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Entrepreneur Ira Zoot – Founder of Ticketstub.com

Ira Zoot Founder of TicketStub.com

What I have come to know in 46 years:

– Have a friend with a pool
– Have a friend with a boat
– Have a friend that can get good tickets!

Meet my friend Ira from Ticketstub.com

The ticket industry looks pretty straightforward from the outside looking in, but spend some time trying to navigate the inner sanctum as you write your business plan and you may decide that sitting in a 6 by 8 cubicle at corporate headquarters ain’t so bad after all… But Ira Zoot has managed not only to learn the infrastructure of this enormous industry, but also to thrive with his website Ticketstub.com. If you’ve looked into purchasing tickets online in the past few years (who hasn’t?), chances are you have been a visitor on Ira’s website.

Ira, you have carved out an online business in a complicated and highly competitive space. What attracted you to the niche and how did you “cut your teeth” in the business? What year are we talking about and how old were you at the time (if you don’t mind sharing :))? Did you learn the ropes in an offline business first and then bring that experience to begin selling online, or did you go online right out of the gate?

Ira Zoot:
Mo … where to start? Well, I got my first domain in late ’95 . . . Zoot.com. I wish I had some idea of where domain names were going to go. But it was for my photo/design/Illustration business that I registered it. That and hey, it’s my last name. I started “collecting domains” in ’98 when a friend of mine who was doing it turned me on to the “game.” It was amazing how quickly I got sucked into it. Everywhere I went I had my pad and paper . . . got home and spent far too many hours regging domains, while at the same time I was still doing freelance digital illustration/design.

It was an interesting and expensive learning experience. Coming from an advertising background I spent too much time “creating brand names”. “creating brand names.” I did get some of what I think were good domains but also got A LOT of junk. After learning more about what businesses could be created, I started focusing on more usable domains . . . various product niches. Gambling, Finance, Art, Watches, “Digital” and of course, Tickets.

Anyhow, I was working as a designer for a large toy manufacturer, and we ended up parting ways, and here I was having to go back into the freelance market . . . which had changed considerably. Photoshop and Illustrator had become common courses in “Art School,” and every kid thought he [or she] was an expert. Killed the freelance market … as they would work for a fraction that I would/could.

At that point I had been doing some pay-per-click (ppc) and domain selling with enough success that I could cover my bills. I had a buddy online . . . Tony . . . who turned me on to the ticket business. He was doing very well with Ticketsnow.com, and he made it pretty hard not to give it a shot. I still hadn’t had a ton of experience with selling online . . . tried some of the Affiliate companies but nothing ever really produced. I would get more into it but another time and place :)

So I started looking for ticket related names and amassed what I feel is a pretty nice portfolio of related names to start with and signed up with Ticketsnow. I played around with template sites and banners on other sites and they did ok. I came across Ticketstub.com from a fellow domainer. When I saw the domain name something clicked for me, and I knew that was going to be the perfect one to use. Then I built out a pretty simple site with deep links, and things started moving well; organic traffic started coming in, and I placed ads on Google, Yahoo and some others.

All along I was learning the business. Nothing like on the job training. I had a great collection of domains that directed very targeted traffic to the site as well. I also decided that I was going to be different than other “affiliates” as I wanted to offer phone and online support. This kind of support was and still is highly unusual for someone who is not a “true broker” (one who buys their own inventory as well and lists it in the network).

I have to say that wanting to do my own support and CSR didn’t really go over big with Ticketsnow at first, but with time they saw the value and the sales I was able to bring in this way. I can totally understand, because if it was done without knowing the right answers it could be disastrous for those providing the ticket feed, the customers and the site owner. So I spent a lot of time picking the brains of the affiliate managers. One in particular, Pat Gavin, went out of his way to make sure that Ticketstub.com had what it needed, and I was able to learn the ropes. Let me also say that I wasn’t very “low maintenance in my requests and he stood by me where I wouldn’t have blamed him to have said “enough already!” So I would feel like I left something crucial out if I didn’t say that a great affiliate manager can really make or break the business. TicketStub.com

All the while business kept growing, people really liked that I was there to help if needed and that I was an oddity in the business and not as “hardened” as some old time brokers can be. By the way … this additional effort on my part helped to boost me to super affiliate status and one of their top 3 sellers. So people should never be hesitant to ask for more help or services from those affiliate managers they work with. You might come off as high maintenance but if it increases your gross sales it means more revenue for you and THEM. Amazing how making people money softens their positions on things. :) Sometimes …there will also be those that have a firm set of rules and you just have to live with them. It is frustrating but better to be frustrated and making money than not.

