In a couple of days, Dan Bendell and I will be launching the first version of our new business, TicketBalloon. It's a small event ticketing platform focused on the group booking market. Group bookings seem to be a common problem where event organisers need to group together individual bookings but their ticket system doesn't have that sort of capability. TicketBalloon is group focused, to make a booking you need to create or join an existing "group" with an invite code. A couple of examples of where this might be useful:
- Family or group holidays, in particular ski holidays where you often book accommodation together.
- Youth camps for organisations such as Scouts who run large camping breaks where Scouts come in their groups and need to be known and groups together for all the data processing and info collection.
The idea of TicketBalloon came when my brother started working for an organisation running summer youth camps. They'd been using spreadsheets for the past few years to manage bookings and taking payments through bank transfers (BACS). He ran an event using that process for around 1,000 young people and found a lot of friction. Mistakes got made and it took a lot of time to keep up-to-date. Their problem was "group bookings", no booking / ticket system seemed to have functionality supporting grouping bookings together in this way. I started asking some serious questions to understand the problem, rather than just revelling in my brothers frustration.
I'd been looking for something to prototype in Elixir, a language I'd been wanting to try out for a while. I had a few days off work planned and decided to take a swing at building something to solve their problem. I had booked an airbnb in Gloucestershire with the plan to chill out and get away from things and used this a project to focus on. Over those days I made the first few commits and built the foundation of the data models and workflows. After that it was a lot of work to start refining the rest of the system, integrating stripe and transactional emails, and making the platform enjoyable to use.
After a few months of working on it and pulling Dan into the project, I let my brother have a sneak peak of what we were building. He sold the idea pretty quickly to his org and managed to get them excited to have a system which removed a lot of work from their plates. We arranged a demo with them which happened to fall 4 days before my wedding and 1 day before I moved house. Arranging the demo for then was a huge mistake, but it all went well and they seemed to get the concept.
Incorporating a company
Once the demo was done, we had to start getting set up as a company so we could gear up to take and process payments. We did a lot of reading about how to go about this because the decisions you make get expensive to undo if you screw them up. Here are some of the main questions we had to answer and where we landed after a lot of research and thought.
- Where should we incorporate? We're both based in the UK but depending on where we want to do business this is still a consideration, especially with Brexit. Most of the advice we got was that it's easiest to use your home country / state as it's less to learn, we went with this for now but it may not be right for us forever.
- What type of company do we want? We were inches away from going for a non-profit, similar to Ghost. What stopped us? It was purely a case of figuring out how. There's very little advice around and we don't want to spend lots of money initially getting the advice and incorporation going, we wanted it to be lightweight. We'll revisit the decision in the future as we get more customers and have a bit of money to spend on investigating it but for now we're a Limited Company.
- What are our obligations? This was a big one, we don't want to screw up account filing etc so we wanted to know all of our obligations. It turns out they're quite simple in the UK, you need to file a confirmation statement yearly, file a tax return and pay any due tax, and file yearly accounts. That's it really!
- Do we want an accountant, or shall we try it ourselves? We decided to go with an accountant in the end. My wife's organisation had been working with an independant accountant who had done them a lot of good and managed to free up a lot of cash, even just by reducing their accounting workload that needed doing. We had a call with them and decided to go ahead and have them incorporate the company for us and take on our accounts. While we're small it looks like we'll be paying them around £150 a year which is ideal while we're getting going.
- How much initial investment shall we put in? If we manage to land a customer on a mid or upper tier we should have all our immediate costs covered which is a fantastic position to be in. Our two costs are hosting (roughly $40 a month) and accountancy (roughly £150 a year). Right now Dan and I could afford to keep the company going indefinetely from our day jobs but we want to set ourselves a target to get self-sufficient. We decided to inject in an initial £500 each. Yeah that's right, £500, not £500k or £500m. We're bootstrapping it ourselves and we think that'll give us around a year to see what we can make of this thing. If we chew through that runway without any customers then we'll sit down and re-evaluate where we think things are going.
The path forward
My brothers organisation are on a free trial at the moment, and all being well they're looking to start a monthly subscription on one of our mid-range tiers. They're already drip feeding us feedback and this is really helping us to smooth off the sharp edges we'd missed. The thing we now want to focus on is getting another customer to see if we can prove that we've built a product that works for the generic problem, rather than just one organisation.
Right now we're spending time working on our landing pages and marketing material to give ourselves a basis of material to start sales conversations. Once we've got that down we're going to fire some cold / warm emails out to contacts we have who might have similar problems in their organisations. At the same time we're also going to start turning on the online taps to our website in the hopes of learning some more about our customers.
My big questions right now is whether we've built something that more than one person wants, and whether anyone will buy it during a global pandemic. I'm hopeful and I feel like it's mostly a question of effort, we're willing to pivot as needed and generally I think we have a pretty solid offering. Time will tell with how we do, we're total amateures at this business thing but we're giving it a good crack.