In the not-too-distant future, fans will notify Robin of the bands they want to see and where they’d like to sit during a concert, and the “ticket concierge” service will take care of the rest.
Robin is the dream of Adam McIsaac, Cam Gorrie and Dave Levin and has the stated mission of helping both fans and artists alike by working to ensure bands know who they’re playing to by putting tickets into the hands of fans who most want to go to their concerts.
“Our team is really passionate about concerts and live events,” McIsaac says. “We all believe a good live experience has the power to change your life. We want to help make things better for fans.”
The music industry, as it turns out, already is showing interest and enthusiasm for his work.
The Toronto-based McIsaac has worked as a promoter, an agent and as part of the concert discovery app Songkick before returning to Canada a little more than a year ago to create Robin. If the name sounds somewhat familiar, it should: Robin was rolled out last year to help Arkells sell tickets to their most dedicated fans on their recent North American tour. Robin also was recruited to sell tickets to the Arkells and July Talk show at Budweiser Stage in June, a show that sold out quickly but in a seemingly orderly fashion.
In his opinion, the problem with modern ticketing practices is that they were developed in the pre-internet world. The structure “hasn’t really leveraged technology to make the experience better for fans or for artists,” and now has been overrun with bots, scalpers and other less-than-savory practices that leave fans frustrated, feeling screwed over and puts artists in the position of having to invest in their own ticket-policing measures.
“We just wanted to reimagine what the live event experience could be like if it started with the fan and what the fan wants,” he says. “What Robin is, is it allows you to create bucket list of artists or events you love. We act as your personal concierge and we go secure you the best tickets at the best available price.”
Here’s how it works: Fans sign up for Robin and provide a list of bands they’re most interested in seeing in concert. The team at Robin would then work with bands, managers, promoters, venues, etc., to sell tickets to those fans who have expressed interest in that particular concert – or stand-up comedian, festival or other types of entertainment outings—to ensure those fans get first access to the tickets they’re ready and willing to pay for.
That’s how it worked with the Arkells North American tour, he says. “Ticketmaster gave us early access to tickets. Specifically for Robin. The artist rally wanted us to be able to take care of their fans. We’re not trying to push anyone out of the equation, we’re just trying to reimagine the experience.
To gain access to these services, and as a barrier to bots and scalpers, when you sign up for an account on Robin, users have to answer some simple trivia questions about the band they’re most interested in, things like song lyrics, band information, just things to prove you’re actually a fan, McIsaac says. “The vision is for the product to eventually going to connect with people’s Facebook or LinkedIn or other platforms where it’s easy to qualify that you’re a real human being that engages (with the site). Instead of a captcha code, with us, we’re asking you specific questions about the artist you’re trying to buy tickets for.”
Couldn’t scalpers just set up a bunch of fake accounts and scrub artist pages for the same kind of trivia information real fans would know? “Yeah, it’s possible,” McIsaac admits. “The scalper is always going to come up with technology or an angle of accessing inventory if there’s an arbitrage opportunity that exists. What we’re trying to do by providing demand data back to the industry is to help them understand what the market appetite is for events. In the long run, we want artists to be able to play bigger venues, to match supply with demand” and eliminate a scarcity of tickets, either real or perceived, that leaves fans without tickets and scalpers holding inventory they can’t sell or would sell for double or triple face value.
But asking for access to someone’s social media information and scrubbing that for information on what bands they like, that seems like data mining and might be kind of off-putting.
“We’re not plugged into other service” at the moment, McIsaac says. “We intend to do it only for people who give us permission and the information we’ll be asking for is really specific. We haven’t built it yet, but I can promise you we’ll do things in the best interest of the fan. That’s the driving force behind this.”
Bands, especially younger ones used to interacting with fans online, would love to have more data about the people in the crowd on a given night. Right now, they don’t have access to that information. That’s the benefit to the band: Knowing that a show will sell out and that people in the stands are happy to be there, engaged in the music and ready to have a great time.
The premise and promise of Robin has landed it a coveted spot as one of 11 music industry-related companies selected for the inaugural Techstars Music accelerator program. Each company receives a $120,000 investment and will spend 12 weeks in LA working with representatives from some of the industry’s biggest players, including Sony and Warner label executives, along with Silva Artist Management, Harmonix, Q Prime, Sonos, Era of the Engineer and Bill Silva Entertainment. Only 1% of companies that apply for Techstar programs are accepted.
Techstars Music, led by Bob “Moz” Moczydlowsky, formerly of Twitter, Topspin Media and Yahoo! Music, and some veterans of the other Techstars accelerator programs. Techstars Music also has a team of mentors ready to work with the startups, including Interscope’s Jeremy Erlich, David Marcus and Jody Mulkey of Ticketmaster, Sumit Varshney of Spotify, Dagan Josephson of Pandora and Noah Shanok of Amazon, and Bob Moses, according to Billboard.
“It’s already amazing the exposure we’re getting,” McIsaac said from LA a few days after their selection into the program was announced. In particular, one of the biggest benefits of this program is the opportunity to speak with other entrepreneurs who have undertaken similar concepts and learn from, and avoid, the mistakes they’ve made.
“Instead of building out one feature we assumed would be good (for labels, artist or managers), we’d work together in collaboration to build something they’d actually use,” he says. “Above everything else, this is going to help us move quicker to accomplish things over the next 12 weeks that would otherwise take 12 months.”
While he can’t announce any additional artists working with Robin, there’s always the possibility of musicians contacting them while out in LA during the accelerator program or a label putting them in touch with McIsaac and his team in the interim.
Robin is the only Canadian group selected for the Techstars Music program, joining companies from the UK, Sweden, Australia and the US. They were proudly watching a Raptors game one night, to some good-natured teasing by their new friends.
By the end of the year, McIsaac hopes Robin has caught on not just in North America but internationally. Already there’s been some interest from the UK where the issue of ticket touting has become not just an industry concern but a political one.