Why it's Dead #1: Turnout

A postmortem of Turnout, a mobile-first event ticketing solution.

Turnout was this brilliant idea I had (sense the sarcasm) to be a small but relevant player in the online ticketing space. Basically, I came across Eventbrite when registering for a local fun run and had a typical "hey, I could do that" moment.

Eventbrite is one of those obnoxious startups you've probably never heard of that is valued at over $1 billion (by someone, at least). At one point I estimated their 2014 revenue (true revenue, net of what they pay out in credit card processing fees) at $50 million, but I guess now it could be as high as $100 million. If that's accurate then the valuation is a 10X-20X multiple on sales, which is absolutely absurd. I digress.

Anyway, if they do $50 million in revenue (and keep in mind they are just one player) my thinking was that another upstart ticketing company, with some effort, could achieve 10% of that. $5 million annually is nothing to sneeze it; a nice lifestyle business (this is the term the startup community uses to refer to a typical small business with ambitions more modest than a $1 billion valuation).

Here were the key differentiators I had in mind for the product, specifically compared to Eventbrite:

Turnout Differentiators

I spent a couple of months working on the concept, but eventually decided not to move forward. A big concern was my uneasiness with a key part of the business model, third party payment aggregation. A lot can go wrong when you're the middle-man collecting payments from one party to give to another party (chargebacks, fraud, etc.). This isn't something I really have experience with, and it's not as appealing as directly selling a product or a service. I'm also fairly sure I underestimated both the development and marketing efforts.

Turnout mobile UI screenshots Some mobile UI screenshots.

I realize that these screenshots don't look like much, but I was exploring the idea of making most of the interface an embeddable JavaScript widget, so the design had to be fairly simple. Plus, a good bit of of the back-end was actually working.

While this was a failed experiment, it was still a valuable learning experience. I got a lot of things working that I had never really done before, including:

  • local authentication with bcrypt password encryption
  • the Google Maps API w/ Places and autocomplete
  • QR code generation and scanning via the browser with the HTML5 Camera API
  • custom date and time pickers
  • dynamic routing with randomly generated codes

This was also my first real experience with Node.js, which is now my development platform of choice.

Have thoughts on the online ticketing space? Notice something I missed in my project plan? Let me know on Twitter @cschidle.

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