues. You could be managing the full lifecycle of dozens — or hundreds — of shows. It pulls all the tools you use — in some cases, up to five different systems — into one place. Our goal is to simplify your day-to-day and remove the need to enter the same data into multiple systems. We also know venue owners are always on the go, so the platform is mobile-optimized and provides insights and analytics on how shows are doing. Live music isn’t a nine-to-five business, so being able to run shows 24/7 with a few taps on your phone is super important.
Over the coming months and years, are there particular pain points you’re keen to solve?
Vinnie: The event lifecycle planning process gets me excited. When we have people writing to us, saying they want to shake our hands because we’ve helped make hundreds of shows painless, I love that. The product speaks to people because it’s solving their actual problems, and I want to do a lot more of that.
Shana: I’m excited about helping venues sell more tickets through distributed commerce. No one should ever hear, “Oh, I would have gone to that show if I had only known about it.” That should not be a problem. We can help people buy tickets at the moment they discover the event, when they’re browsing through their newsfeed, and see that their favorite band is in town. No one wants to click 20 times to buy a ticket.
We want to help get the show in front of people beyond core fans, people who would go if they only knew about it. We recently announced our partnership with Bandsintown and launched an integration with Facebook a couple of months ago which lets people buy a ticket in the moment of discovery. Expect to hear more from us around this topic throughout the year.
Greg: Ticket counts. It’s so laborious that agencies actually have interns whose sole job is to call promoters and say, “How many tickets have you sold today?” If we can automate that process, they can hopefully find another use for that intern, and promoters get back the time they now spend getting harassed for ticket counts. What gets me most excited though is when we can solve a problem that exists on both sides of the aisle. Something like guest lists, for example; everybody in line hates it, all the people behind the table hate it. Nobody is happy with it, but everybody is living with it. Anytime you can solve that type of problem, you make a real impact.
That’s ultimately what we’re doing with Eventbrite Venue. We want to vastly simplify the work of venue staff. And then, with the freedom they gain, we’ll help them build even better experiences for attendees. In the end, that’s how venues build loyalty and earn their place in a community.