I spoke with Michael Hadjijoseph, co-founder and CEO of theatre app Stagedoor, to find out why the sector is ripe for disruption, the challenges he’s faced in his operating market and how to run a successful crowdfunding campaign.
Q: Where did the idea for Stagedoor come from and why?
Stagedoor is the result of the combination of skills and ideas that the founding team had: tech meets theatre.
London theatre is wonderfully diverse but it’s a highly fragmented world. Information is dispersed across a wide range of media sources and venue pages. It can feel like a full-time job keeping up to date with what you’re interested in so we made Stagedoor to change that.
We’ve created a digital home for the whole industry; from the fringe to the West End. In the last year, we’ve seen a community of thousands of theatre-goers spring up within the app. We provide them with information, personal recommendations, super-fast ticket buying and a platform to share their experiences.
Q: What were you doing before Stagedoor?
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I graduated from Cass Business School in 2011 after studying Investment and Financial Risk Management. A lot of my contemporaries went into banking but I was drawn to the innovation and creativity of the startup community. It’s a lot more fun!
I worked for Peopleperhour and Onefinestay for a little over four years before launching Stagedoor.
Q: You raised £350,000 on Seedrs. What made you go down the equity crowdfunding route as opposed to raising from VCs or angels?
We spoke with a lot of entrepreneurs and realised that VC, while it’s thought of as the de facto way of funding a startup, isn’t necessarily the best fit for every company. We’re lucky to have a wide community of users so we decided to open up the round to include them. We wanted all our early-joiners to have the opportunity to share in the company and it increased the amount of capital we had access to.
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It’s also worth mentioning that those users who invested brought value beyond the money they put in. They’re terrific brand ambassadors and some of them are industry professionals who bring value as expert advisors too.
A number of angels and small funds contributed to our Seedrs campaign so we got the best of both worlds – it was very flexible.
Q: What advice would you give to other founders looking to raise from the crowd?
Unless you are a big well-known brand, with hundreds of thousands of users, you will have to work hard to find the cash.
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Don’t expect that the crowdfunding platform will do the work for you.
Plan. Plan. Plan. Don’t leave anything to chance. Here are a few tips:
- Create a sense of exclusivity and A/B test everything. When we launched our Seedrs campaign with our users we sent two emails – one that required a code to pre-register and one that didn’t. Counter-intuitively, the one that required a code produced four times as many investors.
- Build hype for the product and company before announcing that you’re raising money. The campaign shouldn’t begin when the round opens.
- Maintain momentum and make sure you communicate it. Even if you have raised 80% of the cash privately before launching, don’t reflect everything at once. Pace it.
- FOMO: one of the most important things we did on or pre-registration website was to add a Facebook Pixel. This allowed us to retarget anyone that went on that page via Facebook. That played a huge role in retaining interest from potential investors as we could keep them up to date on the progress of our campaign and build that FOMO as we gathered momentum.
Q: Theatre is not an industry we hear a lot about in terms of technological disruption. Where do you see the industry going and where does Stagedoor fit into this?
The industry is quite tech-shy but it is entering a period of transformation. We see Stagedoor at the heart of three key trends:
Discovery and Community: Technology has changed the way we discover music, restaurants and tv. We’re doing the same for theatre. We’ve created an algorithm that learns what you like and makes recommendations accordingly – and a platform to allow every user to share their own reviews.
Opening up the silos: The ticketing market has been fragmented for a long time, especially off the West End. If you want to book at a venue you haven’t been to before (200+ in London alone) you have to spend 10 minutes registering your details. The industry is currently at an all-time high, with London audiences in excess of 15m people and ticket revenues over £700m, but easier booking with take those numbers even higher.
Theatres are beginning to explore new approaches. They’re opening up their APIs to innovative digital platforms and we are at the forefront of that movement. We’d like Stagedoor to be a platform you can use to buy tickets to any show – from the fringe to the West End – and complete the transaction in seconds with apple pay.
Data: Theatres want to understand their audiences better. Simply put, Stagedoor enables marketers to understand audiences in a level of depth that cannot be achieved elsewhere.
Q: How do you monetise and what are your goals for 2018?
The key goal for 2018 is to grow our userbase of hardcore theatre fans to 100,000.
Our two core revenue streams are ticketing and marketing. We take commission on ticket sales made in the app and we are building a system that will enable theatres to use our data to market their shows more intelligently and cost-effectively than ever before – both inside and outside the app.
Q: Who are your main competitors and how do you differ?
There are a few commercial theatre apps that are focused on the West End discount market. They’re useful to pick up bargains but that’s about all. We also sell tickets for top shows but we are much, much more than a ticket seller.
Stagedoor is both a community a trusted guide. We feature thousands of shows, not just those we’re flogging. People spend time on Stagedoor browsing and deciding what to see and that gives us the edge in ticketing too.
Q: What business challenges have you come across to date and how have you overcome these?
The biggest challenge is getting the word out to the public. We’re holding off spending heavily on advertising for the time being, but we’ve found ways to work with venues and festivals in a way that adds value for both sides.
We help them engage and grow their audiences and we build our community.
Q: Do you have any expansion plans?
We are focused on making London a success before diverting our attention elsewhere. Looking past that, the next step is definitely New York. From there we have a long list of cities around the world that have thriving theatre industries where we can replicate our model. There’s no shortage of growth prospects.
Q: Have you had any mentors? If so, how have they helped?
We’re very lucky to benefit from the advice of several experts with backgrounds in theatre, tech, marketing and growth strategy.
Our startup team is comprised of a few really smart generalists who can easily adapt to different tasks while taking guidance from these mentors. That’s a really flexible and valuable structure to have in the early days.