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Jazz Shapers

Shaper: Merritt Baer

Transcript

Elliot Moss
Welcome to the Jazz Shapers Podcast from Mishcon de Reya. What you are about to hear was originally broadcast on Jazz FM however the music has been cut or shortened due to rights issues.

Good morning this is Jazz Shapers, I’m Elliot Moss. It is where the Shapers of Business meet the Shapers of Jazz, Soul and Blues. I am really pleased to say that my guest today is Merritt Baer the Co-Founder of TodayTix, a global ticketing platform aiming to make theatre more accessible for everyone. Merritt and his Co-Founder, Brian Fenty met as twelve year olds at an upstate New York theatre camp. Fast forward a few years and a Degree in Drama and Economics at Stamford led Merritt to start Baer Productions a theatre company where he became one of the youngest Producers in history to win a Tony award. Well that is impressive. Brian and Merritt reconnected many years later and were inspired Merritt says by the new great mobile companies popping up in industries all around as transport, food, delivery, hotels but they saw a real gap he said in the world of theatre and the arts. TodayTix was launched in New York in 2013 and quickly established itself as a disruptor, changing the way audiences consume and connect with culture and it is now operating in fifteen cities with five million plus users and over thirteen hundred theatre partners, not bad. We’ll be chatting to Merritt very shortly about all of this and whether he is meeting his aim to reach the next generation of arts and culture lovers. We’ve also got brilliant music from Lonnie Liston Smith, Hank Mobley and Kamasi Washington. That is today’s Jazz Shapers, don’t go anywhere. Here’s Ibrahim Maalouf with Essentielles.

That was Ibrahim Maalouf with Essentielles. This is Jazz Shapers, I’m Elliot Moss and Merritt Baer more importantly is my main event today, the centre of the play, the man himself. I’m going to see some other ridiculous theatrical references, hello, how are you?

Merritt Baer
Well thanks so much for having me.

Elliot Moss
It’s an absolute pleasure, you’re American.

Merritt Baer
I am American.

Elliot Moss
You’re in London.

Merritt Baer
I’m in London.

Elliot Moss
How does it feel to be in charge of a start-up in London, when you’re an American, right now?

Merritt Baer
I think it’s been a really great ride you know me and my Co-Founder created TodayTix in early 2013, I spent the first five years leading the company out of New York. We launched TodayTix London about four and a half years ago so we had a great but small team over here. I moved over here about, a little over two years ago now and it’s been a really amazing ride ever since.

Elliot Moss
Do you like being from over there here because I’ve got this theory about people that see the world through different eyes, your childhood was an American childhood.

Merritt Baer
It was.

Elliot Moss
Your University was an American University. The stuff in your head is different to the stuff in mine.

Merritt Baer
It is I think that …

Elliot Moss
And it is not just an age thing obviously.

Merritt Baer
…I think there are pluses and minuses.

Elliot Moss
He’s very young.

Merritt Baer
Well thank you.

Elliot Moss
Quite young, it’s all relative.

Merritt Baer
I think there are pluses and minuses in that I think I have a much global perspective and I think living in the UK for over five years of my life in total now has given me a lot more perspective to be both critical and proud of various aspects of American life and American culture and an American upbringing that I don’t think I, I certainly don’t think I would have had had I only lived in America. I think I have always been very lucky, my family has instilled the kind of values around travel and having a global perspective but I think living in the UK which obviously has a lot of similarities to America but also some very stark differences in culture and upbringing and ideology that I think has given me a much broader perspective from living here.

Elliot Moss
The perspective word is interesting to me too because not only is there the American thing there is the you’ve been an Actor thing, you’ve been a Producer thing, you’ve worked in start-up thing, you’re running your own start-up now. Tell me a bit about how you ensure that you retain perspective in a highly funded business, now global, what is it that you in short keeps you on the straight and narrow that ensures that you make the decisions every day?

