Brian Fenty has been on both sides of the table as an investor and entrepreneur. He has leveraged that experience, as well as his love for culture, to build an incredible business that delivers six-star experiences. His startup, TodayTix, has acquired funding from top-tier investors like Great Hill Partners, Rubicon Venture Capital, TYLT Lab, and Riverside Company.
In this episode, you will learn:
- How TodayTix is opening up culture and great shows for everyone
- The failed acquisition that turned into a hugely successful startup
- Fighting through financial crises to create new record results
For a winning deck, take a look at the pitch deck template created by Silicon Valley legend, Peter Thiel (see it here) that I recently covered. Thiel was the first angel investor in Facebook with a $500K check that turned into more than $1 billion in cash.
The Ultimate Guide To Pitch Decks
Moreover, I also provided a commentary on a pitch deck from an Uber competitor that has raised over $400 million (see it here).
Remember to unlock for free the pitch deck template that is being used by founders around the world to raise millions below.
About Brian Fenty:
Brian has led and managed varied private investments across a broad range of industries, focusing on product and talent. He is an active adviser to start-ups, growth-stage companies, and management teams. Previously an MD at Hamilton Investment Partners. Currently, Brian serves on the Board of The Institute for Arts and Humanities at UNC-ChapelHill, where he received his Bachelor’s degree in Marketing and Entrepreneurship.
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Read the Full Transcription of the Interview:
Alejandro Cremades: Alrighty hello everyone and welcome to the dealmakerr show. So I’m very excited today. We have a founder that they really knows quite a bit about building scaling financing and all of the good stuff that we like to hear so I guess without further do let’s welcome our guest today Brian Finy welcome to the show. Thanks.
Brian Fenty: Thank you Alejandro it’s great to be here.
Alejandro Cremades: So originally from Connecticut so give us a little of a walk through memory lane. How was life growing up.
Brian Fenty: Yeah, it’s funny I spend most of my life in big cities now but I grew up in a very small town in Torrington Connecticut amazing working class parents didn’t go to college. But. Always were moving from job to job working hard providing a good living I was an only child but was always around music and dancing and laughter and joy and I think that that’s really. Where my love of art and culture came from so it was ah it was a really happy time growing up there? yeah.
Alejandro Cremades: So how did you get into the whole entrepreneurial thing I mean was there something going on in the family or or that developed over time.
Brian Fenty: No, you know it’s I jokingly say that it started when I was three years old because I wasn’t athletic as a kid. We didn’t have enough money to have video games or lots of toys and so I went down to the local theater There’s a great theater in Torington Connecticut called the Warner Theater and I went down to the Warner Theater and I was cast in a show at three years old and I know that that doesn’t really sound like anything entrepreneurial, but it it started a career of really hustling to direct and produced and. I was in over 55 productions before I was 14 and used some of the funds that I made from from that ah early childhood career to pay for boarding school and college and so it really was the the start of my business career.
Alejandro Cremades: No Kidding and I guess that thing that experience too I’m sure it shaped quite a bit the way that you tackle storytelling and you know people people don’t really pay attention to this but storytelling is everything you know whether you sell yourself whether you sell your business. It’s all about accomplishing things on the day-to-day Basis. So How how do you think that shaped up your storytelling side of things.
Brian Fenty: It’s such a great point because I actually think of myself as an introvert which always surprises people you know Ceo of a company 400 employees I spend my day talking about ticketing and theater and technology and financing. But but really I think it all does come as you say from the theater I was put onto a stage at a young age with a script and a part and a narrative and part of a team that was telling a story to an audience that had to believe that it was authentic and true and genuine and so. You’re right I think it does come from that part of my life.
Alejandro Cremades: That’s amazing now in your case you went at it. You know, really studying it before ah practicing it so you went and studied entrepreneurship. You combine it with a marketing you went to North Carolina now 1 thing that is very interesting is that you didn’t go right into it. I mean you went more into the investment side of things I guess you know I don’t know what trigger that or why you thought that was the best way to go because you had it in you. But why did you go after more like the private equity side of things versus maybe like taking the leap.
