How our fast-growing start-up attracted investors
Securing investment can be essential if you want to scale your start up business. Steve Pearce of TickX explains why he and his co-founder Sam Coley turned down three Dragons, while providing his advice on how to attract other high-calibre investors, even for small business funding.
Name: Steve Pearce, co-founder and CEO of TickX.
Business: TickX – “the event ticket search engine” – fast-growing Manchester-based tech start-up with a host of top investors. TickX aims to replicate the success of the likes of GoCompare and Skyscanner, but for UK events. Its website brings together more than 70,000 events from 35-plus ticket websites (including Ticketmaster, Skiddle and StubHub!), allowing users to compare ticket prices for gigs, festivals, club nights, sports events, theatre and comedy shows.
Background: TickX was set up in 2014 by Steve Pearce from Leeds and Sam Coley from Tighnabruaich, both now 24. To date, the fast-growing tech start-up has raised £925,000 of investment, with investors including music industry heavyweight Ministry of Sound. More than 150,000 people use the TickX website each month, with TickX receiving a commission for every ticket sold via its platform.
How did your new business start?
Steve Pearce (SP): “While at university in Manchester I came up with the idea of creating one online platform as a more convenient alternative to trawling through endless websites for event tickets. I mentioned the idea to Sam, who’d successfully started his own software development business when he was just 16. He liked the idea and we started the business in late 2014. We bootstrapped our way forward for a year, spending little, but using our own money when necessary. We developed a minimal viable product, got some traction, attracted our first commercial partners and it’s grown from there.”
Tell us about your experiences on Dragons’ Den…
SP: “The show’s researchers read about us in the Manchester Evening News. We were asked to apply, passed an audition and went along for the filming in May 2016, although our episode didn’t air until New Year’s Day 2017. It was daunting, but a brilliant experience. We attracted offers from three Dragons, but turned them down because their valuation of our new business didn’t match ours. If we could have agreed, maybe we’d now have a Dragon onboard too, but turning them down hasn’t affected us in any bad way. We’re confident we made the right decision.”
You had already attracted a big name investor?
SP: “Yes, in September 2015 we raised seed investment worth £175,000, led by Ministry of Sound. Believe it or not, we just cold-called them – all a bit mad. They’ve been really supportive and it’s a brilliant name to have onboard. I think you make your own luck – you must put yourself out there. That early investment enabled us to totally focus on growing TickX.”
Tell us about your other investors?
SP: “Our most recent investment has come from [investment firm] 24Haymarket plus high-profile investors, such as former BskyB chairman Nick Ferguson and Stan Boland, who built four technology companies and sold them for more than US$1.5bn. We’ve used the money to develop our technology, create new commercial agreements, market the business and build our team – we’re now 14 strong, with an average age of 24. We have an incredible support network. Attracting investment isn’t just about the money, you can also benefit from an investor’s expertise and contacts, while adding to your credibility. Going to events and networking has enabled us to meet investors. Since turning the Dragons down we’ve raised investment worth £750k – ten times what we asked for on the show.”
What has the company been doing recently?
SP: “We’ve just launched a Facebook Messenger Bot, which offers an even more convenient way to find best-price event tickets. Since Dragons’ Den was filmed we’ve grown our revenues five times and we have more than 150,000 active monthly users and counting. But we’re ambitious and plan to take the business global.”
What advice do you offer to others who want to attract investment?
SP: “Make sure you’re investment ready. Normally people won’t invest in an idea, they want to see something tangible that’s already working. Their money should simply enable you to grow bigger and quicker. Your numbers must add up and investors will want to see evidence that they’ll make a good return. And you, the business owner, must impress them. It’s about your vision, drive, skills and attributes too, and the talent your people possess. You can include this information in a detailed business plan.”
Any other final words of advice?
SP: “Reach out to the right investors. Explore as many viable options as possible and start lots of conversations. Get people excited in what you’re doing and plan to do. Carefully consider offers – it’s not simply a case of accepting the most money. And realise that attracting investment takes effort, but don’t let it distract you from your day-to-day responsibilities. Securing the right type of investor gives you an incredible feeling – it’s hugely satisfying.”