James McGlinn, co-founder and chief executive of Eventfinda and an Entrepreneurs' Organisation NZ member.
Tell me us about your business
Eventfinda's an online event marketing and ticketing company. Around 800,000 New Zealanders use the site every month to find out what's on and we supply most of the event listings you see elsewhere on the web. At any given time we're also ticketing more than 400 different events - more than any other New Zealand ticketing company - and that's the fastest growing area of our business.
Eventfinda makes it easy for event promoters, organisers and venues to list their events for free, have that information distributed through a range of content syndication partners, and control their own ticket sales, reporting and validation using award-winning Software-as-a-Service tools. The Eventfinda platform has been successfully licensed in Europe and Australia and the company has recently launched in the United States and Singapore.
How old were you when you set it up? What gap in the market did you see?
I was 26 when we started Eventfinda. Back then there were literally hundreds of websites in New Zealand with event listings on them. Some covered an individual town or city while others covered a niche such as mountain biking or raves. We thought if we could bring all of those events together in a single place, it'd be much easier for people to find out what was on. Our tagline on the first version of the website was: "If you don't know, you can't go!" And we made it our mission to get the word out about what was happening to as many people as possible.
You have a 14 year track record as a founder of internet companies. So you started when you were 17? What did you do in the beginning?
My first business was a web hosting company called Entertainz which I started when I was 17. I'd tried to create a website and discovered I needed to pay a hosting company for server space to run the site, but I was disappointed none of the New Zealand-based hosting companies at the time could provide the services my website needed. With the internet growing rapidly I assumed there'd be others looking for the same service, so I borrowed a small amount of money from my parents to buy a server and quickly built up a base of hundreds of hosting clients. I wasn't old enough to be a company director, so besides providing bootstrap funding, my parents were also the board of my first company.
Did you go to university or decide it just wasn't for you?
I studied part-time at the University of Auckland alongside building my web hosting business from an office on Shortland St. It was a busy time and I often didn't make it to lectures - I even missed a few exams. Studying wasn't the most exciting thing going on but whenever I lost interest my mother would encourage me to keep at it. After seven years I'd earned a Bachelor of Commerce in Operations Management and Information Systems along with a Computer Science degree. And kept Mum happy.
Do you think only a young person would have thought of Eventfinda?
I don't think so. One of the great aspects of events is their universal appeal to young and old alike. Some of the best feedback we've ever received was a handwritten letter in our first year from a rural quilting society, thanking us for getting more people along to their charity fundraiser. Everyone loves events and we can see that in our statistics - Eventfinda's fastest-growing demographic today is the 50 plus age group. Besides concerts and gigs, performing arts events such as orchestras, opera and ballet are more popular than ever.
What advantages has your youth brought you in business?
I think in a lot of ways the younger you are, the easier it is to start your own business. Foregoing a regular pay cheque is certainly less risky when you don't have a family to support or mortgage payments to make and you haven't yet built up a lifestyle that's dependent upon someone else paying your salary. With a lower cost base you can afford to make more mistakes along the way and if revenue doesn't arrive as quickly as you'd like, it's not the end of the world. For me there were some exceptionally lean periods in the early days, I remember lots of two-minute noodles and having to negotiate anxiously with a very understanding landlord because the rent was late again. Fortunately my sister Elizabeth was working in a bakery and used to bring me the unsold sandwiches at the end of the day so I didn't go hungry. Those situations would've been a lot tougher to deal with in later years.
You go and talk in schools and colleges. Why do you do this and what is your message to young wannabe-entrepreneurs?
I consider myself very lucky to have had the opportunities I've had in life and business so far. Through sharing my experiences with the next generation of entrepreneurs, hopefully I can give back by inspiring others to take those first steps in following their own dreams.
What sort of mentors have you had along the way?
Until the past few years I hadn't had anyone I could look to for advice in business. Recently though Michael Turner, my business partner in Eventfinda, has been an exceptional mentor; much of what I know now about leadership, communication and strategic thinking has been due to his advice. I highly recommend finding an experienced mentor you can trust to anyone looking to lead a business, especially for the first time, as their support can be invaluable.
Do you mentor others?
I don't mentor others yet, but it's certainly something I'd like to do in time.
How international would you like Eventfinda to be? And does this mean you will live overseas at times? Does this appeal?
After starting here in New Zealand, Eventfinda's now also operating in Australia, Singapore, Austria and the United States and we're actively looking for licensing partners to take the company into new territories. I love to travel and I've been fortunate enough to be able to spend time in each of those countries, but I think New Zealand will always be home.
Is your team young? Is their knowledge of social media useful?
We have a diverse team in a lot of respects, including a four-decade age range. That brings with it wildly differing perspectives on technology and social media and gives us a great ability as a team to relate to our consumer and events industry audience regardless of their level of expertise. Integration with social media has certainly been valuable to us, but more as an integral part of our overall communications strategy rather than a silver bullet on its own.
How did other business people talk to you when you were just starting out? Did they have trouble taking you seriously because of your youth?
Running a business through the internet, age wasn't much of an issue for me as most of my client communications were through email or over the phone. If anything, I think my age made negotiating with suppliers easier - to this day I'm sure a number of my key earlier agreements with data centres and telcos were more favourable because they wanted to help out the "kid with a company".
Are there business groups specifically for young business people?
It can be a real challenge finding like-minded people to share ideas and issues with, but at the same time I think it's important to seek out that feedback rather than working on your business in isolation. I've recently joined the Entrepreneurs' Organization which is a peer-to-peer learning group for business owners and I've found it to be an incredible resource at both local and international levels. Besides regular professional development events, through EO I've met a number of others running start-ups and facing similar challenges to me. It's always good to know you're not alone.
Any other tips for young people with an entrepreneurial streak wanting to strike out on their own?
As is often the case, the hardest thing is taking the first step. My advice to young people considering starting a business is to just do it. New Zealand is one of the easiest places in the world to start a company, so there's no excuse. When you look back, you're far more likely to regret not trying when you had the chance, so go on - give it a go.
Next week: I think it's time to hear about small businesses creating products for the greater good who happen to be making a profit from it but the world would be a lesser place without them. Tell me your stories and be honest.