Brian Fenty: You know if I’m really honest I was in the entrepreneurship program at Chapel Hill and it was an incredible but new program and what was special about it is that all of the teachers were accomplished entrepreneurs. So Ted Turner flew in to teach one of our marketing classes and Buck Goldstein who was an amazing entrepreneur in technology and informatics taught some of our classes and Alexander Julian a famous fashion designer taught what not to do. It was an amazing time to be around great technologists and luminaries. Um, but what’s interesting is I always had a chip on my shoulder about making money. And so because of where my parents came from because we were sort of immigrant family coming to the coming to the states and so for me going into private equity which is what I did out of school. Um, after a short stint at the New York Yankees was really about um finding a creative way. Have a successful career that was also around young companies and so what I loved about private equity was that it’s transactional. There were dozens of companies that I was meeting on a monthly basis I was it was satisfying my creative urges it was. Allowing me to work with founders and operators on what was right and wrong with their business and really learning it from the outside in and it was only at the end of that period that I said well geez I really I miss I’m longing for jumping into the company.
Alejandro Cremades: Now What did you learn about picking winners too because I think that now you have experience being on both sides of the table and we’re going to be talking about your your your baby now you know just a little bit your company which is a rocket ship but I guess more on being on the. Investment side of things you know now that you are on the entrepreneurial side and you’re able to look back I think during that time as an investor. How do you think that has helped you to to really understand what separates good companies from bad companies. What are those ingredients.
Brian Fenty: It’s it’s such a great question and I know that everyone has different ingredients. But I think the 1 common ingredient that we all have are authentic genuine leaders who have vision and purpose I remember 1 of the first investments I made was in the salad company sweet green. And we were in their first institutional investment round and I remember sitting at the table in a restaurant in Manhattan with the 3 young founders who are still good friends to this day and I knew then that they had an authenticity and a passion about what they were doing. That would scale them through any of the highs and lows that would face their business so people number one and that’s the easy 1 um hard to find but easy when you meet them. You just know that you have the right entrepreneur the second one ah is a bit more commercial and it’s ah, an adage that I was told early on which is well bought is half sold. And in this world where the market’s correcting right now I think it’s a good reminder and a good lesson that that really thinking about the fundamentals of a business how you buy it how you structure it. It’s a great opportunity to align the investor and the entrepreneur to set the company up for success and then the final one. Invest in products that you believe in and that you understand I made that mistake early in my career I remember investing in ah and a credit card processing company that I knew very little about and it was a great product. The investment actually did very well but I couldn’t add value at the board table I couldn’t add value as an advisor.
Brian Fenty: And so I’ve always just learned stick to what you know and stick to where your expertise can have value and impact and I think that’s probably why I I ended up starting a business that that traverses technology and theater.
Alejandro Cremades: And you know it’s a it’s very interesting what you just said adding value as a board member. You know there’s probably a lot of investors that are listening to us that are doing their pitch to founders. Oh we add tons of value. You know the truth of the matter is is that most investors don’t add value I mean that’s just like the nature of it now.
Brian Fenty: M.
Alejandro Cremades: When it comes to adding value as a board member. What does that look like because I’m sure that a lot of investors listening are going to get some good value out of this and then also founders to really understand who they need to place at the top to really guide the um, the strategy.
Brian Fenty: Um, it’s it’s funny I talk to a lot of investors and a lot of startups about this and of course they both have different answers on both sides. Um and from my view I always tell companies when I’m joining a board or I’m going to advise that I have strong convictions loosely held. And what that means is I hope that my expertise and my experience can lend value and show a different perspective and I never give advice as you should do this I give advice as I’ve lived a similar experience here’s what I learned in that experience and how you might generate value. From that and and that really is a powerful tool because entrepreneurs then know that we’re not going to try to be the smartest people in the room board members who try to be the smartest people in the room aren’t teaching. What’s really helpful is for the entrepreneur to feel that they can generate ideas. And can see blind spots that they might otherwise have so for me, that’s how I approach being a board member in shaping our own board at today tixgroup. Um, we’ve looked across um, all of the products that we’re building but also the challenges we think we’re going to face 2 3 4 years out staff a board that adds value not for where the company is today but where the company is going to be in 4 years and I think that’s also been helpful. You know not creating a board for for yesterday’s business but creating a board for tomorrow’s challenge. So.
