Three years ago, a 47-year-old construction boss returned to Calgary armed with an executive MBA degree from the Richard Ivey School of Business at the University of Western Ontario.
But that’s not all George Davidson came home from school with.
Davidson also returned with a rekindled entrepreneurial spirit and a vision to build an innovative ticketing services company.
The product of Davidson’s vision is RepeatSeat, a company that provides sophisticated ticket management solutions to clients such as the Calgary Flames.
|Larry MacDougal, Business Edge|
|RepeatSeat president George Davidson has built on his experience in the construction industry to create an innovative ticketing services company.|
Today, Davidson is head of the class as president, co-founder and part owner of the Calgary company that emerged from a school project. Two of his classmates are also partners in RepeatSeat.
RepeatSeat has made some major inroads into the event ticketing market since being launched in 2000, but an ambitious Davidson leaves the impression he won’t rest easy until his company is positioned in the front row at the ticketing game.
1. What was your boyhood dream?
“You know, I always wanted to be in construction. I saw myself as being a road and bridge builder and I followed that through, studying engineering and then spending 30 years in the construction industry.”
2. Where did you get your entrepreneurial spirit?
“I think it came from my mother (Ruby). She was a pretty resourceful woman and emigrated to Canada when she was very young. She really built a niche for herself with minimal education and made a strong impact on my life. She worked as an attendant in a laundromat. My father died when I was young and she raised the family on her own.”
3. Did you have a mentor early on in your career in the construction industry?
“Very early in my career, in the early 1980s, I was working as a project manager in construction in Whitby (Ont.) and I had a mentor named Trevor Nicholas. I named my younger son after Trevor. Trevor always told me that whenever you’re doing something during the day, remember that when you get up in the morning and go to shave, you’ve got to look at your face. The moral or underlying piece behind the story is that if you can’t look at yourself tomorrow, then you shouldn’t be doing what you’re doing today. That really serves well, especially in contract negotiations and the merger acquisition business. Clearly, you want to do the best deal that you can for yourself, but the (other) party has got to feel that it’s a good deal as well. If that’s not the case, it doesn’t matter what’s written. It’ll never work. Fairness is something that permeates everything that I’ve ever tried to do.”
4. What other important business lessons did you learn in the construction industry?
“You learn about flexibility. When you’re dealing in international arenas like North Africa (where Davidson, as president of CRS International, once negotiated a $250-million contract with the transitional government of Ethiopia), you can’t function in those types of environments unless you are flexible. You also need to understand the culture you’re dealing with. If you move to a foreign country and think that business operates the same way as it does where you’re from, then you’re sorely mistaken.”
5. Can you tell the story of how a construction executive winds up in the entertainment services industry?
“While I was with Winroc Corporation (as vice-president of operations), the company gave me the opportunity to go back to school and do an executive MBA at the Richard Ivey School of Business at the University of Western Ontario. I was in an IT class in which we had to come up with a new e-commerce business plan. In the dot-bomb world of that time, it was pretty challenging to come up with a plan that had a revenue stream attached to it. Our team came up with a secondary market for selling tickets where we could partner with a pro sports team and allow that team to go to their season-ticket holders and say, ‘Here’s an opportunity if you need to sell your ticket where you can do it through the team as opposed to doing it through a scalper or an auction site.’ That was our project and three of us from that learning group (also RepeatSeat executive vice-president Bob Christianson and RepeatSeat founding partner Clark Johannson) are involved in the company today.”
6. What was the startup investment in RepeatSeat?
“Collectively, the three of us put up $1 million in seed capital with the help of a couple of friends and family (Davidson owns about 20 per cent of the company). After doing that project, we did a lot of in-depth analysis of the ticketing industry and found that it was extremely fragmented. Then, we were able to surround ourselves with ticketing professionals who understand the nuances of ticketing and functionality of a software package. That was the genesis of the company.”
