“Amazing live experiences have the power to change people’s lives, but getting tickets to those experiences has become increasingly painful and confusing.”
Adam McIsaac, like many music fans, found himself getting frustrated at trying to get tickets to see his favourite artists. Unlike most music fans, he co-founded a technology startup to tackle those frustrations: Robin.
“There are issues with the primary market, and scalpers and bots. And whenever an artist announces a tour nowadays, it feels there’s a variety of pre-sale codes and credit-cards required,” he says.
“We wanted to imagine what it would look like if you didn’t even have to think about the ticket. So we built Robin: an engine that completely removes the friction from the ticket-getting experience.”
The Canadian startup isn’t a ticketing company. Instead, it styles itself as a “personal concierge” that can reserve tickets on fans’ behalf – sourcing the actual tickets from other companies.
CEO McIsaac, CTO Cam Gorrie and COO Dave Levin have been piloting its development, with McIsaac having previously worked at Songkick in biz dev and music partnerships roles, as well as an agent and artist manager at The Feldman Agency.
For fans, the Robin experience involves telling the service which artists they like, then leaving the engine to do its work, identifying when tickets go on sale for that artist in their locality, and reserving tickets for them – although they are not committed to buy them.
Robin is currently one of the startups taking part in the Techstars Music accelerator, which McIsaac says has honed the company’s plans.
“We’ve decided as a result of Techstars to narrow the focus down, to target people who are convenience seekers, on-demand junkies, and people who frankly have a bit more money than time,” he says.
“It’s a growing piece of the market. There is an expectation, not only by millennials but by the population in general, to use services that make their lives easier, even if they cost a bit more money.”
Robin’s business model involves adding a 10% fee to the price at which it secures tickets for a fan. The company hopes its service is as appealing to artists and event organisers as it is to fans.
“The live-event industry in general is still experiencing a hangover from the pre-internet days. How they make decisions is still very much the way decisions were being made back in the 80s in terms of how to supply the market, often based on instinct,” says McIsaac.
“What we’re trying to do with Robin is to provide artists and event organisers with real-time event-demand data, and intent to purchase. We want to help them understand what the market is telling them, so they can make better decisions.”
“If people are able to register reservations for events before they’re even announced, then we can go to the artists and their teams with intelligence on who these people are, and provide that as actionable insight into how they can potentially plan their tour.”
McIsaac is very clear on Robin’s lack of interest in moving into ticketing itself, as startups from Songkick to Dice have done.
“Robin is not a ticketing company. It is a personal concierge for fans, which means we’ve been very lucky to be able to have a variety of suppliers,” he says.
“It is existing ticketing companies and the existing event organisers. It’s been artists from time to time. In rare instances it’s even brokers who have inventory of tickets. We want to partner with all of these suppliers, rather than trying to be a ticketing company.”
Robin is thinking hard about how people will use its service: currently SMS and chat are key to its experience, although the company is starting to think about the potential for voice-driven platforms like Echo/Alexa too.
“Our aspiration is to be completely agnostic and to go wherever the fan is,” says McIsaac. “We use the line that there isn’t a store to visit, there’s no app to download, there’s no browser required. We have doubled down into SMS and chat, and that has allowed us to be pretty lean and move quickly.”
Robin’s team are already thinking about possible features they could add in the future. Helping concertgoers with things like accommodation and dinner is one possibility; and using its data to recommend concerts to people by artists they might like is already being tested.
Robin is also looking beyond music to events like comedy and sports, and it’s also assessing how and when to expand beyond its current markets of the US and Canada.
“The UK is very exciting for us: in the team several of us have lived and worked in the UK, and we’ve been reading the UK media coverage of the pain points around getting tickets, and articles about touts and new legislation,” says McIsaac.
“The UK will probably happen this year for us, but we don’t know exactly when.”
Robin isn’t explicitly positioning itself solely as a tout-busting service, but the debate around secondary ticketing undoubtedly plays in to what it’s doing.
“The fans who we’re trying to service – who value convenience, and have more money than time – are typically the ones who will go and purchase off the secondary market. Because it’s more convenient for them: they aren’t skipping a meeting at 10am to buy tickets as soon as they go on sale,” says McIsaac.
“By the time it comes round to their schedule, it’s on the secondary market. But if we can acquire those users, and provide that information back to artists and event organisers, we can get those fans back into the primary pod.”
This week, Robin will pitch to a room of investors at the Techstars Music demo event, which McIsaac hopes will help in its aim of raising another funding round within the next 18 months to continue growing the business.
Taking part in the accelerator has been a positive experience for the company. “It’s been phenomenal for us as a business,” he says.
“Robin is pretty young, so being able to come here and have the advice and mentorship of not only the Techstars team and community, but also the mentors they have brought in to the office, helped us to understand not only how do we help the fans, but also how does this plug in to the industry and stakeholders to make it better?”
“It’s completely accelerated our evolution, and it’s made us ask the hard questions a lot earlier than we would have otherwise. We’re having conversations with the biggest players in this space, and they’re being very generous with their time to help us.”