Alejandro Cremades: Now let’s talk about let’s shift gears a little bit here so you were for quite a while on the investment side. You know doing private equity investments and all of a sudden you decide. It’s your time. It’s your time to you know, take the leap of faith and it’s your time to start, you know your current company right now which is to today tick group. So why? Why did you think you know at that point in 2013 that it was your time it was your time to really you know take ownership of your own future.
Brian Fenty: So I’ll tell you there’s ah, there’s a story I don’t often tell which is that this this business actually started with a potential acquisition as a private equity investor so I was looking at buying a digital business. Um, that played in the theater world. And because not many private equity guys also have a theater career behind them a banker had called me and reached out about this business. It was a very interesting business owned by a husband and wife couple that was doing it was generating 5000000 e but die here. Selling coupons to Broadway shows very old school business very archaic model but it was an interesting little market and so we looked at buying that business and in the eleventh hour we had raised the money my my now business partner had quit his job and come over to be an operating partner for us. We were sitting at the closing table ready to buy this company and the sellers never showed up. They didn’t come to the closing table. We had all the money sitting in the bank. We had all the investors lined up and sometimes deals don’t don’t happen and so a week later after wondering where they went. They showed up and as is often the case.
Alejandro Cremades: My god.
Brian Fenty: And an organization with a negotiation. They asked for a few million dollars more and my partner and I looked at each other and I remembered the old adage well bought as half sold and I said this isn’t the right price and this isn’t our deal and we walked away from that business. And we took a few months to collect our thoughts and we said okay if that was the old age business of being in theater. What’s the new age business of doing ticketing and of solving these problems and so from that from the ashes of that deal. Came today ticks which was initially meant to be the tkts booth in times square on your phone and that’s how we started.
Alejandro Cremades: And quick question there I think that to double click on that they came back I mean you were yeah as you were saying you were wondering where the hell are this guys and then all of a sudden they show back and I mean most people would just do that deal and you were just saluting to hey that was not a deal was it more like. Because of you guys were just pissed that of the of the lack of etiquette of not showing up or or you just analyze that the numbers and then you know from ah from a analytical you know, perspective. It just didn’t make sense. You know the the transaction I mean what? what drove that walk away.
Brian Fenty: Um, I think we knew going into the deal before they walked away. We knew that we could build a better mouse trap. We knew that we could build a great product off of this idea. Um, and so the the higher the price got. The more conviction we had that maybe we should take these resources and build this company from the ground up with new technology with a new brand perspective with with all of the experience that we had coming from my business partner and I met at theater camp when we were 11 and twelve years old so we had known each other known this story in this context for so long. So I think ultimately the the sellers gave us the greatest gift they ever could have they gave us a reason to say no and we didn’t have a reason to say no until that moment and so really. Um, I’m very grateful for that journey because without it we might have I think we still would have built the same great company but it would have taken us a lot longer because we would have been saddled with with you know all of the expectation of preserving that business and keeping the model stable. And all of the things that come with running a legacy company.
Alejandro Cremades: Now you decide and and and you realize that you could build a better mouse drop. What were the next steps.
Brian Fenty: So we surrounded ourselves with a bunch of great advisors so you talk about board members and one of my mentors is the restaurant toward Danny Meyer and I always felt like his book setting. The table was one of the great business books of all time. Because it says that business isn’t always traditional that it can be hospitality that it can be about service and so Danny always said to me, you get to choose who you invite to the dinner table and so we surrounded ourselves with a great group of investors. It was Danny Meyer it was John Ladecky it was Jeremy Zimmer who owns a united talent agency. It was all of these various pieces that came together in a really safe place that allowed us to build the proof of concept and we sort of with abandon just built the proof of concept. And the idea was pretty simple. You looked at airbnb you looked at uber you looked at hotel tonight these were companies that eliminated friction created beautiful e-commerce experiences and had design front and center for the user and in the ticketing world. And we’ve all been reading a lot about Ticketmaster and and their experience with consumers. Um, you know the ticketing world always put the promoter or the concert or the artist first not the audience. No one had ever said if the audience wins the partner wins.
