“Focus Before Scale”: How Tiqets’ B2C Move Made it One of Europe’s Fastest-Growing Startups

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When Tiqets began operating in January 2014 it was an API aggregator, offering the world’s largest entertainment ticketing platform to online travel agencies (OTAs), airlines and other travel firms.

Admission tickets to museums and attractions in Europe, the Middle East and North America was a $90 billion market, after all: surely becoming a powerful B2C platform would be the best way to scale fast.

But shortly after, Tiqets’ founders noticed some issues. Aggregating different ticketing partners meant inconsistent user experiences–tickets took a day or two to confirm; printing was often necessary and some tickets weren’t available at all.

Worse still, third parties might be interested in Tiqets’ platform but unable to execute in a reasonable timeframe. ““Sorry our roadmap is completely full for the next 18 months,” is not something you’d like to hear–or can afford to wait for–as a startup,” CEO Luuc Elzinga tells Red Herring.

Meanwhile Elzinga and co-founders Maarten Raaijmakers and Christiaan Solcer were noticing traction on their B2C website. They didn’t waste a moment changing focus: by the end of the Dutch team changed their entire platform to focus on great customer experience.

The new Tiqets had five ground rules: direct contracts with all venues; last minute availability; instantly delivered tickets; mobile entrance and a consistent user experience.

The company focused initially on its hometown of Amsterdam before moving into other major European destinations like Barcelona and Paris. Today Tiqets is available in 25 cities. Most are European, while the company is also present in Dubai, Chicago, New York and Miami.

In 2015 the company grew 3,500%, becoming the fastest growing startup in the Netherlands (though it would not disclose its base figure). Elzinga claims that 2016 brought similar levels of growth, and Tiqets now employs 35 staff members in the Dutch capital–whose own ecosystem is becoming an envy of other European hubs.

At the heart of Tiqets’ rapid expansion is the ability of its leadership to listen to customers and focus on making a great product. Only after achieving that should an entrepreneur think of scaling, says Elzinga–“and keep that focus.”

Our biggest asset is the technological platform that we have built, which allowed us to make a conservative, offline and fragmented industry built around paper tickets to accept instantly delivered mobile tickets,” he adds. “Our strength is that we can adapt with our technology to any existing ticketing solution in this huge market.

“The investment in such a platform requires scale in order to become profitable,” adds Elzinga, whose charges most recently won a $4m led by compatriot VC Capital Mills.

Tiqets was always founded with a pan-European mindset, adds Elzinga, whose previous companies include venture fund Investion. And finding good-quality talent in Amsterdam has been no problem: especially as the city has so many world-class tourist attractions, such as its famed Rijksmuseum, which welcomes 2.35m visitors per year.

“The fact that Amsterdam has some great museums and attractions really helped us proof our model,” he says. “The city still functions as our testing ground before rolling out new ideas into the world.”

It has not all been plain sailing, however. Tiqets’ technical platform is its biggest asset. But the market it addresses is a conservative one–and many leading venues outsource their ticketing to local partners.

“When we asked about connecting to (leading museums’) APIs they really did not have a clue what we were talking about,” he says. “They would be very happy if we would sell their tickets, they would print them and our host would make sure we could take them with us after the meeting.

“Not exactly the answer an instant mobile ticketing company is waiting for,” he adds. “In the end we found a creative solution to make their paper tickets mobile anyway, and now they are one of our best-sellers.”

Another example of that difficulty came when Tiqets encountered API documentation for one of Barcelona’s major attractions. “Quite surprisingly it was only available in Catalan,” Elzinga says. “Good luck with that! Fortunately one of our IT guys grew up in Barcelona and speaks Catalan, so he helped out implementing this.”

Armed with a strong team and a leadership that knows exactly what it wants, Tiqets looks set to continue growing in a heavily competitive market well into the future. As long as it keeps focusing and growing, Elzinga believes his team can achieve truly great things.

“We need to scale faster,” he says. Every day. Until Google will change it’s autocorrect function from “finding tickets” to “did you mean Finding Tiqets”!”