Then I decided to switch from the more simple deep link site to one with an XML feed, among other things, that were beyond my coding ability. So through some online forums I found fellow domainer/developers, and we collaborated on the site . . . I, at first, wanted to do the design myself and then thought I would give them the chance to show me what they were thinking. I ended up supplying the logo art and some other things, but they ended up doing a great job creating the site I roughly laid out for them. This is the “condensed” version of how Ticketstub.com got to where it is today … it was an interesting path to say the least. :)

The name of your main website is Ticketstub.com. That’s a fantastic domain name and brand. Was that your initial domain name or did you acquire it after you had already gained some traction selling online? When we sold office supplies online, our first site was at OrderSuppliesOnline.com. We operated on that name for maybe 6 months if I remember right. Once we saw we had a real business, we made the move to acquire the domain name OfficeSupply.com.

Ira Zoot:
Thanks Mo … I really like it too. It is a great brand that I have been able to really make work for the business. The business name is really so key in building trust … which is especially true when people or corporations in some cases will be spending thousands of dollars and have their jobs on the line when buying for their bosses or clients. There are a million ticket sites out there. But what separates them? The name . . . well, and me on the phone lines for the first initial years helping people. Building brand trust is the key to having return customers . . . especially in an affiliate business where in this case the ticket company providing the feed and its brokers are focused on taking over your customer after that 30 day cookie goes away. Because I frequently speak with and assist some of my larger clients, they call me directly in some cases and in most they have come to trust Ticketstub.com to get them the tickets they want with minimal headaches and deal with any problems that may arise. I get to know them and build a relationship in which I know they will come back directly to me for the their next order. Trust even trumps when they might find prices for similar tickets at lower prices on other sites ( not often … we try to be competitive and where needed to close deals will offer some discounts depending on the situation ).

I am probably luckier than most in that I never had any major fulfillment nightmares. The few issues that had arisen were able to be dealt with successfully and with happy endings. though, there was a time that a sale over lapped with another in the feed and my customer was second … then never told they didn’t get their tickets until the day before. After talking with them and finding out the tickets were for their father’s 80th b-day, I felt terrible. So I found a comparable set of tickets for them but with a real step up in price. I decided to pay the difference for them. I know “What a sucker” :) But in this case not so much. They still buy tickets from me almost 3 years later. Lol … am I rambling again?

Mo, honestly as I sit here now I can’t off the top of my head remember what the first site name was. A few of the earlier ones were Goodseats.com, Ticketseller.com, VipTix.com but nothing clicked for me right away like Ticketstub.com.

Do you see any big shake-ups or transformations on the horizon for the ticket industry, or has it already gone through the major transformations and settled in as a ‘mature’ industry online.

Ira Zoot:
Wow. I am going to have to get my crystal ball out to answer this question, Mo. Honestly though; all I can do is look at my little corner and view. I think from the “true brokers” perspective that it was earth shattering when Ticketmaster bought Ticketsnow because it brought in concerns of “regulations on resale” . . . and same with this Ticketmaster/Live nation merger. If they got affected . . . so would I. But so far the only major change for me is that I moved from Ticketsnow to Ticketnetwork and they have been rock solid. . . a totally different business model than Ticketsnow because one company processes all the orders etc. and now all orders go to each listing broker. It definitely complicated things for me on large orders where there were different sellers involved, but so far no major issues. Ticketnetwork has been very helpful in my transition to their feed.

