Welcome back to Startups in Canada’s series of Startup Spotlights!
This week we sat down with none other than Graeme Davis, Co-Founder & CEO of Brüha based out of Hamilton, Ontario.
Brüha is a local entertainment discovery and ticketing provider changing the way people interact with their local community, discover events and purchase tickets. It’s an innovative product suite that includes an interactive website, iOS and Android products, that revolutionize the event industry by including a comprehensive personalized user experience for discovering local entertainment, and thereby increasing ticket sales for Brüha’s customers (event organizers).
The company is currently in their growth phase and currently works out of Hamilton’s incubator, The Forge.
Alright, let’s get to the fun stuff, shall we?!
Q| When did you start your company and what was your source of inspiration or motivation for starting up?
Though Brüha, the online ticket provider company, officially launched in May 2016, the journey started years earlier. I founded a mobile app company called ShowDom back in 2012.
A recent graduate of Queen’s University in Canada, I had spent the majority of my teenage years finding event discovery to be problematic and difficult, particularly learning about local events, concerts and parties. Throughout his undergraduate years, I still found event discovery content to be scattered over a variety of different platforms. I was frustrated that there was no one single hub to host all or a majority of event information for a given city. I vowed to solve this problem, and in November of 2012 I launched the local event discovery app ShowDom for web, iOS and Android products.
ShowDom’s business model was a supply-and-demand advertising model, where the pricing adjusts based on demand. For the model to be effective, demand was needed. ShowDom turned out to be an ultimately unsuccessful first attempt because, though my ambitions were grand, my flaw was that I didn’t understand my customers’ demands before releasing the product.
This inspired me to enter hustler-mode. I gathered a team of co-founders and hit the pavement, talking with the customers I hoped would use ShowDom: event organizers and promoters. I began to learn more and more about their businesses, and only then did I begin to understand their problems. There was one problem in particular that really struck a chord with me: the majority of event promoters I spoke with struggled with selling enough tickets to even break even on cost of the event, let alone make a profit. In the meantime the name and brand ‘Brüha’ was born.
Pooling data over 150 events, the Brüha team discovered that, on average, event organizers only sell 40% of total tickets in advance. Yet, most organizers require at least 50-60% in ticket sales in order to break even on the event. For some organizers, the risk of not selling up to 50-60% means lost cash. For others hosting larger events and festivals, the gamble may mean going into serious debt that can take years to recover. This is a problem shared across a variety of event industries, including art and entertainment, festivals, business and networking, academic, not-for-profit, and so on.
We began studying the ticketing industry in order to learn how other companies were attempting to solve the problem of increasing client’s ticket sales. It became clear that the innovations of the industry were dated and off the mark. Many ticket provider claims to boost ticket sales included email campaigns, listings on affiliate websites, social media page integrations and the like. The problem with these ‘ticket boosting’ declarations replicated the problems that we noticed with event discovery applications: the marketing mechanisms did not offer direct and targeted results for new ticket buyers. In other words, these proposed solutions still did not connect new ticket buyers to the tickets. Event organizers are still unable to reach new target demographics and eliminate their risk of not selling enough tickets.
Q| What is the meaning behind your company’s name/ how did you come up with that name for it?
The direct translation means ‘to have a good time’. We like it because it speaks to the brand of the company, we are an upbeat, alternative brand in a space where most competitors are “EventThis” or “TicketsThat”. It was important for us to stand out and connect with our audience, rather than become just another event brand lost in the un-originality of the event tech space.
Q| Do you have any co-founders or employees? If so, describe your team’s dynamic and how you connected.
One of the unique qualifiers of the Brüha team is that it is a tight knit group of diverse individuals, all of whom were strangers just over two years ago. Each team member has been hired to fulfill a specific requirement to support the development of the company, and have been working together since May 2015. The original founding team remains committed today, with two engineers on staff and the opportunity to hire a third. The core founding team includes myself, Graeme, Robert Skoczen (our CTO), Ryan O’Neill ( our Art Director), Kristian Borghesan (Head of Growth & Marketing), Ankur Patel (our Web Team Lead).
