Every once in a while there’s a live event you don’t want to miss, but usually, bagging a ticket is about as likely as England winning the World Cup. Once, all you could do was take your chances on eBay, or go to a tout, where there’s a fair chance you’ll be ripped off.
But now there’s a third option. After spearheading an industry for legal secondary ticketing in the US through his lead role in the growth of StubHub, Eric Baker is now doing the same here with Viagogo.
Like many entrepreneurs, the idea for StubHub came about when Harvard graduate Baker ran into this problem himself, while trying to get tickets to see The Lion King in New York in 1999. With tickets like gold dust, he ended up being stung by a tout, and began to wonder why ticket resale didn’t exist online.
Surmising there was no good reason why it didn’t, he also saw drawbacks for potential rivals eBay and Ticketmaster getting a slice of the action; the former “doesn’t work well for time-sensitive items”, and the latter, as a primary ticketing company, faced “major conflicts of interest” by entering the resale market.
So, along with Jeff Fluhr, the business partner he met at StanfordBusinessSchool, Baker saw the chance to create an online space where fans could resell tickets if they were unable to attend an event. They launched StubHub in 2000, a site designed to give people a secure way to trade tickets online, where “the buyer knows they’re going to get the ticket they wanted on time, and the seller’s going to get paid.” In doing so, they created an industry: ‘secondary ticketing’.
Baker left the business in autumn 2004 following differences with Fluhr, but not before growing it to a stage where millions of dollars worth of tickets were being traded each year. Wisely, he retained a 10% stake in the business; it was sold to eBay for $310m last year.
“Two months later it occurred to me that the concept of ticket resale is not uniquely American, it’s global,” he recalls.
Baker spent 2005 researching the UK market, before setting up in Hammersmith, London in January 2006. Armed with lessons learned from StubHub, he found himself in a strong position to build a business that was better equipped for growth.
“The technology for StubHub was built with rubber bands and scotch tape!” says Baker. “Someone would say: ‘What happens if we start selling a million tickets a day?’ And we’d go: ‘We’ll deal with it then!’”