Is online ticketing a “mature industry”? I would for the most part say yes. There are some major sites out there doing VERY good business and the need for full-blown brick and mortar ticket agencies is minimal. It is nice to have local offices for ticket pick up and such but with the cooperative systems and networks of legitimate brokers, local offices are luxuries … and again for a “super affiliate” like myself totally unneeded since tickets never come into my possession. Well, I shouldn’t say totally or never … I have been talking with some partners about expanding into a “true broker” with our own inventory to add and the ability for people to list their own tickets. But that is on the burner now until lots of numbers are crunched, and it can be shown that it would really boost business. I am really happy with how Ticketstub.com is working. I am not completely sure I want to complicate the business or my time with the additional responsibilities and costs. But at the same time I know that I haven’t even scratched the surface when it comes to the profitability levels that Ticketstub.com can be taken to. I think when I’ve met the right partners I will expand the business in a number of ways. I just can’t do it all as a one man operation as I do now. It is, after all, about working smarter, not harder. :).

I’ve been in a couple industries that were seasonal. Golf is one example. Do you see seasonal surges and dips in the ticket biz or does it stay relatively steady throughout the year?

Ira Zoot:
For sure there are seasonal ups and downs in the industry. With the various championships, playoffs, big prize fights, xmas … errr the “winter holidays”, just announced tours of hot bands for the highs and then the off season for the sports, end of tours etc. I think I have been very lucky to have never had any huge dips in revenue. There are some months that are average rev and others during the hot times that I see a big increase in sales. I think with the economy doing the flip-flops it has as of late things, have been on the more “average” side. People aren’t spending as big $$ on super bowl or playoff tickets, etc. but buying less expensive sets. I think that due to a good balance between corporate and fan clients it has kept me pretty stable. Again, I really think that a good brand has a lot to do with keeping customers in economies like this. It also helps in this case since I am not a “true broker” that has had to tie up huge amounts of money in inventory always with the risk of not selling enough to make it to the profitable level; it has been an advantage for me. That is one of the great things about an affiliate business with a good working relationship with the provider and a provider that is dependable in their fulfillments etc. There are too many companies that don’t know how to run an affiliate business, treat their affiliates or customers. It is all about getting that first sale and not caring much about getting more from their affiliates once they get the customer info and the cookie dies. Very frustrating at times … but if you put your mind to it, all can be made to work through trial and error with the various companies.

You are also quite accomplished at computer graphic illustration and design. How do you go about balancing the time demands of Ticketstub.com and your work in graphics?

Ira Zoot:
Again MO, thanks :) Yeah, that was my main focus for so long. I could go on forever about it .. but rather than do that if any of your readers are interested in seeing what I was doing they could check out www.zoot.com.

The last few years any art has really been for friends or myself. I just got kinda burned out … well, the artist version of “writers block, mostly due to unexpected health issues. Between those health issues and the meds, I really didn’t have a “creative flow.” So what I decided to do is concentrate my efforts on Ticketstub.com and some other domain related projects.

Fortunately, my health is almost back to where I would like it to be, and I am focused on getting some new projects going, still site development related . . . at least one will be heavily art and product design related . . . can’t give info just yet. Also, a ton of others I want to get to that cover a variety of niches. It is just overwhelming sometimes deciding which direction to go. I have to admit … I am spoiled by the ticket business and feel I should expand on this with a network of sites. But I did learn something very important when I was a designer/photographer, that it is best to be diversified … “never put all your eggs in one basket” as my grandfather used to say. It is really very true … you never know what can happen. Especially with something like online businesses that rely on other companies over which you have no control.

Anyhow . . . so Zoot the Artist has been “kinda outta da house” for a bit but he is coming back and I can promise that I will return with something people will remember:) That being said … I will always have some kind of online businesses going in tandem with whatever future endeavors I take. The Ticket business has been an amazing one to be part of and I hope to see Ticketstub.com keep moving forward and growing. All the while there are 2 main things I will always put first in my efforts … the brand and making sure that my customers are as happy as I can possibly make them!

The Super Bowl is coming up very soon. Can you get me tickets about 12 rows up, on the 50-yard line?

Ira Zoot:
Sure MO. I think we can help you out there :) Well, as long as I get to tag along. Since I started selling tickets I don’t seem to get to any of the games or shows anymore!

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