Merritt Baer
I think that’s a great question. I think one of the things I have learned from the various phases of my life whether it be University or when I first graduated I was in an Investment Banker for a while until the world of finance, corporate finance and then the start-up world producing and creating my own start-up is surround yourself with great people and it can’t just be people who all think like you I think there’s some value in that but I think its also having great people with amazing experience in the same field, in different fields because just like theatre the real great work is done in collaboration and the spark whether it is an Actor and Director in a room together or whether its two colleagues at a start-up it’s about taking your collective experiences and their collective experiences and hopefully moulding the two and creating something better than either one of you could have done on your own.

Elliot Moss
It is a global business. Just tell me a little bit about why you created this thing, in your own words, and I know sometimes when I ask people this question they kind of revert back to the ‘well the thing is’ but the truth was it a moment or was it a building thing about hold on a minute I love that world, that’s the world I’ve come from its theatre, I know there’s a digital answer to this link. Was it based on that? Was it based on this is going to make lots of money?

Merritt Baer
I think it was based on having spent a lot of time as teenager, High School student, Uni student going to Broadway, not being able to afford great seats or even decent seats and so waking up early and waiting outside of theatres from 6.00am to get student rush seats or going to Time Square to the half price booth and waiting for an hour in Time Square in the heat or the sun or the rain or the snow whatever to get well priced tickets. As well as the fact that I had you know produced a few Broadway shows at that point, produced a little in the West End and had some experience in tech and ticketing and just thought there has got to be a better way than this. I think we were, you know my Co-Founder and I were inspired by the Ubers, the Air BnBs, the seamless in Deliveroo, Open Table, Hotel Tonight and we’re just like why is there nothing like this in our industry and so we asked everyone, ‘is anyone doing anything like this?’ and ‘no, no why would I want to do anything like that?’ and quite frankly Broadway, the theatre owners and major ticketing people had all been in the business for decades and decades and so literally didn’t have, multiple of them didn’t even have iPhones at the time and I thought we are these twenty somethings who do so much transacting on our phones and yet our industry seemingly just doesn’t care about it and isn’t evolving in that way and if they are not going to do it then we will.

Elliot Moss
There’s a combination in what you just said around the passion and that as you were talking about the queuing and the getting up at 6.00am I can see you doing that.

Merritt Baer
Literally. I can tell you the shows that I woke up at the crack of dawn and like hauled my butt up to Time Square to do just that.

Elliot Moss
There is the visceral sheer excitement right and anticipation and the kid doing that. How do you ensure you capture that feeling of enthusiasm of ‘wow what’s going to happen? How am I going to be entertained?’ in the context of a digital experience and I know we’re only talking about buying the ticket not the show itself of course but has that question rumbled around in your head?

Merritt Baer
So, word of mouth is generally the single best marketing tool for a show. Having a great show and people talking about it sells more tickets and we’ve spent a lot of time thinking about what is digital word of mouth and how can we explain and get people excited in the way that we might be excited, we’ve a very passionate team the vast majority in New York, a good chunk in London, some in Australia who are passionate and excited about theatre but also experts in their own fields and I think that we have spent a lot of time thinking about what is the best way to connect with the next generation of culture lovers as you said. What are the ways that twenty year olds and thirty year olds receive information, how are we marketed to and what are theatres and productions just not doing and how do we connect with people who either have not ever seen a show before or the only time they ever saw a show was a panto with their parents four years ago. How do we get them excited about the Book of Mormon or Moulin Rouge or Dear Evan Hansen or Harry Potter. There’s a tonne of incredible theatre, and there’s something for everyone. One of the things we talk about a lot is no one in the world says ‘I don’t like movies’. I don’t know anyone who has ever said to me ‘I don’t love movies’. They might say ‘I don’t like horror’; they might say ‘I don’t like westerns’; they might say ‘I don’t like really dramatic things’, but no one says ‘I don’t like movies’. There seem to be a lot of people who actually say ‘I don’t like theatre’ and I think there’s an education piece that we think is really important to us that is its not that you probably don’t like theatre its maybe you didn’t like that big brassy musical or maybe you didn’t like that little black box play but there’s definitely something for you in theatre and as a culture lover maybe it’s the costumes, maybe if you’re into fashion costumes are you way in or maybe if you’re someone interested in productisation of things or its design elements or maybe its story telling or maybe it’s the singing but there’s something in theatre for everyone and I think that its our goal to make sure that young culture lovers and you know millennials are aware of what’s in the theatre world for them.

