Spotlight series: Dana Lattouf – CEO of Tickitto on building and pivoting a tech startup

Welcome back to Spotlight – our series of interviews, articles & conversations with some of the very best people, organisations and businesses working in the digital & startup space. This time we’re chatting to Dana Lattouf, founder of Tickitto about her experience building a tech start-up.

Dana, thanks so much for chatting to us today. Last time I interviewed you, I asked you to describe what Tickitto does – how has that changed since back then when you started?

When we initially started, Tickitto was trying to solve a personal pain point for me. While I was taking a trip to Istanbul with a few members of my family we wanted to find events and activities across multiple different genres – cultural, sport and music, in an easy and efficient on the go solution. A one-stop-shop for everything we needed.

This is where the idea for a concierge-style, assistant in your pocket came from. It would get to know your tastes and preferences and make recommendations for you via messenger or WhatsApp without needing to search through endless trip advisor listings. You could then buy the tickets right from the chat.

We launched a beta version to 150 users, got some feedback and then launched a second version with some amazing names to help push it out into the wider market. There were two halves to that proposition – the first was getting an algorithm in place to power the recommendation engine for events. The other half is the supply of tickets, which in our original thinking was just a third-party API that we would plug into.

When we started getting deep into the product, we were surprised to find that the hardest bit isn’t really the first half of the equation at all but actually the supply itself. Supply was super fragmented across genres and geographies. On top of that came the data modeling and structuring problem as well – as you can imagine it’s far from standardised. It’s also funny because the underlying infrastructure that powers how tickets are reserved and booked is extremely outdated and hasn’t changed much in more than 20 years.

That was the moment when we realised that the problem actually worth solving is the infrastructure that powers ticketing. That’s why today we’re building a platform that aggregates and distributes tickets across all genres & geographies.

That’s a lot of change! How did you go through that process of pivoting, when did you know it was the right time to change the business model?

It’s an interesting question because you never really know how or when to pivot! You’re always second-guessing yourself – but there are a few things that I’ve used to help guide those decisions:

Firstly, how focussed you are and how realistic your vision is. When we were initially looking at the concierge service we weren’t even focussed on the travel market. We quickly realised though that we’d be very reliant on APIs and the underlying infrastructure required for customers to actually interact and book onto the services we partnered with. When we started digging it became clear there was a large dissonance between our vision and what could actually be executed to a good level.

We also looked at the unit economics of the model too, which didn’t stack up because you were taking such a small commission on each customer purchase because the services were very small (e.g. booking a table for 2). Even with a high volume, the size of the basket size was small and the 2.5-3% commission wasn’t enough to make the business feasible. All of this led us to the ticketing industry for events & activities. Not only is the volume high but compared to local events and services where you’re competing with Eventbrite, the basket size can be £200-300 which makes the unit economics a much stronger business proposition.

The second important thing that guided our pivots was data. As we launched and progressed we had great support from Chris Archer Brown who encouraged me to treat everything as an experiment. Each product we launched we tried to learn from and feed those learnings into the next version. There’s always an emotional attachment with a product you’ve made, especially if you’re part of the founding team but we’ve found it’s so important to be able to step away from that and look at what’s happening around you to guide your decision making.

At the same time all of this was happening we were also accepted as one of ten companies onto the Google for Startups accelerator programme where we were exposed to some great people including Paul Garibold the head of strategic platforms in EMEA. The ability to get feedback from their experts as well as other founders really helped us to step back and evaluate.

By combining all these data points alongside our research and new in-depth understanding of the industry were we able to set ourselves a clear vision for the company with the confidence and validation it was possible. This made the decision to pivot the business a lot easier.

Managing that attachment to your ideas is really hard, and certainly something I struggle with too. How have you managed that while pivoting?

I think for us because we had the internal pain point that we couldn’t produce the product we wanted without a reliable source of supply, there wasn’t actually anyway around it other than building it!

I also had a real interest in sectors where B2B is the route to the B2C because if you control the infrastructure you’re in a really strong place. For example in the UK, BT owns all the infrastructure for telecoms and had they not been forced to license that infrastructure to competitors like EE, O2 etc they wouldn’t exist. We’re trying to replicate that in the tickets industry by providing the infrastructure for the consumer-facing companies to work from in the future.

I think having an interest in the problem, rather than the solution has been the real key here.

It’s a hard one to escape at the moment, but how has Covid-19 impacted the business and how are you reacting as a founder?

We’re at the heart of two sectors which have been the worst hit by Covid-19 – the intersection of tourism and events. Honestly.. my initial reaction was this is really bad news for us.

Once I stepped back and evaluated, I realised that actually, we’re in a relatively strong position. We’ve just completed a fundraise and so we aren’t in a situation where cash was an immediate issue. We’ve also had a good chance to check our cost lines, cut out any fat and stretch out our runway even further.

We’ve also increased transparency in the team, using it as an opportunity to increase trust and reassure everyone. In terms of the business we’re also seeing this as an opportunity to focus on building the product – we haven’t launched this new proposition since the pivot so we’re remaining focussed on that. We’re also confident based on the data that travel is a resilient industry and once this crisis has passed, we’ll be well set to be a part of the resurgence.

What’s been the biggest challenge you’ve faced in building a digital product?

I think one of our biggest learnings has been around versioning and roadmaps. Trying to work out what features to build, how they’re structured and when we’re going to release them is tough. The single biggest thing we’ve done to address this is to adopt a user story-driven approach as opposed to a feature-driven approach which has allowed us to focus on delivering the most important features for users first.

We’ve combined this with a really strong focus on iterating the product quickly rather than trying to release polished features that take ages to make. The learning we get from releasing early has been incredibly important to the business progress.

What are the tools/people/organisations which have helped you the most as a founder and as a business so far?

  • The University of Bath innovation centre has been fantastic. When I graduated I was awarded an innovation grant to support me through the first year – this gave me the confidence to turn down the grad schemes and their enticing salaries.
  • Chris Archer Brown who has been a great supporter and advisor of the business since I started
  • Tim Morgan – Found of Southwestern VC
  • Rosie Bennett
  • Peter Keevil
  • Google for Startups was a game-changer in terms of accelerating the business and I’d highly recommend other entrepreneurs applying.
  • NatWest Accelerator
  • Launchpad at UWE
  • Seedcamp

Lastly, but not least – who would you most like to see featured on this blog?

Matt Franklin from Payaca

…well you’re in luck, keep your eyes peeled!

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