Ten years and a couple of weeks ago, I received a call from a friend of mine, Marcus Keighron, who had just leased a location on the property of BC Place—the location of the Opening Ceremonies for the 2010 Olympic Winter Games.
He said to me: “I just got a daycare to take over the lease, but they need six months to get the proper permits from the city. In the meantime, it’s open for retail. You should put your ticket company in there for the Olympics.”
“Hmmm…” I said. “Sounds interesting. Let me go and look.”
I drove down there with my buddy, called Marcus back, and said, “Sure. Sounds good. I’ll take it until the end of February.”
Venue Kings was created later that week.
My buddy, Drew Gainor, had just let the domain name and website lapse and suggested I take it. Just like that, we were off.
October 7th marked Venue Kings’ ten-year anniversary, which has me reflecting on both the good times and the bad, but mostly, on the opportunity that I had been given all those years ago.
When I accepted the lease, I was only on the Ticket Network Exchange, I couldn’t charge credit cards, I wasn’t a registered company, I had no business plan and very few staff. The only thing I had was an idea, and it seemed like the right thing to do.
I gathered my friends, Paul Stokes, Marco Pontillo and Dany Cathcard and off we went to get this thing going. Paul was in and out, touring with his band, and Marco and Dany were between jobs. I hired them to work through till the end of the Olympics. Shortly thereafter, we added Brittaney Penman to the mix to deal with our erratic behaviour. We bought some radio ad-space, created a website and started taking orders. We also had to get the storefront set up, so we created some terrible looking t-shirts along with other gear to sell in the store and put up a desk to sell the tickets.
The day before the Olympics started, no one was buying tickets. We thought, “Man, this was a bad idea.” Then suddenly, people started showing up in droves. So much so that the lineup was out the door. We went from an empty office, to over-flowing in the span of 24 hours. It was like nothing we could have imagined. We started calling everyone we knew, asking them if they wanted to work. Every time someone said yes, we walked down the street to Costco and bought them a computer. It was nonstop for 12 days (except when my body broke down and I slept for 24 hours straight after working five, 20-hour days in a row).
Before we knew it, the Olympics were over, and we all needed a break. When the dust had settled, Brittaney asked if I needed someone to work for me. I said, “Honestly, I never thought about it, but sounds like a good idea to me!”
We moved the office back to my old place which was just a one-bedroom apartment masquerading as an office. We started buying more tickets and listing them in different places. I had no money, so we had to come up with creative ways to pay down the credit cards and buy more tickets.
We experienced such crazy growth that we were forced to move to a larger space. We went and found our first location—a property I heard about through my friend, Ralph Maglieri, who was looking to get out of his office.
Another year went by and we had grown out of that office and needed to go looking for another one. Too many tickets, too many people, no place to put them, and no money to pay for it all.
As I look back on the past ten years, I’ve tried to put my finger on the one thing that has made the business successful. I believe that it all comes down to this; find something you enjoy doing and put everything you have into it. Work hard every day to find creative ways to solve the problems that arise. All the while, staying positive and optimistic.
More than anything else, what has made this journey the most fun is the people that I’ve been privileged enough to work with. I was talking with my friend, Winston Brown, nine years ago and told him that I needed to hire some people. I asked him, “You know anyone?” He suggested Robyn Wilson. Her and I coached basketball together the year before and she had just graduated from University but was having trouble finding a job she liked. So, I said to Winston: “Tell her she’s hired, and she can start work next week if she wants.” Lucky for us, she showed up. She’s now been here for nine years and has played an instrumental role in growing the business as our Chief Operating Officer.
A little while later, I convinced my buddy, Ryan Lee, to quit selling suits and come work with us. He’s been crushing it as Director of Sales & Marketing at Venue Kings ever since. My buddy, Paul Stokes, was also in and out over the years, in between travelling with his band. Despite him not being in the office all the time, Paul has always provided tremendous support.
The team continued to expand. One night, Ryan was going out for a family dinner at Earls. He said to me, “I know who else we can hire.”
His sister, Michelle, had just graduated University and needed a job. I said, “Cool, tell her she hired and to come by the office next week.”
Then there was Ryan Botteselle and Vanessa Schmidt who were playing basketball at the high school I coached at. They needed work so we brought them along as well.
My point is, we’ve accumulated lots of unbelievable people over the last ten years. Even our FedEx guy, Kevin, has been with us for the last five years. Lol. We liked him so much that we started inviting him to our Christmas parties. (He might be avoiding us now. We’re not sure.) But all the same, he’s been great.
All this to say: We built the team at Venue Kings with the mindset that if we hired great people, they could figure out any role we had for them. And for the most part, that has been true.
Building a business has had its challenges and I’m certain that it will remain that way going forward. Staying in business is hard. Period. Despite that fact, we’ve been named one of Canada’s Fastest Growing Companies for the past five years, our COO, Robyn was named one of BC Business Magazine’s, “30 Under 30,” and we’ve endured one of the biggest losses in the business and one of the biggest gains. I can tell you from experience, winning is always better than losing but no matter what, you have to keep moving forward.
Looking at the stats, only 29% of businesses survive to the ten-year mark. Ten years ago, Blockbuster was still a thing, and Netflix was just an idea. Hopefully, we at Venue Kings can keep grinding and make it another ten years!
Thank you to all the people who have helped make this happen. As we move into our new offices in 2020, it’s only just the beginning!