Elliot Moss
Stay with me for more from my guest, Merritt Baer he will be back in a couple of minutes but first we’re going to hear from one of our partners at Mishcon de Reya with some words of advice for your business.

There are loads of former Jazz Shapers for you to enjoy and of course you can hear this programme again with Merritt by asking Alexa a very kind person to play Jazz Shapers and there you can hear many of my recent guests or if you pop Jazz Shapers into iTunes or your preferred podcast platform you will find the full archive there ready and willing for you to listen to. But back to today its Merritt Baer, he’s the Co-Founder of TodayTix; a global ticketing platform democratising theatre that must have taken a lot of workshop hours. I love it when people come up to me and say the pithy seven word summary.

Merritt Baer
It takes a lot of time actually to be concise about what you’re trying to do because I think when you start a company you want to dominate the world but you want to create something meaningful for people and you want to find a way to, in our case, make theatre going more convenient, more affordable, easier and quite frankly but before TodayTix was founded buying a theatre ticket is kind of an annoying complicated process and if you went online to check out on I’m not going to name the other websites, it would be dozens of clicks and really slow and slightly frustrating and I would talk to Producers who literally had never bought a ticket for their own show by going through the normal channel and when they did they realised ‘oh gosh I don’t wonder, if I’m putting all of our customers, everyone who wants to see X, Y, Z play through that process no wonder its so challenging to sell tickets sometimes’ so I think …

Elliot Moss
So, let’s talk about that first thing, so you mentioned collaboration and you mentioned obviously we know you’re an award-winning Producer not just a Producer. Tell me a little bit and you said very early on, one of the first questions I asked you talked about surrounding yourself with great people.

Merritt Baer
Yep.

Elliot Moss
Those early days as you did put the team together and you got the little matrix for this and that. Was the conversation around how are we going to make this easy of course you’ve got your big vision which we’ve just talked about and culture and thing and that’s brilliant but now we’re getting into the real meat of it. How did you decide what that experience online ought to look like? How did you operationalise that great idea of democratising theatre?

Merritt Baer
So version one was mostly Brian and I sitting around and drawing out what we thought a really seamless couple of clicks, our original idea was you’ve got to be able to buy a ticket in thirty seconds or less and that was always really important to us from the very beginning is if the various other channels to buy at the time only Broadway we launched only in New York were tedious lots of clicks and slow and challenging. I mean some were confusing. You had to be able to choose a show, choose your tickets and check out in thirty seconds or less and that’s something that has always defined us. We’ve always been very design led, we’ve always been really focused on great UX and UI and wanting to make sure that buying a theatre ticket should be as easy as buying anything else online and I think we were very inspired again by these other great mobile companies who had spent time and millions and millions of dollars or pounds creating fantastic user experiences and I think that was the core of what we wanted to do.

Elliot Moss
And that minimum viable product at the beginning…

Merritt Baer
Uh huh.

Elliot Moss
….is it close? Many years ago, probably last week’s version. How close to it are you now? Are those fundamental principles of design and the thirty second thing are they still there?

Merritt Baer
So we’ve grown up a lot in the last six years and I think our design has evolved for the better due to our amazing design team, great product team and great editing from all of our Executives but in essence it is almost the same app that launched on day one. Sure there’s a tonne more bells and whistles, sure its slicker, sure it moves better but conceptionally there was an app, you would open it, you saw a list of shows, you click on the show, get some information, click on what seats you wanted, check out and you’re done.

