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Ticket to success Featured

6:06am EDT September 29, 2005
Mike Domek, CEO of TicketsNow, has always been fascinated with the entertainment industry and in 1992, turned that fascination into a business.

From his one-bedroom apartment in Chicago, Domek started TicketsNow — which sells tickets for everything from concerts to major sporting events — with a two-line phone and a $100 investment. In 1999, he moved the company online, and it became TicketsNow.com.

Today, TicketsNow is the United States’ leading online ticket marketplace, with 2004 revenue of $55 million and projected 2005 revenue in excess of $100 million.

Although Domek had no experience when he went into business, he created a successful company by looking at a marketplace he was interested in and thinking about ways to improve it. What is his secret to success?

“Never stop listening to your customers,” says Domek. “They’re the only ones that truly know what they want, and they’re willing to tell you if you’re willing to listen.”

Smart Business talked to Domek about TicketNow’s transformation from a one-man business into one of the fastest-growing private companies in the United States.

What challenges have you faced as your company has grown?

The biggest challenge for me was learning how to build a business from the ground up and learning how to run it. I started the company just out of college.

I didn’t finish school. I had never worked for a major corporation. I had to learn virtually everything there is to know about building and running a business. I learned it by doing it, through trial and error, and by talking and listening to people who had done it before.

When we started, we were the first company selling tickets online in the secondary market. We grew quickly to far exceed eBay. By providing the secure marketplace and backing it up with outstanding customer service, we knew we had the best product on the market.

We grew based on listening to our customers. Everyone wanted to get premium tickets to premium events, but five years ago, it was kind of scary buying tickets from a secondary market online. You really didn’t know who you were dealing with or who the tickets were coming from. The industry was fragmented and inefficient.

Those were the challenges — running a business that I had no experience doing and creating a business in this industry that really didn’t exist before we got into it.

How do you attract the best employees?

We do a lot of standard things. We use some executive search firms to attract new talent, but also a lot of traditional recruiting techniques, like advertising in local papers and employment Web sites. We also have an employee referral program.

I think what really lands employees for us is that we’ve done a great job at creating a fun and exciting environment where people want to work. Cultivating a positive corporate culture is important to me. I think that employees see that, and people really enjoy working here. We regularly host company parties and picnics. We try not to be a fragmented company. We try to create that family atmosphere.

How did you overcome IT challenges, and how did that facilitate the growth of your company?

That was something that really needed to be addressed. We were growing faster than we could keep up with from an IT standpoint. The first step in getting a team together that could support the demand was the hiring of our current VP of IT, Gene Golden.

Gene has been able to recruit some of the brightest IT minds in the country for us. We’re not just getting bigger in our IT department, we’re also getting better.

With our rate of growth being nearly 400 percent in the past five years and doubling again this year, and constantly needing more bandwidth and capacity, getting the right people and partnering with HP has really met our needs.

Being an online company, the public demands 24/7 availability without fail. With our HP servers and our top-notch IT department, we’ve got 99.9 percent up time. And that’s critical, and not just for TicketsNow.

We develop and license out data and software to other ticket companies. We really are the backbone of the industry. If we’re not up, not only is TicketsNow down, but a lot of our industry is down as well. They depend on us.

How do you outshine your competitors?

One thing I have learned over the years is that innovation and quality truly matter. We have invested a lot of time, energy and financial resources to develop and deliver the highest quality product. We don’t cut corners. We don’t skimp on quality. We ask the customers what they want.

I think eBay has a good product, but tickets are not a one-size-fits-all. Within tickets, there is this element of fraud that exists within public sites.

TicketsNow has been able to eliminate that by guaranteeing 100 percent legitimate tickets and 100 percent secure transactions. We are the only ones able to do that. I think that is how we really outshine our competitors. We don’t just provide some guarantee that if you have a problem, we’ll fix it. We provide a guarantee that you won’t have a problem because after the event, it’s too late to fix that problem.

HOW TO REACH: TicketsNow, (800) 927-2770 or http://www.ticketsnow.com