Brian Fenty: So what happened was you had a lot of technology out there that were very big scaled amazing amazingly profitable businesses. But the truth is they were viewed by consumers as necessary evils or utilities and what today ticks was initially and what today ti’s group is still today. Is a collection of beloved brands that are changing the face of cultural experiences that are serving the customer first always first and in that um today tix was born so that’s that’s how we did it. We built the first product. And we got very we got a very lucky break early on which is there was a very unknown show down at the public theater that had sold out called Hamilton and they were looking for um, a way to market their show even though they were sold out. They had no way you know they didn’t want to spend money on it of course because they had sold all the tickets but they knew that they were going to go to Broadway and they wanted to get a lot of buzz and so the first thing we did was to say let’s build a technology that solves that problem. So the first technology we built actually after the the core ticketing app was a lottery. Ah, digital lottery called ham for hand it was $10 for 10 front road tickets that lottery in the first eight weeks had to 250000 entries which for a small little business was a was a real bullseye on the map.
Alejandro Cremades: Wow.
Brian Fenty: And the rest is history from there.
Alejandro Cremades: So for the people that are listening to really understand it. What ended up being the business model here. How do you guys make money. So.
Brian Fenty: So the business model initially was a mobile app only that sold and aggregated theater tickets on a very designed forward premium experience app. It was always algorithmically. The lowest prices for the best seats. And you can buy your ticket in 30 seconds or less and while that seems simple now in 13 there was no such thing as an e-ticket so today Tis actually built the first ever e-ticket and mobile ticket on your phone that was how we started and we were paid a small fee from the consumer and a small fee from the show. And in doing that we were able to have a low price for both sides as opposed to you know sending a huge fee to the consumer or a huge feed of the producer and that was the original business model. The company is now a $500,000,000 a year business across more than 250 brands that we both own and operate. And it’s still very much the same design forward experience. So 30 seconds or less all of the inventory for performing arts dance opera theater, concerts, music, etc, anything that you could do on a night out that’s what we service. Um, but it still comes back to that frictionless ecommerce experience for the audience.
Alejandro Cremades: Wow, That’s incredible now for you guys. How has been the experience to of going through a pandemic with a company like this.
Brian Fenty: Oh my goodness. Um, if a cat has 9 lives I feel like we’ve lived through 15 during the pandemic it. It. We went in February Twenty Twenty Two things happened 1 is we had record breaking revenue we had record breaking profit. And we had finally gotten to scale after after seven or eight years in business but then in in number 2 we bought a company. We bought our first we made our first acquisition of a company called encore tickets. Was an expensive deal. It was an international global ticketing platform. It was the £800 gorilla in London and it really put us on the Map. We closed that deal four weeks before the pandemic started and the whole industry shut down so I had 200 new employees. A world away from New York where I was living at the time with my wife and my kids um and and the business shut down and it didn’t just go to $0 in revenue it went to negative revenue because of course there were tens of millions of dollars of refunds and exchanges that consumers all around the world needed. Um, the tickets that they could no longer use so over that next eighteen months we were faced with two decisions fold and go out of business and sacrifice. All the great progress we had made or actually double down and use that as an opportunity to rebuild technology to.
Alejandro Cremades: Wow.
Brian Fenty: Optimize our algorithms to integrate the deal that we had just done with encore to reward our best’s talent instead of laying them off and to say we’re building a big global business. We are going to transform culture and eventually the pandemic will aside theaters will reopen. Governments will celebrate art and culture and the world will come back to normal and I’m and I’m happy to say we’ve just had a record breaking year. We’re backed on top in terms of our revenue numbers our audiences we have more than 20,000,000 consumers who use our products every year um and so I I’m very thankful that we made it through that experience because it just reminds you as an entrepreneur there are going to be rainy days and as long as you’re thoughtful and well-capized have good partners in a sound business model. You can have a great time running those businesses even in the downtime.
Alejandro Cremades: So talking about being well capitalize. What is it like to raise capital for you know, kind of like um I would say like a niche an archaic you know type of ah type of space.