Elliot Moss
You’re making it sound easy and I know it’s not because its six years of …
Merritt Baer
It’s not.

Elliot Moss
…it’s not, its hard graft. When the complexity kicks in…

Merritt Baer
Uh huh.

Elliot Moss
…how do you handle it? How have you handled it and how do you handle it on an ongoing basis because there must be times, I look from the outside I go to TodayTix that seems pretty straightforward, I go online, I buy my ticket, I choose my seat, go. What really goes on?

Merritt Baer
The hardest thing is the editing.

Elliot Moss
What do you mean by that?

Merritt Baer
No matter how complex the problem and some problems are very complex and they may seem like buying a theatre ticket couldn’t be that hard but there’s some pieces of the, whether it be the checkout flow or how we market things or, we have a lot of great initiatives for lotteries or rushes which are D seats here in the West End to have great, great prices on I think nearly a third or half the West End at the moment for seats on the day and there is a lot of tech work behind those to make those as smooth and seamless as they are in the final experience we deliver to our customers and it takes a lot of work from highly accomplished engineers, product managers and designers and graphic designers to make it seamless and easy as it is when you get to it as a consumer. I’ve always said that there is a lot of sweating that goes on behind close doors to make it seem as simple and easy as it is when you do it as a consumer.

Elliot Moss
It’s a good recipe for marriage too. Stay with me for much more from my Business Shaper, that’s Merritt Baer and he’s the Co-Founder of TodayTix. Time for some more music right now its Hank Mobley with Split Feelin’s.

That was Hank Mobley with Split Feelin’s it was really good, thank you Stuart. Stuart’s the Producer here at Jazz Shapers. Now he’s going red. Merritt Baer is my Business Shaper, he’s the Co-Founder of TodayTix. We’ve been talking about the app, the incredible app that enables you in sometimes under ten seconds to get these tickets which I will absolutely be trying out. In terms of your leadership style Merritt, you are obviously, and we’ve only just met you seem to be an outgoing kind of person, you have a theatrical background but obviously a business person at heart I can see that immediately. What would your team say about you in terms of the way that you run the show? This show not the last show where you won loads of awards although you have won lots of awards for this business as well by the way.

Merritt Baer
That’s a great question.

Elliot Moss
And seeing as they are in the room with us. Just to be clear there’s a couple of fantastic team members here, there’s Sabina and there’s Steven looking after marketing PR and other clever things but seriously pretend they’re not in the room and imagine that they’re in a room talking about you what are they going to say?

Merritt Baer
I think they would say that I’m really passionate about both high level and the details. I once saw a great ad I think it was, I want to say it was a Mercedes ad and the tag line was ‘because everything matters’, and I really take that to heart. I think that everything from the size or colour of a button on the app to the marketing we do all over the place to the partnerships and I think how we work with shows it all matters because it all has to be flawless to consumers and in 2020 when you have competition from every corner of the world for what you’re going to do on a Thursday night or Saturday night whether that is Netflix or whether that is going to a bar with your mates or whether that is going to theatre we’re actually competing with all of those things. What are you going to do with your time, and I think we’ve got to be at the very best of our game if we’re going to convince you that spending your time with us is what was worthwhile.

Elliot Moss
So, everything matters I get that. Let’s talk about one other element externally you’ve recently been on a fundraiser, nine/ten months ago.

Merritt Baer
May.

Elliot Moss
May of ‘19, 73 million dollars was raised in the last round, you have had fundraisers before, sounds like a lot of money to me. How, when they looked in your eyes what do you think they were buying because I get what your team might buy from you, what were they buying?

