Business Interviews Live Business

Q&A: Phil Hutcheon, Dice

By | Published on Saturday 15 November 2014

This interview appeared in the October 2014 edition of the CMU Trends Report. Buy our reports from the CMU Shop or get every edition by signing up for CMU Premium.

philhutcheon

The major players in ticketing routinely come in for bad press, most commonly over booking fees, and sometimes because of their involvement in the often controversial secondary ticketing marketplace. Though said big players still enjoy close relationships with many of the leading tour promoters, not least because they often provide crucial cash-flow to the live sector.

Nevertheless, a number of start-ups have entered the ticketing market aiming to overcome the frustrations often expressed by punters as well as artists, managers and some promotors. Companies like Ticketscript, Eventbrite and Music Glue have sought to win market share by giving promoters much more control over their ticket sales, and access to all but the credit card data collated from transactions.

Dice is another new player entering the ticketing market. It too promises its music industry partners better data though, whereas many of the other start-ups have created platforms that enable artists and promoters to sell tickets directly themselves, making them more of a technology provider than a traditional ticketing agent, Dice goes the opposite way. It is the ticketing agent but, more than that, it aspires to be a hub for live music fans which vets and recommends shows to users.

Different in other ways, Dice is both a wholly mobile-based ticketing solution and it charges no booking fees, which possibly puts it closer to Songkick’s in-app ticket-selling service, except ticket-selling is at the core of Dice’s business and there are no booking fees at all, while the curation and data-sharing elements also set it apart. Which all goes to make it a very interesting new player in a strand of the live sector quietly going through considerable change.

Dice has been conceived by former label boss and artist manager Phil Hutcheon. CMU’s Chris Cooke spoke to him about the business, the ticketing issues it sets out to tackle, and the short and long-term future of the new service.

CC: Having run a label and worked in artist management, what drew you to the idea of launching a ticketing start-up?
PH: We need transparency. We need it to be much easier for fans to discover and buy tickets. I was constantly inundated with ticketing companies asking to sell tickets for our artists but none of them were providing a service that made a significant difference. So the big motivation was how do we create a ticketing service that fans actually like – maybe even love? What would that look like? You look at Uber and how it has transformed transportation. How do we do the same for ticketing?

CC: As a manager, what did you find particularly frustrating about the ticketing services that already exists?
PH: Artists hire managers to look after their business, but I wasn’t able to do that properly from the ticketing data I received. What was I supposed to do with CSV files with email addresses? What we need is business intelligence that helps us plan tours and grow fanbases by engaging with fans properly. How do we work out cities, countries, supports and venues using data? If we sell out a show should we do another one? These are pretty basic questions and Dice has a lot of incredible data behind it; we’re using that to make ticketing smart.

CC: You went through quite an involved process in honing the basic idea for Dice. Tell us about that.
PH: I didn’t originally think it was going to take eighteen months to launch, but we needed that time to research, prototype, build, test and build a backend that can allocate five million tickets an hour. Not only that, we wanted something that looked amazing and had expert curation. While it now looks pretty simple, it actually took months to test and optimise every button and screen. If someone wants to go to a show then we make it incredibly easy to buy a ticket.

CC: Who are your partners in the business?
PH: My co-founders are ustwo, who are one of the world’s leading product design studios. In fact, they won the Apple Design Award this year for their amazing game ‘Monument Valley’. In addition we have incredible investors and advisors including Tim Clark and David Enthoven from iemusic; Karen Hanton, the founder of Toptable; Bob Angus at Metropolis; Angus Baskerville at 13 Artists; White Star Capital; and the founders of Google Deepmind. They’re incredible brains to help us focus on the important things. We wanted the best people in design, tech, consumer, music and data.

CC: The three things that make Dice stand out are that it is mobile ticketing, that it’s a curated service, and charges no booking fees. Were they key to the project from the start, or did they come about with the product’s development?
PH: They all evolved over the past eighteen months. We spent a lot of time talking to fans as well as key people in the music industry. How do we make it easy for fans discover amazing gigs? It’s a horrible feeling to find out that your favourite band or DJ played last week and you didn’t even know. How do you discover new acts? How can we make it easy to share shows with your friends? How do we create one tap purchasing? What happens when it sells out? How do you stop tickets from going to the secondary market? What if you can’t make a sold out show? There’s literally hundreds of problems that needed to be addressed and we can solve these with mobile technology. We spoke to venues and promoters first to help us build a business model that allowed us to remove booking fees. Once we did that the potential was incredible.

CC: Tell us about the product that is live right now.
PH: Firstly, download it at dice.fm. We have so many features coming soon – all to be released every two weeks – but right now there’s over 100 amazing London gigs from Jack White to Little Dragon to Paolo Nutini to Suuns. Our Music Editor is Jen Long and we’ve invested in great writing and photography. Dice has to look amazing and get fans excited about seeing great shows. And tickets will always be cheaper than anywhere else.

CC: As you say, there’s lots of additional functionality still to come, what’s coming soon?
PH: We’re using data and feedback to prioritise what comes next on the product roadmap. As I say, we’re releasing new features every two weeks, and it was obvious that we needed to launch search and recommend quickly. We’re also introducing new ways to buy tickets with your friends and the waiting list functionality is amazing. If the show is sold out then you can add yourself to the waiting list. If someone can’t make the show you can send the tickets back and Dice notifies the guestlist that more tickets are available. That’s just one of the many features coming to Dice.

CC: How have managers, promoters and agents responded to the business?
PH: The reaction has been incredible. There’s a huge appetite to fully use mobile technology to help grow our industry and it’s a good time to launch Dice. Our key view is how do we make our industry ten times bigger? iTunes and Spotify transformed recorded music and there’s even more opportunities with concerts, festivals and clubs.

CC: Mobile ticketing has seemed like a cost saving tout-tackling solution for a while now, why do you think it is still to properly take off?
PH: I’m not sure, but we’re hoping Dice can lead the way in empowering artists and fans. The Dice mobile ticket is connected to the phone so unless you change your name and sell your phone it’s hard to sell on.

CC: If you are not charging a commission, how will Dice make money?
PH: Our aim is to get fans to use Dice as their primary service to discover gigs and buy tickets. If you look at the best tech companies they build audiences and then work out monetisation. Our investors are smart and it’s about scale. While we’re beginning in London we want to roll out fairly quickly around the world. When you do that the money side works itself out. The exciting thing is seeing it work already – in the first week we sold out both the Red Bull Culture Clash at Earls Court and had the exclusive pre-orders for the biggest Glass Animals show to date. Both cheaper than anywhere else for fans.

This interview appeared in the October 2014 edition of the CMU Trends Report. Buy our reports from the CMU Shop or get every edition by signing up for CMU Premium.



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