Brian Fenty: Yeah, ah.
Alejandro Cremades: And I guess before you go into that too. How much capital have you guys raised to date.
Brian Fenty: So we haven’t disclosed the the total number but I can tell you it’s over $200,000,000 in in both acquisitions and capital raised. Our investors are great. Hill capital in Bain. Excellent investors, fabulous partners.
Alejandro Cremades: And go.
Brian Fenty: Really strategic and they see the vision for what we’re building. Um, but it wasn’t all roses I will tell you you know they are 2 of the best investors in the world. But when we started ten years ago many doors were slammed in our faces as is often the case with entrepreneurs but especially for us because theater. Everyone loved the idea of a frictionless ticketing now everyone said oh god Brian this is a great idea. We’d love to invest. But why theater and I would show a slide that showed sports as a $20000000000 industry theater as an $18000000000 industry and film as a $9000000000 industry so when we started theater was actually twice the size of the film industry but despite that slide investors would look and sort of scratch their heads and in in a way they would almost say no that couldn’t be true theater. You know I don’t like theater and. What I’ve realized is so many decisions that we all make are based on our biases that come from our upbringing our context our experience and theater to many people feels like a small niche mom and pop business and the truth is it is niche. It is archaic but as a result. It’s a very large market where there is no professional capital where there are no professional operators and so it created a real opportunity for us to be great partners to the industry and so early on we brought in Walden Ventures at Silicon Valley
Brian Fenty: Ah, venture capital firm who were fantastic partners to us art berliner there really understood art and culture. He was an art collector himself. He ah was a founding investor in Pandora so he really understood how culture and art could be commercial. And I’m very grateful for his mentorship during that period.
Alejandro Cremades: That’s amazing. That’s amazing now when it comes to you know, imagine vision because obviously you had to sell the vision to to these investors if you were to go to sleep tonight Brian and you wake up in a world where the vision of the company is fully realized. What does that world look like yes.
Brian Fenty: I love thinking about this and it’s a great question because at the end of the day today. 6 is connecting culture to commerce and if we do our job well in 5 years we have transformed the ability for people to engage with commerce and culture. And what I mean by that is no longer is culture going to be a luxury and something that is hard to achieve because we believe that in finding our company mission is fine to seek for everyone and the reason it’s fine to seat for everyone is that we believe. That the great cities in this world. Whether it’s New York or San Francisco or Nashville or Memphis or Chicago or Berlin or Paris or Sao Paulo that the culture of those cities contributes to the strength of those cities and so I hope that when we wake up in 5 years We’ve built ah, very large multibillion dollar business that uses technology mobile first ah practices around design and commerce to really take art and culture and bring it to the masses to remove barriers to make pricing and profitability for shows and content creators more viable. Um, and to have an ever-expanding global network of theaters producers and audiences to engage.
Alejandro Cremades: I Love that find the seat for everyone. You know, very uplifting I got to say and you were talking about culture to I Love to to Also know you know the way that that you guys have thought about culture as well because you’ve done a few acquisitions and I find that on the acquisition side of things. Integration is everything you know, most deals. Unfortunately they they fail because of the integration Piece. So What have you guys learned about integration and then also how do you think about culture too in the in the big scheme of things.
Brian Fenty: I’ll tell you that we’ve done $100000000 deals now and we’ve done $1 deals and we take both $1 and $100000000 deals equally seriously for the reason you just described which is that culture is everything out of company. And I appreciate. You’re saying that you like find a seat for everyone because it’s a commercial and aspirational goal and I find that when you solve a problem that is both commercial and aspirational teams. Really love that because it appeals to both their competitive spirit but also their humanity. And and it was really important to have that as ah as a north star through this whole experience and I say that because one of the acquisitions that we did is a business called docore show score was one of the on the smaller end of the range that I just described. It was a small niche business. Is the rotten tomatoes of live theater. So it’s a live reviews platform for experiences. This was a business that had an amazingly rich community. It had an incredibly diverse leadership team and audience base which brought great perspective to our company. But most importantly, we brought it in. And a lot of people said well Brian why does show score make sense at today. Tick’s group but I’ll tell you what we’ve done with that business. What we’ve done with that business is we’ve turned it into a real time time feedback engine for producers on Broadway and in the west end right? producers create these 20 and $30000000 shows.