7. What’s your projected revenue for this year?
“I prefer to answer that a little differently. As a private company, we’re really keeping our sales numbers closely guarded over the next short term with some thoughts and growth plans that are currently in progress. Maybe the better answer to give you is that we’re currently on track to become profitable in the first quarter of ’04. In terms of growth, we’ve gone from eight employees in 2001 to 30 employees today, we have about 170 different venues using our ticketing services across North America and we’ve just moved from a 3,000-square-foot office to a 7,800-square-foot office.”
8. Your services are being utilized by two NHL teams, including the Flames. Is that a market you need to tap into or is your focus elsewhere?
“Certainly, we would love to have a greater share of the sports market – the NHL, the NBA and the NFL – and we are continually working on any number of deals that are in the sales pipe at any one time. But do we anticipate getting all of the NHL? No. Do we anticipate having a bigger market share than we have today? Absolutely.”
9. Is sports your hot market?
“No. If you look at the NHL, NBA, NFL, CFL and Major League Baseball, there are something like 130 or 140 teams in total that play out of 90 different venues. And if you’re trying to do business predicated solely on attacking that market and gaining that market share from an already strongly established client base, I think that’s a business plan that’s fraught for failure. On the other hand, the live entertainment market worldwide is $65 billion and growing at a rate of seven-and-a-half per cent annually. There’s a vast market of literally tens of thousands of venues that require ticketing and box-office services, whether it’s a point-of-sales system and/or Internet presence or digital wireless application, all of which we provide and all of which is our target market. Having said that, if you’ve got an NHL team that you think is looking for a new ticketing system, we’d love to give them a call this afternoon.”
10. What’s your growth strategy?
“In the one-year plan, the focus is on the move to profitability and we’ve currently signed sufficient business over the last six months that, as we bring that business on line, 100 per cent of our operating costs for 2004 are now covered with the revenue from new contracts. Beyond that, our goal is to create some mindshare in the marketplace as to who we are. We’ve been operating in a bit of stealth for the last couple of years as we’ve rolled out our technology and our platform and signed some marquee venues. Now, it’s time for us to step out and let the world know a little bit more about us.”
11. How do you do that?
“We’re embarking on a fairly extensive advertising campaign that we’re going to roll out over the next few months. As the press releases come out and announce some of the high-profile customers that we’ve just landed or are in a process of landing, that will certainly go a long ways toward that (raising the profile).”
12. What’s your longer-term vision for RepeatSeat?
“Over a three-year to five-year timeframe, clearly we want to, and will be, recognized as one of the leading companies in the entertainment services world. Also, some companies, industries and sectors are meant to be public (publicly traded). They just have that public sizzle to them and the ability to generate the excitement for the marketplace. We’re obviously looking at the benefits of being a public company. The markets tend to look at the entertainment services market as a pretty sexy market to be in.”
13. What’s your timeframe for going public?
“I’d like to say that it’s going to happen in ‘X’ days but it is obviously dependent on what the market receptiveness is to public offerings and how well the markets are doing. We’re looking at a couple of acquisitions today that would be quite substantial and a public vehicle would be most beneficial in completing those transactions. I would be disappointed if we’re not public within three years and certainly within five. It may be sooner.”
14. Are you concerned about whether people are receptive enough yet to buying event tickets online?
“In 1999 or 2000, I would have told you that we were looking at changing mindset. In 2000, about 20 per cent of tickets for live-event performances were sold online. In 2002, that number was about 50 per cent. There’s a strong, strong move from traditional ticketing operations where you go to a box office or ticket kiosk. Tickets are one thing that the public has really embraced online. This is not like buying a shirt or a pair of pants online. This is something where you know exactly what you’re going to get. Luckily, we haven’t had to change the mindset of the world. We’ve positioned ourselves at the leading edge of using that technology. We’re just rolling out an application right now where you’ll be able to buy movie tickets from your cell phone.”
