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Farewell from Tixato

Chris Ashworth
November 20, 2015

The Facts

After six years working to build a better box office, Tixato will be closing in August 2016. It’s a tremendously hard decision, and we regret the inconveniences it will cause. We know that for many of you changing to a new ticketing service will take significant time and work. We wish we could provide you the service you deserve at a price that supports our work on it, but we have been unable to do so.

We will continue to support Tixato and fix critical bugs until August 2016, but no new organizations will be able to sign up.

You will be able to export all your data from Tixato. We have also eliminated the Tixato fees for all organizations that have sold tickets within the last year; if you are using Tixato today you will be able to sell tickets for only the credit card fee until Tixato closes.

The Story

Somewhere along the way, Tixato got stuck. I can still remember our excitement, sitting in a Portland hotel room and imagining how the patron experience could be so much better. At the time, I thought tickets were both the literal and metaphorical “way in” to improving what happens when people go see a show. Everyone needs a ticket, and the ticket seemed the right foundation on which to build. We were already making tools for designing the experience “inside the room”, and we thought we could improve the experience “outside the room” too.

As I remember it, the ticketing part was going to be pretty simple, and then we’d get to the cool stuff. We imagined building out tools to let you send text messages to patrons, or to let you offer digital programs sent to a patron’s phone instead of handing them paper. We imagined providing a box office phone number that would let you see a patron’s history at your venue before you picked up the phone. We imagined breaking the box office out of the glass booth and putting it wherever you happened to be holding your pocket computer. We imagined that getting a ticket to come see a show could be a beautiful and painless experience, designed as carefully as the show itself.

But as we built, it seemed we could never get to the cool stuff. The ticketing part — the coupons, the season passes, the seating charts, the coupons and season passes applied to the seating charts, the reporting, the printed tickets, the accounting — all the fundamentally transactional things absorbed as many hours as we could throw at them with our tiny team. We learned how intricate and different the ticketing requirements can be across different organizations. It often seemed like no two organizations sell tickets the same way; we hit different requirements with every new customer: their specific promotional deals, or the requirements of their physical venues, or the paper stock they wanted to use for a ticket printer that had a perforation on the opposite side of everyone else’s paper stock. In retrospect, I wish we’d resisted the urge to lengthen our list of ticketing functions. Instead, we kept slogging through these permutations, but instead of clearing the way, we ended up backing ourselves into a corner: attempting to build substantially the same product that many larger and richer companies were already building.

We knew for a long time that Tixato was costing a lot more money than it was making. We’ve spent somewhere on the order of $1.5 million on Tixato; its revenue currently pays for its hosting costs and about one half-time person. This imbalance generated much internal debate about the future of the product. For my part, I did not view our costs as ipso facto cause to close it down. I believe in making money, and I believe in doing it the old-fashioned way: selling a product or service for more money than it costs. We are, after all, a bootstrapped company. But as a bootstrapped company, we’re using only our own money. We are not obligated to build a product on anyone else’s timetable, nor are we obligated to meet any outside criteria on what financial results constitute success. From a purely financial perspective, my only obligation is to keep us running, with salaries paid and (rapidly increasing) health insurance costs accounted for. So for a long time, although I was definitely concerned, I was not yet convinced that losing money on the product was reason to shut it down.

Tixato monthly credit card transaction volume

It’s one thing to be on a long path to the right destination. But it’s another thing to have wandered off in the wrong direction. Once we realized we’d done the latter, the choice became no less difficult but a thousand times more clear. Could we build the product our customers deserved? Could we finish developing, maintaining, and fixing the thicket of unexpected transactional complexity, while simultaneously tackling the features that would set us apart from other products, and giving our customers (and ourselves) something to be excited about? Could we meet our own standards for customer support and responsiveness? Could we do those things with the resources our company has available? The answer was no. We could not do all of those things together. And while we might string the product along, sacrificing support, or slowing maintenance, or some other cost-saving measure, we are not that kind of company. We want to give you our best work, and back it up with our full commitment.

Thus, as painful as it is for me to tell you this news, I do so believing that it is ultimately the best choice not just for us but for our customers.

We’ve learned some tough and expensive lessons in this process. I’m looking forward to building on those lessons, and focusing our energies where we’ll contribute more uniquely. And although we aren’t the right company to continue working on this specific set of problems, we’ve still helped a lot of organizations along the way. (Tixato has processed over 4 million dollars worth of credit card sales to date, in addition to cash sales.) I’m glad we were able to do what we did, to recognize what we can’t do, to take care of our current customers through the end of their seasons, and then continue on a path to give you our best work for, I hope, many years to come.

You can always write me directly at chris [at] figure53 [dot] com, if you have questions or thoughts. Thanks.

Chris Ashworth