Brian Fenty: And they have no feedback on what audiences think other than their ticket sales because we own both the ticketing business and now the reviews platform we can actually give producers real-time net promoter score feedback on what audiences are thinking about their shows. Whether they buy tickets based on those insights what parts of the shows they like or dislike and as a result we’re actually making shows more efficient and also creating better shows. Ah for audiences by having that data. So that’s just an example of how we look at even a small deal on the large scale. Um, and again as I said we’ve done. We’ve done acquisitions that are you know a $100000000 deals with with 200 employees and in those deals. What is so important is out of the gate aligning on how these companies together are stronger than a part. Because if it’s just a matter of let’s join these 2 companies and it makes us bigger and bigger is better because we’ll get a fire multiple nobody signs up for that employees are depressed. They’re burnt out. They have very fuzzy vision and they assume it’s just the greed of the management team and what I find is. A thoughtful m and a strategy and it doesn’t always mean it’s easy by the way, there’s there’s a lot of hard work that goes into integrating these businesses. But if you have a clear vision and a stated problem. So we we start every acquisition with ah with a town hall meeting where I say we’ve just acquired blank to help us find a seat for everyone.
Brian Fenty: And here’s how they’re going to do it and so we tie it directly to the vision and then we walk them through all of the components of how that business will catalyze a market or supercharge a product that we own or give us access to a new audience segment. That’s otherwise hard to reach authentically.
Alejandro Cremades: Wow I love that I love that now we talked about innovation. We talked about future I like to talk about past but talking about the past with a lens of reflection. So if I was to put you into a time machine and I bring you back in time Brian.
Brian Fenty: And.
Alejandro Cremades: And I give you that opportunity of being able to to have a seat with that younger Brian that younger Brian that maybe you know it’s coming out of university you know, maybe coming out of a university with that thinking of one day you know or eventually I’m going to start my thing and and finding you know your way if you were to. Be able to give that younger Brian one piece of advice before launching a business. What would that be and why given what you know now.
Brian Fenty: Be human build human products I think the success of so many of these brands that we know and love even though they have tenacious founders and they have exceptional business models and they have beautiful products. What sets the winners away in my view is that they have such an authenticity and a humanity to the products that they build and and I mean that technologically too right? So if you think about our products we built an app that sold tickets in 30 seconds or less because we wanted it to feel human. We bought we built and bought with encore tickets. Ah an acquisition in the Uk we built and bought technology that distributes the inventory from 20000 theaters to 250 storefronts from Tripadvisor to last-minutedotcom to the times and the telegraph. All sorts of interesting properties. But what sets it apart is it’s human. It knows how the audience wants to buy and it gives them that experience our north star at today ticks is to have a 6 star experience. So there’s 5 stars in a traditional theater review and we always say how do you get that 6 star from the consumer. They’ll never have to go to another platform so that their loyalty is a given so we do lots of things we do universal ticket protection we do um, concierge service where you get a vip concierge service. Even if you’re buying the cheapest ticket on the app we do customer service in real time.
Brian Fenty: We have humans at the end of our customer service. So there’s all of these little nuances to building a utility that people love and I wish if I could go back in time I’d say Brian don’t shy away from that you don’t need to be the toughest voice in the room. You don’t need to be the most rigid be build human products be authentic. Ah, be visionary and always do it with a lens of solving problems for real people.
Alejandro Cremades: I love that I love the? Um, what you’re alluding to there and and also authenticity because authenticity also helps to build meaningful connections and and and I really find that what you just said there is super profound. So. Brian for the people that are listening that will love to reach out and say hi. What is the best way for them to do so.
Brian Fenty: I’m on Linkedin I’m available I’m always networking and I love talking to curious interested entrepreneurs investors culture creators disruptors so reach out and say hey.
Alejandro Cremades: Amazing! Well Brian thank you so much for being on the deal maker show today. It has been an honor to have you with us.
Brian Fenty: Thank you so much I appreciate it.
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