Merritt Baer
I think it’s the passion and vision for what TodayTix is today and what it could be and I think that the kind of global aspirations we have had about creating a truly unique mobile first experience to sell tickets in the arts is something that no one’s really attempted before. I think there are certainly people who sell tickets in the single market or people who sell tickets more broadly but creating something in the world of theatre and the arts is something very unique to TodayTix that’s why we are in you know fifteen plus markets and always thinking about growth and I think that they were excited by the road that my Co-Founder Brian and I laid out of what we wanted to do and its really fantastic to find investors who believe in your vision as much as you do.

Elliot Moss
I think the thing that I am thinking about if I was in your shoes, I’m kind of going so he obviously understands the tech, he’s really passionate over there about theatre but the actual magnitude of the task to go and assimilate yourself into a market, to understand the eco system here in London which is going to be different to Broadway, which will be different to Spain, to Portugal, to Singapore to wherever it is or Mumbai. How do you do that bit, how do you actually get granular on the ground and then connect it back up to the app?

Merritt Baer
Yeah I think there’s very big differences in the markets we work in and I think it is why we have hired the best and brightest in a lot of those markets to help us figure out the path and how TodayTix can and should be different in each market. TodayTix is London is a little bit different than TodayTix in New York or TodayTix in San Francisco or TodayTix in Toronto or Australia and there are different market dynamics. There are different competitors, there are different products in terms of what shows are playing and what a consumer would want from an app that sells theatre tickets. We’ve talked about a lot internally TodayTix obviously has one vision and one mission and belief however it needs to lean in a little bit in each market to what that vision looks like within the confines of the market itself and I think the team we have hired over here in London is incredible and I quite frankly love working with them all on a daily basis and I am kind of proud to be one of their colleagues because they’re all so darn good at their jobs.

Elliot Moss
Stay with me for my final chat with Merritt Baer, he’s my Business Shaper today plus we’ll be playing a track from Kamasi Washington that’s in just a moment stay where you are.

That was Kamasi Washington with Cherokee. I am with Merritt Baer just for a few more minutes, he’s my Co-Founder, well not my Co-Founder, you’re the Co-Founder of TodayTix but he’s my guest just for a few more minutes. We were talking about teams in different markets and obviously what you’ve got to do as you said have a global vision but then execution happens differently and appropriately in different places around the world. London is absolutely as you’ve said in the past the epicentre of culture, definitely across Europe I would guess but maybe the world too. What have you been able to create here in this market that you think is powerful and that works for you that’s specific to the London market?

Merritt Baer
You know I think we try to work really closely with the shows to create compelling messages about why London has some if not the greatest theatres in the world. Something we launched last year is a campaign we call London Theatre Week it launches actually this year on February, 24th through March, 8th and it’s really about celebrating the best of theatre in London and tickets at £15/£25 and £35 for a huge assortment of shows probably over forty shows across the West End in London. Really an amazing opportunity to see some of the biggest stars, the best musicals, incredible plays all at really really great prices.

Elliot Moss
And all you have to do is go to TodayTix or look on your mobile app. Are these the places you can find it?

Merritt Baer
Exactly. Download the app.

Elliot Moss
Download the app.

Merritt Baer
Check out TodayTix.com or check out Londontheatreweek.com.

Elliot Moss
You’re very lucky I let you do that Merritt. Let me ask you about, I talked before about the role you had to play in terms of fundraising, and I’m interested about the money thing. Not how much …

Merritt Baer
Me too.

Elliot Moss
Yeah, I bet. Not so much the valuation because you’re not going to tell me that anyway but what does it mean to you as the guy whose been the Drama Student, whose been the Actor, who’s been the Producer and you know 1% of the whole population of people in that world make any money. You are now in a world which is potentially going to make some money and at some point, one hopes you know if everything goes really well.

Merritt Baer
From your mouth to God’s ears.