Together, the 5 of us got the ball rolling and launched Brüha in May 2016. We have since built the team to include amazing researchers, growth strategists, marketers, designers and engineers.
Q| What have been some of the biggest challenges that you’ve faced with starting up? Describe them a little bit for us.
There have been so many that I don’t even know if any select group of challenge have been more significant than others.
We launched an online ticketing software with a extremely lean budget. That in and of itself proved to be very challenging in many ways (flashback to co-founders working their full time jobs and then driving to the office to work all night on Brüha).
We secured our first customer without having launched our live product. That involved an incredible amount of patience on their part, and they’ve since become a big advocate of us.
The team built a website, iOS and Android app (native) in 6 months, to then have our newly hired CTO tell us the architecture is a mess and that we’d have to rebuild from scratch (finished and launched the first version in 3 months however!)
More recently, we’ve were faced with a contractual obligation to have a feature in our products ready by the day of a large festival, something we finished the night before without any errors the day of the event.
I could go on with more challenges, and how individually their failures could have set the company back. I think the point I’m getting at is everyday since we’ve started this endeavor, our team has been faced with obstacles that are independently significant. With that being said, trying to survive as a business is the ultimate challenge Brüha faces.
Q| Have you reached any significant company goals or milestones that you’d like to share with us?
We just launched our second version of Brüha on our one year anniversary, May 2017! We are really excited about the polished products and can’t wait to reveal shortly some really awesome features we’re working on right now.
Q| What’s next to come for you and your team? Any big plans (that you can share with us, of course)?
One innovation particular we are excited to launch is Brüha subPromoter. We kicked off the beta in March with plans to go live with the new features and UX in September 2017. Watch out for it!
Q| If you could pass on one piece of advice to entrepreneurs just starting up, what would it be?
Entrepreneurs in general will hear a gambit of knowledge and wisdom bestowed from the successful and the respected. It’s not my place to instill some character piece on what it takes to be successful.
Instead, I’ll get right down to the practical, utility advice. This is only relevant for those who want to get into technology, but whatever your background is and however you decided to start a tech startup – learn to code!
I myself studied Philosophy and graduated without the slightest clue on how to program a website or iPhone app. I launched my first company, ShowDom, without any fluency in software programming which I would later terribly regret.
I have since learned how to write code. If there’s any one lesson I would pass down to my younger self, it is learn to code now! It’s never too late, and it’s completely necessary if you want to run a software tech company.
Q| What’s your favourite quote or saying that you’ve either heard or say yourself? Why is this your favourite?
Not my favourite, but relevant: “A user interface is like a joke. If you have to explain it, it’s not that good.”
Think about it..
Q| Finally, as a Canadian entrepreneur, how has your experience been starting up in the Canadian ecosystem? Do you feel that you and your team have received significant support?
Exciting, intimidating, alternative, painful, rewarding, community-driven, small scale, competitive, validating, troublesome, successful, lengthy, supportive, condescending, social, risk-averse…
It’s a mix of emotions really. On one hand, it’s been an amazing place to start a business and validate our product in a community setting.The government support programs have been extremely helpful in making this happen. Plus, Canada is a pretty awesome country all around!
On the other hand, Canadian’s tend to be more conservative economically and overly risk-averse. This doesn’t help so much when startups are seeking investment to scale their business and grow into new markets. Typically, it’s a very lengthy turnaround until a new startup can get meaningful funding to scale vs. our counterparts in the US.
I believe it’s important for any startup business to think globally and not get sucked into the Canadian-only market trap. It’s important to make connections worldwide, and get out of the bubble. Your competition is likely doing it already, and you will have to as well if you want to survive in the end.
Looking to connect further with Brüha’s journey? Follow along at:
Startups In Canada (SinC) is a startup directory, showcasing and featuring local Canadian startups, their founding members and their vision. Our vision is to further accelerate and strengthen the startup community here, within Canada.
Have a startup you’d like to submit and list with us or know someone who would be a good fit for our Startup Spotlight series? You’ve come to the right place!