15. What differentiates RepeatSeat from your competitors?
“A leading consulting group just a few months ago did a study for a major venue that was looking at their ticketing alternatives and the study showed we were one of the top three companies in terms of technology. Our technology, TRM (Ticket Relationship Management) is what differentiates us from our competition. Data is really key to any ongoing ticketing platform.”
“A big part of our platform is not just the technology that allows them to print and sell a ticket and say they admitted one, but to find out who one is and be able to track that person’s spending habits, goals and desires. Now, we’re able to capture that data.”
16. How would you describe your style of leadership?
“I think I challenge our people to think. Everybody talks about thinking outside the box. We just want to make sure we’re using all of the box first before we get outside of it. We’ve built the company on having high-quality people in specific functional areas where we can utilize their strengths. I guess my role is to make sure that we’re a cohesive force and clearly we are. I don’t know if it’s a result of my leadership. I think it’s more a result of the people we’ve surrounded ourselves with. Bob (Christianson) and I have both adopted the policy that if you can hire somebody smarter than yourself to do something, they’re going to make you look pretty good. My style is to challenge our guys to think, challenge our guys to take a critical review of what they’re doing and foster a really strong, cohesive group.”
17. Who are the entrepreneurs you most admire?
“I’ve got a real soft spot for Bill Gates (Microsoft chairman). He stood there and said: ‘I really don’t have a product here but I’ve got a contract so let’s see what I can do about making sure I can secure the contract and then I’ll make sure I can deliver the product afterwards.’ I love that type of entrepreneurial spirit. I also admire people like Clive Beddoe (Westjet CEO) who said: ‘I’m really unhappy about the (airline) alternatives out there and I’m going to do something to change it, and not just complain.’”
18. What’s your best advice for your two university-aged sons as they venture into the business world?
“Be open-minded. Be flexible. And, when you get married, remember that your wife is an extremely integral part of your business life for the rest of your life.”
19. Do you see yourself continuing to lead RepeatSeat as the company grows?
“I think that as the company grows, between Bob (Christianson) and myself, we certainly have the capability to run a company that has $300 million to $400 million in annual sales. We’ve both done that in the past and can do it again. That’s not a challenge.”
20. Do you have any other entrepreneurial aspirations?
“If you’d have told me six years ago that would I be running an entertainment services company involved in the ticketing industry, I’d say, ‘Where’d you get that from?’ No, I don’t have any aspirations to do anything different than what I’m doing now.”
THE COMPANY: Repeat Seat Inc.
* Brass: George Davidson, president; Bob Christianson, executive vice-president; Mike Cunningham, vice-president, sales and operations; Brent Peters, chief technology officer.
* Profile: RepeatSeat is a global entertainment services company that reduces empty seats by giving customers the power to manage, resell or renew tickets online with its Ticket Relationship Management solutions. Its target market encompasses arts venues, movie theatres, sports venues, cruise ships, tourist attractions and conference/trade shows. Customers include the Calgary Flames, Anaheim Mighty Ducks, the National Lacrosse League and Edmonton Symphony Theatre.
* Website: www.repeatseat.com
* Address: 6th Floor, 630 8th Ave. S.W., Calgary.
* Phone: 403-520-3560, 277-5601; toll free 877-737-3285, 866-737-3285.
IN PROFILE: George Davidson
* Title: President, co-founder, RepeatSeat Inc.
* Born/raised/age: North Bay, Ont., 50.
* Education: MBA degree, Richard Ivey School of Business, University of Western Ontario.
* Family: Wife Elizabeth, two sons.
* Career: Davidson was president of Canadian Asbestos Services from 1986-1990 and president of CRS International, a spinoff from Canadian Asbestos Services, from 1990-1995. From 1996-2000, Davidson was vice-president of operations for Winroc Corporation, a Calgary construction materials distribution company. He then co-founded RepeatSeat.
* Passions: Skiing, golf.