Elliot Moss
But does it, so what does that make you feel? Is it …

Merritt Baer
I think we’re all really proud of the work that we’ve done but also knowing that the road ahead is probably just as steep if not steeper as the road we’ve come off of and I think we’re all really excited about the vision I think its not about slowing down, its not about resting on our laurels its about how do we grow to ensure that more theatre is seen by more people, that theatre is more accessible than ever. It’s not about us taking a piece of the pie from others, it’s actually about growing the pie. If we can bring more people to theatre who’ve never seen theatre before or the last time they saw a show was three years ago then hopefully we actually inspire more theatre going and over time I think that ultimately allows communities to be more fulfilled, for Artists and Creators to thrive and I think ultimately sure the money is one piece of it but I think what we’ve built and what our vision of building is really fulfilling.

Elliot Moss
And five years from now you’ll be in every market that matters?

Merritt Baer
I think that yeah, I think it’s about continuing our geographic extension and then as well hopefully adding more value in each of the markets we’re already in today.

Elliot Moss
Good luck Merritt.

Merritt Baer
Thanks so much for your time.

Elliot Moss
Likewise, it’s been a real pleasure talking to you. Just before I let you go though; I have to ask you what is your song choice sir and why have you chosen it?

Merritt Baer
Sure, so my song choice is You Can’t Take That Away From Me by the Gershwins. I first really fell in love with the song when I was eighteen years old, there was a concert in New York City for the renaming of the Al Hirschfeld Theatre on Broadway and I lined up at I think it was 6.00 in the morning and I was actually first in line to get a ticket for that evening’s special performance and one of the Performers sang the song and blew me away and I’ve loved it ever since.

Elliot Moss
That was They Can’t Take That Away From Me from Jane Monheit and John Pizzarelli the song choice of my Business Shaper today Merritt Baer. Merritt talked about education and helping people understand just how fabulous and accessible theatre is. He talked about surrounding himself with great and different people the power of diversity to bring things to life properly and he talked about focusing on everything because as he said ‘everything matters’. That’s it from me and Jazz Shapers have a super week.

We hope you enjoyed that edition of Jazz Shapers. You will find hundreds of more guests available for you to listen to in our archive. To find out more just search Jazz Shapers in iTunes or your favourite podcast platform or head over to mishcon.com/jazzshapers.

Merritt Baer is the Co-Founder of TodayTix – a global ticketing platform that aims to make theatre more accessible for everyone.

Having started his career at Lazard Frères in mergers and acquisitions, Marritt moved to Viagogo as the Head of Primary Inventory to work directly with sports teams, theatre companies and concert promoters to dynamically price tickets. In 2010, Merritt produced The Merchant of Venice (starring Al Pacino) on Broadway to critical acclaim. In 2012, his production of Death of a Salesman (starring Philip Seymour Hoffman) won him a Tony Award, Outer Critics Circle Award and Drama League Award as one of the youngest producers in history. His other Broadway and West End productions include Lucky Guy (starring Tom Hanks), Romeo and Juliet (starring Orlando Bloom), and The Bodyguard: The Musical.

Co-Founding TodayTix with friend Brian Fenty in 2013, TodayTix was conceived as a Broadway disruptor and has gone on to become a global ticketing platform changing the way audiences consume and connect with culture in 15 cities, with nearly five million users and over 1,300 theatre partners.

Interview highlights

I have a global perspective.

One of the things I have learned from the various phases of my life…is surround yourself with great people.

Word of mouth is generally the single best marketing tool for a show.

We have spent a lot of time thinking about what is the best way to connect with the next generation of culture lovers.

I think there’s an education piece that is really important to us, and it’s not that you don’t like theatre, maybe you didn’t like that big brassy musical or didn’t like that little black box play, but there’s definitely something for you in theatre.

There’s something in theatre for everyone.

When you start a company you want to dominate the world, but you also want to create something meaningful.

I’ve always said that there is a lot of sweating that goes on behind closed doors to make it seem as simple and easy as it is when you do it as a consumer.

I’m really passionate about both high level and the details.

There’s a tonne of incredible theatre out there… there’s something for everyone.

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